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Rules for the French Game of Tarot

Complete English translation by James D. Wickson from the website of the Fédération Française de Tarot (FFT)


The Cards

The game of Tarot is played with 78 cards:

- Four suits; Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs. Each suit consists of 14 cards ranking in descending order; the Roi (King), the Dame (Queen), the Cavalier (Knight), and the Valet (Jack), (constituting the Honors or Habillés), 10,9,8,7,6,5,4,3,2,1.

- Twenty one cards are assigned a number: in fact the Trumps (Atouts)  rank higher than the suit cards.

The number indicates the rank of each Trump; the highest being the 21, and the lowest being the 1 (called Petit or Little Man).

- Finally, the Excuse (Fou), a card marked with a star and depicting a mandoline player, is a kind of "joker" exempting the obligation to play the required suit or  Trump.

The 21, the Petit and the Excuse are  the 3 Oudlers (or 3 Bouts "end-points"). It is around these 3 cards, that all  strategy of the Tarot game revolves.

Value of each card

  • 1 Oudler(or Bout: 21 - Petit - Excuse)= 4½ each
  • 1 Roi(King)= 4½ each
  • 1 Dame(Queen)= 3½ each
  • 1 Cavalier(Knight)= 2½ each
  • 1 Valet(Jack)= 1½ each
  • Any other card = ½ each

    One counts the cards in pairs to facilitate the calculation

  • 1 Oudler + 1 small card = 5 pts.
  • 1 King + 1 small card = 5 pts.
  • 1 Queen + 1 small card = 4 pts.
  • 1 Knight+ 1 small card = 3 pts.
  • 1 Jack+ 1 small card = 2 pts.
  • 2 small cards of a suit or Trump =1 pt.

    Principles of Play

    Tarot is played by four players. It may also, however, be played by 3 players with some alterations in the rules.

    Tarot is at the same time an individual  and a team game.

    Indeed, during the play, one of the players, called the Preneur (or taker) plays alone against the three others, the defenders, who play as a team (the Defense). But this alliance may not last beyond one deal. It may be constituted differently for subsequent deals.

    After acknowledging his game, a player may contract to reach a certain number of points while playing against his three allied opponents.

    How many points does the Preneur have to score in order to fulfill the contract? That depends on the number of Oudlers  counted as won tricks at the end of a played deal.

    Points to be scored
  • Without any Oudlers-56 points are needed
  • With one Ouder-51 points are needed
  • With two Ouders-41 points are needed
  • With three Ouders-36 points are needed

    This table  shows us the considerable importance of Oudlers. The 21 and the Excuse cannot change sides.

    Note however, the Excuse should not be played at the last trick, except in the event of Chelem (Slam).  The Excuse, if played at the last trick, changes sides.

    The Petit, however, is vulnerable. The Preneur can lose it or take it. Opponents may chase or hunt for the Petit (Chasse au Petit).

    The Deal

    Before the first deal, the cards are spread out, face down, and each player randomly draws a card.

    The dealer is the one with the lowest ranked card. In the event of a tie between two equally ranked cards, one observes the following ranking among the suits: Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, and Clubs ; the 1 of Clubs  is thus the lowest ranked card.

    The Trumps rank higher than the suit cards, but the Excuse does not count: it is necessary to discard it in this case and draw another card.

    The cards are shuffled by the player seated opposite the dealer.

    The player on the left of the dealer must then cut the cards (with each section containing more than 3 cards).

    The dealer deals the cards, 3 at a time per person, in a counter-clockwise direction. During the deal, the dealer deals cards individually  to  a stock of 6 cards called the Chien (Dog). It is a violation to deal the first or the last card of the deck to the Chien.

    In the event of a misdeal, the dealer redeals,  but may not bid this round.

    A card turned over by the dealer at the time of the deal is a  misdeal if it involves an honor card and/or a Trump. In such a case, the dealer redeals and may not bid.

    Any card turned over by a non dealing player at the time of the deal results in a new deal by the same dealer. This would perhaps be a penalty given by the referee to the player having picked up his cards before the end of the deal.

