This site is for people who are seriously interested in the game of (Hungarian) Tarokk. The reputation of this game is unfortunately not as high as it should be considering its difficulty, philosophy, history and cultural influence. This game can be compared to bridge from many points of view, such as difficulty, history, etc, but bridge – being promoted mostly by English and American players – is known all over the world. It is popular, it has huge literature, it has many clubs, courses and competitions. Meanwhile Tarokk is an intellectual game played by a minority in Hungary. This site aims to change this situation a little. Sadly there are very few good resources available even on the Internet, but I tried to gather some useful links at the bottom, and prepared a 4-page summary of conventions for those who have familiarised themselves with the rules but otherwise have little experience. For advanced players there is no other description on the Internet. So anybody who is interested in the world of skíz, pagát, tulétroá, XXI-catch, might be interested to read those links (though most of them include quite a lot of errors and bad practices). And if he is not a beginner and wants to have deeper knowledge of the game, this page could be useful for him. Unfortunately this site is at present unique in the world (even in the Hungarian language) in explaining how to play Tarokk at an advanced level. This lack of easily available information might be one of the reasons why the game does not yet have the high reputation it deserves.
Hungarian XX-calling Paskievics Tarokk (with 6 Bonuses)
for Advanced Players
The first tarot game was born in the 15th century in Italy. It went through a long evolution during its history, and different kinds of tarot are played in many parts of Europe. The Paskievics version of Hungarian Tarokk was developed in the mid-19th century and got its name from the Russian general Pashkevich who helped the Habsburg Empire to defeat the Hungarian revolution in 1848-49. Some say there is a connection between this year and the fact that you need 48 points to win the game.
In the 20th century some new and apparently more complicated versions were developed by players who considered that Paskievics Tarokk was not interesting enough. There is a version called “színes” [coloured] or “illusztrált” [illustrated] or “Palatinusz” [palatine] Tarokk, where the 6 original bonuses (tulétroá (or trull) [2 units (announced)], 4 kings [2 units], high game (originally “duplajáték”) [4 times the price of the game], volat [6 times the price of the game], pagat ultimo [10 units], XXI-catch [42 units]) are complemented with 6 new ones (centrum, kismadár [“little bird”], nagymadár [“big bird”], pagat uhu [“owl” – the pagat wins the 8th trick], king ultimo, king uhu). There are Paskievics clubs where some of the new bonuses are played (king ultimo, pagat uhu, centrum). Although this extended game may seem more interesting, it is chaotic rather than difficult. Nevertheless, many players consider illustrated Tarokk to be an advanced version of Paskievics. Most of the descriptions say directly or at least they imply that a player should learn Paskievics first and then he can move on to the “real” game [meaning illustrated]. This is a fundamentally misguided approach. My conviction (and experience) is that most illustrated Tarokk players do not know the sophisticated playing strategies explained below and they do not follow conventions that are precise and logical enough. (Even the printed descriptions include grave illogicalities and tactical mistakes in playing.) I consider it a sad phenomenon that Tarokk is played by only a few people and the original, serious version is played by even fewer. The other extended version called “magas” [high] Tarokk has even more bonuses (for example pagát fácán [“pheasant”]: the pagat wins the first trick => 50 units, or 3 kings (also called king family): the last 3 tricks are won by 3 different kings => 100 units, Sas [“eagle”] uhu: the eagle (trump number II) wins the 8th trick => 20 units), and these additions drive the game towards gambling or – with a strong hand – profiteering. Another version should be mentioned. This is called – I think a little pretentiously – “magyar” [Hungarian] Tarokk. This is actually the illustrated version with a few new bonuses. In contrast with the other extended versions its inventors at least try to support their developments with arguments, which is at any rate respectable, though their arguments are mostly vulnerable and sometimes obviously wrong. The problem is – just as in most descriptions of the illustrated version as well – that there are lots of tactical and strategic mistakes, and wrong approaches to the statistical probabilities.
So I am quite convinced that the illustrated version does not really improve the game and does not make it more difficult or interesting. The “high” and the “Hungarian” versions are even worse, they degrade the originally serious game into a gambling game. So they damage the reputation of the word “Tarokk”, making it seem like a less serious game, an undesirable phenomenon in my opinion.
Tarokk players are entitled to be proud of keeping a fine tradition alive. Moreover the game has a strong connection to Hungarian culture and history. But this pride must be the main reason for a strange phenomenon that many players – significantly more than in other difficult games – play with incorrect strategy, and maintain worthless habits for decades without changing or logically reconsidering them even with external help.
This description – especially the chapters on playing strategies – is therefore for players who play the Paskievics version with 6 bonuses, and who are not beginners. The strategies described are optimized for profit. Having played for several decades with wise and experienced partners I can promise that a player who follows these principles will win the most in long term. The main philosophy is that if we focus on profit, an interesting game will automatically result. I hope this study is also a small step in the nearly 600-year-old evolution of Tarokk.
