The French game of Tarot, also jeu de Tarot, is a trick-taking card game enjoyed throughout France and also known in French-speaking Canada, which uses a traditional 78-card Tarot deck instead of the internationally-known 52-card poker deck. Tarot is the second-most popular card game in France after Belote. The Fédération Française de Tarot publishes official rules for Tarot. The game is sometimes referred to in English as French tarot; for example, the French name of the annual Montreal festival Festival International de Tarot de Montréal is officially translated into English as International French Tarot Festival of Montreal. This is done to differentiate the card game from other uses of the tarot deck which are more familiar in the Americas and English-speaking countries, namely cartomancy and other divinatory uses. Tarot has similarities to the American card game Spades, largely in their respective popularities as trick-taking games and the use of a static trump suit, but Tarot has bidding and scoring rules unique to the Tarot/Tarock family; the most similar games known in the U.S. might be Pinochle and/or Rook.
The game of Tarot is played using a 78-card tarot deck, which is composed of a numbered 21-card series of atouts (trump cards), one Fool (l'excuse), and 4 suits (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs), divided into 10 numbers from 1 to 10, and then the face cards of jack (valet), knight (chevalier), queen (dame) and king (roi). Though the tarot decks used for cartomancy will technically work when playing the card games, they are designed to be laid out in a tableau, not held in a hand of cards. Many tarot readers also disdain the use of reading tarots for playing games. Thus the style most often used for game playing is known as the "Tarot Nouveau" or "Bourgeois Tarot" which has card designs similar to the Anglo-American 52-card deck and is generally dissimilar to reading tarot decks.
Three cards known as oudlers are of particular importance in the game: the excuse (the Fool), the 1 of trumps (the petit or little one) , and the 21 of trumps (Le Monde). These cards, when captured by the high bidder, lower the point threshold needed to make contract.
The ranking of the suit cards in both the red and black suits is from highest to lowest:
- king, queen, knight, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 (Ace).
As an aside, the atouts and Fool can be removed to yield a 56-card deck very similar to a poker deck but with the additional chevalier (knight) in each suit. This deck, plus the Fool, was copied using culture-neutral suits and ranks to create the deck for the game Rook, and the 56-card deck can be substituted for the 52-card Anglo-American deck in virtually all popular card games.
The Fool (Excuse)
The only card with a special effect is the Fool, called the ‘Excuse’. The Fool may be played on any trick: it "excuses" the player from following suit. However, it never wins the trick. The Fool remains the property of the person who played it, not the winner of that trick: to compensate for this in the scoring count, the owner of the Fool should instead give the winner of the trick a half-point card (a trump other than an oudler, or a suited number card; see Scoring below) from his/her score pile.
However, two common exceptions to this behavior happen when the Fool is played on the last trick, and what happens depends on whether the side playing the Fool has taken all the previous tricks (see Chelem/Slam below). If the side has taken all previous tricks, the Fool takes the last trick; if not, the Fool changes hands to the other side, even if the trick is won by a partner or fellow defender of the person playing it.
For 3 or 4 players (5 with a simple variation). The 4-player variant is usually considered the most challenging and is the one played in competitions. The following rules are for 4 players.
Each player chooses a random card from the deck ; the dealer is the person with the smallest card, with spades > hearts > diamonds > clubs (so 10 of hearts > 9 of spades, and 5 of diamonds > 5 of clubs). The trumps rank higher than the other cards; anyone who draws the Fool must redraw.
The player at the left of the dealer cuts the deck. The dealer then deals out the entire deck, counter-clockwise; dealing 18 cards to each of the players, plus 6 cards to the "dog" (chien in French, also commonly translated as "kitty"), a face-down pile in the middle of the table. Each player is dealt his cards three at a time, and the dog is dealt one card at a time at any time the dealer wishes except for the first and last card dealt, which may not be part of the dog.
A maldonne (misdeal) occurs when the dealer makes mistakes in the dealing. Players inspect, sort and evaluate their hands and move on to the bidding round.
