Le Jeu de Tarot is a traditional French card game. It is NOT the same as tarot cards. It is more along the lines of bridge but far, far weirder. It can be played by 3,5 or even 2 people, but I will begin by describing the 3 player game.
The Deck : There are 78 cards in a deck. There are the four normal suits (clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades) which each contain 14 cards – 1 to 10, Jack, Cavalier, Queen, King (in ascending order). This is the same as normal playing cards except the Ace (or 1) is low, and there is an extra card, the Cavalier, between Jack and Queen. In addition there is a 5th suit, trumps, which consists of 21 cards, numbered (as you might expect) 1 to 21. Finally there is a joker (or l’excuse). There are 3 Special cards - the joker, the 21 of trumps and the 1 of trumps, for reasons I will explain later.
Dealing : Without shuffling, the person chosen as dealer deals out the whole deck, 3 cards at a time, starting with the person to his right and continuing anticlockwise. At two random points during the dealing, you put 3 cards to the side, leaving 6 cards called the dog. Each player will then have 24 cards in his hand.
Bidding : Once the hands have been dealt, the person to the right of the dealer begins the bidding. These are the six possible bids, in ascending order: Pass, Small, Guard, Guard without the dog, Guard against the dog or Slam. You must always either bid higher than the person before you or pass. The person who has bid the highest plays against the other two players. If he has bid Small or Guard, he picks up the dog, showing it to the others as he does so, and discards 6 cards from his hand. He must NOT discard any Kings or Special cards. If he has bid Guard without the dog, he reveals the dog but does not pick it up. If he has bid Guard against the dog he gives 3 cards from the dog to each of the others. Slam means he must make all the tricks, and no-one gets the dog. If no-one bids, the hands are re-dealt.
Play : After the bidding is complete, the person in the contract leads. The play is basically like whist or bridge (you must follow suit if you can, the winner of a trick leads the next one) with a few exceptions:
1. If you can trump, you must.
2. You must always play a higher trump than any already played.
3. You keep the cards from the tricks you win together, for scoring at the end. If you are defending the contract, you put your tricks with your partners.
4. You may not lead the joker. You may play it on any trick that has already been led, and it exempts you from it. You keep the joker, but must give a normal card (not an honour or special card) from your trick-pile to whoever wins that trick.
5. You should not play the joker on the last trick. If you do, it goes to the opposition.
You continue like this until all the cards have been played.
Scoring : After the last trick has been played, the person in the contract counts up his points, both those from his tricks and from the dog. You pair up the cards, putting one honour or special card with one normal card. The normal cards left over you just put together in pairs. If there are an odd number of cards, the final one is ignored. The scoring is as follows:
Special card + normal = 5 points
King + normal = 5 points
Queen + normal = 4 points
Cavalier + normal = 3 points
Jack + normal = 2 points
Two normal cards = 1 point
In total there are 91 points.
Whether you win or not depends on how many special cards you have. The more special cards you have, the less points you need to win:
3 Special cards – 36 points
2 Special cards - 41 points
1 Special cards - 51 points
0 Special cards - 56 points
If you get this number of points or more, you have won the round. Your actual score depends on what you bid at the beginning:
Small - 25 points
Guard - 50 points
Guard without the dog - 100 points
Guard against the dog - 150 points
Slam without bidding it - 300 points
Slam bid and made - 600 points
In addition you take the difference between the number of points you got and the number you needed, multiply by a certain number, depending on what you bid, and add it to your score. These are the multipliers:
×1 for Small
×2 for Guard
×4 for Guard without the dog
×6 for Guard against the dog
You do not add anything when Slam has been bid and made.
There are also bonus points for the following things:
Playing the 1 of trumps on the last trick - 10 points
Having 10 trumps in your hand - 20 points
Having 13 trumps in your hand - 30 points
Having 15 trumps in your hand - 40 points
Having no trumps in your hand - 10 points
Having no honours in your hand - 10 points
Once you have finished scoring up, the person to the right of dealer deals, without shuffling, and another round begins.
Tactics : Although the rules themselves may seem complicated, the tactics are even more so. In fact they are very flexible – one player’s tactics will change according to the tactics of the other players. In general there are a few basic guidelines:
1. Bidding: Whether you bid or not greatly depends on how many special cards you have. If you have one, you should think about bidding, two, you should definitely bid, and three you should almost certainly bid at least Guard. Other things that obviously improve your hand are a long trump suit and lots of honours. It should be remembered that even if you start with the 1 of trumps you can lose it, and if you don’t you can win it by drawing trumps.
2. The Dog: It is very important to put the right cards in the dog. It is often a good idea to void a weak suit, so you can trump the honours in it, or to put honours which you might lose in it.
3. Play: The tactics for play are a lot more complicated. You should obviously try to win as many tricks as possible, but especially ones with honours in. The two players working together should often drop their honours in tricks their partner is winning. If you have the 1 of trumps, it is important to win it if you can, either by trumping with it, or clearing all the higher trumps. If you don’t have it, but have a long trump suit, it is a good idea to try and draw it out.
Five player game : This is even more complicated and confusing than the 3 player game. The rules are basically the same. You deal out the pack, leaving a dog of 3 cards. The bidding is the same, except Guard against the dog cannot be bid, since 3 cards can not be divided among 4 people. The person who wins the bidding chooses a certain king (not in his hand or in the dog). The person who has this king will be playing with the person in the contract. However he does not tell anyone that he has the king, so only he knows exactly who is on his side. The play then commences with no-one entirely sure who is on their side, at least until the king has been played. Clearly this will make the tactics entirely different and a lot more subtle.
There are also 2 player, 4 player, and even 6 player variations, but they are generally not as enjoyable.