For doubling the game or announced bonuses,
Hungarian uses the German terms “kontra”, “rekontra”,
etc. We use the standard Bridge counterparts of these, “double”
and “redouble” (and, analogously, “superdouble”
and “hyperdouble” at the 3rd and 4th levels). This makes the
“double game” bonus, the literal translation of “duplajáték”,
too prone to potential confusion, so we use the term “high game”
instead (which we also find more descriptive).
A:3, B:2, A: pass; A yielded the game with the XX. A usually has a high honour and at least 5 trumps. If he has less than 5 trumps he does not bid 3 initially (but passes), because he will be called by the declarer anyway in most cases. Though with 4 trumps including the skiz after 2 Passes (in the 3rd place) bidding must be considered. For inviting or yielding with [only] the pagat, see later.
To make an invitation we need a strong hand, but accepting an invitation is allowed with any hand. “Escaping” invitations, i.e. invitations made with a weak hand including the XXI (to avoid a catch), are a bad idea. A player doing this will lose his credibility and others will no longer accept his invitations, even when valid, leading to a long term loss.
A general convention is that the one who accepts an invitation should endeavour to let his partner draw 2 cards from the kitty. Therefore if he sits to the right to the inviter he should accept it by bidding solo even if he could have held in response to the inviter’s “1”. The only exception is when the one who is accepting also has a strong hand with many trumps, especially if he has the pagat, too.
Invitations can be made with the XIX or the XVIII. With the XIX, there are two possibilities:
♣ A:2, B:1 (or solo), A:pass; A makes an invitation, B accepts it. If B sits to the right of A, he accepts with solo to give A 2 cards from the kitty. In other cases it is enough to bid “1”. In this case a 3rd player can bid solo, but if B holds it, the invitation is accepted anyway. (If B does not hold then the 3rd bidder can accept the invitation but this would be a mistake by B in every case);
♣ A:3, B:1, A:hold (or solo); B makes an invitation, A accepts it. He accepts with solo when he sits to the right of B (i.e. A leads to the first trick), to give B 2 cards.
All the invitations that can be accepted only with solo (in other words, all the rest) are invitations to call the XVIII.
♣ A:3, B:solo, A:hold; B makes an invitation, A accepts it;
♣ A:1, B:solo, A:pass; A makes an invitation, B accepts it. A should bid this way only with a very strong hand, otherwise he has the following possibility;
♣ A:3, B:2, A:1, B:solo; A makes an invitation, B accepts it. This can be accepted only with Solo, not with Hold. (Therefore it is an invitation to call the XVIII in our school. There are groups where A’s bid of 1 is considered as an invitation to call the XIX [and it can be accepted with Hold, too]. This is not actually an error but neither is it recommended. The logic behind this principle is that it is easier to play with the XIX, so the invitations with the XVIII should be made easier.) If B does not want to accept the invitation, he can pass. This seldom makes sense because it is certain that A has not made an “escaping” invitation, so it is worth accepting in every case. The only exception when B can reject it is when he has the XX but this is still not obvious because in this case A will get 1 card only. B can also refuse the invitation by holding (if we don’t play it as XIX invitation), to compete with A (A can bid solo if he wants). It makes no sense to do this in our school, so B should bid solo in all cases except when he has the XX, but even in that case it can be worthwhile;
♣ A:3, B:2, A:solo, B:hold; A makes an invitation, B accepts it. This is almost the same as the previous case, but A informs his future partner (B), that he has a really good hand. In this case B with the XX can pass easily. Also he can announce high game for example, because he knows that A has a very good hand. (If the previous bid is considered as XIX cue bid, then this is the only reverse XVIII invitation, so in this case these considerations are not valid);
♣ A:3, B:2, C:solo, A:hold; C makes an invitation, A accepts it. If A passes, then B can accept it, but it is always worthwhile for A to accept it, so C can accept only if A makes a mistake. C should always have a high honour, so it is worthwhile for him to invite because his partner will either have the other high honour or a strong hand with the pagat. (If A has the pagat he must be strong to have bid 3 in the first place.) In the second case, if C has the skiz, an announced XXI-catch is possible sometimes. (This is also sometimes played as a XIX invitation but this is also not recommended because of the same considerations as before.);
♣ A:3, B:2, C:1, A (or B, after A's Pass):solo; A (or B) makes an invitation, B (or C) accepts it (with Hold). There are clubs where this is not considered an invitation. That interpretation is also reasonable: we should agree which version to use before playing, though it is a very rare situation anyway.
A player who
invites or yields with only the pagat is obliged to announce pagat ultimo.
