Barbu (card game)

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The Suicide King
Origin France
Alternative names Le Barbu
Type Trick-taking
Players 4
Skills required Card counting, Tactics
Cards 52
Deck French
Play Clockwise
Card rank (highest to lowest) A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Playing time 1.5 hours face-to-face, 1 hour online
Random chance Low — Moderate
Related games

Barbu or Le Barbu, also known as Tafferan, is a trick-taking card game similar to hearts where four players take turns leading seven different sub-games (known as contracts) over the course of 28 deals. Barbu originated in France in the early 20th century where it was especially popular with university students, and became a prominent game among French Bridge-players in the 1960s.[1] The French version of the game was originally played with a stripped deck of 32 cards ranked seven to ace in each suit. Modern forms are played with a full 52-card pack.[2]

"Le Barbu" literally means "The Bearded" (man), and phonetically "The Barb" – a reference to the King of Hearts' common depiction as a bearded monarch nonchalantly stabbing himself in the head. This card is of special significance in one of the seven contracts featured in the game.[1]



Four players (no partnerships) use a deck of 52 French suited cards (♠ ) ranking A (high) K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 (low). Players draw for high card to determine who will be the first declarer. For the next seven deals cards are shuffled and dealt by the player on the declarer's right, and cut by the player on the dealer's right. 13 cards are dealt to each player, and the declarer names which contract all will play for that deal. The declarer names each one of the contracts once. After this declarer has played all seven contracts, the roles of declarer and dealer pass to the left for the next seven hands, and so on, until all have done their seven contracts.

The Seven Contracts[edit]

There are five negative and two positive contracts in Barbu and all are trick-taking games with the exception of domino. For trick-taking contracts, declarer leads a card to the opening trick and play passes clockwise with each player following suit if able, or otherwise playing a card in a different suit. All contracts are played at no trump, with the exception of trump. The total scores for all seven contracts taken together add up to zero,[2][3] although variations exist where this is not the case (see variations below). The seven contracts are:

No Tricks (also known as Misere or Nullo)

Each trick taken scores -2 points for a total of -26.

No Hearts

The ace of hearts scores -6 and each of the other hearts score -2 for a total of -30. Hearts may never be led unless there are no cards of other suits available to lead. All hearts are kept face up after capture so that everybody can see who has taken which.

No Queens

Each queen scores -6 for a total of -24 and queens are left face up after capture. The hand ends once all four queens have been taken.

No King (Barbu)

K scores -20, and hearts may not be led as in the no hearts contract above. Play ends once the king has been taken.

No Last Two

The second-to-last trick scores -10 and the last trick scores -20 for -30 points.


Declarer picks a trump suit and leads to the first trick. Others play card as follows:

  • If trump is led, each player must, if able, play a higher trump than the highest currently on the table. Otherwise players simply follow suit, or discard if they are void in trumps.
  • When a non-trump suit is led, players follow suit if possible. If a player cannot follow suit and no trump has been played to the trick, they must play a trump card if possible and otherwise play a card of one of the other suits.
  • If a non-trump has been led and trumped, the player must, if possible, play a higher trump than those previously played. Otherwise the player may slough off any card to the trick.

Each trick scores +5 points for +65 total.

Domino or Fan Tan
A Domino or Fan Tan in process.

Declarer chooses a starting rank and announces "Domino from the [rank]". Each player in turn must, if possible, play an acceptable card face upwards to the table. Acceptable cards are:

  • Any of the four cards of the chosen rank, or
  • Cards either one place higher or one place lower than a card of a matching suit previously played.

A player who cannot play an acceptable card must pass, the object being to get rid of all of one's cards. The layout of domino is thus built from a column of the four starting cards that fan outward to either side (or to one side if the starting rank is a two or an ace). Play continues until all cards have been laid out onto the table. First to go out scores +45, second scores +20, third +5 and last -5, for +65 total.

Declarer need not have any of the starting rank at the outset.


After declarer picks a game but before the first trick is led, each of the other players may wager double against one or more of the other players. This operates like a side bet on the relative game score between the two players, who are said to have "business" with each other. The rules for doubling are:

  • Each player gets one opportunity to double, starting with the player at the dealer's left
  • A player must name which of the other players he or she wishes to double, or say "maximum" or "table" to double all of the players, or "family" or "flanks" to double the other two non-dealers.
  • At a positive game, non-dealers may only double the dealer (who may redouble)
  • Each non-declarer must double against declarer at least twice during a delarer's seven contracts.
  • Any player receiving a wager of double may redouble; "maximum" implies redoubling all received wagers as well as doubling the remaining players
  • Declarer can not double, but may redouble as above. A "maximum" from the dealer therefore redoubles received wagers only

If there are no doubles in a negative game, the game is not played out, but the negative points are simply divided equally between the non-dealers, with the dealer scoring 0 or +1 as necessary. After the hand is played out and scores are tallied, modifications are made for doubles as follows:

  • Between each pair of players who doubled, the difference in their scores is calculated. Player with the higher score for that round is awarded the amount of the difference and player with the lower score had the same amount subtracted from his or her score.
  • Redoubled wagers are figured the same way, with the difference in scores doubled before awards and penalties are tallied.


