Hungarian Tarokk

The first version of this page was published in 1995, based on a description by Kirsty Healey and Matthew Macfadyen. In 1998 it was revised and expanded by John McLeod, making extensive use of comments and suggestions from Gábor Révész and Gyula Zsigri.

Introduction

This page describes basic Hungarian Tarokk, generally known as Húszashívásos tarokk (XX-calling tarokk), or Paskievics tarokk after Ivan Fyodorovich Paskevich, the prince of Warsaw who led Russian troops to Hungary to put down the Hungarian revolution and war of independence in 1848/49. Possibly there is some connection between the year '48 and the 48 card points needed to win the game. It is a tarot game played with a shortened pack of 42 cards, with an advanced structure of bids and bonuses. The game was developed in the 19th century from a version of Austrian Zwanzigerrufen, and became the favourite game of the Hungarian establishment. It was discouraged during the communist era because of its association with the gentry, but in the current more liberal political climate, interest in this fine game may again be increasing. It is reported that according to the Austrian playing-card manufacturer Piatnik, sales of Tarokk cards in Hungary are currently around 3500 to 4000 packs per year.

Of even more interest to players who like the challenge of a card game which offers the maximum opportunity for skill and strategy is Illusztrált tarokk (Illustrated Tarokk), in which the scope for scientific play is increased by adding six extra bonuses. Illustrated Tarokk is described on a separate page.

Players and equipment

The players

Tarokk is basically a game for four players, in that there are four active participants at a time. However it is common for five to play, the dealer sitting out of each hand (this allows time for dealer to organise drinks, dispose of them, and so on). Like all tarot games it is a trick-taking game; the partnerships vary from hand to hand and are determined by a card called by the high bidder.

The cards

Tarokk is played with a 42 card pack. There are four plain suits (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) each consisting of only five cards, and 22 tarokks, which function as trump cards. Tarokk cards are normally sold as a 54 card pack with eight cards in each plain suits; from this you remove the 7s, 8s and 9s of the black suits and the 2s, 3s and 4s of the red suits to leave the 42 cards needed for the game.

The cards have point values, the basic object of the game being to win more than half the points in tricks.

Skíz XXI Pagát

The highest tarokk is the skíz, which looks a little like a Joker. All the others bear Roman numerals, from the XXI, which is the second highest down to the lowest, the I, which is known as the pagát. The skíz, XXI and pagát are collectively known as honours (honőrök) and are worth 5 points each. The highest two tarokks (skíz and XXI) are known as the high honours (nagyhonőrök)

XX XIX XIII VI II

The 19 tarokks from XX down to II are worth just 1 point each.

club king club queen club rider club jack club ten
spade king spade queen spade rider spade jack spade ten
king queen rider jack ace
king queen rider jack ace

The suits consist of five cards each. In the black suits the cards rank from highest to lowest:
king (király), queen (dáma), rider (lovas), jack (bubi or botos), ten (tízes).

In the red suits the cards rank from highest to lowest:
king (király), queen (dáma), rider (lovas), jack (bubi or botos), ace (ász).

Although the cards have no corner indices, they are fairly easy to tell apart: in each suit the king wears a crown, the queen is female, the rider rides a horse and the jack is the other picture.

The point values of the suit cards are as follows:

kings .... 5 points each
queens .... 4 points each
riders .... 3 points each
jacks .... 2 points each
tens and aces .... 1 point each

The total value of all the cards in the pack is 94 points: 15 in each suit, 15 for the honours, and 19 for the other tarokks.

Tarokk packs are normally supplied with 54 cards, with a design very similar to that of Austrian Tarock cards. Players throw out the 2, 3 and 4 of the red suits and 9, 8 and 7 of the black suits before playing. Players in North America can obtain Austrian Tarock cards from TaroBear's Lair.

The mayor's hat

An important part of the apparatus of this game is the mayor's hat, which should look as silly as possible - one version is a felt hat adorned with feathers and other decorations, but anything ridiculous looking will do. The largest bonus in the game occurs when the second highest card - tarokk XXI - is captured by an opponent's skíz. The player who is unfortunate (or careless) enough to lose the XXI is called the mayor (polgármester), and is obliged as a penalty to wear the hat until someone else suffers the same misfortune.

Outline of the game

The entire game is played anticlockwise.

Nine cards are dealt to each of the four active players and the remaining six are placed face down to form the talon. There is an auction in which the possible bids (from low to high) are "three", "two", "one" and "solo". The winner of the auction (the "bidder" or "declarer") draws some cards from the talon and discards an equal number. The bid determines the number of talon cards drawn by the declarer - "solo" means zero cards. The other talon cards are distributed as equally as possible among the other three players and they also discard to reduce their hands to nine cards again.

The partnerships vary from hand to hand. The declarer calls a tarokk - normally the XX - and the holder of the called tarokk becomes the declarer's partner, but does not announce who they are. The other two players form the opposing team. Often the partnerships are only discovered during the course of the play - for example when the called card is played. In some cases the identity of the partners can be deduced from the bidding or subsequent announcements.

After the declarer has called a tarokk, there is a round of announcements in which the declarer followed by the other players in turn has the opportunity to:

  • announce their intention to try for one or more bonuses;
  • declare a holding of eight or nine tarokks;
  • say kontra to double the stake for the game or any bonuses announced by the other team if they think they will fail.

The player to the dealer's right then leads to the first trick. It is compulsory to follow suit and to play a tarokk if you have no cards of the suit led. After nine tricks have been played each side counts the card points in its tricks, the declarer's team adding the cards discarded by the declarer, and the declarer's team wins if they have more than half of the card points (at least 48).

At the end of each hand, payments are made in cash, or equivalent transactions are recorded on a scoresheet. As well as the payment for game, there are bonus payments for a team which takes all three honours or all four kings in tricks, takes at least three quarters of the points or all the tricks, wins the last trick with the pagát, or captures the opponents' XXI with the skíz. The bonus payments can often be greater than the payment for the game. There is a double payment for any bonuses that were announced in advance, and any item that was kontra'd is further doubled.

Choice of seats, dealing and ending the session

The relative positions of the players are important, so seats are generally determined randomly by the following method. Take from the pack one tarokk and one card of each suit (if there are 5 players) or one tarokk and three cards of different suits (if there are four players); shuffle these and deal one face up to each position at the table. Take another similar set of cards - a tarokk and three or four cards of different suits - and deal them face down to the players. The players examine their cards and move to the position of the face up card of the corresponding suit. The player who received the tarokk moves to the tarokk position and will bid first and play the first card in the first hand; the player sitting to the left of the one who received the tarokk deals first.

The whole game is played anticlockwise. If there are just four players everyone takes part in every hand. If there are five, the dealer sits out of each hand, dealing cards to the other four players only. The dealer shuffles and the player to the dealer's left cuts. The dealer begins by dealing a packet of six cards face down; to form the talon. Next a packet of five cards is dealt to each of the four active players, beginning to dealer's right and continuing anticlockwise, and finally a packet of four cards is dealt to each active player in the same way.

After each hand has been played and scored, the turn to deal passes to the right.

The traditional way of ending a session of tarokk is for a player to give notice by saying "A skíz oszt, nem oszt" ("The skíz deals and does not deal"). The meaning of this is as follows. The skíz is the person who is dealt the skíz (or picks it up from the talon) in the next deal after notice is given. The game continues until the next time it is this player's turn to deal, and then goes on for one more complete round of deals, until the skíz is about to deal for the second time. At that point, the session ends (the skíz does not deal). Therefore the number of complete hands to be played after someone gives notice is from 5 to 9 if there are five players, and from 4 to 7 if there are four players, depending on the position of the skíz.

