Early 17th Century French Tarot
(according to the Abbé de Marolles, 1637)
- Players and Cards
- Deal and Discard
- Variations and Uncertainties
- Bibliography and Internet Links
In his memoirs, Michel de Marolles, Abbot of Villeloin, recorded that in 1637 he had visited the town of Nevers, halfway between Paris and Lyon, and had the opportunity to play Tarot with Princess Louise-Marie de Gonzague-Nevers (later Queen of Poland). The princess had added some innovations to the game and asked the Abbot to note them down and have them printed. These are the oldest known printed rules of the game of Tarot.
The game has all the essential scoring elements found later in German and Danish Tarok and in other three-player variants, such as that from Nice. Everyone plays for themselves and there are bonuses for declaring card combinations, for card points (using the characteristic counting method), and for winning or losing any of the 7 'Tarots' which in this game are the Kings, the lowest and highest trump and the Fool. There is also an Ultimo bonus for winning the last trick with a King or the lowest trump. Similar scoring elements are already mentioned in some Italian sources about 50 years earlier.
Players and Cards
There are three active players, each playing for themselves - there are no formal partnerships. Each player starts with a sufficient number of counters called marques. The direction of play is anticlockwise.
The game is played with an Italian-suited Tarot pack of 78 cards from which the lowest three cards of each suit have been removed to make a 66-card pack.
There are the 22 triomphes, 21 of which are trumps and are numbered from I to XXI. Trump XXI is le Monde (the World) and trump I is le Bagat (Pagat). The 22nd triomphe card has a special Joker-like role and is called le Math (the Fool) from the Italian matto (fool).
There are 4 court cards and 7 numeral cards in each suit. The court cards, also called honneurs, are: the King (le Roy), Queen (la Royne), Cavalier (le Cheualier) and Jack (le Faon, from the Italian fante). The cards of each suit rank from highest to lowest as follows.
- In the ‘long suits’, Swords (espées) and Batons (bastons): K, Q, C, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4.
- In the ‘round suits’, Cups (couppes) and Coins (deniers): K, Q, C, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.
The oddity of numeral cards in the round suits ranking inversely to those in the long suits is found in most Tarot traditions.
There are several scoring elements.
- The Kings, the Fool (Math), the Trump I (Pagat) and the Trump XXI (Monde) are called Tarots (“les Tarots par excellence”). These are the most important cards in the game, since players are paid for winning tricks with them or have to pay a penalty if they are captured. This payment or penalty is greatly increased if the Pagat or a King is played in the last trick (Ultimo).
- The Ace of Coins is called la Belle (the beautiful one), and whoever holds it receives a payment.
- Certain combinations of cards in the hand of a player - Kings, Trumps, Court cards and Tarots, can be declared before the start of play and the holder is paid for them.
- At the end of the play the total value of the cards in tricks taken by each player is counted, and players whose total is below average have to pay the player whose total is highest.
Deal and Discard
The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts. The cut card, which becomes the bottom card of the pack will go to the dealer, is shown to everyone. If it is a tarot (i.e. Monde, Bagat, Math or King), the dealer is paid one marque by each opponent.
The dealer deals 4 rounds of 5 cards to each player; then one more card to each other player and 4 to himself.
The two non-dealers each discard one card and the dealer discards four. In each case these cards count in the discarder’s favour at the end of the play. No trumps or Tarots may be discarded, on penalty of paying two marques to each opponent.
In turn, players may now declare specific combinations of cards they hold in their hand and receive marques from the other two in return. Each card may be used in each of the following types of declaration, i.e. multiple times. The declarations are voluntary and will only be paid if declared in advance of the play; it is not possible to claim them later. A player who makes a declaration receives the following number of marques (M) from each opponent:
- Tarots. First four tarots are worth 1M, each additional tarot is worth 1M.
- Kings and Fool. This combination must have at least three cards and its value depends on how many Kings are present and whether the Fool is included. Three natural Kings are worth 1M, four natural Kings are worth 3M and the Fool is worth 1M, so:
- 2 Kings + Fool: 1M
- 3 Kings: 1M
- 3 Kings + Fool: 2M
- 4 Kings: 3M
- 4 Kings + Fool: 4M
- Triomphes. 10 or more trumps, counting the Fool as a trump for this purpose. Ten = 1M, fifteen = 2M, twenty = 3M. A player who has more triomphes than he wishes to or is able to score selects which trumps to reveal (e.g. showing any 10 of 13 trumps).
- Imperials. All four courts of a suit or a set of four Queens, Cavaliers or Jacks is worth 1M. A card may be declared in both types of Imperial combination, for example a player who has all courts in the suit of Cups and all the Queens collects 2M from each opponent.
- Brizigole. An uninterrupted sequence of the four, five, or six highest or lowest trumps: 1M for four, 2M for five, or 3M for six.
