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Three-player Barbu

First version

Contributed by Noel Leaver

We spent some time trying different sets of rules to produce a three-handed version of Barbu. As this was often a "fill-in" we preferred a shorter game. We also found it quite easy to double declarer on 2 out of 7 hands with only 3 players. Eventually we settled on the rules below, which we have been using for at least 10 years and with 10+ different players. It has a rather different feel from the 4-player game, much faster and with more luck, though if 3 rubbers are played it is rather more balanced.

Most of rules are as for the standard (UK) 4-player game.


A standard pack with the 2s removed to reduce it to 48 cards.


Each player receives 16 cards.

The player on dealer's left is declarer and the deal rotates after each hand. There are seven deals in a rubber, so one player is declarer 3 times and the other two twice. Each contract must be played once during the 7 deals.

Often three rubbers of 7 deals are played, so that each player has a turn at being the first declarer.


No hearts: -2 per heart taken, -6 for ace. You cannot lead hearts unless you have nothing else. Total -28

No K Hearts. -21. You cannot lead hearts unless you have nothing else.

No Queens. -6, total -24.

No Tricks. -2 per trick, total -32.

No last 3. Antepenultimate -5, penultimate -10, last -15, total -30.

Dominoes. First 45, second 15, last -5. Ace high. Total +55

Trumps. 5 per trick, total 80. Must overtake with a trump if possible.


Each player must double declarer at least twice during the 7 hands. Thus the first declarer has to double on 2 out of 4 hands, the others on 2 out of 5. Declarer can only redouble, and only declarer can be doubled in the positive contracts.

Notes on Play

Because first declarer is also last declarer, he would like to leave one of the contracts that is easy to bid (trumps, no tricks, no queens) to the end, although it is likely trumps will be bid earlier. This does not apply to the other two players; indeed when the first dealer is choosing between the last two contracts he would rather leave the more difficult one, as on the last hand he can double declarer with a good hand, but if he has a bad hand declarer cannot double him.

Another version

Don Lagosz-Sinclair writes:

One of our usual group of players came up with a much simpler three-person variant.

  • Omit one suit other than hearts
  • Change the Fantan (Dominoes) scoring to 36 18 0
  • Barbu (no king of hearts) scores -15

(As an alternative, the queens score can be increased to -8 each instead of -6 and the FanTan scores are 30 20 10.)

The rest of the game is unchanged.

Andy Christensen plays a similar three-suited game but with -8 for each queen, -20 for the king of hearts and 35 20 10 for Fan Tan. You can download his preprinted scoresheet.

Third version

Contributed by Mark Brader

This version is played with a deck of just 42 cards, constructed by removing all 2's, 3's, and 4's, and adding two jokers. Each player is dealt 14 cards and there are 14 tricks to be won or lost. There are four suits of 10 cards each, and a fifth suit consisting only of the jokers. If a joker is led, it takes the trick unless trumped, and a player holding the other joker must follow suit with it. The following special rules apply.

  • Fantan (Dominoes): The first card played cannot be a joker, but after that a joker can be played (to a joker pile) at any time. Thus after the first card has been played a player holding a joker cannot pass. Aces are low, so they are consecutive with 5's.
  • No hearts: A heart or a joker can be led only when a heart or joker has been discarded, or when not more than six cards remain in hand, or when the player has no other option. Jokers are counted as extra hearts for scoring purposes.
  • Trumps: Jokers can be named as the trump suit.

Rules for doubling and other procedures are as in whatever version of the game you play normally. If you wish, the scores for first, second and third at Fantan can be adjusted to make the total scores add up to zero.

Fourth Version

Contributed by David Smith

The three of clubs is removed from the deck, so each player is dealt 17 cards and there are 17 tricks. In trumps the score is +4 per trick instead of +5. In Fantan the scores are +50 / +25 / -10, and in No King of Hearts the King costs -15. This preserves the zero total. See barbuRules.zip (zipped Word file) for further details.

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Last updated: 19th June 2018