Customarily, notice to end the session is given by one of the players who is a net loser from the hands played so far. However, any player is entitled to give notice, and of course the game can end at any time without notice being given if all the players agree to stop.

The bidding

There is an auction to determine which player will be the declarer. The bidding begins with the player to dealer's right and continues anticlockwise around the table. The four possible bids indicate the number of cards (from zero to three) which the eventual winner of the bidding will exchange with the talon; the fewer cards exchanged the higher the bid and the payment for the game. In ascending order the bids are:

  • three (három) (payment for the game: 1 point);
  • two (kettő) (payment for the game: 2 points);
  • one (egy) (payment for the game: 3 points);
  • solo (szóló) (payment for the game: 4 points).
A player who does not wish to bid can pass (passz). A player who passes cannot bid again in the auction.

To be allowed to bid at all, a player must have at least one of the honours (skíz, XXI and pagát); if you have none of these cards you must pass. If you have an honour you are allowed to bid but you are not compelled to.

Each bid must be higher than the previous one, with the following exception: if you have already bid, but another player has subsequently bid higher, you may hold (the Hungarian expression is "tartom" - "I hold it"), which means that you make a bid equal to the highest bid so far (but see variations). A bid can only be held once: if the last positive bid was a hold, you cannot also hold but must bid higher or pass.

It is quite unusual for all four players to pass. If it happens, the cards are thrown in, and the same player deals again, and for the next round (four deals if there are four players; five deals if there are five players) all the scores are doubled. If during the doubled round another hand is passed out, another doubled round is started, leading to some deals in which the scores are quadrupled while the two rounds overlap (but see variations).

If anyone bids, the auction continues for as many rounds as are necessary until all players but one have passed, or until no higher bids are possible. The last player who bid becomes the declarer (felvevő), and will draw 3, 2, 1 or no cards from the talon, depending on the final bid.

Here are some simple examples of auctions. In this and all examples of this page the active players, in anticlockwise order, are called A, B, C and D. A is the player to the right of the dealer, who bids first and will lead to the first trick.

Bidding in HungarianBidding in EnglishResult
ABCD
PasszHáromKettőPassz
TartomPassz
ABCD
PassThreeTwoPass
HoldPass
B is the declarer and takes two cards from the talon.
ABCD
HáromKettőPasszEgy
TartomPasszSzóló
Tartom
ABCD
ThreeTwoPassOne
HoldPassSolo
Hold
A is the declarer and takes no cards from the talon. The auction ends after A holds the Solo as there is no higher bid that D can make. Notice that if B wanted to bid again on the second round, the bid would have to be solo, as D's bid of one has already been held.
ABCD
PasszSzóló
ABCD
PassSolo
B makes the highest bid and ends the auction. B is the declarer and takes no cards from the talon.

Normally it is agreed that certain bidding sequences are conventional, promising that the bidder holds a particular tarokk or tarokks. These conventions (unlike bidding conventions in Bridge) are mandatory - if you make a conventional bid you must hold the card(s) that you promise. They will be explained in the section on cue bids and yielded games below.

There is one exception to the rule that you cannot bid without an honour. If the first three players pass, the fourth player is permitted to bid holding no honour, but speculating on picking up an honour from the talon. If the bidder does not obtain an honour from the talon, the game is automatically lost without play, and the bidder must pay the value of the game to each other player (i.e. 1 point each, assuming that the bid was "three"). A bid of "three" in fourth position without an honour is sometimes called a próbahárom (trial three).

Drawing from the talon and discarding

Distributing the talon

Declarer receives cards bid from the top of the talon according to the final bid. The other players in anticlockwise rotation get the remaining talon cards, which are distributed as equally as possible; the players nearest the declarer's right get an extra card when necessary as follows:

Final bidDeclarer2nd player3rd player4th player
three (három)3 cards1 card1 card1 card
two (kettő)2 cards2 cards1 card1 card
one (egy)1 card2 cards2 cards1 card
solo (szóló)no cards2 cards2 cards2 cards

If there are four players, they each take the cards they are entitled to (without showing them to the other players). If there are five players the dealer distributes the talon cards (face down) to the players.

Discarding

The players add the cards they have gained from the talon to their hands and then discard an equal number of cards face down, so that everyone has nine cards (in Hungarian the discarded cards are called the skart). The declarer's discards are placed in a pile in front of the declarer, and any points in these cards count to the benefit of the declarer's side. All the cards discarded by the other three players are put into a single pile, which is kept in front of the dealer if there are five players, and immediately to the right of the dealer if there are four (this custom makes it easier to remember who dealt); the points in these discards count for the declarer's opponents (even though one the three players will normally be the declarer's partner).

It is always illegal to discard kings or honours (i.e. any 5 point cards). If you have made a cue bid or yielded the game (see below), it is also illegal to discard the tarokk which you have indicated by your bidding. Any other cards, including tarokks, may be discarded freely (but see variations).

After everyone has discarded, the number of tarokks in the discard must be announced. If there are five players the dealer looks at the cards discarded by the three players other than the declarer, and either declares them "clean" ("tiszta"), or states how many tarokks have been discarded: "one tarokk discarded", "two tarokks discarded" ("egy tarokk fekszik", "két tarokk fekszik"), etc. If there are only four players, the dealer is taking part in the game, so is not allowed to see the discards; in this case when the discards are complete, any player who has discarded tarokks must announce how many. No "clean" announcement is required from players who have not discarded tarokks - anyone who does not say anything is assumed to have discarded suit cards only.

Any tarokks discarded by the declarer must be turned face up when all the discards are complete, so that everyone knows not only how many tarokks the declarer has discarded but also which ones. The declarer's discarded tarokks remain face up until the lead to the first trick.

Annulling the hand

Certain holdings are considered so poor that the player is allowed to annul the hand. These are:

  • all four kings;
  • the XXI and no other tarokks;
  • the pagát (I) and no other tarokks;
  • no tarokks at all;
  • the XXI, the pagát and no other tarokks.

Annulling the hand is voluntary - if you have cards which would allow you to annul the hand you can nevertheless play on if you see some advantage in doing so. You are not allowed to annul the hand on the basis of any of the last four holdings if you have discarded a tarokk into the skart (but see variations). However, a player who holds four kings can annul the hand even after discarding a tarokk. A hand can only be annulled immediately after the talon exchange; once the round of announcements is underway it is too late.

It may not be immediately obvious that four kings is a bad holding. In fact kings are usually a liability in this game - they are worth 5 points but they nearly always get trumped and you are not allowed to discard them into the skart.

When a hand is annulled, there is no score. The cards are thrown in, the same dealer deals again, and the next four or five hands (depending on the number of players) are played for doubled scores, in the same way as if the deal had been passed out.

Calling a partner, bonuses and announcements

After everyone has discarded, there is what sounds like a second auction. This one starts with the declarer and proceeds anticlockwise around the table, possibly for several rounds. There are four types of announcement that can be made at this time:

  1. A player who has 8 or 9 tarokks may declare them;
  2. The declarer must call a partner;
  3. Any player may announce one or more bonuses;
  4. Players may say kontra, rekontra, etc. to a previously announced game or bonus.
Each of these possibilities will be described in detail, and then the procedure for the round of announcements will be explained.