A player in possession of the Petit (1 of trump) but no other trump nor the Fool can declare a misdeal (this player must of course show his hand to prove this). This is because a player holding trumps who cannot follow suit must play a trump; if a player holds only the Petit, the chances of them being able to play it such that it will win a trick (thus retaining it) are very low, as is the level of control such a player would have over who will take the Petit.
The players look at the cards they have been dealt, and an auction begins, starting from the player to the right of the dealer, as all action proceeds counter-clockwise. If a player does not wish to bid, they may "pass" but may not bid after having passed previously. One may only bid higher than the previous bidders. The preneur
("taker", sometimes called "declarer" as in Bridge
) is the one who wins this auction; they must try to meet a contract (see Scoring below) while all other players attempt to prevent the taker from doing so.
The bids are, in increasing importance:
- prise (take) or petite (small): if this is the winning bid the taker adds the "dog" to his hand, then confidentially sets aside a same number of cards of his choice, to bring his hand back to normal size before play begins. The discarded cards form the beginning of the taker's score pile (the tricks pile). The name of this stack evolves from "le chien" to "l'écart" ("the aside").
- garde ("guard"): the same as prise, but the taker wins or loses double the usual stake.
- garde sans [le chien] ("guard" without [the dog]): the dog goes directly into the taker's score pile, and no-one gets to see it until the end of the hand. The score is counted normally against the target number, but it is worth double the garde score to whoever wins the hand.
- garde contre [le chien] ("guard" against [the dog]): the dog goes directly into the opposing score pile, without being shown until the end of the hand. The score is counted normally against the target number, but it is worth triple the garde score to whoever wins the hand.
The taker may not set aside a king or a trump, except that if the player cannot discard anything else, they may discard a trump. In this case, the taker has to display which trumps he sets aside. An oudler may never be set aside. If no one bids, another deal begins, the new dealer being the next player (to the right of the previous dealer).
In earlier rules, still played outside of competitions, in place of the prise and simple garde, there were two bids, in increasing importance: the petite (small) and the pousse (push). The prise is still sometimes known as petite. There are also some players who play without the prise contract, with garde as the minimum allowable bid.
The player to the right of the taker leads the first trick, and the play proceeds counter-clockwise, with every player adding a card from his hand to the trick. Every subsequent trick is led by the player who took the last trick. The leader of a trick can play any card they like.
Once the leader of a trick has played a card, everyone else must follow suit (play a card of that same suit, if they have one). If a player cannot follow suit, he must play a trump card. When playing a trump card, the player is compelled to play a higher value than any existing trump in the trick if he/she is able (The "petit" is valued lowest, and the "21" is valued highest). If a player must trump but cannot overtrump, they can play any trump. If a player cannot follow suit or trump, he/she may play any card to the trick, however any card they play in such a situation cannot win the trick.
If the trick is led with a trump, all other players must play a trump, and each trump must exceed the rank of all trump previously played in the trick if possible. If not possible a lower-ranked trump, or any card if the player has no trumps, can be played. If the first card played in a trick is the Fool, the required suit to follow is determined by the following card.
When the last trick has been played, the round ends. The taker counts the number of oudlers
and the point value of all cards in his scoring pile. Alternately, if the taker has taken the majority of tricks, the defenders can pool their scoring piles and count their oudlers
and points; the taker has all remaining points.
Value of the cards
Cards for scoring purposes are divided into two groups: "counters" (any face card or oudler) and "ordinary" cards or cartes basses (everything else, including all trumps except the 1 and 21). Cards are paired, with each counter matched to an ordinary card, and remaining ordinary cards are also paired. The values of pairs are then counted and summed:
- 1 King/oudler + 1 ordinary card : 5 points
- 1 Queen + 1 ordinary card : 4 points
- 1 Knight + 1 ordinary card : 3 points
- 1 Jack + 1 ordinary card : 2 points
- 2 ordinary cards : 1 point
Each card thus has an individual value; the pairing simply makes it easier to count points. If a card cannot be paired, because there are an odd number in the scoring pile (common with three or five players) or more counters than ordinary cards:
- Kings and oudlers are worth 4½ points each;
- Queens are worth 3½;
- Knights are worth 2½;
- Jacks are worth 1½;
- All other cards are worth ½ point.
