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French Tarot

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Subject: French Tarot
     * Introduction
     * The Players
     * The Cards
     * The Deal
     * The Bidding
     * The Play of the Cards
     * Bonuses
     * The Scoring
     * Tarot for Three Players
     * Tarot for Five Players
     * Variations
          + Other versions for five players
          + Bidding variations
          + Variations in the bonuses
          + Petit Imprenable
          + Variations in the Scoring
     * Other French Tarot WWW Sites

   Games are played with Tarot cards in various countries of Europe,
   but nowhere is it as popular as in France. There are clubs,
   tournaments (including duplicate events) and an official body,
   the Fédération Française de Tarot. French Tarot is also played in
   the French speaking parts of Canada. The following description is
   partly based on contributions from Craig Kaplan, Michel
   Braunwarth and Eric Betito.
The Players

   Tarot is a trick-taking game in which the partnerships vary from
   hand to hand. It is most commonly played by four players, and
   this version is described first. However it is also common for
   five to play, and it is also possible for three; the necessary
   modifications will be described at the end.
The Cards

   The deck consists of 78 cards. The four suits are the standard
   ones of diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs, and each suit
   contains fourteen cards ranking from high to low:
   Roi (king), Dame (queen), Cavalier (knight), Valet (jack), 10, 9,
   8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.
   In addition to the four standard suits there is a extra suit of
   twenty-one atouts (trumps) numbered from 21 (high) to 1 (low).
   Finally, there is a special card called the excuse, or the fool,
   marked with a star in the corner.
   Three cards, the 1 of trump (called the petit), the 21 of trump
   and the excuse are particularly important in the game and are
   known as oudlers or bouts ("ends").
   petit 21 excuse
   Not only are the oudlers worth points, but having them in your
   tricks also reduces the total number of points you need to win.
  Values of the cards
   In each hand one player, the taker (le preneur) plays alone
   against the other three in partnership. The taker's objective is
   to accumulate enough card points to win the hand by taking
   For every card in every trick taken, you get the following card
        Oudler:             4.5 points
        King:               4.5 points
        Queen:              3.5 points
        Knight:             2.5 points
        Jack:               1.5 points
        Every other card:   0.5 points

   It's easiest to count them in pairs, grouping each court card or
   oudler with a 0.5 point card - so for example a queen and a pip
   card together are worth 4 points. The total of the card points is
   The number of points the taker needs to win depends on the number
   of oudlers the taker has in his tricks:
     * With 3 oudlers the taker needs at least 36 card points to
     * With 2 oudlers the taker needs at least 41 card points to
     * With 1 oudler the taker needs at least 51 card points to win;
     * With 0 oudler the taker needs at least 56 card points to win.
The Deal

   The first dealer is chosen at random - thereafter the turn to
   deal passes to the right after each hand (the whole game is
   played counter-clockwise). The player opposite the dealer
   shuffles and the player to the left of the dealer cuts.
   In a hand, 18 cards are dealt to each player, in packets of 3.
   During the deal, six cards are dealt face down to the centre of
   the table to form the talon or chien (meaning the dog, but maybe
   the best English equivalent is "kitty"). The chien cards are
   dealt singly at any time during the deal, at the choice of the
   dealer, escept that the first three and the last three cards of
   the deck cannot be dealt to the chien.
   A player who is dealt only the 1 of trumps and no others
   (counting the excuse as a trump) immediately declares this and
   the hand is cancelled - the cards are thrown in and the next
   dealer deals.
The Bids