Calling a partner

The declarer begins the round of announcements by calling a tarokk whose holder will be declarer's partner (partner, segítő) for this hand. The other two active players will form the opposing team, the opponents (ellenfelek, ellenjátékosok) or defenders (védők). The declarer says, for example, "I call the twenty" ("Hívom a húszast") or "The twenty helps me" ("Segít a húszas"). There are three circumstances in which the declarer is allowed to call a tarokk other than the XX:

  1. If as declarer you hold the XX yourself, you may instead call the highest tarokk below the XX which you do not hold. For example, if your tarokks are skíz, XX, XIX, XVIII, XV, XIII, VII you are allowed to call the XVII. Alternatively you can, if you wish, call your own XX, in which case you will have no partner, and the other three players will form a team against you, though they will not realise this until later.
  2. If any of the players other than the declarer has discarded a tarokk, the declarer is free to call any tarokk other than an honour. If the called tarokk has in fact been discarded, the declarer plays alone against three opponents. The player who discarded the called tarokk is obliged in this case to kontra the game (see below).
  3. If anyone other than the declarer has made a cue bid (see below), the declarer is not allowed to call the XX, but must call the tarokk (XIX or XVIII) indicated by the cue bid. In a yielded game, the declarer must call the XX. This applies even if tarokks have been discarded - the indicated tarokk cannot be discarded and must be called.

If you hold the called tarokk you are the declarer's partner, but you must not make any sign to reveal this. Your identity as the partner will only become known in the course of the subsequent announcements and play. Sometimes the partnerships will remain a mystery right up to the point when the called tarokk is played.

Bonuses

Bonuses (figurák) are scored for achieving some feat during the play. Bonuses are won or lost by a partnership, not an individual - if you make pagátultimó, or lose your XXI to the enemy skíz, your partner wins or loses the same amount as you (but in the latter case it is only you who suffer the indignity of wearing the hat). If you are confident that your side is going to win a particular bonus, you can announce during the round of announcements that your side is going for this bonus. You and your partner win twice as much if you succeed, but if you fail, you both lose the amount that you would have won. In most cases the bonuses, silent and announced, are scored independently of each other and of the game; you can win some and lose others. (The only exceptions are bonuses double game and volát, which interact with each other and the game score as explained under scoring).

In basic Hungarian tarokk, six bonuses are available:

  1. Tulétroá, also known as tuli, trull or trúl for short, is a bonus for a team that wins all three honours (skíz, XXI and pagát (I)) in its tricks. The name comes from the French "tous les trois" (all three). Payment: 1 point if made silently; 2 points if announced.

  2. Four kings (négykirály) is a bonus for a team that wins all four kings in its tricks. Payment: 1 point if made silently; 2 points if announced.

  3. Double game (duplajáték) is a bonus for a team that wins more than three quarters of the card points in its tricks - that is at least 71 points, keeping the other side to 23 card points or fewer. This bonus doubles the payment for the game if made silently; if announced it multiplies the game score by 4.

  4. Volát is a bonus for a team that wins all nine tricks. The payment for the game is then multiplied by three for silent volát, or by six if it was announced.

  5. Pagátultimó, also known as pagátulti, is a bonus for winning the last trick with the pagát (tarokk I). The payment for a silent pagátulti is 5 points. The pagát itself has to win the trick for this bonus to succeed. If the pagát is played to the last trick and does not win, the pagátulti has failed and the team that played the pagát have to pay 5 points to the other side (even if the last trick was won by the partner of the person who played the pagát). If pagát ulti is announced, the payment is 10 points. If announced it can fail in three different ways:
    • the pagát is beaten by a higher tarokk in the last trick;
    • the holder of the pagát is forced to play it before the last trick;
    • (unusual) the team that announced pagátulti do not hold the pagát at all.

  6. XXI-catch (huszonegyfogás) is a bonus for catching an opponent's XXI with the skíz. Payment: 21 points and the player who lost the XXI has to wear the mayor's hat. If two partners manage to play the skíz and the XXI to the same trick, it does not count as a XXI-catch and there is no payment. The payment for an announced XXI-catch is 42 points if it succeeds; if the XXI escapes or if it was not held by an opponent, the team which announced the catch have to pay 42 points.

Kontra

During the round of announcements, an opponent of the declarer may double the score for the game by saying "kontra the game" (kontra játék). In the same way an opponent of a player who announced a bonus may kontra the announcement, doubling the score for it. All kontras are independent of each other, so you must specify which things you are saying kontra to, for example "kontra the pagátultimó" or "kontra the four kings and the game". After the game or an announcement has been kontra'd, either member of the side which originally announced it may rekontra it, which doubles the score for that item again. Theoretically, the process can continue with further doubles: the opponents of the announcers can "szubkontra", the announcers can then "hirskontra" and their opponents can then "mordkontra". For example, if the contract is a "one" (egyes játék), the game is worth 3 to begin with; with kontra it is worth 6, with rekontra 12, with szubkontra 24, with hirskontra 48 and with mordkontra 96. Kontras above szubkontra are rare in practice.

Declaring tarokks

Any player with 8 or 9 tarokks may declare the fact during the round of announcements, and is immediately paid for it by each of the other three active players. The payment is 1 point from each player each for 8 tarokks (nyolc tarokk), and 2 points from each for 9 tarokks (kilenc tarokk). It is not normally compulsory to make these declarations. The exception is when you are announcing pagátultimó or saying kontra to a pagátultimó announcement, in which case you must declare 8 or 9 tarokks if you have them.

It is illegal to declare 8 tarokks if you actually have nine.

If you have 8 or 9 tarokks and do not declare them during the round of announcements, you can still claim payment for them from your partner at the end of the hand, but not from the opponents. There is a school of thought that it is unsporting to claim payment from your partner for undeclared tarokks unless your team has won enough on the hand to cover the payment.

Procedure for the round of announcements

The declarer speaks first and may declare tarokks. The declarer must call a partner, may then go on to announce bonuses, and must end by saying "pass" (passz or mehet). Any declaration of tarokks comes first, then the calling of a partner, and finally bonus announcements in any order. For example a declarer with a particularly fine hand might begin the round of announcements by saying: "eight tarokks; I call the nineteen; trull; four kings; pass" ("nyolc tarokk, hívom a tizenkilencest, tulétroá, négykirály, passz").

The round of announcements now continues in anticlockwise rotation. Each player, at their turn, may declare tarokks, announce bonuses, and kontra things announced by the other team, always ending by saying "pass", to indicate that the next player may now speak. The round of announcements continues as many times around the table as necessary until three players in succession do nothing except pass.

In general any player can announce any bonus, and all announcements are made on behalf of the announcer's team. For example, if you think your partner has the pagát, you can announce pagátultimó, committing your partner to win the last trick with it. There are some restrictions on announcing double game and volát:

  1. You cannot announce both double game and volát at the same turn to speak.
  2. You cannot announce double game if your team has previously announced volát.

When a player announces a bonus, it is necessary to know which team they belong to - i.e. whether they are for or against the declarer. Without this arrangement it would become impossible to kontra these announcements, as you would not know whether you were playing with or against the announcer. This is achieved as follows:

  • If a player makes an announcement and it is not otherwise provable whether they are for or against the declarer, they are assumed to be on the same team as the player who most recently announced or kontra'd anything. If there have been no kontras or announcements yet, the announcer is assumed to be the declarer's partner.
  • Therefore, if you want to make an announcement and you are against the player who most recently announced or kontra'd anything (or against the declarer if nothing has been announced or kontra'd), you must also kontra (or rekontra) something said by your opponents, to make it known what side you are on.
  • If it is already known what side you are on - either because the declarer's partner is already known from the bidding (if the game was yielded or a cue-bid card was called) or from previous announcements, or because you have already made an announcement which proves what side you are on - you are free to make announcements without including a kontra.
The above rules do not apply to declarations of tarokks. Anyone who has 8 or 9 tarokks can declare them freely, and you do not necessarily know whether they are for or against you. Also, if you announce something after a declaration of tarokks this does not prove that you are on the side of the player who declared the tarokks. (Some players treat declarations differently - see variations).

