Tarot card games

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This article is about a family of trick taking card games. For other uses, see Tarot (disambiguation).
Tarot cards from a deck intended for games and not for divination

Tarot card games are a group of card games played with tarot decks. The basic rules first appeared in the manuscript of Martiano da Tortona, written before 1425.[1] The games, known as "tarot", "tarock", "tarocco" and other spellings, are known in many variations, mostly cultural and regional.

The deck which English-speakers call by the French name Tarot is called Tarocco in Italian, Tarock in German and various similar words in other languages. Tarot games originated in Italy, and spread to most parts of Europe, notable exceptions being the British Isles, the Iberian peninsula, and the Balkans.[2] They are played with decks having four ordinary suits, and one additional, longer suit of tarots, which are always trumps. They are characterised by the rule that a player who cannot follow to a trick with a card of the suit led must play a trump to the trick if possible.[3] Contrary to popular belief, Tarot decks did not precede decks having four suits of the same length,[4] and they were invented not for occult but for purely gaming purposes.[5] Only later were they used for cartomancy and divination, and also as a field for artists to display specific iconographies, often connected to some ideological system. Concrete forms appear at least since the article of Court de Gebelin in the year 1781.


Italian suits are still used for games like Tarocchini.

Tarocco (Italian, plural Tarocchi), and similar names in other languages, is a specific form of playing card deck used for different trick-taking games. An earlier name of the game Trionfi is first recorded in the diary of Giusto Giusti in September 1440 [6] (in other early documents also ludus triumphorum or similar [7] ). The name Tarochi was first used in Ferrara June 1505, the name Taraux appeared in Avignon in December of the same year.[8] The names Tarocco, Tarocchi and Tarot developed in later times beside different writing forms. The poet Francesco Berni still mocked on this word in his Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera written in 1526.[9] The name Trionfi developed later as a general term for trick-taking games (Trumpfen in German and Trump in English), although it has almost completely disappeared in its original function as deck name. Other different games claimed the name without any use of Tarocchi cards.

The first basic rules for the game of Tarocco appear in the manuscript of Martiano da Tortona, the next are known from the year 1637.[10] In Italy the game has become less popular, although one version of Tarocchini named Ottocento, has still survived. There are still other tarot games like Scarto played in Piedmont, especially Pinerolo and Turin,[2] but the number of tarot games played outside Italy is much higher.


Main article: French tarot

The French game of Tarot, also Jeu de Tarot, is one which uses the full 78-card Tarot deck. A typical type of Tarot playing card deck is that of the standard French design, the so-called "Tarot Nouveau", which is French-suited and has face and number layouts similar to the common 52-card deck. The "Tarot Nouveau" deck has trumps which depict scenes of traditional French social activities, in increasing levels of wealth; this differs from the character and ideological cards of the standard Italian-suited Tarot decks such as the Tarocco Piemontese, the Tarocco Bolognese, the Rider-Waite or even the Tarot de Marseille well known in cartomancy.

A Tarot deck corresponds in every particular with those called Tarocchi by writers of the 16th century. It consists of 56 numeral cards of four suits and 22 emblematic cards called atouts (trumps). Each suit consists of fourteen cards: ten "number" or "pip" cards, and four "court" cards, the Roi (King), Dame, (Queen), Chevalier (Knight), and Valet (Jack). Of the atouts, 21 are numbered from 1 to 21, and a non-numbered card called "Fou" ("Fool", also called "Mat" or "L'Excuse" in play) has various meanings depending on the particular Tarot variant being played (in the French game it "excuses" the player from following suit and affects scoring, while in the Italian variant it augments the value of cards captured in tricks).


Tarock differs from other forms in the function of the Fool which is now simply the highest trump.[11] Games of this category include Cego, Zwanzigerrufen and Königsrufen.[2] These games use the 54 card French suited Cego or Industrie und Glück decks that strip certain pip cards. The games are widely played in Germany and the countries within the boundaries of the former Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, for which even the name Tarockanien has been coined: the Austrian variation of the game (and the variations thereof) is thus still widely popular among all classes and generations in Slovenia and Croatia, while in Hungary different rules are applied.

A few games use the German suited 36 card deck that lacks any dedicated trump suit. Instead, one of the existing suits, customarily the heart suit, is chosen as the trump suit. These include Bavarian tarock, Brixentaler Bauerntarock, and Dobbm.

Common features[edit]

Deck of cards[edit]

A complete Tarot deck such as one for French Tarot contains the full 78-card complement and can be used to play any game in the family. Austrian-Hungarian Tarock and Italian Tarocco decks, however, are a smaller subset (of 56, 54, 40, or even 36 cards) suitable only for games of a particular region. Regional tarot decks commonly feature culture-specific suits; the German suits of Hearts, Bells, Acorns and Leaves are used through most of Germanic Europe (Switzerland substitutes Hearts for Roses and Shields for Leaves), the Latin suits of Cups, Coins, Staves and Swords are common in Italy and Spain, and the French suits familiar to most English speakers are seen in France, Quebec, West Germany and most of the English-speaking world. This trend continues even to non-Tarot decks such as for the German game of Skat (played with a deck of similar-value cards as in the French piquet deck used for Belote; players in most of western Germany use French suits while players in Bavaria and eastern Germany use German suits).