   Each player, starting with the player to the dealer's right and
   continuing counter-clockwise, has just one chance to bid on the
   hand, or pass. If all four players pass, the hand is thrown in
   and the next dealer deals (this in fact happens quite often).
   The possible bids, from lowest to highest, are as follows:
   Prise (Take)
          You can use the chien cards to improve your hand (see
          below) and you then try to take enough card points in
          tricks to win.
   Garde (Guard)
          Same as Prise but outranks Prise in bidding.
   Garde sans le chien (Guard without the kitty)
          No one looks at the chien, but the card points in it count
          as part of the taker's tricks.
   Garde contre le chien (Guard against the kitty)
          No one looks at the chien and it is counted as part of the
          tricks of the opponents of the taker.
   The highest bidding player becomes the taker. The remaining three
   players form a temporary team, trying to prevent the bidder from
   making enough card points.
   In Prise or Garde, the taker turns the six cards of the chien
   face up for all to see and then takes them into his hand. He then
   discards face down any six cards which are not trumps, oudlers,
   or kings. In the (very rare) case that the taker can't obey this
   rule, he can discard trumps (not oudlers) but must show them to
   the other players. The cards discarded by the taker count as part
   of his tricks.
The play of the cards

   When the discard is complete, the cards are played. The player to
   the dealer's right leads to the first trick.
   Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or the highest card
   of the suit led if no trumps were played. The winner of a trick
   leads to the next.
   You have to follow suit if you can, and if you have no cards of
   the suit which was led you must play a trump. If trumps are led,
   the other players must of course follow with trumps if they can.
   There is a further restriction: whenever you have to play a trump
   (either because trumps were led or because you have no cards of
   the suit which was led), you must if possible play a trump which
   is higher than the highest trump so far played to the trick. If
   you are unable to do this, you are free to play any trump, but
   you must still play a trump, even though you cannot win the trick
   with it.
  Playing the excuse
   The excuse is an exception to the above rules. If you hold the
   excuse you may play it to any trick you choose - irrespective of
   what was led and whether you have that suit or not. With one rare
   exception (see below), the excuse can never win the trick - the
   trick is won as usual by the highest trump, or in the absence of
   trumps by the highest card of the suit led.
   It is legal to lead the excuse, and in this case the second
   player to the trick can play any card, and this second card
   defines what suit must be followed.
   Provided that the excuse is played before the last trick, the
   team that played the excuse keeps it in their trick pile, even
   though they may have lost the trick to which it was played. If
   the trick is in fact won by the opponents of the player of the
   excuse, the trick will be one card short; to compensate for this,
   the team that played the excuse must transfer one card from their
   trick pile to the winners of the trick. This will be a 0.5 point
   card; if they do not yet have such a card in their tricks, they
   can wait until they take a trick containing a 0.5 point card and
   transfer it then.
   If the excuse is played in the last trick, the excuse is taken by
   the team who wins the trick.
   There is just one extremely rare case in which the excuse can win
   a trick: if one team has won every trick except the last one, and
   then leads the excuse to the last trick the excuse wins.

   There are some special bonuses. The scores for these bonuses are
   not card points, so they do not help you to win your bid. They

   are extra points which can be scored in addition to what you win
   or lose for your bid.
   This is a bonus which is scored if a player declares that he has
   a lot of trumps:
  10 trumps : 20 points (Single Poignée)
  13 trumps : 30 points (Double Poignée)
  15 trumps : 40 points (Triple Poignée)

   To declare a poignée, the holder must show the correct number of
   trumps just before playing his first card. The trumps must be
   sorted so that the other players can easily see what is there.
   The excuse can be counted as a trump in a poignée, but if the
   excuse is shown, this indicates that the player does not have any
   other trumps concealed. The bonus is counted for the team who
   wins the hand, so if you declare a poignée and then lose, you
   have given the bonus points to the other side.
  Petit au bout
   This is a bonus which occurs if the 1 of trump is played in the
   last trick. In this case the team that takes the last trick wins
   the bonus (10 points).
   Chelem (= Slam) is a bonus for taking all the tricks. The score
   depends on whether it was announced in advance:
     * Chelem annoncé: the team (the taker normally) announces
       chelem before the beginning of the play, and leads to the
       first trick. The bonus is 400 points if they succeed in
       winning every trick and -200 points penalty if they fail).
     * Chelem non annoncé: the team wins all the tricks without
       having announced it. They get a bonus of 200 points.
   If one side has won all the tricks except the last, and then
   leads the excuse to the last trick, the excuse wins. This special
   rule, which probably comes up about once in a lifetime, allows a
   chelem to be made by a player with the excuse. When making a
   chelem with the excuse in this way, it counts as petit au bout if
   you win the 1 of trumps in the second last trick.
The scoring

