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How to Play Barbu


When you play Barbu, a card game of French origin, you select from a menu of seven different card games. A complete Barbu session consists of 28 deals. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Four, with one chosen as scorekeeper.

Object: To have the highest score at the end of 28 hands.

The cards: Use a standard 52-card deck.

To play: Deal 13 cards to each player for each hand. After examining cards, the dealer calls out a "contract" of one of seven games. In five of the games (called "negative contract games"), the goal is basically to avoid winning tricks, while the two remaining games (called "positive contract games") reward you for taking tricks.

These are the five negative contract games.

Nullo (also called No Tricks): Dealer leads any card. The other players in turn from the dealer's left must follow suit, but if a card from that suit is not available, you can discard any card. High card of the led suit wins the trick. The winner then leads for the next trick. There are thirteen tricks in all. At the end of play, each trick counts -2. If you win no tricks, you score 0 points, the best result possible.

No Last Two Tricks: Same rules as Nullo, but scoring is different. Whoever wins the next to the last trick is penalized -10, and the winner of the final trick receives -20. No other tricks are scored.

No Queens: Same rules as Nullo, except every queen taken scores -6, and other tricks are not counted. Once all four queens have been played, the hand stops since the score for the deal is already complete. You may choose to leave the queens taken turned up, which allows for quick scoring at the end of the hand.

Hearts (or No Hearts): Same rules as Nullo, but you cannot lead a heart except if that's the only suit you have left in your hand. The object is to take as few s as possible. Every taken counts -2, with the A counting -6.

Barbu (or No King of Hearts): Same rules as Hearts, except the object is to avoid winning the trick containing the K, which scores -20. Once the K has been taken, play for this hand ceases.

These are the two positive contract games.

Trumps: Dealer declares a trump suit and then leads a card. You must follow suit whenever possible. A few special rules apply. When a trump is led, you must play a higher trump than any played so far, if you can. When a nontrump suit is led and you cannot follow, you must play a trump. You can discard if you have no trumps or if the trick already contains a trump card that you cannot beat. Each trick you take scores +5, resulting in a total of 65 points for this game.

Fan Tan (or Card Dominoes): For the general rules of Fan Tan, click here. In Fan Tan Barbu-style, the dealer also names the card rank that starts the playoff piles. If declarer says, "Fan Tan 5s," then every suit begins by playing its 5, with players laying off cards in sequence, ascending to king on one side and descending to ace on the other side. The first player to be out of cards scores +45. The second player to go out scores +20, the third scores +5, and the last player scores -5.

Fan Tan (or Card Dominoes): For the general rules of Fan Tan, click here. In Fan Tan Barbu-style, the dealer also names the card rank that starts the playoff piles. If declarer says, "Fan Tan 5s," then every suit begins by playing its 5, with players laying off cards in sequence, ascending to king on one side and descending to ace on the other side. The first player to be out of cards scores +45. The second player to go out scores +20, the third scores +5, and the last player scores -5.

As dealer, you must select a game you have not chosen before until you contract each game once. In other words, each player will deal each of the seven games once, for a total of 28 hands. It is acceptable for one player to deal seven hands in a row, but it is more interesting to rotate dealers with each new hand.

Scoring: The scoring chart can get complicated. The scorer not only tallies both + and - scores over 28 deals, but also makes sure that each player deals each game only once. After 28 deals, if you have kept score perfectly, the total of all + and - scores will equal 0!

Tips: As dealer, you have the most control because you pick the game and make the first play.

If you have a number of low cards, it usually does not matter which negative contract game you call. Call Trumps when you deal yourself a long suit (at least five or six cards) along with some other high cards.

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