Here some examples of rounds of announcements. Player B is the declarer in each case:

Example 1.
ABCD

I call the XX, passTrull, four kings, passPass
Kontra the trull, passPagátultimó, passPassPass
Pass


The trull and four kings announcements imply that C has the XX. This encourages B to announce pagátultimó. It sounds as though A and C have the high honours, so that there is a possibility of a XXI-catch, and the players will have to be careful about this.

Example 2.
ABCD

I call the XX, passKontra the game, passPass
Trull, passPassPassPass
Since the game has been kontra'd, A's trull announcement (without a rekontra of the game) shows that A does not have the XX. It must be D who is B's partner.

Example 3.
ABCD

I call the XX, four kings, passKontra the four kings, passNine tarokks, pagátultimó, pass
PassKontra the pagátulti, passPassPass
Pass


D's announcement shows that D and C are partners, since C was the previous speaker. If D wanted to announce pagátulti in this position holding the XX, he would be obliged also to rekontra the four kings. Therefore B knows that D is an enemy, and B can legally kontra the pagátulti.

The play

After the round of announcements the play of the hand begins. The player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, and the winner of each trick leads to the next. Any card may be led to a trick, and the other players in turn must follow suit - i.e. play a card of the same suit that was led, or play a tarokk if a tarokk was led.

If a suit is led and you have no cards of that suit, you must play a tarokk if you have one. Only if you have neither tarokks nor cards in the suit led are you free to play any card. The trick is won by the highest tarokk in it, or, if it contains no tarokk, by the highest card of the suit led.

If your team has announced pagátultimó, you are obliged to hold onto the pagát as long as possible. You may not play it until you are forced to by the above rules of following suit and playing a tarokk if unable to. Even if it becomes clear that the pagát cannot win the last trick, you are not allowed to play it early to save it.

Since often during the early stages of the play you do not know who your partner is, players keep their own tricks in separate face-down piles, and the defenders' part of the discard must also be kept separate. Only when the called tarokk has been played (or some other event has occurred which proves which players are partners) can the piles be combined into two: declarer's cards and defenders' cards.

When all nine tricks have been played, the card points taken by each side are counted and the hand is scored. The player to the right of the previous dealer then shuffles, has the cards cut, and deals the next hand.

The scoring

The scoring system is designed for people who settle up by pushing money across the table at the end of each hand. In contracts with two players on each side, each player on the losing team pays one of the players on the winning team the net score for the game and any bonuses which happened on that hand. If you are playing alone against the other three players together (because you called your own XX or a discarded tarokk), you are paid the net score by each of them (or if you lose you pay it to each of them), so the value to declarer of such contracts is three times as much. When there are five players the payments are only between the four active players; the dealer neither wins nor loses. If you prefer to note the scores on a score sheet, then receipts are recorded as plus and payments as minus, so that the scores of the players always add up to zero.

First, the cards taken by each team are counted, using the scale of card points explained above. There are 94 card points altogether. If the declarer's team have taken at least 48 points (more than half) they have won the game. The opponents win if they have 47 or more. If either team has more than three quarters of the card points, so that the other side has 23 points or fewer, they have won a double game. A team which has taken all the tricks has won volát.

The basic payment for the game depends on the bid. These basic scores are doubled if double game was made by either side, or multiplied by three if volát was made. If double game was announced, the basic game score is multiplied by four and if volát was announced it is multiplied by six.

BidBasic game scoreSilent double gameSilent volátAnnounced double gameAnnounced volát
Three1 point2 points3 points4 points6 points
Two2 points4 points6 points8 points12 points
One3 points6 points9 points12 points18 points
Solo4 points8 points12 points16 points24 points

Note that in the absence of announcements or kontras, the scores for game, double game and volát are alternatives - if the bid is two and the declarer's team takes 75 card points, the payment of 4 points for double game replaces the 2 points for game; it is not additional.

If double game or volát is announced, or the game is kontra'd, the situation is more complex. The rules determining the score for game, double game and volát are as follows:

  1. If neither double game nor volát was announced and the game was not kontra'd, then only one of the game, the double game and the volát is scored, depending on what card points / tricks are made.
  2. If a team announces double game, they cannot score for the ordinary game, but they can score volát in addition to the announced double game if they win all the tricks. If they lose not only the announcement but the game as well, the opponents will score for the ordinary game as well as the failed announced double game (5 times the game in total). If the opponents managed to make their own double game or even volát, they would score that instead of the ordinary game, in addition to the failed announced double game.
  3. If a team announces both double game and volát, then each of these bonuses is scored separately; it is possible to win the double game while losing the volát. The ordinary game is not scored unless the announcing team loses the game, in which case the opponents score for it. In the unlikely case that the opponents made a silent double game or volát they would score that in place of the ordinary game.
  4. If a team announces volát but not double game, the volát is scored (won or lost). The announcing team cannot score anything for game or double game, but if the opponents win the game (or double game or volát) they score for it.
  5. If the game is kontra'd it is always scored. If either side makes a silent double game or volát, that is scored in addition to the kontra'd game (but not both the double game and the volát).
  6. If the game is kontra'd (or rekontra'd) and double game and / or volát is announced (by either team), the game is scored as well as the announcements. A silent volát can be scored in addition to a kontra'd game and an announced double game.

The following table summarises the amount by which the basic game score is to be multiplied in various situations, according to the number of card points or tricks taken by the declarer's team. Positive multipliers indicate that declarer's team wins; negative multipliers indicate that the opponents win.

BASIC GAME SCORE MULTIPLIERS FOR DECLARER'S TEAM
AnnouncementsPoints / tricks taken by declarer's team
No trick23 or fewer24-4748-7071 or moreAll tricks
Nothing-3-2-1+1+2+3
Double game-7-6-5-4+4+7
Volát-9-8-7-6-6+6
Double game, volát-13-12-11-10-2+10
Kontra the game-5-4-2+2+4+5
Kontra the game;
opponents announce double
-9-6+2+6+8+9
Double game;
opponents kontra the double
-11-10-9-8+8+11
Double game;
opponents kontra the double and the game
-13-12-10-6+10+13

The above table does not give an exhaustive list of possible situations, but should be sufficient to illustrate how the scoring works. For example if the bid is "two", the declarer announces double game, the opponents kontra the double game and the game, and the declarer's team takes 52 card points, the score is -6 times 2, that is 12 points paid to the opponents. This is made up of 4 points won by the declarer's team for the kontra'd game and 16 points won by the opponents for the kontra'd announcement of double game.

The next table summarises the scores for other bonuses and declarations. These scores are not affected by the basic game value; they are the same, no matter what type of game was bid:

ItemSilentAnnouncedNotes
Trull12A team which wins all the tricks scores nothing for silent trull or silent four kings. Announced trull or four kings are scored as usual.
Four kings (négykirály)12
Pagátultimó510The pagát itself must win the last trick for this bonus to succeed.
XXI-catch (XXI-fogás)2142The player who loses the XXI must wear the hat.
8 tarokks (nyolc tarokk)11Payment for declared tarokks is made by all other active players, including the partner of the player who holds the tarokks. If the tarokks are not declared, payment can be claimed at the end of the play from the partner of the holder only.
9 tarokks (kilenc tarokk)22

All of the above scores for bonuses and declarations are available to either team. It is possible for a bonus to be scored twice by one team - for example: if four kings are announced but the opposing team manages to capture all four kings, the successful team scores 3 points for this - 2 points for the failed announcement plus 1 point for their own silent four kings. It is even possible for both teams to announce the same bonus: for example team A announces four kings, but team B kontras this and also announces four kings. Now if either side actually takes all four kings they will score 6 points; if the kings are split both announcements will be lost, and team B's net score for the two announcements will be 2 points.