- Tout les trois. (not a term used by Marolles) 3M for all three Triumph Tarots (XXI, I, Fool). Anyone who only holds two of them asks “qui à le sien?” (“who has them?”) and is paid 1M by the player who doesn't have one.
Example: a player who has Two Kings, the I, and XXI and the Fool can declare Tous les Trois (3M), 2 Kings with the Fool (1M) and 5 Tarots (2M) for a total of 6M from each opponent.
The player to dealer's right leads the first card and each subsequent player adds one to the trick. The rules correspond to those of almost all Tarot games:
- Suit must be followed, i.e. if you have cards of the suit played in your hand, you must play one of them.
- If you cannot follow or if a trump has been led, you must play a trump.
- The highest trump wins the trick, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played.
- The winner of a trick leads to the next.
Players familiar with modern French Tarot should note that there is no need to overtake when required to play a trump - a higher or lower trump can be played. The modern French rule is unique among Tarot games in this respect.
Whenever a Tarot is played to a trick, the player is immediately paid one marque by each opponent unless it is captured by an opponent. When a Tarot is captured, the player immediately pays one marque to each opponent.
La Belle. The holder of the Ace of Coins receives one marque from each opponent when it is played, regardless of who wins the trick.
The Fool can be played in any trick except the last instead of following suit or playing a trump. It is shown and then discarded to its holder's tricks. The Fool cannot be lost, but it cannot win a trick either. Playing the Fool like this is called ‘excusing’ (s'excuser) i.e. apologising. Since the Fool cannot be captured the player receives one marque from each opponent.
A player who fails to excuse before the last trick pays two marques to each of the other players.
If the Fool is led to a trick the second player can play any card, which is then treated as the lead and determines what the third player has to do.
Ultimo. A player who wins the last trick with a King or the Pagat receives 6 marques from each opponent. If a King or the Pagat is played to the last trick but does not win, the person who played it must pay 6 marques to each opponent.
At the end of the hand, players add their discards to the cards taken in tricks and score them together. The cards are counted in packets of three, each containing one counting card and two worthless or empty cards. The value of a packet of three is equal to that of the counting card. Every three excess empty cards score one card point. Counting cards are:
|Tarots (trump 21, trump 1, Fool and Kings):||5 points each|
|Queens||4 points each|
|Cavaliers||3 points each|
|Jacks||2 points each|
So there are 19 counting cards which along with the 38 empty cards that go with them have a total value of 71 points, plus 9 extra empty cards which are worth 3 points, so that the total value of the 66-card pack is 74 points. If a player does not have enough empty cards to place two of them in a packet with each counting card:
- A packet with two counting cards scores its total value less one, a packet with three counting cards as its total value less two.
- Two surplus cards are treated as if there were a third empty card.
- A single excess counting card scores one less than its value; a single excess empty card scores nothing.
- see counting points in Tarot games for further explanation.
Players with a below average number of points (24 points or less) in their tricks are losers and players with above average points (25 or more) are winners. There will either be two losers and one winner or two winners and one loser.
- If there are two losers each of them has to pay the winner one marque for each 5 points by which their count is less than 25.
- If there are two winners each of them collects from the loser one marque for each 5 points by which their score is greater than 25.
Amounts less than 5 points are ignored, so players with a total in the range 21 to 29 neither pay nor receive. In detail:
|Two losers each
|Two winners each
collect from loser
|24 – 21||0||25 – 29||0|
|20 – 16||1||30 – 34||1|
|15 – 11||2||35 – 39||2|
|10 – 6||3||40 – 44||3|
|5 – 1||4||45 – 49||4|
Variations and Uncertainties
As often happens with historic games for which we have only one description, there are a few details that are not fully explained by the source. Fortunately in most cases we can be fairly sure what was intended.
As an alternative to dealing in packets of 5, the cards can be dealt in 7 rounds of 3 cards each, after which the last 3 cards are for the dealer. Either way, the dealer ends up with 24 cards and the other two players with 21 each.
Presumably the penalty for an illegal discard applies to each card discarded illegally, otherwise the dealer could discard cheaply a group of high value but vulnerable cards.
Marolles includes a possible declaration of 7 Tarots with la Belle for 5M. We take this to mean that the player can show la Belle along with the 7 Tarots (4M) and claim the extra 1M for it before the play. Presumably this is instead of waiting and collecting 1M for la Belle when it is played - it would seem unreasonable for the holder to be paid twice for having been dealt this card..
Marolles does not specify exactly when these declarations are made. It is most likely that they were made before the first lead, but another possibility is that they were be declared by each player just before playing to the first trick.
Marolles does not specify whether declarations must be maximum, as would be required in modern rules, i.e. whether a player holding e.g. 16 trumps or four Kings may declare just 10 trumps (instead of 15) or three Kings (instead of four). The assumption seems to be that players will always try to declare the maximum they are entitled to.
