Taroki z królami

Introduction

This version of Taroki is played in the village of Kozy, about 6 km east of Bielsko Biała. It is a four-player Tarok game in which the bidder chooses a partner by calling a king. We learned this game on a visit in 2011 organised by Robert Sedlaczek; our translator was Jolanta Hametter.

In the 19th century, Kozy lay in the Austrian province of Galicia, and this game presumably dates from that time. The names used for the suits are influenced by their names in German, and are not the same as those used in other Polish card games. The players also use other German-derived words such as “sztych” (from Stich) for trick and "forant" (from Vorhand) for the player to the right of the dealer, who begins the bidding and the play.

The players normally just call the game Taroki, but a different and better known form of Taroki is played nearby, around Czechowice-Dziedzice and especially in the village of Zabrzeg, which was formerly in Austrian Silesia. In that game, which is similar to Czech Taroky, the XIX is called to choose a partner. If it is necessary to distinguish between these games, the game at Kozy is called Taroki z królami (Tarok with kings) and the version played at Zabrzeg is called Taroki z dziewiętnaską (Tarok with XIX). Because of the many structural differences between the games, it is unlikely that either is derived from the other: probably they are independent descendants of two different Tarock variants introduced from Austria in the 19th century.

Although Taroki z królami does not correspond exactly to any Tarock variant we have found elsewhere in the former Empire, its basic elements are familiar, and it is clearly influenced by Austrian Tarock. There is an auction to determine how many cards the final bidder will be able to exchange with the talon. Before exchanging cards, the bidder calls a king whose holder will be his partner. The cards have their standard point values and the bidder's side wins the game if at the end of the play their trick pile contains more than half the card points. There are bonuses for other feats such as taking all the kings in tricks or winning the last trick with the lowest trump. These bonuses are scored independently of the game and can be announced in advance to double their value. The game is normally played for a small stake and the players settle up in cash after each hand.

Players and Cards

There are four players, who form temporary alliances for each hand, depending on the bidding and the king called: normally two against two but sometimes one against three. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

A 54-card Taroki pack is used. There are 22 trumps, the highest, the skiż, is unnumbered, and the others have Roman numbers: XXI, XX, XIX and so on, down to the pagat, numbered I, which ranks lowest. There are also four eight-card suits, each having four court cards: the king (K: król), queen (Q: dama), cavalier (C: kawal or gawal) and jack (J: walet) and four pip cards (blotka).

  • In the black suits clubs (krajc) and spades (pik or wino) the cards rank from high to low K-Q-C-J-10-9-8-7.
  • In the red suits hearts (herc) and diamonds (karo or dzwonek), the cards rank from high to low K-Q-C-J-A-2-3-4.

The cards have point values as follows.

  • Skiż, XXI, pagat and kings are worth 5 points each.
  • Queens are worth 4 points each.
  • Cavaliers are worth 3 points each.
  • Jacks are worth 2 points each.
  • Trumps II to XX and the numeral cards in the suits are worth 1 point each.

The cards taken by each team are counted in groups of three and two points are subtracted from the value of each group. However the cards are arranged, the total number of points in the pack is always 70. See counting points in tarot games for further details, explanation and examples.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen by drawing cards from the shuffled pack. Whoever draws the lowest card deals first. Thereafter the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

The dealer shuffles, the player opposite the dealer cuts, and the dealer deals six cards face down to the table to form the talon and the remaining cards in batches of six, so that after two rounds all the cards are dealt and each player has 12 cards. The player opposite the dealer may refuse to cut, in which case the dealer deals six cards to the talon followed by four packets of twelve cards, and each player in turn beginning to dealer’s right chooses which packet to take.

Any player who is dealt no taroks may choose to throw in the hand for no score. This must be done before the bidding. The next player then deals.

A player who is dealt all four kings (cztery króle) may declare this, placing them face up on the table before the bidding begins. This is not compulsory. If four kings are declared, it is a commitment that if the hand is played, the bidder’s team will bring home all four kings in their tricks.

Bidding

There are four possible bids: 1 (Jeden), 2 (Dwa), 3 (Trzy) and 4 (Cztery), the difference between them being the number of cards the final bidder will be allowed to take from the talon.

Each player has just one opportunity to bid. The player to the right of the dealer is known as Forant (from the German Vorhand = forehand). Forant speaks first, followed by the other players in anticlockwise order. Forant can bid 1, 2 or 3 or pass (Pas). Each of the other players can pass or bid a number, which must be higher than the previous bid if any. A bid of 4 is allowed only after some other player has bid 3.

The final and highest bidder becomes the declarer. If the final bid was 1, the declarer may choose not to play but instead to throw in the cards for no score. The cards are also thrown in in the very unlikely event that everyone passes. The next player then deals.

Calling a King, King Ultimo, Kontra of the Game.