Because of this, with the pagat, one needs a hand with very high (and many)
trumps. Also, such an invitation (or yield) must only be made to the player
on our left, to avoid the risk of driving out our own partner’s XXI.
Other bidding considerations
If somebody does not want to get too many cards from the kitty, he can start with “2” or “1” (or even solo, excluding the others from bidding), but if somebody accepts the presumed invitation, the first player has to “take it back” by holding (but only once). On the other hand if somebody already bid “3” and then everybody else passed, he cannot choose to take fewer than 3 cards. This is against the spirit of the game: we should not simplify the situation for the player who already has a good hand. We can safely bid 2 or 1 without our bid being understood as a possible invitation if we are the last to bid after three Passes, since there is no one to accept the apparent invitation.
If all the previous players have passed, a player who holds a high honour always bids, unless he is the 4th player (dealer) with a very weak hand or he has fewer than 5 trumps including the XX. With fewer than five trumps he would be unable to yield the game without misinforming his partner, so he passes instead. His XX will be called by the declarer anyway in most cases. If somebody has already bid 3, a player with (a high honour and) the XX can pass even with more than 5 trumps in his hand to let the first bidder (who will probably be his partner) get 3 cards from the kitty. The holder of the skiz may also stay silent (“Pass”) when two players have bid before him. This sometimes creates a XXI-catch situation, especially if the player has the XX as well as the skiz.
When bidding with only the pagat, a stronger hand is required (6 or more trumps, including 2 or 3 high). The only exception is bidding 2 right after 3 because this is safe to do even with a weak hand and makes it harder for the two high honours to get together by means of a yielded game or an invitation. It also ensures we get two cards from the kitty (possibly even by the game being yielded to us). When holding the XX and the pagat but no high honour, it is almost always a bad idea to bid, except when two others have bid already (to try to get away from the player holding the XXI in case the catch is on).
In a contract of 3 with trull announced, the partner’s announcement of four kings shows a hand which has no suit without the king, and with 6-7 trumps including a high one. If he has suit(s) without the king, it is better to announce high game instead. In a higher level contract a high game announcement with such a hand is unwise because it is expensive (though in a contract of 2 it is still easier than four kings in most cases).
If only one player bids and then announces trull and 8 trumps, his partner should encourage him if he has at least 5 trumps (if the declarer announced 9 trumps, even 4 trumps is enough) by announcing a bonus following the principles of the previous paragraph. It is possible to encourage him even with fewer trumps if the relative position at the table, the value of the trumps and the lead to the first trick are favourable, for example if he can lead trumps through the opponents twice, etc.
If the declarer announces 8/9 trumps (and he does not announce trull), it is worth encouraging him (with four kings or high game) to announce pagat ultimo only if the bonus used as an encouragement can also be accomplished and/or there is possibility of a XXI-catch. If a double of the encouraging bonus is almost certain, the encouragement does not have much of a point because doubled four kings costs 4 units and the announced pagat ultimo costs 10, so we’ll win 6, but only if the declarer has the pagat, the chance of which is about 50%. Moreover if the declarer makes a silent pagat ultimo, we’ll win 5 units anyway. Of course this should be reevaluated if there is a large amount in the “ultimo pot”.
A player who has at
least 5 trumps with a high honour should announce trull if it is reasonably
likely that their partner has the other high honour. There are two cases:
when there was no invitation and the player was called by the declarer,
or when the player is the declarer who has accepted an invitation. (Note:
The player who invited will nearly always have a high honour. In the other
case when after a regular bidding the declarer calls the XX, the risk
is little higher that he has only the pagat. Still, announcing the trull
provides a lot of information for the partner therefore in these cases
that risk should practically always be taken as well, even when a 3rd
player bid as well.)
An announced trull by the declarer in the first round (with both high honours) guarantees a stronger hand (normally at least 6 trumps), but if the holder of the pagat bid, it shows an even stronger hand. With a weak hand the declarer should not announce trull even with all 3 honours. Although the trull itself is safe, the announcement may mislead his partner into making further announcements which cannot succeed (often doubled by the opponents). But if a strong partner has announced something, the declarer can announce trull in the 2nd round. In this case the relative positions at the table are extremely important. When the encouraging partner sits to the right to the declarer and he leads to the first trick, he cannot know if the late trull announcement indicates a weak hand with both high honours or a strong hand with only the skiz. So in this case, only the declarer can announce XXI-catch – his partner can only inform him about his strength. Of course, if the declarer also announces pagat ultimo with the trull, then the partner can also announce XXI-catch because it is obvious that the declarer has many trumps and thus cannot have the XXI. (If the declarer simply forgot to announce trull right away, he should not announce it later because his partner may announce XXI-catch. This has actually happened…)
If the declarer who accepted a yielded game
or invitation does not announce trull, his partner can announce it only
if he has 2 honours because otherwise he does not know if the declarer
has a high honour with a weak hand or the pagat only. Consequently, if the
partner can announce 8/9 trumps with trull, the declarer
must think about announcing his partner’s pagat ultimo.
