Tarneeb

This page is based on information from Salah Wassef, Cesar, Ash Ponders and others.

Introduction

Tarneeb is a plain trick-taking game for four players with trumps and bidding. It is popular in various versions in several Middle Eastern countries, possibly having originated in Lebanon. Tarneeb is the Arabic word for "trump" in this game.

There are two main versions. In the original and simpler form of the game, which is described first, players bid only the number of tricks their team will take. In the more elaborate version, which is popular in Egypt, the bid includes the proposed trump suit as well.

Players and Cards

There are four players in fixed partnerships, partners facing each other.

A standard international 52-card pack is used, the cards in each suit ranking from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.

The game is normally played counter-clockwise.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen and random. After each hand the turn to deal passes to the right. The cards are shuffled and cut, and are all dealt out, one at a time so that everyone has 13 cards.

Bidding

The bidding begins with the player to dealer's right and continues counterclockwise.

The bids are numbers, representing the number of tricks that the bidder's team undertakes to win. The lowest bid is seven and the highest is thirteen. Each bid must be higher than the last.

A player who does not wish to bid at their turn can pass. Once you have passed you drop out of the bidding - you cannot bid again on a later turn.

If all four players pass on their first turn to speak, the hand is thrown in and redealt by the same dealer.

Otherwise the bidding continues around the table as many times as necessary until all players but one have passed. The final bidder then announces the trump suit (tarneeb) and leads to the first trick.

There is also the option to announce that the hand will be played without trumps.

Example of bidding:
North
(dealer)
WestSouthEast
---pass78
10---pass11
pass

Here West began the bidding, since North dealt. West could not say anything over North's bid of 10, since he has already passed at his first turn. The bidding ends when North passes, and East must now choose trumps.

Play

The player who won the bidding leads to the first trick, and thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next.

Play is counterclockwise. Players must follow suit if able to. Those unable to follow suit may play any card - either trump (tarneeb) or discard a card of another suit (sakret).

Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or by the highest card of the suit led if it contains no trumps.

Scoring

The bidder's team tries to take at least as many tricks as they bid. If their bid is less than 13 and succeed, they score the number of tricks they won, and the other team scores nothing. If the bidding team takes fewer tricks than they bid, they lose the amount of their bid, and the other team scores the number of tricks they won.

Winning all 13 tricks is called kaboot. If the bid was less than 13, kaboot brings a bonus of 3 points, so 16 points in total instead of 13.

If a team bids 13 tricks and wins them all, they score 26 points. If they lose any tricks, they score minus 16 and the other team scores double the number the tricks that they win.

Further hands are played until one team achieves a cumulative score of 31 points or more, and wins the game.

Variations

Some play the whole game clockwise, in which case the player to the left of the dealer begins the bidding.

Some allow the cards to be dealt in a single batch of 13 to each player.

In some parts of Lebanon, each player is allowed only one bid. After everyone has spoken, the auction is at an end. Players cannot increase their bids. In this version the dealer, who bids last, need only equal the highest bid made by another player to take over the role of bidder.

Some play that if the first three players pass, the dealer is forced to bid seven.

Some play that the bidder must lead a trump to the first trick.

If the players agree at the start, the score required to win the game may be set at 41, 51 or 61 rather than 31.

Some play that the cards may be thrown in immediately after the deal by any player who has

  • no ace, and
  • no king in a suit of two cards or more, and
  • no queen in a suit of three cards or more, and
  • no jack in a suit of four cards or more.

In other words, the player has no card that could take a trick if an opponent led the suit from the top down: A, K, Q, ... In this case, the cards are shuffled and dealt by the next dealer.

Egyptian Tarneeb

There is a popular variation played mostly in Egypt in which each bid specifies the proposed trump suit as well as the number of tricks. The suits are ranked from high to low: No Trump, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs. To overcall the previous bidder, you must bid the same number of tricks in a higher suit, or a greater number of tricks in any suit. So the lowest bid is 7 clubs, the highest is 13 No Trump.

Starting with the player to dealer's right, each player in turn may either:

  1. Pass
  2. Bid higher than the highest bid so far
  3. Double, if the last bid was by an opponent

In this version of Tarneeb, passing (or doubling) does not prevent you from bidding on a future turn.

The bidding continues until there is a complete round in which none of the four players bids. Then the play begins. The declarer leads and the trump suit (or no trump) is as specified in the final bid.

This bidding process may look similar to bidding in Bridge, but there are two important differences.

  1. Three consecutive passes do not end the bidding. If you bid 8 hearts and the other three players pass, you still have the chance to change to a higher bid - for example 8 spades or 9 diamonds - and if you do that everyone else gets another chance to bid as well.
  2. A double does not count as a bid. If you bid 9 spades, your right-hand opponent and your partner pass, your left-hand opponent doubles and you pass, that is the end of the bidding. The contract is 9 spades doubled.

If the final bid is not doubled, the scoring is the same as in the version where the bids are just numbers. The bidders win the trick they took if sufficient. Otherwise they lose their bid and the opponents score for their own tricks.

If the final bid is doubled, this doubles the amount won or lost by the bidding side, but does not affect the amount scored by the opponents if the bidding side loses.

For example, if the contract is 10 hearts doubled:

  • if the bidders win 11 tricks, they score 22 points;
  • if the bidder win 8 tricks, they score -20 points and the opponents score 5;
  • if the bidders win 13 tricks they score 32 points (twice the usual 16).

The target score to win the game is usually set at 41 in this Egyptian variant.

Variations of Egyptian Tarneeb

If the final bid is doubled, some players allow the bidder or his partner to redouble, multiplying their score for the hand by 4 instead of 2.

Some play that a double or redouble also multiplies the opponent's score for tricks by 2 or 4, in the event that the bidder fails.

Other Tarneeb Web Sites

There is a Wikipedia article on Tarneeb.

Tarneeb can be played online at the Jawaker web site.

A free Windows program with which you can play Egyptian Tarneeb against the computer is available from Thanos Card Games.