The declarer calls a king, naming its suit, and the player who holds this king becomes the declarer’s partner for this hand, but does not announce the fact. The partnerships will become clear when the king appears in the course of play. It is legal to call a king which you hold yourself, in which case you play alone against a team of three opponents, although they will not initially realise that this is the situation. The declarer also plays alone if the called king turns out to be in the talon.

After the declarer has called a king, it is possible for the holder of the king to announce “król ultymo” (king ultimo), which is a commitment to play the called king to the last trick, and that the declarer’s team will win that trick.

At this point, it is also possible for an opponent of the declarer who thinks that the contract will fail to say Kontra to the game, doubling its score, provided that this opponent has not passed an opportunity to bid 3. In other words, in order to be allowed to say kontra to the game, you must either have bid 3 yourself, which was overcalled by a 4-bid, or you must be a player who was unable to bid 3 because the bidding had already reached 3 or more before you had an opportunity to speak. For example, if the bidding goes A:"2", B:"pas", C:"3", D:"pas", then D is the only player who is allowed to say kontra to the game (if he does not hold the called king): A and B could have bid 3 if they wished to but D could not.

A consequence of the above rule is that it is impossible to say kontra to a bid of 1 or 2. If the final bid was 2 or less, all the other players must have had the opportunity to bid 3 but failed to do so.

If king ultimo is announced, it is possible for either opponent to say kontra to this announcement irrespective of the bidding, doubling the score for it.

Further doubles are possible. Either member of the declarer’s team may reply to a kontra of the game or king ultimo saying re, an opponent can then reply sub, and a member of the declarer’s team can reply mort.

Exchanging with the Talon

Depending on the bid, the declarer takes a number of cards from the talon If the bid was 1 the declarer takes 3 talon cards, if it was 2 the declarer takes 2 cards, if the bid was 3 the declarer takes 1 cards from the talon, and if the bid was 4 the declarer takes no talon cards at all. After the bidder has added the chosen talon cards to his hand, he discards an equal number of cards face down. The discarded cards must not include any 5-point cards (skiż, XXI, pagat, kings). Taroks must not be discarded unless it is unavoidable: any discarded taroks must be shown to the other players, and the declarer’s remaining 12 cards must consist entirely of taroks and kings.

The procedure for taking cards from the talon is as follows. Suppose that you are the declarer and your bid was 2. You draw the top 2 cards from the talon and look at them without showing them to the other players. If you like them you may add them to your hand and leave the other four cards unseen. Alternatively, you may place these first two cards face up on the table and look at the next two cards, again without showing them to anyone else. Again, you may add these to your hand leaving two face-up cards and two unseen cards on the table, or you may put these face up on the table and look privately at the last two talon cards. You may add these to your hand or put them face up on the table. In the latter case there are now three pairs of cards face up on the table, and you must select any of these three pairs to add to your hand. Whichever option you took, you now have 14 cards, from which you must discard two face down.

If the bid was 3, the procedure is the same except that the declarer looks at the talon cards one at a time, deciding in each case whether to take the cards, leaving the rest of the talon unseen, or expose it and go on to the next card. After exposing all six cards the declarer may take any one of them.

A bid of 1 is normally thrown in without play, but if it is not, the declarer looks at the talon three cards a time, in a similar way to that described above.

Sometimes, players shorten the above procedures by simply exposing the whole talon, in groups of one, two or three cards as appropriate and selecting one of the groups.

A declarer who finds the called king in the talon has the option to give up at this point, paying a fixed penalty. Alternatively the declarer may continue and attempt to win playing alone against three opponents.

The card(s) discarded by the declarer are added to the declarer’s team’s tricks at the end of play. Any cards exposed by the declarer and not taken are added to the opponents’ tricks. Any talon cards that were not looked at  by the declarer (this will be the whole talon in the case of a bid of 4) are set aside unseen until the end of play, at which time they are added to the declarer’s opponents’ tricks unless the called king was in the talon. If the called king was in the talon, these unseen cards belong to the declarer.

Further Announcements and Declarations

After the talon exchange, players may make further announcements and declarations. This is done in anticlockwise order, beginning with the declarer. The possibilities are:

  • Trul: the player holds the skiż, XXI and pagat and undertakes to bring all three of them home in tricks – in other words, not to allow an opponent to capture the pagat.
  • Pagat ultymo: the player holds the pagat and undertakes to win the last trick with this card.
  • Dziesięc taroki, Jedenaście taroki, Dwanaście taroki (i.e. 10, 11 or 12 taroki): a player who holds at least 10 taroki can declare the number held for a bonus payment.
  • Dwa taroki, Jeden tarok, Bez taroki (i.e. 2 taroki, 1 tarok, no taroki): similarly a player who holds 2 or fewer taroki can declare them for a bonus. A player with no taroki who opts to throw the hand in before the bidding forgoes the bonus for this declaration.

An opponent of a player who announced pagat ultymo or trul may say kontra to the announcement, doubling its score. If this happens, a member of the announcing team may double it again by saying re, and further doubles of sub by their opponents and mort by the announcers may follow.