The rule that silent trull and four kings cannot be scored in addition to volát has an interesting consequence. When the bid is three and nothing has been announced, if you have taken all the honours and kings it is better to give up one trick and make double game, trull and four kings for 4 points (2 + 1 + 1), rather than to win every trick and make volát, which is worth only 3 points.

Conventions: cue bids and the yielded game

The purpose of conventional bidding is to enable two players who hold strong hands including honours to arrange to be partners, even when neither of them holds the XX. This helps them to announce and make more valuable bonuses.

Cue bids

A cue bid guarantees that the bidder holds a specific tarokk - the XIX or the XVIII. The main purpose of making a cue bid is to enable the eventual winner of the bidding to become your partner by calling the card you have indicated. In Hungarian these bids are called "invit" (literally invitations), but we have found that new players learning the game find the term "invitation" for these bids confusing, so here I use instead the term "cue bid", borrowed from Bridge.

However, unlike Bridge conventions, these bidding conventions are part of the rules of the game. It is illegal to make a cue bid or to yield the game if you do not hold the indicated tarokk. On the other hand you are not forced to make a cue bid or yield just because you hold the requisite cards - you may pass or make the minimum bid instead if you wish.

A cue bid is made by means of a jump in the bidding:

  • A bid which is one level higher than the minimum bid available is a cue bid showing the XIX (but see variations).
  • A bid which is two levels higher than the minimum bid available is a cue bid showing the XVIII.
If the bidding is eventually won by a player other than the one who made the cue bid, the declarer must call the tarokk shown by the cue bid.

There are two situations in which a jump is not a cue bid:

  1. There can only be one cue bid during the auction. If there has already been a cue bid, a second jump bid in the same auction has no conventional meaning.
  2. If the first three players pass, a bid by the fourth player is never counted as a cue bid. (There would be little point in cue-bidding in this situation, since no other player is in a position to take over the contract and call the cue-bid card.)

Normally a player who makes a cue bid will have a fairly strong hand and a high honour. It is possible to make a cue bid when your only honour is the pagát but if you do this there is an additional constraint: you must announce pagátultimó at your first turn to speak during the round of announcements.

Note that using normal bidding conventions it is not possible to cue bid the XVII. The only possibility of a triple jump would be an opening bid of Solo, and that cannot usefully be given a conventional meaning as a cue bid, since no one can bid over it to call the indicated card. A possible method of cue bidding the XVII is explained in the variations section.

Yielded game

A second type of conventional sequence is the yielded game (engedett játék). This can only occur when one player has bid three, someone else has bid two, and both of the other players have passed. In this case, a pass by the player who originally bid three is conventional, guaranteeing that that player who passes holds the XX plus at least one high honour (skíz or XXI).

Examples of bidding sequences

Here are some further examples of bidding sequences, most of which involve conventional bids:

BiddingComments
ABCD
ThreePassPassOne
SoloPass
D's single jump is a cue bid of the XIX. A's solo bid is also a jump (A could have held) but is not a cue bid, since D has already cue bid. A is the declarer, in a contract of solo, and must call D's XIX. As well as increasing the value of the game, A's solo bid allows D to exchange two cards with the talon, rather than A and D exchanging one each, which may or may not be an advantage.
ABCD
ThreeSoloPassPass
Hold
B's double jump is a cue bid of the XVIII. A is the declarer in a contract of solo and must call B's XVIII. The bidding ends after A's "hold" as there are no more legal bids that can be made.
ABCD
TwoPassPassOne
Pass
A's opening bid of two is a jump (A could have started with three), showing the XIX. D is the declarer, and must call A's XIX.
ABCD
PassThreeTwoPass
OneHold
Pass
C is the declarer, the game is one, and C must call B's XIX. B could have held C's bid of "two", so the one bid was a level higher than necessary, and therefore a cue bid of the XIX. Some players adhere to the older rules of bidding, whereby C is not allowed to hold in this situation (see variations). Under those older rules, C would need to bid solo to become declarer and call the XIX.
ABCD
ThreeTwoSolo
PassHold
B is the declarer, and must call the XIX which C has cue bid. Note that many players still use an older system of conventions (see variations) whereby any jump to solo is a cue bid of the XVIII. Under the old system C cannot cue bid the XIX in this example - whereas under the new system C cannot cue bid the XVIII.
ABCD
TwoOneSolo
PassPass
A cue bid the XIX and B and C competed to be allowed to call it. B could have become A's partner by holding the Solo, but perhaps B has the skíz and is hoping for a XXI-catch. Note that if A had a change of mind and did not want to be called as a partner by B or C, A could hold the solo.
ABCD
ThreePassOneSolo
Hold
C cue bid the XIX, expecting to be called by A. D interfered with a solo bid, but A held it and becomes the declarer, calling C's XIX.
ABCD
ThreePassTwoPass
Pass
This is a "yielded game". By passing, A shows the XX plus at least one high honour and C must call the XX. Notice that in this fairly common type of situation, the only way A can avoid making a conventional bid on the second round of the bidding (after Three - Two) is to hold. To bid one or solo would be to cue bid the XIX or XVIII respectively, and to pass is to yield the game, promising the XX.
ABCD
ThreeTwoPassOne
PassPass
There are no conventional bids or passes here. If D had passed A would be in a similar situation to the example above, but since D bid one, this is no longer counts as a yielded game. All we know for sure is that A, B and D each have an honour.
ABCD
PassPassPassOne
The first three players all passed, so D's bid is not conventional. All we know from this auction is that D has an honour. We may assume that D also has a fairly strong hand.

Variations

There are quite a lot of minor variations in the rules and conventions observed by different circles of tarokk players. In choosing which rules to present above as the standard version of the game, I have been greatly helped by a survey carried out in 1997 by Gyula Zsigri, in which he obtained responses from members of 11 different groups of tarokk players in various parts of Hungary about which version of the rules they play. On a separate page, you can see a summary of the survey results. Where there was a clear majority, I have followed the majority view of the people surveyed, and in this way I hope I have produced a description which is fairly representative of the way tarokk is actually played in Hungary now.

There are several Hungarian books with extensive descriptions of tarokk, including those by Dr Endre Kovács, who is widely regarded as the greatest expert on the game. Nevertheless, most of these books describe versions of tarokk which differ in various ways from the rules most commonly played. In some cases this is because the books give older versions of the rules. In others it is because the authors are attempting to introduce rule changes of their own invention, often in the form of different scores and extra bonuses. Few of these proposed changes have been adopted to any great extent in actual play.

The following books include substantial descriptions of tarokk:

  • G. J. Potter: A kártyajáték művészete (Budapest, 1930) - reprinted in Zsigri Gyula: 21 válogatott kártyajáték (Szeged, 1993)
  • Dr Kovács Endre, Dr Szigetvári Zoltán: Tarokk-őr (Budapest, 1940)
  • Dr Fazekas Béla, Dr Kovács Endre, Dr Szigetvári Zoltán: Tarokkakadémia (Budapest, 1948)
  • Michael Dummett: The Game of Tarot (London, 1980)
  • (ed. Dr Berend Mihály): Kártyások könyve (Budapest, 1984) - reprinted with revisions as Nagy Kártyakönyv (1990, 1994)
  • Dr Kovács Endre: Tarokk-kódex (Budapest, 1989)
  • Pais József: Ulti, tarokk és néhány kis kártyajáték (Budapest, 1990)
  • Író János: Tarokk-könyv (Nagykanizsa, 1993)
  • Marton János: Magyar tarokk (Szeged, 1997)

Variations in the equipment and deal

Some players use the fours of the red suits instead of aces. This makes no actual difference to the game, but has the slight practical advantage that the fours of hearts and diamonds are easier to tell apart than the aces, having suit symbols in the corners.

