A reconstruction of the rules for the game of Tarot by James D. Wickson.
NOTE: See also the files: games-cards-msg, games-msg, darts-msg, golf-msg, sports-msg, T-H-Dreidel-art, papermaking-msg.
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Mark S. Harris AKA: THLord Stefan li Rous
Stefan at florilegium.org
From: wickson at msn.com (Nosferatu)
Subject: Earliest Known Rules of the Game of Tarot (1637) now in English
Date: 4 Jul 2003 18:18:21 -0700
Rules of the Game of Tarot (1637)
The following is an attempted English language translation of the earliest printed rules of the game of Tarot (Abbé Michel de Marolles, 1637) as transcribed by Thierry Depaulis from documents at the Bibliothèque nationale de France (http://www.tarock.info/depaulis.htm). I should confess my knowledge of the French language is largely limited to the terminology used in the modern French game of Tarot and I have made extensive use of the Internet translation utility Babelfish. The English language terms employed here: King, Queen, Knight, Page, Coins, Cups, Swords, Wands and the names of the Fool and the Trumps are derived from the English language edition of the Tarot of Marseilles manufactured by Carta Mundi and distributed by US Games. The original document is written in a very old dialect of the French language and even those actually fluent in modern French or even one who is knowledgeable of the older dialect may have difficulty following it as it is often imprecisely worded with apparently a number of errors. It is possible that an English language version of these rules may have appeared in Micheal Dummett's "The Game of Tarot", but the book is sadly out of print and I was therefore never able to read it. To supplement what I was able to fathom from a computer assisted translation and my admittedly limited knowledge of French, as well as to suggest possible variants which might have been played at that time, I used some prior knowledge of other such games which I have learned from Stuart R. Kaplan's Encyclopedia of Tarot , David Parlett's "Dictionary of Card Games" and John McLeod's Card Games website (http://www.pagat.com/tarot/)
The author of the document (assumed to be Abbé Michel de Marolles) recommends the game for no more than three players and also claims it is not very pleasing for two. To make the two player game more agreeable, he appears to suggest stripping the pack of 12 of its 78 cards. Three cards of each suit are to be removed for this purpose: the 10, 9, & 8 of the Cups and Coins and the Ace, 2, & 3 of the Swords and Wands. The pip cards of the Cups and Coins, evidently rank in reverse order, which is common in games of this type. There also appears to be a reference to the Death (XIII) card which is difficult to decipher but does not appear to be pertinent to the play of the game. The author gives little detail of the two player variant, but I would guess that after 24 cards are dealt to each player, only 48 of the 66 remaining cards are in play. The discard and extra hand are probably not used. It may also be the case that the cards are counted in two's rather than three's.
The author gives more details of the three player game. Each player is dealt 24 cards. There remains thus 6 cards which appear to constitute the discard pile (this same discard pile would later be named the "chien" or "Talon" in the modern French and Austrian games). One of the three players (presumably the dealer) exchanges these 6 cards with up to 6 in his own hand. After this exchange, the discard card pile must not contain The Fool, any Kings, or any of the 21 Trump cards.( This arrangement also appears in the 3 player version of modern French Tarot and while this may be the earliest written rules of a Tarot game, it may not be the most common arrangement. In many of the simpler Italian or Swiss games, such as Scarto and Troccas, 25 cards are dealt to each player, leaving 3 cards in the discard pile). It appears in this variant that the discard pile is concealed from the other two players both before and after the exchange ( In modern French Tarot, the "chien" is revealed before the exchange, but not after).
Much of the description is difficult to decipher but I would assume that, like other games of this type, that the eldest leads the first trick and that play is counter-clockwise with an obligation to follow suit if possible or Trump if not possible, otherwise play any card. The winner of a trick leads the next. (In the modern French game, there is an obligation to play a higher Trump than those previously played in the trick, but I doubt if such an obligation existed in this early variant).
Players receive points for certain combinations of cards in their hand at the play of the first trick. One of the cards, the ace of coins is termed "la belle" or "the beauty" for the purpose of a rather unusual rule, given below, which I have not seen in any other game of this family and so I doubt whether it was very prevalent.
1: Three Kings are worth one point of each one ( I assume this means that the combination is worth fifteen points total). Four Kings are worth four points of each one (20 points) A combination of four court cards ( four Kings, four Queens, four Knights, or four Pages) is termed an "Imperiale" A Tarot is one of these seven cards: King (of which there are four), the Fool, the Magician (I), and the World (XXI). Four Tarots would also be collectively worth 20 points. However the author suggests that if one wishes to include five or six of the seven Tarots as valid combinations, then four Kings should only be worth three points. Two Kings and The Fool wins one point of each one. Three Kings and The Fool are worth two. Four Kings and The Fool are worth six. World (XXI), The Fool, and Magician (I) are worth three. Four Tarots are worth one. Five Tarots are worth two. Six Tarots, are worth three. Seven Tarots are worth four. Seven Tarots and "la belle" (the ace of coins) are worth five.