Play

Forant leads to the first trick and thereafter the winner of each trick leads to the next. Any card may be led, and the other players in turn must play a card of the same suit as the card that was led if they can. A player who is unable to follow suit must play a tarok. A player who has no card of the suit led and no taroki may play any card, and cannot win the trick.

If a tarok is led, the other players must play taroki if they have them. A player who has no taroki may play any card.

The trick is won by the highest tarok in it. If it contains no taroki, it is won by the highest card of the suit that was led.

A player who has announced pagat ultymo is under an additional constraint. This player is not allowed to lead or play the pagat unless there is no alternative according to the rules above. In the same way a player who has announced król ultymo must keep the called king as long as possible.

Scoring

The game, announcements and declarations are scored and paid for independently. All payments are paid or received equally by all members of a team. When two play against two, one member of the losing team pays one opponent while the other partner pays the other. When the declarer plays against three opponents, the declarer pays or receives equal amounts from each of them, so the total amount won or lost by the declarer is in fact three times the indicated score.

The two teams count the number of points in their tricks plus the part of the talon that belongs to them. In order to win, the declarer's team needs at least 35 points plus one card. If the opposing team has 35 points or more, the declarer’s team loses the game. The payment for the game depends on the bid:

  • Jeden – 1 game point
  • Dwa – 2 game points
  • Trzi – 3 game points
  • Cztery – 4 game points

A declarer who finds the called king in the talon and chooses to give up without play pays a fixed amount of 2 game points to each opponent. There is no other payment, and no opportunity for kontra or announcements in this case.

If a member of a team declared a number of taroki, the team is paid as follows:

  • 12 taroki – 3 game points
  • 11 taroki – 2 game points
  • 10 taroki – 1 game point
  • 2 taroki – 1 game point
  • 1 tarok – 2 game points
  • 0 taroki – 3 game points

Other bonuses are scored as follows.

  • Trul – 2 game points for a team that has the skiż, XXI and pagat in their tricks. If one player held all three cards and announced trul in advance, then the team scores 4 game points instead of 2 if they bring all three cards home, but pay 4 game points if they fail, losing the pagat.
  • Czetry króle – 2 game points for a team that has all four kings in their tricks. If one player held all four kings and announced this before the bidding, then the team scores 8 game points instead of 2 if they bring them all home, but pay 8 points if they fail to do so.
  • Pagat ultymo – 1 game point for a team that wins the last trick with the pagat. If the pagat is played to the last trick but does not win, the team must pay 1 point for a failed pagat ultymo, even if the trick is won by the partner of the person who played the pagat. If pagat ultymo is announced in advance, and the player succeeds in winning the last trick with the pagat, the team wins 2 game points instead of 1. If they fail, either because the pagat fails to win the trick or because the holder is forced to play it prematurely, they pay 2 game points.
  • Król ultymo – 1 game point for the declarer’s team if they win the last trick containing the called king. If the holder of the king announced this in advance, they win 2 game points rather than 1 if they succeed, but if they fail either by losing the last trick or if the holder of the king is forced to play it prematurely, they pay 2 game points.
  • If the declarer’s opponents capture the called king, the declarer’s team must pay them 1 game point. There are two ways that this can happen: either the declarer’s opponents win the trick to which the king is played, or the declarer finds the king in the talon and rejects that part of the talon. Note however that if the called king is in a part of the talon that the declarer did not look at, that part belongs to the declarer and so the called king is not lost. If the called king is captured in the last trick, the payment is just 1 game point, or 2 if king ultimo was announced. The declarer’s side does not have to pay for both king ultimo and the capotured king.
  • If the holder of the pagat loses it (i.e. an opponent wins the trick to which it is played) the team that lost the pagat pays 1 game point to the team that captured it. However, the pagat does not count as lost if the declarer rejects the part of the talon that contains it, even though that part of the talon belongs to the opponents, and they can use it to score trul if they also have the skiż and XXI. If the pagat is captured by an opponent in the last trick, the team that lost it pay just 1 game point for a lost pagat ultymo (or 2 if the pagat ultymo was announced): they do not have to pay an additional game point for the lost pagat.
  • If the XXI is captured by an opponent’s skiż, the team that lost the XXI pays 2 game points. It is not possible to announce this in advance, and there is no payment if two partners play the XXI and the skiż to the same trick.
  • Walat – 5 game points for a team that wins all 12 tricks. If they announced walat in advance they are paid 20 game points if they succeed but must pay 20 game points if they fail.

Variations

There are some variations in the scoring. For example:

  • Some younger players set the payment for giving up when the called king is found in the talon at 5 game points rather than 2. This seems excessive, and with such a large penalty it is rarely if ever worthwhile for the declarer to give up.
  • The written rules we were given specify an score of 5 game points rather than 4 for announced trul.