The number of points the taker needs depends on how many of the oudlers
(excuse, petit, 21 of trumps) are among his won tricks.
- With 3 oudlers the taker needs at least 36 card points to win;
- With 2 oudlers the taker needs at least 41 card points to win;
- With 1 oudler the taker needs at least 51 card points to win;
- With none the taker needs at least 56 card points to win.
There are 91 points to be taken in a round, so if the taker has :
- 3 oudlers, the defenders need at least 55.5 card points to win;
- 2 oudlers, the defenders need at least 50.5 card points to win;
- 1 oudler, the defenders need at least 40.5 card points to win;
- no oudler, the defenders need at least 35.5 card points to win.
Updating the scorecard
Scoring in Tarot is "zero-sum"; when one player gains points, one or more other players lose an equal number.
To calculate the basic "hand score" that is to be added or deducted, the scorer starts with a basic score of 25 points, then adds the absolute (non-negative) difference between the points earned by the taker and the threshold, and, if any, the Petit au bout
bonus. This quantity is multiplied by the appropriate multiplier for the taker's bid level (see Bidding), and then two additional bonuses may be added if they apply; the poignée
or "handful" bonus, and the chelem
or slam bonus (see below for descriptions of bonuses). Thus, calculation of the hand score is expressed by the formula :
- E : Extra Points (points above the target score, or below if the target score is not hit)
- P : Petit au bout bonus (see below)
- M : Multiplier (1, 2, 4, or 6 depending on the taker's bid level)
- H : Handful bonus (see below)
- S : Slam bonus (see below)
If the taker beats the target score, this hand score is deducted from the score of each defender. If the taker misses the target score, this score is added to the score of each defender. The opposite of the sum of the defenders' gain or loss is then added to or deducted from the taker's score to balance the scores; with four players, the taker will gain or lose three times the hand score depending on whether the taker made or missed the contract. The sum of all scores for each hand, and thus the sum of the running totals after each hand, should be zero.
For example, a Garde Sans bid with a simple handful won by player A by a margin of 12 points gives the following hand score : ((25 + 12 + 0) * 4) + 10 + 0 = 158 points. This score is deducted from the scores of all defenders and the sum of this loss is added to the taker's score, hence the scorecard :
- A, 474
- B, -158
- C, -158
- D, -158
Some players prefer to round the scores to the nearest 10 points after each game, however care must be taken as the scores should still sum to zero. Rounding each of the above scores independently yields 470 - 160 - 160 - 160 = -10. If rounding is to be done, the defenders' scores should be rounded and the taker's score adjusted accordingly. Doing so in the above example would make the taker's score 480, thus it balances out.
After each round, the cards are gathered, cut by the previous dealer, and dealt by the person to the right of the previous dealer. The cards are not commonly shuffled other than the "soft shuffling" that occurs as a natural result of playing the cards. By not shuffling, groups of desireable cards are kept together such that one person generally has a favorable enough hand to open the bidding. With shuffling between deals it is unlikely for any one player to be dealt a hand he/she is willing to bid on; this leads to multiple redeals before a hand is actually played.
If a player's hand contains no trumps and/or no court cards (roi, dame, cavalier, valet), the player can declare Misère, which gives the declarer 30 points and subtracts 10 from the other players scores. This bonus is a common house rule and is not considered "official" by the Fédération Française de Tarot
for tournament purposes.
If a player has 10 or more trumps in their hand, they can declare a single (10+), double (13+), or triple (15+) "handful" ("poignée
"). A single handful adds 20 to the scoring. Doubles and triples add 40 and 60, respectively. The bonus is always added to the hand score, so if a player thinks that his or her side may not win, they might not want to declare a handful, so as not to give the other side points. The declaring player must show at least the number of trump cards for the level of the bonus declared. The Fool counts as a trump for the purposes of declaring handfuls, but if shown it gives information to other players as it usually means that the declaring player has no additional trumps. This bonus is not multiplied according to the contract.