Once all 28 hands have been played, scores are tallied and the player with the greatest number of points wins. The scores of all players should add up to zero,[2] though variations exist where this is not the case (see below).


Ravage City[edit]

Ravage City is an eighth contract (making for an even longer game of 32 deals) where whichever player takes the most cards in any one suit scores -24. If there is a tie between two players, each scores -12. If three tie each scores -8, and all get -6 for a four-way tie. Because Ravage City brings 24 negative points into the game, the point values of the other contracts are modified as follows:[4]

  • No Tricks: Each trick scores -3 (-39 total)
  • No Hearts: No change - Ace of scores -6, all other s score -2 each (-30 total)
  • No Queens: Each queen scores -8 (-32 total)
  • No King: King of scores -21
  • No Last Two: No change - Penultimate trick scores -10, ultimate trick scores -20 (-30 total)
  • Trumps: Each trick scores +7 (+91 total)
  • Domino: First player out scores +50, second +25, third 10 and last scores 0 (+85 total)

All other rules are the same as in seven-contract Barbu.

There are some players who play Ravage City as -36 instead of -24. These players usually do not maintain the zero sum quality of the game.[5]

Chinese Poker[edit]

Chinese Poker (ChiPoker) is a ninth contract (making for an even longer game of 36 deals) played and scored exactly as a hand of Chinese Poker. The scores are then multiplied by four, for 76 plus points. Played with Ravage City and all other deals, ChiPoker adds 52 positive points into the game. All the negative games may be slightly adjusted to balance out the games and make the total scores add up to 0.

Quick Rotation Barbu[edit]

Some play with a new declarer and dealer each round instead of every seven rounds. This makes for more varied play, but requires precise recording of who has declared what and who has doubled whom. This is often more exciting, as you have a chance to get back into the running late in the game, even if you are the first to deal.

King or Rıfkı[edit]

King (also called Rıfkı or Turkish King) is a shorter variation of Barbu with 20 rounds instead of 28. This version is popular in Turkey, as well as France, Belgium, Italy, Portugal, Russia, Colombia and Brazil.[6] King is made up of six negative contracts and one positive:

  • No King: King of scores -320
  • No Girls: Each queen scores -100
  • No Boys: Each Jack or King scores -60
  • No Hearts: Each heart scores -30
  • No Last Two or no 7th and last: Each of last two tricks (or 7th and last) scores -180
  • No Tricks: Each trick scores -50
  • Trump: Each trick scores +50

Each negative contract is played only twice (as opposed to the four times as in regular Barbu) during the game, and the Trump contract is played a total of eight times. Deal passes between each hand (as in Quick Rotation Barbu) and each player chooses just three negative and two trump contracts during the course of the game. In the end, scores add up to zero. All the players with positive score declared as winners and others as losers.[7]

Marketed variations[edit]

Many game manufacturers have published boxed games based on Barbu.[8] These include Parker Brothers' 6-contract game Coup d'Etat (1966) using a 32-card deck and scoreboard with tiny plastic swords,[9] and Milton Bradley's fantasy-themed Dragonmaster (1981) that keeps score with colored plastic jewels,[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Parlett, David. Oxford Dictionary of Card Games. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-869173-4. 
  2. ^ a b c Wedd, Nick. "Barbu". Pagat. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  3. ^ "Barbu Rules Compared". Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ King from Pagat's card game website
  7. ^ Rifki (Turkish King), also on Pagat
  8. ^ Van Biesbrouck, Michael. "Barbu-papa and Family | BoardGameGeek". Board Game Geek. Retrieved 2 February 2017. 
  9. ^ "Coup d'Etat | Board Game | BoardGameGeek". 
  10. ^ "Dragonmaster | Board Game | BoardGameGeek". Retrieved 2 February 2017. 

External links[edit]

  • Barbu website Features online Barbu with link to Barbu for Windows
  • Barbu website Description of the game. Outline of strategy. Links to other Barbu pages, among them with variant rules.

Barbu scoresheets[edit]