    The players pick up their cards only when the deal is finished. In the event of a misdeal, each player returns his hand without looking at it; one thus avoids regrets and bad feelings.

    The right to deal passes in turn in the same counter-clockwise direction as play of the game.


    Once the cards are dealt, each player takes note of his hand. It is not essential to organize one's hand before the end of the bidding phase, but for a beginner, a well organized  hand allows for a more precise evaluation.

    The player on the dealer's right  speaks first. If he says "I pass", the right to bid passes to the right hand neighbor of this player, and so forth, to the dealer.

    If all four players pass, the player on the right-hand side of the dealer proceeds to a new deal.

    But if a player bids,  estimating that his hand enables him to  play alone against  three united opponents, then that player  says  "prise", "garde", "garde sans le chien" or "garde contre le chien".

    The other players, in turn,  may overcall  this first bid with a higher bid. Each player  speaks only once.

    The bids in ascending order are:

      The PRISE, with an average hand which allows hope for only approximately 50% chance of success and which is often based on the hope of  encountering  a very good Chien, is also called the "Petite" and is not as highly valued as the Garde. This contract may be omitted during tournaments.

    The GARDE can be a higher bid after the Prise of an opponent. It is generally, however, the first bid, as the Preneur considers his chances of success much higher then his risks of failure.

    The GARDE SANS LE CHIEN. With a very good hand, the Preneur estimates that he can carry out his contract without  the Chien during play, as the cards were not exchanged. The points of the Chien, however, are counted towards the Preneur at the end of play and constitute  a certain reserve of safety. Naturally, no player may look at the Chien while this contract is played.

    The GARDE CONTRE LE CHIEN. With an exceptional hand, the Preneur begins to carry out his contract without the aide of the Chien. The points of the Chien will count towards the  Defense.

    Chelem (Slam)

    To achieve Chelem successfully, it is necessary to win all the tricks.

    Perhaps one will play for years  without ever experiencing this extremely rare stroke.

    The Chelem can be declared by the Preneur in addition to his contract and  the points are counted according to the required contract and a bonus (or a penalty) is added depending on the success (or the failure) of this Chelem:

    Chelem announced and achieved: additional bonus of 400 points.

    Chelem not announced but achieved: additional bonus of 200 points.

    Chelem announced but not achieved: 200 points are subtracted from the total.

    In the event of a Chelem announcement, the player making the announcement leads the first trick and becomes Preneur, regardless of who is the dealer.

    In order for a Chelem to succeed, the one announcing it must win all tricks and must play the Excuse in the final trick. Consequently,  "Petit au bout"   will be counted  if  the Petit wins the second to last trick.

    Paradoxically, it may happen that the Defense achieves Chelem against the Preneur. In this case, each defender receives, in addition to the normal score, a bonus of 200 points

    The Chien and the Discard

    On a Prise or a Garde, when the bidding is finished, the Preneur turns over the 6 cards of the  Chien so that each player acknowledges them.

    The Preneur incorporates the cards in his hand then discards 6 cards which remain secret during the entire play of the hand and which will be counted towards the won tricks of the Preneur. One may neither discard a King nor  a Bout. One may discard Trumps, however, only when it proves necessary. One must then show the discarded Trumps to the Defense.

    When the Preneur finishes the discard, he says "play" and the discard may not be further modified or examined

    On a Garde Sans or a Garde Contre, the cards of the Chien remain face down.

    On a Garde Sans, they are placed in front of the Preneur and will count towards his won tricks.

    On a Garde Contre, they are placed in front of the player located opposite the Preneur and will be counted towards the won tricks of the Defense


    the  Poignée (handful) (10, 13 or 15 Trumps)

    A player having a  Poignée may, if desired, announce it and present it, arranging the Trumps in  descending order, completely and only once, right before playing his first card.

    With the simple  Poignée (10 Trumps) there is a bonus of 20.

    With the double  Poignée (13 Trumps) there is a bonus of 30.

    With the triple Poignée (15 Trumps) there is a bonus of 40.

    These bonuses have the same value regardless of the contract.