Some players allow the person to dealer's left, instead of cutting the cards, to refuse to cut by knocking on the top of the pack instead. In this case, after dealing the first six cards to the talon, the dealer must deal the remaining cards in batches of nine. Each active player in turn, starting to the left of the dealer and going around clockwise decides which batch to take as their hand.

Variations in the bidding procedure

There is an important variation in the rule about holding. The original rule was that you can only hold the bid of another player if your first turn to speak was earlier, and no one else has already held that bid. So if the players in anticlockwise order starting to dealer's right are A, B, C and D, A can hold the bids of all the other players, B can hold bids by C and D, C can hold bids by D, and D can never hold. Most of the books still give this rule, and a significant minority of players still follow it. The biggest practical difference occurs in cue bid sequences. For example with the newer rule, the sequence A - Three; B - Two; A - Solo; B - Hold is possible. With the old rule A's cue bid would be pointless as no one else would be allowed to bid after it - if A wanted to cue bid he should have done so at his first turn.

If a player bids three and everyone else passes, some groups allow the bidder to increase the bid to two or one before taking cards from the talon. This purpose of this rule is to allow for the fact that the bidder might want play two or one, but was not allowed to bid it originally, lacking the necessary cards for a cue bid.

Some people do not play with the doubling of scores after a hand is passed out or annulled. In this variation, the cards are thrown in, the turn to deal passes to the next dealer and the game continues with normal scoring as before.

Some play that if a hand is passed out or annulled during a doubled round, an additional round of hands for doubled stakes is played after the end of the currently scheduled set of doubled hands. No hand is ever played for quadrupled or higher stakes.

Others play that if a hand is passed out or annulled during a doubled round, a complete round of deals is then played for quadrupled stakes. In this version the stakes are usually not allowed to be doubled further; if another passed or annulled hand occurs during the quadrupled round, the period of quadrupled stakes is simply extended to last for a complete round after this occurrence.

Variations in the discarding and annulling the hand

There are many players who do not allow tarokk XX to be discarded. In Gyula Zsigri's survey respondents were almost equally split between those who allow this and those who do not. If you play the version in which it is illegal to discard the XX, then there is little point in the rule releasing the declarer from the obligation to call the XX if a tarokk has been discarded by any of the other players. In this case, it may be agreed that discarded tarokks are to be admitted at your first turn to speak in the round of announcements, rather than immediately after the discard.

Some players who do not allow the XX to be discarded nevertheless still follow the rule that if one of the other players has discarded a tarokk, the declarer can call any tarokk other than an honour.

Some players admit fewer holdings which allow the deal to be annulled. The only one universally acknowledged is the singleton XXI. Some players allow a hand to be annulled with the singleton XXI or I or with four kings, but not with XXI and I and not with no tarokks at all.

Some players allow the hand to be annulled by a player who has discarded tarokks. This makes annulments much more frequent. For example, a player whose XXI is guarded by only one or two other tarokks will try to discard these so as to throw in the hand and avoid a XXI-catch.

Variations in bonuses, announcements and declarations

Some players allow double game and volát to be announced at the same time.
Other players do not allow double game and volát to be announced by the same player, even on separate rounds; in this version the only way a side can announce both is if one player announces double game and the player's partner then announces volát.

Some players treat declarations of 8 or 9 tarokks like bonus announcements. A player who declares tarokks and whose allegiance is not yet known is assumed to be on the same side as the most recent speaker in the round of announcements who did not just say pass. Also, if you make an announcement when the most recent announcement made was a declaration of tarokks, you are assumed to be on the same side as the player with the tarokks unless it can be proved otherwise.

In his book, József Pais gives a different set of rules: the declarer's partner is not permitted to declare 8 or 9 tarokks until it is provable that he is the partner; any player who announces anything or says kontra must in the same turn declare 8 or 9 tarokks if held.

A few people play that a player who has discarded the called tarokk must state that this is the case when announcing their obligatory kontra of the game.

Illustrated Hungarian Tarokk, which adds six further announced bonuses, is described on a separate page.

Variations in the scoring

There is quite a lot of variation in the way that the scores for game, double game and volát interact. For example:

  • Some play that if double game is announced or made, the basic game cannot be scored by either side unless it is kontra'd. Similarly, if volát is announced or made, neither side can score an unannounced double game, nor an unkontra'd basic game.
  • There is another variation in which the opponents of declarer cannot score silent double game or volát if they did not kontra the game.
  • If the game is kontra'd or rekontra'd, some players apply these doubles to the score for any silent double game or silent volát, instead of simply adding the score for the double game or volát. With this way of scoring, a kontra'd game with silent volát scores 6 times the game (3 * 2), rather than 5 times. Also a rekontra'd game with silent double game would score 8 times the game (4 * 2), rather than six times (4 + 2).

Some players allow a silent trull to be scored along with volát, but not a silent four kings.

Some play that if the opponents say kontra to the game, the number of card points they need to win is increased from 47 to 48: if the card points divide 47-47 the declarer's side win. This version is described in Dr Kovács' recent books and has been adopted by a significant number of players.

Several of the recent books give different scores for some of the bonuses - for example:

  • four kings score 2 silent and 4 announced (instead of 1 and 2);
  • pagátulti scores 6 silent and 12 announced (instead of 5 and 10);
  • XXI-catch scores 30 silent and 60 announced (instead of 21 and 42).
In practice most players stick to the traditional scores.

There is a traditional rule in the five player game that anyone who received an honour from the talon must pay the dealer for it at the end of the hand at the rate of 3 points for the skíz, 2 points for the XXI, and 1 point for the pagát. If the recipient forgets to pay before the deal of the next hand is complete, the previous dealer can claim double payment. This rather pointless rule is nowadays rarely played.

Some play that in the five player game the dealer weeps or laughs (sír-nevet) with the defenders - in other words loses or wins the same amount as the opponents of the declarer.

Variations in the bidding conventions

There is an important variation in the interpretation of cue bids. The original rule was that any jump bid of solo was a cue bid of the XVIII, even if it was only a single jump. Most of the books still give this rule, but the majority of players have gone over to the newer interpretation, whereby any single jump is a cue bid of the XIX.

There are other variations in the conventions:

  • Some play that the first bid of the auction is never a cue bid - so you can begin by bidding two or one on any hand containing an honour. In this version, if you want to cue bid, and no one has bid before you, you must start by bidding three and then make your jump on the next round.
  • Some play that a bid only counts as a cue bid if some other player eventually becomes the declarer. This means that you can open the bidding with two or one without holding the requisite cards for a cue bid provided that you hold all subsequent bids by other players so as to make sure that you become the declarer.
  • Some play that a cue bid is only an invitation to a player who has already bid, and that the invitation can only be accepted by holding the cue bid. In any other case, the effect of the cue bid is cancelled.
  • Some players do not recognise conventional bids or yielded games at all.

In his book, József Pais suggests a way of cue bidding the XVII. The idea is that a single jump bid at your first opportunity is a cue bid of the XIX, whereas if you first make a minimum bid and then a single jump on your second turn to bid, this would be interpreted as a cue bid of the XVII. For example in each of the following auctions:

  • A:pass, B:3, C:2, D:pass, B:1, C:solo, B:pass
  • A:3, B:2, C:pass, D:pass, A:hold, B:solo, A:hold
player B has made a cue bid showing the XVII and a high honour, and the declarer must call the XVII.

