What makes a game a tarot game? Is it enough that it is played with tarot cards?
There is a strong feeling that perhaps it isn’t. Many of us will have heard of folk
playing solitaire, rummy, or even poker with tarot cards but there is a feeling that
that doesn’t quite qualify them. This feeling comes from these games not having been
derived from the existing tradition. Many new games have developed over the years,
sometimes piecemeal from adding or modifying rules here and there until a regional
variation becomes a regional game. Sometimes these new games have come from adding
a greater innovation to an existing game, sometimes something original or more often
something drawn from another game – this is how bidding found its way into tarot
Whether you think that there is some important difference between a tarot game or
a game that happens to be played with tarot cards is not really important. The cards
and all of these games are now yours, they were the moment you read and played them.
Widely agreed rules are only a requirement for tournament play but beyond that you
are free to do with them as you will – all that is important is that the game plays
well and that all players are agreed upon the rules. (Games of Go Johnny Go-Go-Go-Go
are not going to win you friends)
As you’ve read this book, you may well have been struck by some rules in particular
or by some bids and wondered how they would play out in other games – if this is
the case, then try them out.
Here is an example of how you might go about things. It was inspired by a variation
on the 17th century French game in which swords were a secondary suit of trumps.
Sadly, this innovation was never developed and with little information about how
it was played, it had become little more than a footnote in tarot history. However,
I felt that it was an idea worth exploring and expanding upon, with great potential
Having a second suit of trumps will have a different influence on play with a 54
card pack than it will with a full 78 cards. I liked the idea of competitive bidding,
so I've opted for a 78 card pack - you can use either Italian or French suited cards.
The idea is to bid for a trump scheme which may (or may not) nominate a regular suit
to act as an additional trump suit. The possible trump schemes all rank equally and
it is likely that as many as three players will have a strong hand to play as declarer,
depending upon the scheme played. To outbid others, players must contract to win
a higher number of card points – these two elements, along with some compulsory declarations,
give the other players information about a bidder’s hand.
This is not the most sophisticated addition to the family but it may be fun. The
idea though, it to get you innovating yourselves.
A full 78 card pack using irrational ranking.
Honours 5 points
Kings 5 points
Queens 4 points
Cavaliers 3 points
Valets 2 points
Other cards 1 point
Cards are counted in groups of 3, subtracting 2 point for each full group or 1 point
for an odd card or pair. This means that there are 78 cards in the pack.
Dealer's left cuts the pack. Players are then dealt 19 cards each in a single round,
with dealer taking 21 and discarding 3 cards. The discards may not include Kings
or Honours and will count towards Dealer's tricks at the end.
Players may now bid in turn, starting with Eldest, to be Declarer playing against
the other three, who shall work as a team. Bidding continues until three players
pass in a single round, players may not make a bid after they have passed.
It is quite possible that in any given hand up to three players may have strong enough
hands to bid for one of the four trump schemes. Bidding can, therefore, become quite
competitive by raising the number of points required to win the game. Also, with
so many making bids according to their hand’s strengths and possibly making declarations
also, a great deal of information can be released into play.
Because of the way the trump schemes work, a penalty round, often played in tarot
games if no one bids, is not meaningful. So, if there are no bidders, the hand is
thrown in and deal moves to the next player.
A bid may be made of up to three different parts...
There are four possible opening bids, all four rank equally but can be strengthened
by adding Bid Points to the bid.
Tarocchi: Only the regular trump suit work as trumps.
No Trumps: Trumps lose their power to trump other suits, though the usual rules of
play still apply.
Over-trump: The bidder names one of the regular suits to be Overtrumps. If played
to a trick, these work as trumps and will beat even the regular trumps. Normal rules
of play still apply.
Under-trump: The bidder names one of the regular suits to be Undertrumps. If played
to a trick, these will work as trumps but will not beat a regular trump played to
the same trick. Normal rules of play still apply.
A basic bid can be further strengthened by adding Bid Points. To win a hand, Declarer
must win 20 points or more, Bid Points are announced in a multiple of 5 and represent
the number of additional points that the Declarer contracts to make. Alternatively,
if Declarer's hand is strong enough, then this may be announced as a Slam, contracting
to win all tricks - bidding ends when a Slam in announced. This allows players to
fully exploit a good hand and can inject a good deal of competition in the bidding.
The value of the bid may be improved by making an announcement. This way, two players
may bid the same number of points, with one bid outranking the other from the addition
of an announcement. It is legal to make more than one announcement. Should two players
bid the same number of points and make more than one announcement each, then the
announcements with the highest combined point value win the bid.
They rank from the lowest:
Capture Half Kings: contracts to win at least 3 Kings in tricks (5 points)
Capture Full Kings: contracts to win all Kings in tricks (5 points)
Capture Pagat : contracts to win the pagat in tricks (5 points)
Pagat Ultimo: contracts to win the last trick with the pagat (10 points)
Owl: contracts to win the second to last trick with the II of trumps (10 points)
Cockatoo: contracts to win the third to last trick with the III of trumps (10 points)
Marabou: contracts to win the fourth to last trick with the IV of trumps (10 points)
When overbid, an announcement becomes void but can be repeated as part of a higher
These are not a part of a bid per se but if a player does bid, then these are compulsory
if they can be made. Declarations are made with the bid. eg. 40 with Spades Overtrumps,
Capture Half Kings, declaring Full Kings and a Half Court.
Full Court:player holds all three court cards of a single suit (not named)
Half Court: Player holds three court cards of a single suit (not named)
Full Kings: player holds all four Kings
Half Kings: player holds 3 Kings
Honours: player holds all three Honours
Abundant Trumps: player holds 10 or more regular trumps
Long Suit: player holds 8 or more cards of a regular suit (not named)
Declarer leads to the first trick and players, in turn, must follow suit if they
can. If they cannot, then they must play a trump (a regular trump, not an over or
under trump). If they can do neither, then they may play any card - which may include
over or under trumps. The Fool is played as an excuse and exchanged for an empty
card, but it may be taken if it is played to the last trick.
A hand scores for each card point won by Declarer over or below 20 + Bid Points +
points for any announcement. If all parts of the bid were made, then Declarer scores
these points from each of the defenders. If any part of the bid was failed, then
Declarer pays these points to each of the defenders.
Players may think it odd to have both overtrump and undertrump bids available. However,
when making a bid for one of these schemes the player must consider the likelihood
of their trumps getting overtrumped by another suit.
Of course, 20 points is a very low threshold for winning and a very mediocre hand
could win such a basic bid – the object however, is to encourage more than one player
to enter bidding and so maximise the information revealed before play.
Also, it can pay to make a low bid to start with, working up to a higher bid to take
the game. Although it is in a player’s interest to win with the best bid for the
hand, in order to maximise the game points won, if a high bid is made from the start,
then other players may not attempt a bid themselves, thus denying you any information
about their hand which the bid might have revealed.
If you have created a great variation or a new game entirely, then please, don’t
keep it to yourself. There is my own forum at www.tarocchino.com where you can post
the rules and I will be happy to start posting some of these onto the site’s main
pages. Also, consider sending them to John McLeod at www.pagat.com where he also
makes original games available.