    This bonus is awarded to the victorious side in a played hand.

    The  Poignée must include ten, thirteen or fifteen Trumps.

    When a player has eleven, twelve, fourteen, sixteen or seventeen Trumps, the player hides one or two Trumps of his choice, but complying with this very important rule: the Excuse in the  Poignée implies that the player announcing  Poignée does not have any other Trumps.


    The Preneur presents a double Poignée.

    If he wins, each defender gives him, in addition to the normal score, a bonus of 30. If he loses, it is he who gives this bonus to each defender, in addition to the normal score.

    A defender presents ten Trumps. If the Preneur wins, each defender gives him a bonus of 20. If the Preneur loses, each defender receives a bonus of 20.

    Petit au Bout (Petit at the Last Trick)

    If the Petit is played at the last trick, it is called "Petit au bout."

    The side winning this trick, receives a bonus of  10, multiplied by the value of the  contract, regardless of who wins the deal.


    The Preneur bids Garde Sans. A defender achieves  "Petit au bout,"  winning the last trick with the Petit. The Preneur gives a bonus of 10 x 4 = 40 to each defender. If, in spite of the loss of the Petit, the Preneur wins his contract, the bonus is then subtracted from his profit or positive points.

    The Preneur bids Prise. A defender achieves  "Petit au bout,"  winning the last trick with the Petit. The Preneur gives a bonus of 10 to each defender. If the Preneur wins the contract, he nevertheless gives the bonus,  deducting it from  his profit.

    Petit Sec (Dry Petit)

    A player having the Petit without any other Trump and not having the Excuse  must announce this fact, displaying his hand and annuling the deal before the bidding commences.

    Card Play

    The Preneur having finished the discard, says "Play".

    The first trick is led by the  player located on the right of the dealer. Then each player plays in  turn in a counter-clockwise direction.

    The player having having won the first trick leads the next trick, and so forth. The game proceeds according to following rules:

    With a Trump, one is obliged to exceed the highest Trump already played, even if it belongs to a partner. A player not having a Trump exceeding  the highest one played, plays a Trump of his choice; in general, the smallest. It is said the player, playing a small Trump, "pisse" (or "tinkles").

    With a suit card, one is obliged to play a card of the suit led, but not required to exceed it.

    One is obliged to play a Trump if he does not have a card of the suit led. If a preceding player also Trumps, one is obliged to over-Trump (to play a higher Trump) or  to under-Trump (to tinkle) if one cannot over-Trump.

    One reneges (plays a card of his choice) if he has neither a card of the suit led nor  a Trump.

    If the card led to a trick is the Excuse, it is the next card played which determines the suit led.

    The Excuse may not win a trick (except in the event of Chelem), but it still belongs to the side holding it. If the opposing side wins the trick containing the Excuse , the holder  of the Excuse must replace it in the trick by any small card (any card, including a Trump, valued at ½ points) taken from the tricks won by his side.

    In the event of a successful Chelem without the Preneur having the Excuse, this card is played normally and remains with the side of the Defense and accounts for 4 points.

    The tricks won by the Defense must be collected by the player seated opposite the preneur.

    As long as a trick was not collected, any player may examine the preceding trick.

    A player should never play a card before his turn. 

    Calculation of the Scores

    At the end of the played deal, one counts the points contained in the won tricks of the Preneur for one total, and  those of the Defense as another total.

    To win the contract, the Preneur must score a minimum number of points according to the number of Bouts that he has acquired at the end of the played deal.

    In the event of Garde Sans,  it is possible for the Preneur to acquire a Bout with the Chien.

    If the number of points is equal to this minimum, the contract is barely achieved; if the number of points is higher, the additional points  are profit (positive); if the number of points is lower, the contract has not been achieved and the score is counted as a loss (negative).

    Any contract arbitrarily being worth 25 points, one adds 25 points with the number of scored points, positive or negative.

    This new total is multiplied by a coefficient according to the appropriate contract:

    in the event of Prise, this total is unchanged,

    in the event of Garde, this total is multiplied by two,

    in the event of Garde Sans, this total is multiplied by four,

    in the event of Garde Contre, this total is multiplied by six.