The payments listed by Marolles for various sets of Kings with or without the Fool are a little confusing, because the payment for Tarots is sometimes but not always included. For example it is stated that four Kings are worth 4M, (3M for four Kings plus 1M for four Tarots) and four Kings with the Fool are worth 6M (4M for Kings and Fool plus 2M for five tarots). However, he gives 2 M for “Trois Roys & le Math", although for consistency that should be 3M because of the four tarots.
Marolles does not mention the possibility of leading the Fool to a trick. If this is allowed, we suggest that the second player can play any card, which is then treated as the lead and determines what the third player has to do. However, another possibility is that it was not legal to lead the Fool. In that case a player who was on lead holding only winning cards and the Fool would be forced to keep it until the last trick and then pay the penalty.
Marolles does not explain how the single cards discarded at the beginning are scored, what happens if you have too few empty cards and how to deal with the fact that when the Fool has been played, the holder has one card too many and the winner of the trick one too few. We have adopted the simplest solution of treating these cases in the same way as in other Tarot games in which the cards are counted in groups of 3.
Marolles explanation of the payments for card points only deals with the case where there are two losers and one winner and gives the amount that each loser has to pay the winner. In the above description we have assumed that when there is one loser and two winners the loser has to pay each winner according to their points in excess of the average according to a similar schedule.
The book 'A History of Games played with the Tarot Pack' (Dummett/McLeod 2004) adopts a more literal interpretation of Marolles' text whereby the loser pays only the winner who has more points. This seems a little unfair in that if the two winners have almost equal numbers of points - say 32:33:9 - the winner with more points will collect the whole of the loser's payment and the other 'winner' would gain nothing. Also it leaves unresolved the question of what happens when the winners tie, for example 33:33:8 - in this case according to Marolles the loser should pay 3 marques but it is unclear how to divide these between the winners.
Marolles does not specify the amounts due from losers who have less than 6 points. We have assumed that this is just because it is rare to take so few points, and we have extrapolated the payments in the obvious way.
Marolles does not explicitly state what happens if the Pagat or a King is played to the last trick but does not win it. We have assumed that in this case the player must pay a penalty of 6 marques to each opponent, the penalty for failure balancing the gain for success, but a literal reading of Marolles would be that the penalty was only 1M paid to each opponent, the same cost as for losing a King or the Pagat in any other trick.
If one compares the payment for card points, which is generally at most 3M, with the payment of 6M for King or Pagat Ultimo, it becomes clear that the Ultimo is the most important game element. The ratio of the Ultimo payment to the card point payment is comparable to that in the Tarot of Nice, where the Pagat Ultimo is always worth 4M and the card points 1 to 4. In Piedmontese Mitigati, c. 1780, the ratio was even 3 to 1: that is, 60 for the Pagat Ultimo and a maximum of 20 for the card points (Dummett/McLeod 2004, Game 8.7). When 78-card Tarock first appeared in German card game literature (Regeln bey dem Taroc-Spiele, 1754) the value of the Ultimo was still relatively low (20 M against a maximum of 50 for the card points), it then steadily increased up to 19th century Danish ratio of at least 145 for King Ultimo and a maximum 50 for card points, which roughly corresponds to the ratios in Nice or Piedmont 100 years earlier or in Marolles 250 years earlier.
As mentioned in the introduction, the game described above is Princess Marie-Louise's improved version of Tarot. She found the game "more enjoyable" if one “discarded twelve useless cards" from the suits, namely the lowest three ranks, leaving 66 cards, which is a somewhat unusual size for a Tarot deck: shortened decks of 62 or 54 cards are more common. Her version also has the highly unusual feature, not found in any other recorded Tarot game, that all three players discard before the play begins, the dealer discarding 4 cards and the other players one each. The reduction of the deck speeds up the play and reduces the number of uninteresting tricks containing only empty suit cards, and the discard by all players greatly increases the risk of a King being captured.
It seems very likely that these were the Princess's two improvements. If we remove them, what remains is a 78-card game in which 25 cards are dealt to each of the dealer's opponents and 28 to the dealer, who discards three cards. This could well be the basic Tarot game that the princess improved: it is very similar to the classic 3-player version of Tarot that was played in many parts of Europe in the 18th century.
Bibliography and Internet Links
Depaulis, Thierry (2002), Quand l’abbé de Marolles jouait au tarot. Le Vieux Papier, Fascicule 65, July: 313–26.
Dummett, Michael; McLeod, John (2004), A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack. Edwin Mellen, Lewiston, Queenstown, Lampeter. Game Nos. 2.1–2.3, Vol. 1: 17–22.
Marolles, Michel de (1637), Regles dv iev des tarots. Jean Fourré, Nevers. Printed pamphlet, in the manuscript collection of the National Library of France: Dupuy 777, f° 94–97. Online at Hans-Joachim Alscher‘s Tarock pages. Author, publisher, date and year according to Depaulis (2002).