Austrian-style 40-card Tarock hand: the Skys (Fool) as highest trump, trump 21 (the second highest), five other trumps, King, Queen, 1 .

The 78-card tarot deck contains:

  • 14 cards each in four suits (Anglo-French, German or Latin depending on the region): "pip" cards numbered one (sometimes Ace) through ten; plus four court cards, a Jack (or Knave or Valet), a Knight (or Cavalier), a Queen, and a King.
  • The 21 tarots, (known in non-gaming divinatory tarot as the Major Arcana), function in the game as a permanent suit of trumps.
  • The Fool, also known as the Excuse, is an unnumbered card that excuses the player from following suit or playing a trump in some variations, and that acts as the strongest trump in others.

Basic rules of play[edit]

  • Play is typically counter-clockwise; the player to the right of the dealer plays to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they have a card of the suit led, otherwise they must play a trump if possible. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
  • After the hand has been played, a score is taken based on the point values of the cards in the tricks each player has managed to capture.

Common value of cards[edit]

  • Oudlers (Trull) - Trumps 1, 21 and the Fool: 5 points
  • Kings: 5 points
  • Queens: 4 points
  • Cavaliers (Knights): 3 points
  • Knaves (Jacks): 2 points
  • Pip cards: fraction of a point

The cards are usually counted in groups of two or three depending on the game. After the hand has been played, a score is taken based on the point values of the cards in the tricks each player has managed to capture.

For the purpose of the rules, the numbering of the trumps are the only thing that matters. The symbolic tarot images customary in non-gaming divinatory tarots have no effect in the game itself. The design traditions of these decks subsequently evolved independently and they often bear only numbers and whimsical scenes arbitrarily chosen by the engraver.[citation needed] However there are still traditional sequences of images in which the common lineage is visible; e.g. the moon that is commonly visible at the bottom left corner of the trump card 21 stems from confusion of the German word Mond, meaning Moon, with Italian mondo and French monde, meaning "world", the usual symbol associated with the trump card 21 on Italian suited tarots and in non-gaming divinatory tarot.

In tarot decks made for playing the game, as opposed to those made for divination or other esoteric uses, the four Latin suits are replaced in many regions with the French suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades. Some variations of the game are played with a 54-card deck (5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 of hearts and diamonds and 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 of spades and clubs are absent).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Description of the Michelino deck - Translated text at Trionfi.com, by Martiano da Tortona, translated by Ross Caldwell
  2. ^ a b c David Parlett, Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, pg. 300 Oxford University Press (1996) ISBN 0-19-869173-4
  3. ^ One tarot game, Bavarian Tarock, is in fact played with a deck of four ordinary suits each of nine cards, but has the rule that a player who cannot follow suit must play a trump. Dummett, Michael (1980). The Game of Tarot. Duckworths. p. 563r. ISBN 0 7156 1014 7. 
  4. ^ "The Tarot pack was invented in northern Italy in about 1425 [...]. A plethora of references to the cards, from Italy in the XV century [...] testify to their use as instruments in a special kind of card game. None associates them with the occult, and only one very dubious one hints at a use of them to read individual characters. It was not until the XVIII century that the use of them for divination became widespread in Bologna and France. Their association with the occult originated exclusively in France; neither it nor their use in fortune-telling was propagated in print until 1781." Dummett & McLeod 2004a, p. 1f
  5. ^ "A third particularity [...] is how widespread is the blanket of darkness enveloping everything to do with Tarots in particular. [...] The ignorance is largely fostered and reinforced by writers of books on the mystic side of tarot who assert without evidence that tarot-cards were originally invented for fortune telling and only subsequently adapted to the 'less serious' business of gaming – whereas, as our authors patiently explain, the fact of the matter is precisely the reverse." David Parlett in the preface to Dummett & McLeod 2004a.
  6. ^ Franco Pratesi: Studies about Giusto Giusti at Trionfi.com
  7. ^ Dates of Early Trionfi notes (- 1465) at Trionfi.com, composed by Lothar Teikemeier
  8. ^ First Notes about Tarot in 1505 and later in 1515/16 at Trionfi.com
  9. ^ Samuel Weller Singer, Researches into the history of playing cards pg. 28 London 1816
    "Let him look to it, who is pleased with the game of Tarocco, that the only signification of this word Tarocco, is stupid, foolish, simple, fit only to be used by bakers, cobblers, and the vulgar."
  10. ^ REGLES DV IEV DES TAROTS at tarock.info, ; assigned to Abbé Michel de Marolles, printed at Nevers in 1637, transcribed by Thierry Depaulis from the original printed text housed in the Bibliothèque nationale de France
  11. ^ Tarot Games

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]