    Each Defender scores the same number of points:  negative if the Preneur wins, or positive if the Preneur fails.

    The Preneur counts three times this total; as positive if he wins, or as negative if he fails.

    The total of the four scores of the Preneur and the three Defenders is, thus, equal to 0.

    Examples of scoring points:

    The Preneur bids Garde,  presents a Poignée of 10 Trumps. He achieves Petit au bout and scores 49 points by holding two Bouts.

    He thus proceeds from 49 - 41 = 8.

    25 (contract) + 8 = 33 multiplied by 2 (Garde) = 66.

      Poignée = 20, and Petit au bout 2 x 10 = 20.

    66 + 20 + 20 = 106

    Each Defender scores -106 and the Preneur scores 3 x 106 = +318.

    The Preneur fufills Garde Sans by 4 points, but the Petit au bout is achieved by the Defense (25 + 4) x 4 (Garde Sans) = 116, but it is necessary to deduct 40 for the Petit au bout.

    The Preneur scores +228 and each Defender scores  -76.

    The Preneur fails Prise by 7 after having presented a Poignée of 10 Trumps, but  achieving Petit au bout.

    Each Defender scores  25 + 7 + 20 ( Poignée) - 10 (Petit au bout) = +42.

    The Preneur scores  -42 x 3 = -126.

    The Preneur wins Garde by 11. The Defense  presented a Poignée.

    (25 + 11) x 2 (Garde) = 72, plus 20 from Poignée paid by the Defense).

    Total =92.

    The Preneur scores  +276 and each Defender scores  -92.

    On a Garde, the Preneur announces and achieves Chelem, shows a Poignée of 10 Trumps and achieves Petit au bout. The Defense retains the Excuse with which they started.

    With 2 Bouts, the Preneur earns 87 points. He wins by 87 - 41 = 46. (46+25) x 2 (Garde)+ 20 (Poignée) + 20 (Petit au bout) + 400 (announced Chelem) = 582.

    Each Defender scores  -582.

    The Taker scores  +582 x 3 = +1746.

    Tarot for 3 Players

    The rules are the same as for the game for 4, but the cards are dealt 4 at a time per person.

    Each player receives 24 cards, the Chien 6 cards.

    The contracts are identical to the game for 4 players

    The Poignées are: simple: 13 Trumps; double: 15 Trumps; triple: 18 Trumps

    It is not necessary to provide a low valued card to supplement the trick involving the Excuse. This rule is worthy only to insure an even number of cards per side. Among three players, it is indeed uncertain to have an even number of cards to be counted at the time of calculation.

    At the time of  calculation, it is necessary to round off the half point. Thus, a Preneur who was to make 41, loses if he makes 40.5. The round-off is done, then, by always privileging the side which scores points. Thus in the preceding case, the Preneur loses by 1 point. Conversely, if he had made 41.5, he would have won by 1 point.

    If the Preneur misses by 1/2 point,  he has failed to fufill the contract.

    Tarot for 5 Players

    The cards are dealt, counter-clockwise, 3 cards at a time per person. Each player receives 15 cards and 3 cards are dealt to the Chien.

    The contracts are identical to the games with 3 or 4 players

    The Poignées are: simple: 8 Trumps; double: 10 Trumps; triple: 13 Trumps

    Before turning over the Chien, the Preneur calls a King of his choice and the holder of this King becomes his partner.

    If the Preneur has the 4 Kings, he calls a Queen, or a Knight if he also has the 4 Queens.

    If the chosen King is with the Chien, then the game is played 1 against 4.

    The first trick may not be led in the suit chosen by the Preneur unless this trick is led by the suit's King.

    The distribution of the points (including the bonuses of Poignée and/or Petit au bout) is divided 2/3 for the Preneur and 1/3 for his partner. If the Preneur plays 1 against 4, he combines the totality of the points as + or  - according to his success or failure.

    If the Preneur misses by 1/2 point, he has failed to fulfill the contract