   At the end of the hand, the taker counts his card points and the
   opposing team pool their tricks and count their card points. The
   six chien cards are added to the taker's tricks, unless the bid
   was "Garde contre le chien", in which case the chien cards are
   added to the opponents' tricks. The taker wins if he has enough
   card points, depending on the number of oudlers in his tricks.
   The amount of points won or lost by the taker is calculated as
     * 25 points for the game
     * plus the difference beetween the card points the taker
       actually won and the minimum number of points he needed (pt).
     * the petit au bout bonus is added or subtracted if applicable
   This total is multiplied by a factor (mu) depending on the bid:
     Prise                  x 1
     Garde                  x 2
     Garde sans le chien    x 4
     Garde contre le chien  x 6

   The following bonuses are then added or subtracted if they apply;
   they are not affected by the multiplier:
     * the poignée bonus (pg)
     * the chelem bonus (ch)
   The calculation of the score, expressed as a formula, is: ((25 +
   pt + pb) * mu) + pg + ch
   The calculated points are either won by the taker from all three
   opponents or lost by the taker to all three opponents. The
   opponents always win or lose equally: for example if one of them
   wins petit au bout they all benefit.
  Example of scoring:
           A       B       C       D
Hand #1   240     -80     -80     -80
Hand #2   144     208    -176    -176
Hand #3   216     280    -392    -104
Hand #4   176     240    -272    -144
Hand #5    98     162    -350      90

   Hand #1: A bids garde and has 56 card points with 2 oudlers. Each
   other player gives (25 + 15) * 2 = 80 points to A.
   Hand #2: B bids garde, has 49 card points with 3 oudlers and
   takes the last trick with the 1 of trump. Each other player gives
   (25 + 13 + 10 )* 2 = 96 points to B.
   Hand #3: C bids garde, has 40 card points with 2 oudlers and the
   other team takes the last trick with the 1 of trump. C gives (25
   + 1 + 10) * 2 = 72 points to each other player.
   Hand #4: C bids garde with 3 oudlers, and takes 41 card points,
   but the other team takes the last trick with the 1 of trump. C
   now only has two oudlers in tricks so his target score becomes
   41. Each other player gives (25 + 0 - 10) * 2 = 40 points to C.
   Hand #5: D bids garde, has 40 card points with 3 oudlers and the
   other team has a poignée. Each other player gives (25 + 4 + 10) *
   2 = 78 points to D.
   Note: to make the addition easier, some players prefer to round
   all the scores to the nearest 5 or 10 points.
Tarot for Three Players

   The game is essentially the same as with four players. Each
   player is dealt 24 cards, in packets of 4. Because the hands are
   larger the number of trumps needed for a poignée is increased:
   single 13; double 15; triple 18.
   Because the tricks contain an odd number of cards, there will
   sometimes be an odd half card point when counting. This is
   rounded in favour of the taker if he wins, and in favour of the
   opponents if he loses. If the taker is half a point short of the
   target, the bid is lost by one card point.
Tarot for Five Players

   Each player is dealt 15 cards, so there are only 3 cards in the
   chien. The number of trumps needed for a poignée is reduced:
   single 8; double 10; triple 13. Half card points are treated as
   in the three player game.
   With five players, there are two teams. Before exposing the
   talon, the taker calls a king and the player who has that card
   plays as the partner of the taker; the other three players play
   as a team against them. If the taker has all four kings, he may
   call a queen. The holder of the called king must not say anything
   to give away the fact that he has it. The identity of the taker's
   partner is only revealed when the called king is played, though
   it may be suspected earlier from the fact that the holder of the
   king will try to help the taker. If the called king (or queen) is
   found to be in the chien or in the hand of the taker, then the
   taker plays alone against four opponents.
  Note on Poignée
   Whatever the number of players, you can remember the minimum
   number of trumps needed for a Poignée as follows: you have a
   Poignée if more than half of the cards in your hand are trumps.