Petit au bout (Least at Last)
When the last trick is won with the Petit (1 of trump), 10 points is added to or deducted from the hand score before multiplying. Whether it is added or subtracted depends on which would most benefit the side making Petit au bout
. Usually, when one side (taker or defense) makes Petit au bout
but the other side was successful in either making or breaking contract, the bonus is subtracted; when one side is successful in the contract and also makes Petit au bout
, the bonus is added. If the side attempting the Petit au bout
wins all the tricks, the player gets the petit au bout
bonus if the Petit was played at the second to last trick (and won the trick) and the Fool was played at the last trick. This bonus is multiplied according to the contract; if the contract is Guard Without, the gain or loss for a single hand score is adjusted by 40 points one way or the other.
(in French, chelem
) is to take every trick in the round. "Announced" Slam (made while bidding in the auction) gains 400 points if made. It grants the taker the right (and obligation) to start the first trick. Otherwise, a non-announced Slam made by either the taker or the defense gains 200 points. Failure to fulfill a pre-declared Slam costs the announcer 200 points. This bonus is not multiplied according to the contract.
"Petit Slam" is a bid to take every trick but three. It is, like the misère
, unofficial. An unannounced petit slam is worth 150 points, while an announced slam can gain the taker 300 points or lose them 150 if they make or miss.
Petit imprenable (untouchable one of trumps)
In this variant, the player who has no trump except the Petit can still play, but the Petit is played like the Fool; if it does not take the trick, it is given back to its owner in exchange for a half-point card.
The dog consists of six cards, each hand of 24 cards, dealt in packets of four. 13 trumps are needed for a single handful, 15 for a double handful, 18 for a triple.
The dog consists of three cards, each hand of 15 cards, dealt in packets of three. 8 trumps are needed for a single handful, 10 for a double, 13 for a triple. Before calling the dog and scoring his three cards, the taker calls the King of any suit. Whoever has that King becomes the taker's partner, and plays with him against the other players. (Compare the Austrian
, in which this King-calling mechanism is used so that four-player play is two against two.)
If the taker has all four kings, he calls a queen. If the taker has all four kings and all four queens, he calls a knight. The taker must play alone if he has all kings, queens and knights.
The King is called before anything is done with the dog; therefore, the taker may call a King that is in the dog. In this case, the taker plays alone; he has technically called himself as partner if the dog's cards are to be integrated into the hand, and in any case no other player has that King in hand.
In scoring, the taker's partner gets one "hand score" added to or taken from his score if the taker makes or misses his contract. So, if taker beats the target score, each defender loses the hand score, the partner gains the hand score, and the taker gets twice the hand score. If he misses, the gains and losses are reversed.
In this variant, there is no score multiplier but the base score (25) is variable :
- 20 for a Prise
- 40 for a Garde
- 80 for a Garde Sans
- 160 for a Garde Contre
Another popular variant is setting the multiplier for the Garde Contre to 8 instead of 6.
Scoring With Chips
A simple way to keep score, and to gamble in Tarot, utilizes a number of poker chips
or similar tokens. The bid levels correspond to 1, 2, 4, and 6/8 chips or units. Each player bids or raises by increasing the number of chips, similar to Poker
but without the option of folding. Each player's wager remains in front of him, and the taker adds an extra matching stack for each defender. If the taker wins, he gets all the chips on the table. If the taker loses, the defenders divide the chips evenly.
Rules on what happens when someone runs out of chips or cannot cover the current wager vary. Most often the player who is short cannot win more than was wagered; if the taker is short and wins, he only wins an equal stack from each defender. If he loses, the defenders split his chips as evenly as possible. If a defender is short, the taker can only win, and must only cover, the amount the defender has remaining. The game may end when someone runs out, in which case the person with the most chips wins. Alternately, play may continue, with the chip values of each bid level increased. The player who has run out must still play, and may or may not be able to win chips by helping to set the taker.