2: There is also a bonus for having two of these three Tarots : the Fool, the Magician (I), and the World (XXI) or a penalty for not having any of them. If I understand the account correctly, the player minus one of these trumps apparently must pay a point to one (or both?) of the players who do have them. The player having only one of these Tarots might have to give it to the player having two of them in exchange perhaps for some lesser card. Stuart R. Kaplan, in his Encyclopedia of Tarot vol. I, gives this account of a similar rule in his description of 19th century Tarock games: "If the player has any two of these Tarot Trumps, he can ask his opponent for a third; if the latter cannot reply by showing a third Tarot Trump, the former can score five points; but if he has the third it must be given up to the asker, who then does not score, but gives him some card of small value in exchange." In Kaplan's account however, "Tarot Trump" refers not only to the the Fool, the Magician (I), and the World (XXI) but also to the four kings.
3: Ten Trumps are worth one point of each one(10). Fifteen Trumps are worth two (30). Twenty Trumps are worth three(60).( This is clearly an ancestor of the modern French Poignée. In the modern French game for three players, thirteen Trumps are worth 10, fifteen are worth 20 and eighteen are worth 40. Kaplan, in his 19th century variant, gives 10 points for any ten Trumps held in hand and 15 for any thirteen Trumps).
4: A player having the four honors ( King, Queen, Knight, or Page) of each rank (called "Imperiale" in this account, but in some later variants, such as German or Danish Großtarock games, such combinations would sometimes be called "Cavallerie" and there is much variation in how many points they score) wins one point of each one. This apparently means that all four Kings in one hand score 20 points total; for four Queens, this would be 16; four Knights, 12; and four Pages, 8.
5: Brizigole (4 greatest or least Trumps): A player having the four greatest Trumps held in hand; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), and The Moon (XVIII) or the four least trumps; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III) and The Emperor (IV) wins one point of each one. For the five greatest; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), The Moon (XVIII) and The Star (XVII) or the five least; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV) and The Pope (V); two points. For the six greatest; The World (XXI), Judgement (XX), The Sun (XIX), The Moon (XVIII), The Star (XVII), and The Tower (XVI) or the six least; The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV), The Pope (V), The Lovers (VI)The Magician (I), The High Priestess (II), The Empress (III), The Emperor (IV), The Pope (V) and The Lovers (VI); three points. (For comparison purposes, Kaplan's account has "any three of the Greater (or Lesser) Trumps held in hand" at 5 points, for four Greater/Lesser Trumps, 10 points; and for the five Greater/Lesser Trumps, 15 points).
All the above combinations must be declared at the start of the first trick for them to count towards the total score.
There are also bonuses for Petite au bout or Pagat Ultimo, that is, winning the final trick with the Magician(I) and a bonus for König Ultimo, winning the final trick with the King. Such achievements are worth 6 points.
The Fool (The Excuse): This account appears to be very much in keeping with the way it is played in modern French Tarot. I shall thus paraphrase from John McLeod's Rules of Card Games website for those not familiar with it: If you hold the excuse you may play it to any trick you choose - irrespective of what was led and whether you have that suit or not. the excuse can never win the trick - the trick is won as usual by the highest trump, or in the absence of trumps by the highest card of the suit led. It is legal to lead the excuse, and in this case the second player to the trick can play any card, and this second card defines what suit must be followed. The player that played the excuse keeps it in his trick pile, even though he may have lost the trick to which it was played. If the trick is in fact won by the opponents of the player of the excuse, the trick will be one card short; to compensate for this, the player that played the excuse must transfer one card from his trick pile to the winner of the trick. This will be a card of no point value; if he does not yet have such a card in his tricks, he can wait until he takes a trick containing a such a card and transfer it then.
The method used to count the cards appear to be that of grouping them in three's. I shall quote from John McLeod's website to illustrate this counting method. "A group consisting entirely of empty cards is worth one point. A group containing one valuable card is worth the value of that card. A group containing two valuable cards is worth one less than the sum of their values. A group containing three valuable cards is worth two less than the sum of their values. A group containing four valuable cards is worth three less than the sum of their values."
With Dummett's books now out of print, I hope this attempted translation proves valuable to those with an interest in how these early Tarot games were played. As of right now, this is all of what I can decipher from the earliest such rules. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable of the French language or having knowledge gained from other sources such as Dummett's books might wish to supplement it.
James D. Wickson