  Other variants for five players:
    1. Each player is dealt 14 cards and there are 8 cards in the
       chien but the taker is alone. This variant is very rarely
    2. The dealer doesn't take part in the hand but deals to the
       other four players who play as in the four handed game. If
       everyone passes the same dealer redeals until someone bids.
   In the five player game with calling a king, some people play
   that you are not allowed to lead the suit of the called king in
   the first trick, except that if the holder of the king happens to
   be on lead, the king itself may be led.
  Variations in the bidding
   There used to be a bid between prise and garde called pousse -
   some players may still allow this. On the other hand some play
   without prise, so that the lowest bid is garde.
  Petit imprenable
   Some play that a player dealt the petit (1 of trumps) alone (i.e.
   not holding any other trumps or the excuse) does not have to
   cancel the hand, but instead can declare "petit imprenable"
   (untouchable one). The player then plays the petit as though it
   were another excuse - it loses the trick, but the player keeps
   the card. Practice varies as to whether "petit imprenable" is
   declared immediately after the deal, when the player plays to the
   first trick, or not until the petit itself is played.
   Some play that a player who is dealt the excuse but no other
   trumps is also allowed to cancel the hand.
   The following bonuses are allowed by some players:
          - a bonus if you have no trumps or no court cards, worth
          10 points
   petit chelem
          - a bonus for making nearly all the tricks - all except
          one or all except three, as agreed by the players
   Some people require the declarations to be made before the first
   lead, rather than at declarer's first turn to play.
   Apart from the tournament scoring given in the main account,
   there are many alternative scoring system in use. For example:
   80 for Garde; 160 for Garde Sans; 320 for Garde Contre; 500 for a
   petit chelem; 1000 for a grand chelem; card points above or below
   those needed for the contract rounded to the nearest 10; no
   multiplying factors; other scores as above.
   Another version: prise x1, garde x2, garde sans x4, garde contre
   x5; grand chelem wins 400 if announced and made, loses 200 if
   announced and lost, wins 200 if made without announcement; petit
   chelem (all but one trick) 300 if announced and made, loses 150
   if announced and lost, no score if made without announcement.
   When playing with the pousse bid, the multipliers may be: prise
   x1, pousse x2, garde x4, garde sans x8, garde contre x12.
   Poignées may score: single 10, double 20, triple 40.
   French Tarot used to be played with pools (mouches). This method
   is a little cumbersome and has been dropped by most players, but
   it may still be encountered. At the beginning of the game, and
   subsequently whenever there are no mouches, everyone pays an
   equal amount (say 10) to form a mouche, and the dealer adds an
   extra 5. A player who wins a contract takes the largest mouche; a
   declarer who loses pays into a new mouche equal in size to the
   largest mouche. At the beginning of each deal, the dealer adds 5
   to (one of the) largest mouche(s). When playing with mouches
   there may be no base payment for the game - only for the card
   points won in excess of the minimum needed.
  Direction of play
   Some people play the entire game clockwise rather than
Other French Tarot WWW sites

   La page des jeux de tarot has a collection of links to French
   language rules of Tarot, as well links to Tarot computer software
   with reviews.
   Jean-François Bustarret's Tarot page has rules in French.
   Rules in French can be also found on Sylvain Lhullier's page
   règles du jeu de tarot. Unfortunately it begins with two
   historical errors: that playing-cards arrived in Europe in the
   10th century, and that the earliest European cards were Tarot
   cards (the same misinformation is included in the rule leaflets
   produced by the Fédération Française de Tarot).
   A free Tarot program for Windows 95 and NT is availaible from
   Daniel Bonniot's page.
   Return to General Index of Card Games site
    This page is maintained by John McLeod
    Last updated 14th November 1997

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