Advice on tactics

Assessing the strength of a hand

Before discussing the details of bidding, announcements and play, it is useful to have a general idea of what constitutes a strong or weak hand. By a strong hand we mean one that has the power to take more than an average share of the tricks. By winning tricks you not only gain card points but also choose what card to lead next, and so decide the course of the play.

The strength of a hand depends mainly on tarokks: how many you have and how high they are. An average hand has 5 tarokks. A really strong hand contains at least 6 or 7 tarokks, including two or three of the highest ones (XVIII or above) and several middle tarokks (X to XVII). A hand of 7 or 8 small tarokks most of which are small is less strong than it may at first appear - although you can play a trump to most tricks you will not often have the lead, and so will not be able to control the game.

In general the fewer different suits you have, the stronger your cards are. Suits of two or more cards headed by a king are stronger than unheaded suits. A suit consisting of a lone king and no other cards is a disadvantage.

Normally it is good to have a strong hand, but when there is a prospect of a XXI-catch, players often need to avoid taking tricks. A strong hand for taking tricks is generally not such a good hand for catching or saving the XXI; what a good hand is for that purpose is dealt with separately under XXI-catch.

Tarokk is a game where players holding fairly poor cards often play important roles. If you pick up a weak hand, it is not time to relax. The play of a weak hand can require more concentration than when your hand is strong: you must try to deduce where the strength lies and how the cards are distributed among the other players, so that you can play in a way that will help your partner.

Bidding

It is a rule that you must have an honour to bid, but it is important to realise that apart from this it is not necessary to have a particularly strong hand. Your initial task as declarer is only to take more than half of the card points. If the game is three or two your team will be exchanging at least as many talon cards as the opponents, you have an honour and your partner will have at least one good tarokk (the called card). In fact it is sensible to bid on most hands which contain the skíz - for one thing you want to make sure that the hand is played so that you may have a chance to catch the XXI. Holding the XXI or the pagát you will usually want to bid unless your hand is well below average in strength.

If you have short tarokks including the XXI but not the skíz, you may be tempted to pass because of the danger of a XXI-catch. However, playing dead like this rarely works against good players. The holder of the skíz will probably try to catch the XXI in any case. Experience suggests that it is better for a weak XXI to bid so as to become declarer, or at least to obtain more than one card from the talon. Discarding two cards should create at least one void suit on which the XXI may escape. The only case in which passing is definitely better is when you are sitting in fourth position after three passes, in which case you can annul the hand by passing.

Another type of hand on which you might pass is an average hand that contains the XX and the pagát but no high honour. With this hand you expect to be called by the eventual winner of the bidding in any case, and then your partner will have a high honour, rather than just the XIX that you would have to call. There are two ways in which this plan can go wrong: if your hand is too strong there is a danger that everyone else might pass; and if your hand is weak there is a danger that the players with the other two honours might get together successfully by means of a cue bid, cutting out your XX.

There is one case in which you should nearly always bid if you have an honour: if the player to your immediate left bids three you should automatically bid two if it is legal. If you are left to play the two it is a yielded game, and you have an excellent partner with the XX and a high honour. On the other hand, if the player to your left bids again you are relieved of the responsibility of being declarer and you have gained an additional card from the talon.

To make a cue bid you should have the indicated card (XIX or XVIII), a high honour, and a good hand, ideally containing at least six tarokks. Cue bidding with the pagát and no high honour is very rare, and requires an extremely strong hand, with at least eight and preferably nine good tarokks. To yield the game you do not need so much strength - often you would rather have a partner with an honour than a partner with the XIX.

Finally, it is important for everyone to remember the bidding during the rest of the hand. Anyone who bids must have at least one of the three honours, so if two or three people have bid, you already have useful information about the position of these cards.

Discarding

From the point of view of getting the maximum number of points in your part of the skart, since kings and honours cannot be discarded, the best discards are queens and riders for everyone except the declarer's partner. If you hold the XX and know you are going to be called, then from this point of view you would prefer to discard a ten or an ace, because your discard will belong to the declarer's opponents.

At the stage of the game when you have to discard, you may have few clues from the bidding about the locations of the key cards or who the partners will be. Sometimes, however, you know or can guess the position, and this may influence your discard. If you want to take the lead as often as possible, you prefer to keep just one or two suits and discard other suits entirely. On the other hand, if you want to avoid having to lead, you will do better to keep cards in as many different suits as you can, so that you will not be forced to win tricks with your tarokks when these suits are led. Other things being equal, you want to lead when your partner is on your left (playing last), but when your partner is on your right you sometimes want to avoid taking the lead. If you have the skíz and are hoping to catch the XXI, you want to avoid taking tricks until the XXI is played, and it may even be worth discarding a tarokk to weaken your hand. The same can apply if you suspect that you are the partner of the XXI, with the enemy skíz sitting after the XXI when you lead to a trick.

Announcements

Do not be afraid to announce trull. In general, trull should be announced by the declarer's team whenever they have both top honours, unless their cards are exceptionally weak. Often the pagát can be captured even if they do not hold it. Even when the pagát cannot be caught, it will be difficult for the opponents to know when they can safely kontra the announcement. If you have a reasonable hand including the called tarokk and a high honour, it can be worth announcing trull even if you are not certain that the declarer holds the other high honour. The good news about your hand can be useful to the declarer in other ways.

It is extremely difficult to predict when your side is going to make four kings. You certainly do not want kings in your hand, as you are then likely to lose them to the opponents tarokks; four kings is most likely to make when both partners have some high tarokks accompanied by cards in only one or at most two suits. The announcement of four kings is often used as a general encouragement, showing a good hand and inviting your partner to make further announcements, such as pagátulti or double game. Because the four kings announcement is used in this way, the opponents should be on the lookout for an opportunity to kontra it. This will often be possible when the opponent with longer tarokks has a couple of high ones which might win a late tarokk trick on which partner can be expected to throw a king.

Pagátultimó is harder to make than at first appears. More than half of the cards in the pack are tarokks, and all the other tarokks have to be driven out in the first 8 tricks in order for the pagát to win. Without help from your partner, you can never be 100% certain to make pagátulti however strong your hand is - for example an opponent might have nine tarokks. To announce a pagátultimó you need long tarokks, preferably at least seven, including several high ones, and some evidence that your partner also has a good hand.

The defenders need 24 points to prevent double game, and depending on the contract they already have 3,4,5 or 6 cards in their trick pile, many of which are queens and riders. This means that if you announce double game in a one or solo you can generally only afford to concede one trick, and that one must not contain too many valuable cards. If the bid is two or three, the talon is likely to contain around 8-10 points, so two tricks can usually be given up provided that at least one of them is cheap.

Play

Of the pack of 42 cards, over half are tarokks. Furthermore, six of the 20 suit cards are usually discarded, so of the 36 cards in play only 14 belong to the four suits. It is therefore clear that most tricks will be won by tarokks, and a large part of the play is about the management of the tarokks. The suit cards are nevertheless important, partly because they are worth points, and partly because when a suit is led, some of the players have to follow suit while the others play tarokks.

Another basic point to notice is that all four kings must be in play - they cannot be discarded. This has various consequences - for example if you lead for the first time a suit of which you do not have the king, at least one other player will have to follow suit.

The game and the different bonuses require somewhat different styles of play to achieve them, and effective cooperation between partners is needed for success. Normally the member of a team who is longer in tarokks will decide on the line of play, and the shorter partner will try to cooperate with the longer partner's plan.

At the start, the players' attention is usually concentrated on the most valuable bonus that might be achieved. Interest shifts to the smaller value items as the larger ones succeed or become impossible. The normal order of priorities is:

  1. Catch or save the XXI.
  2. Make or prevent pagátultimó.
  3. Make the game or double game.
  4. Capture or save the pagát so as to make or prevent trull.
  5. Capture kings to make four kings or prevent the other team from doing so.