Evaluating one's hand
In order to know what bid is best suited for him, the player can use the following system :
- Adding the points corresponding to some figures appearing in his hand :
|The Oudlers :
||- the 21||10|
|- the Fool||8|
|- the Petit : with 1, 2, 3 trumps||0|
| with 4 trumps||5|
| with 5 trumps||7|
| with 6+ trumps||9|
|The trumps||- each trump (Oudlers included)|
unless there are less than 4 of them
|- for each major trump (16 to 21)||2|
|- for each major trump in a sequence|
ex: 20,21 = 2 points or 16,17,18 = 3 points
|The major suited cards||- King and Queen of the same suit||10|
|- a King without Queen||6|
|- a Queen without King||3|
|- a Knight||2|
|- a Jack||1|
|The suits ||- 5 cards of the same suit||5|
|- 6 cards of the same suit||7|
|- 7+ cards of the same suit||9|
|For Garde Sans or Garde Contre :|
|- no card of a suit||6|
|- only one card of a suit||3|
- Bidding accordingly :
- less than 40 points : Passe (no bid)
- 40 to 55 points : Prise
- 56 to 70 points : Garde
- 71 to 80 points : Garde Sans
- 80+ points : Garde Contre
Getting the Petit
It is essential to try to get the Petit if one can. In a 5-player game, if the taker has the 21 of trump, he shall always play it so his partner can secure the Petit if he's got it. If the taker has many trumps, he can perform a chasse au petit
(Petit hunt), trying to play his trumps so that the Petit owner has no choice but to give it away.
Every player should know which suits have been played, and which are still to be played. It is useful to count how many trumps, and what kings, have been played.
Distribution of suits (4 players)
The following table shows the maximum number of suits and trumps for a Defender.
| Number of cards of a suit the Taker doesn't have |
| || ||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||12||13||14||15||16|
For instance :
- The taker has 8 hearts, thus the Defenders have 6 hearts. In 5.3% of the cases, a Defender have 5+ hearts. Notice that the sum from any column is 100%.
- The taker has 9 trumps, thus the Defense has 12 trumps. There is a 1.1% probability that a Defender has 9+ trumps.
The dog's cards (4 players, 6-cards dog)
Number of missing cards from a particular suit
| || ||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10||11||12||13||14||15||16||17||18||19|
|3|| || ||0||0,2||0,5||1||1,6||2,5||3,5||4,7||6,1||7,6||9,3||11||12,9||14,8||16,9||18,9||20,8|
|4|| || || ||0||0||0||0,1||0,2||0,3||0,5||0,8||1,1||1,5||2,1||2,7||3,5||4,3||5,3||6,4|
|5|| || || || ||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0,1||0,1||0,2||0,3||0,4||0,5||0,6||0,9|
|6|| || || || || || ||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0,01||0,02||0,03||0,04||0,06|
For instance :
- The taker has no queen, he has a 30.5 percent stake of getting a queen in the dog, 4.4 two queens.
- The taker has 8 diamonds, thus there are 14-8=6 diamonds left. He has a 51.6 percent stake of not getting any diamond in the kitty at all.
- The taker has 7 trumps, thus there are 21-7=14 trumps left. He has a 43 percent stake of getting 2+ trumps.
Coupe franche (void)
Having no card in a particular suit.
Having one card in a particular suit.
Filante or Longue (Being long in a suit)
Having many cards in a particular suit.
In order to make the play of defense more attractive, the F.F.T. developed a system signalization. It makes it possible to the defenders to communite by the only skew of the cards. with Starts (signalization on 1 only card) in the suits: - a card of the Ace to the 5 announces a major honor (King - queen). - a card higher than the 5 denies the possession of an honor. with the trmp: - odd: Announce at least 7 trumps, asks to play trump. - even: at the beginning of part announces less than 7 trumps. with the Supply (indication on 2 cards) suit played by the attacker: - order going down: behaviour 5th in the suit invites to play trump (attention not to have the petit in hand). - the excuse on starts attacker with the first or with the second turn promises the behaviour suit played by defense: - order going down: indication of the doubleton, it implies the acceptance of the continuation of the suit for an overtrumping. a strong Hand announces itself either to starts by the installation of a King or an odd trump, or on the catch of hand by disobedience in this case, it imposes its line of play, to which the partners must collaborate. Excuse with the first turn of trump: ask stop of the trump.