In France this is simply Jeu de Tarot, which just means The Game of Tarot. Well, there may just be the one game in France but this book is full of games of tarot and so I’ve chosen an archaic French spelling with a nice Gallic note to distinguish it. The basic game is for four players but there are variants for three, five, and six players that I shall give at the end. This is possibly the most widely played tarot game and I have known players as far a field as Spain to Ukraine – this alone makes it worth adding to your gaming repertoire but it is also a very good game in its own right and I particularly recommend the five player version as one of the best and most fun games I have ever played.

In France there is a nationwide Tarot Federation that oversees ‘official’ rules – but really, those are just the rules official to it and the tournaments organised for its members. In fact there is a great deal of ‘unofficial’ variation in how this is played and as according to Bunbury is no more according to a Federation than it is to Hoyle – the rules given here are the ones found most fun according to Bunbury.

Pack: A Loka of 78 cards is used consisting of four regular suits of 14 cards, a suit of 21 trumps (excluding the Good & Evil cards), and The Fool.

Ranking: Rational ranking is used...

Pip cards rank in suit from high to low:
King, Queen, Cavalier, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace

Trumps rank by their number, 21 high, 1 low.

Empty Cards: These are cards that have values of 1 point or less.

Honours: The magician, The World, and The Fool are called The Honours. They are always among the highest scoring cards.

Card Points are:
Honours 5 points
Kings 5 points
Queens 4 points
Cavaliers 3 points
Jacks 2 points
All others 1 point

A game consists of as many hands as there are players

Deal: First Dealer is chosen at random or by consent with the role moving to the player on the left after each hand.

Four Players: Dealer hands out eighteen cards to each player in packets of three, dealing six cards (neither the first six, nor the last) to the stock.

Three Players: Dealer hands out twenty-four cards to each player in packets of four, dealing six cards (neither the first six, nor the last) to the stock.

Five Players: Dealer hands out fifteen cards in packets of five, dealing three cards (neither the first three, nor the last) to the stock/

If a player has no trumps save for The Magician, then they may either call for the hand to be re-dealt (by the same Dealer) or declare that they have “Brass Balls”. In such a case, the hand is played out normally but The Magician behaves in the same way as The Fool and accordingly cannot be lost.

Auction: In turn moving to the left and starting with Eldest (Dealer’s left), players may bid for the role of Declarer, playing for themselves against the others who will be the Defenders. From low to high the bids are...

I’ll Play: If won, Declarer reveals the cards of the stock for all to see, then takes them into his/her hand. Declarer must then discard as many cards as there were in the stock, which may not include Kings, Honours, or Trumps. If there is no alternative however, then trumps may be discarded but must be shown to the other players first. The discard will count toward Declarers tricks at the end unless no tricks have been won.

Solo: If won, this is played as I’ll Play, save for higher stakes.

Solo with the stock: If won, then the stock goes unseen to Declarer’s tricks. However, if Declarer fails to win any tricks, then the stock is lost to the Defenders.

Solo against the stock: If won, then the stock goes unseen toward the Defender’s tricks.
If all players pass, then the hand is thrown in and re-dealt by the same Dealer.

Rally a King: If a five player game is being played, then Declarer must now call for a partner. This is done by calling for a king not held and whichever player holds it will be Declarer’s partner – though they cannot announce that until the end (their identity should become clear enough from their game play however).

Declarations: Before play commences, players have the opportunity to declare for bonus points.

Abundance: If players have enough trumps in their hand, then they may declare them for bonus points by laying them face up for the other players to see. There is no obligation to declare an Abundance and a player who does so need not declare all they can – just the minimum of score. However, they can only score for what they declare.

Number of Players


10 trumps
13 trumps
8 trumps
13 trumps
15 trumps
10 trumps
15 trumps
18 trumps
13 trumps


The Sparrow: When announced, the player contracts to win the last trick with The Magician, scoring 20 points against the other side (Declarer scores against each of the Defenders, the Defenders each score against Declarer). However, if announced and failed, a 20 point penalty is due instead.

Slam: When announced, the player contracts to win every trick for 400 points scored against the other side. If failed, then a 400 point penalty is due instead.

Bonuses: Players may win bonuses for unannounced achievements (The Sparrow and a Slam) but they score fewer points.

The Sparrow: Won unannounced in the Declarations round, this will only score 10 points.

Slam: Won Unannounced in the Declarations round, this will score 200 points.

Play: Declarer leads to the first trick by placing a card face up on the table. Each player in turn, moving to the left, must play a card from their hand of the suit led – this is called following suit. If they do not have any cards of the suit led, it is called being void in that suit and they must play a trump card instead – however, if trumps have already been played to the trick, then if they can, they must play a higher trump than any already played. If they cannot follow suit or play a trump, then they may then play any other card, though it will not win. Whoever plays the highest trump to the trick wins it, or if trumps are not played, then whoever played the highest card of the suit led wins it. The winner takes the cards and places them face down in their trick pile to be counted at the end.

The player that wins the trick then leads to the next one and play continues until the hand has been played out.

If The Fool is held, then it may be played at any time instead of a card that the rules might otherwise require and although it will not win, it is seldom lost. When played, The Fool is returned to to its player who then places it face up beside them until the end of the hand when they must pay the player who won the trick with a card from their trick pile (obviously, they will choose an empty card if they can). However, if they have taken no tricks, then they must surrender The Fool instead.

Scores: Scoring in tarot games is notoriously odd and up until now, I have simplified it for you. However, this is a game so widely played, that it would be a disservice to you not to use the recognised method.

Card points are counted in pairs of cards, subtracting 1 point for every pair. There are therefore 91 points in the pack. The number of points that Declarer needs to win the hand depends upon how many Honours are in his/her trick pile.

No Honours
56 points needed        to win

One Honour
51 points needed        to win

Two Honours
41 points needed        to win

Three Honours
36 points needed        to win

As The World and The Fool cannot be lost, winning or protecting The Magician is a priority in this game.

Once the winner is determined then points can be calculated. First, 25 points are scored for winning the hand, then add to this the difference between the number of card points needed to win against the number of points Declarer actually took, then add points for winning The Sparrow. Multiply this result according to the bid being played:

I’ll Play


Solo without
the stock

Solo against
the stock

Finally, points for a Slam can be added. If Declarer won, then the result is won against each of the Defenders, if lost however, it must be paid to each of them.

Scores between Partners: If the five player game is played then winnings and losses are both divided between them 2:1. So, if Declarer’s side wins, then one defender will pay Partner their share, while the other two Defenders pay Declarer. Conversely, if Declarer’s side loses, then Partner will pay one of the Defenders, while Declarer will pay the other two.  

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