Of course, this priority order may be altered if some bonuses have been announced and maybe kontra'd.

Catching the XXI

This is only possible if the skíz and XXI belong to opposite teams, and even then, the cards will often lie in such a way that there is very little chance of the XXI being caught. However, the bonus for XXI-catch is so large in comparison to the others (not to mention the pleasure of seeing somebody wear the mayor's hat) that it is normal to look for ways that the XXI can be caught or saved until it becomes clear that no catch is possible. In particular, even though you do not know for certain who has the skíz and who has the XXI, you should assume until it is proved otherwise that they are in such positions that the XXI-catch is possible. This is because the gain in managing to catch (or save) the XXI when your assumption is right far outweighs the cost of your somewhat suboptimal play when the assumption is wrong.

The classic process for catching the XXI depends mostly on the holder of skíz playing after the holder of the XXI on whenever possible. This is easiest to achieve if the skíz is sitting immediately to the victim's right. The skíz holder will try to avoid taking a trick before the XXI appears, so as not to have to lead. The ideal hand for catching the XXI consists of the skíz and five or six small tarokks, with the remaining cards in different suits - not kings. It is also useful to have a strong partner!

A conspicuous sign of a player trying to catch the XXI is that they play tarokks which are as large as possible without heading the trick - for example the skíz holder may play the XVII under the XVIII to avoid taking the lead and at the same time get rid of a large tarokk with which might be an embarrassment later. This kind of play should be taken as a signal to partner that a XXI-catch is likely. It can occasionally also be used by a player who does not have the skíz as a way of misleading the other players. Conversely, the play of a very small tarokk, when a larger losing tarokk could have been played, is a signal to partner that one is not trying to catch the XXI. If the skíz holder is forced to take a trick, the most usual lead is a suit card (preferably from a suit not headed by the king), hoping that the XXI also has this suit and cannot escape on this trick.

If you are the partner of the skíz and the skíz is sitting to your left, you will take the lead as often as possible, and probably lead large tarokks. If the skíz is to your right, the catch is much more difficult - you need to avoid the lead, or perhaps engineer some kind of deception. If you are sitting opposite the skíz you still have a good chance of a catch if the XXI is to your right. For an example of a catch from the wrong side, see example deal 4.

If you are the partner of the XXI, you want to play in such a way as to allow the XXI to play after the skíz on some trick. If you have the lead, and the relative positions are such that the skíz will be playing after your partner there are two possible techniques:

  • if you think the XXI has longer tarokks you may be able to drive out the skíz simply by leading tarokks;
  • if on the other hand the skíz is longer, you will have to lead a suit in the hope that either the skíz will be forced to take a trick, or that your partner will be able to risk trumping with the XXI while the skíz has to follow suit. For this purpose it is best to lead a suit not headed by a king.

Your partner's play may suggest which strategy to follow; for example, if the holder of the XXI leads tarokks to try to drive out the skíz, you should do this too, rather than employing the riskier tactic of looking for escape suits. This is illustrated in example deal 9.

Making pagátultimó

To drive out the enemy tarokks, the pagát holder needs either to lead tarokks, or to lead from a long suit which will cost the other players tarokks. The pagát's partner should help by taking the lead and playing tarokks as well.

In general, the most efficient technique for drawing tarokks if the partners are sitting next to each other works like this: the left hand partner will lead a small tarokk, allowing the right-hand partner to win with a top card; the right hand partner will then lead medium tarokks through the two opponents and continue as long as these are allowed to win; if an opponent covers a medium tarokk with a higher one, the left hand partner will take the trick and lead a low tarokk again. If partners are sitting opposite it is more difficult - in general it is best to lead a low tarokk on which your partner plays a high one, and if it wins, leads a low tarokk back.

The above technique works when the two partners' tarokk holdings are well balanced. In the case of an announced pagátultimó the holder of the pagát, who should be longer in tarokks than partner, should not make the mistake of playing too many high tarokks too soon. The pagát should begin with a medium or low tarokk, allowing partner to take the trick and lead a tarokk back. The pagát's high tarokks will be more useful for drawing the last tarokks from the opponents after partner runs out. If you are the pagát's partner you should try to keep a low tarokk to be played last. You do not want to take a trick with your last tarokk, as you will then have to lead a suit, which may damage the ultimó by costing the pagát a tarokk while an opponent follows suit.

Making the game or double game

Assuming that you are not in a position to win all of the tricks, it is generally better to let the opponents win their tricks early - particularly by giving them tricks consisting mainly of tarokks, which are not very valuable. A team which plays all its high tarokks too soon may lose some expensive tricks at the end of the hand.

If neither you nor your partner have long tarokks, it is better not to lead them too often. Instead you should try to lead suits of which your partner is void, so that your team's tarokks can be played to separate tricks rather than falling together. Conversely, if your partner has declared 8 or 9 tarokks, you should definitely lead a tarokk. It is generally good to arrange that the partner with shorter tarokks takes the early tricks - the Hungarian expression is "kurta üt" ("short takes the trick"). This way the longer partner's high tarokks are saved for later, to be used after the short partner has run out.

Do not let your opponents win kings too cheaply. If an opponent to your left leads a low card of a suit you do not have, play a fairly high tarokk; if you trump with a low tarokk you risk allowing the other opponent to overtrump easily, collecting your partner's king.

Capturing or saving the pagát

If one team holds both high honours but not the pagát, it becomes worthwhile for them to capture the pagát, especially if they have announced trull. There are three ways of saving the pagát: the easiest is to play it on partner's high tarokk; the second is to use it to trump a suit held by both opponents; the third is to hang onto it until your opponents have run out of tarokks. In any case, the best tactic for the team that holds the pagát is usually to lead plain suits, hoping either to draw the opponents' tarokks or to find a suit on which the pagát can be saved.

If you are trying to catch the pagát, you should try to avoid leading a plain suit unless you are fairly sure that your partner is void of it. When playing tarokks you do not need to win every trick - you only need to play high enough tarokks to prevent the pagát from escaping. For example, if your partner, sitting opposite you, leads a low tarokk and the second player plays a medium one, you only need to beat the second player's card; keep your top tarokks for later. If the pagát does not appear, it is usually desirable to continue leading tarokks until one of the opponents runs out. It then becomes much harder for the pagát to escape. On the other hand, leading tarokks too vigorously can be dangerous if you and your partner are both short - you may be helping an opponent to make a silent pagátulti.

Collecting kings

When all the matters to do with the honours are resolved (which may sometimes not happen until the end of the hand) one's attention can be turned to the kings. The normal ways to get a king home are by trumping, or by a player who has no tarokks left dropping a king on partner's tarokk trick. The former process works by leading the suits early, while your partner still has tarokks left; the latter depends on the player with long tarokks keeping a big one till last.

A team that is trying to collect all the kings needs to arrange if possible to play a high tarokk on every trick in which a king might escape. Leading tarokks will probably not be effective unless they are very strong. Leading suits to drive out the kings and trumping them with high tarokks is likely to be more successful.

Customs and sayings

These are not a necessary part of the game, but for people who are interested we have included an example hand which illustrates some of the traditional customs and sayings which are sometimes used by Tarokk players.

Other Hungarian Tarokk WWW pages

Lóránt Kégl's introduction to Tarokk (in Hungarian) includes plenty of advice on tactics for advanced players. He has also proposed a set of Standard Tarokk Rules

The Budapest Tarokk Society (Budapesti Tarokk Egyesület) holds regular weekly meetings in Budapest.

Several versions of Tarokk are available to play on line at UltiNet and its English edition called Rummy Network.