It can succeed if the declarer has 4 trumps or even 3 with the first lead.
But if the declarer still does not announce pagat ultimo in this case, the partner
should give it up and save the pagat early. Only with an extremely strong hand
should the partner announce pagat ultimo without the declarer’s trull.
As mentioned before, yielding or inviting with only the pagat is only possible when the declarer is on our left, to avoid the situation where, after the mandatory pagat ultimo announcement, we help the opponents to catch the declarer’s XXI. If the declarer has both high honours, he can inform his partner about it by announcing pagat ultimo right away, as he knows his partner must announce it anyway. If, besides the honours, he also has at least 3 more trumps (so at least 5 altogether), he should announce trull, too. If he has fewer trumps, he can announce it in the 2nd round anyway (after the partner’s trump count announcement, which is almost certain to come).
If the declarer has only the pagat and his partner announces trull “bona fide”, he should lead a high trump (which is otherwise usually not a good idea), thus indicating that he has no high honour. With this lead, in lucky cases – the partner has the skiz and the positions are favourable – he is already driving out the opponents’ XXI. This convention means that bidding with only the pagat requires at least 1 high trump to be led in this way. It is still possible to get in trouble if all high trumps end up being used before we first get the lead. In this case we should warn our partner by making an obviously “wrong” play; for example, giving the pagat to the opponents!
When the declarer and his partner have announced volat, if one of the opponents guesses that his partner may have many trumps, he can double the four kings holding 1 or 2 trumps including a high one. In this way, he informs his partner about his high trump, and his partner may be able to double the volat in response. Of course it can happen that his partner does not have a good enough hand and the declarers redouble the four kings. So to decide, we have to judge the chances of our partner having a good enough hand.
If the declarer and his partner have announced pagat ultimo, one of the opponents can double the trull with many (7 or perhaps 6) trumps but a weak hand. Then his partner can double the pagat ultimo if he has at least 1 high trump to help. This case differs from the previous one in that here, the opponent holding more trumps doubles first. Of course, it is again possible that the partner is not able to help and the declarers redouble the trull, so this too must be played only after careful consideration.
A declarer with the XXI who has been pushed into a high contract while bidding (if he still has a high number of trumps) can ask his partner to lead trumps even after the holder of the skiz has doubled the game by announcing four kings. He cannot redouble the game because a superdouble will make it very expensive. Instead, with four kings, he can inform his partner for only 4 units (as the four kings are certain to also be doubled). This is worthwhile only when the declarer with XXI cannot inform his partner in any other (cheaper) way (for example by leading a trump). The player with the XX (just like the skiz’s partner) always has to consider whether he can best help his partner by leading a trump or a suit. It is not necessarily true that the skiz needs trumps and the XXI needs suits!
There is a rule that prohibits announcing high game and volat at the same time. However there are multiple versions of this rule. The first allows the same player to announce them as long as it’s not at the same turn, while the second does not allow them both to be announced by the same player at all. We should agree about this before starting to play. I recommend the first version.
This is the most important part of the game. It is very important to count the trumps while playing, especially in XXI-catch or pagat ultimo situations. Most of the time, the value of the trumps played is very important too. Nobody should be in doubt about things like “has the XVI been played already?”, everybody should remember the suits that have already been seen, sometimes it is important to know who played which card of a suit, etc. So in practice we can say that a really good player is able to mentally replay the whole game at any moment. Of course, with a little practice, the relevant information can be filtered out, but as one learns more and more about the game, he comes to realise that actually there is not too much irrelevant information…
Players must always take into account who leads to the first trick and also the relative position at the table. The instinct to always discard so as to keep as few different suits as possible has to be resisted, because even the opponents (of the declarer) can have a better strategy sometimes.
It is a general principle to let the stronger partner determine the course of the game. Many players do not pay full attention when they have a poor hand because they think they cannot really affect the game. This is a grave mistake! Everybody should play well even with a poor hand! Often the only important task is to play a king to the right trick, but a mistake can be very costly.
♣ Generally the most important decision is how many different suits to keep, whether to create voids or to keep cards in several suits. In most cases it is better to have as few different suits as possible, but see the exceptions later;
♣ Players who discard to themselves (the declarer and those who are sure they will be opponents) should discard higher value suit cards (queen, knight), while the player who discards to his opponent (the declarer’s partner if he knows who he is) should discard less valuable suit cards. Nevertheless, this consideration is only the second most important, contrary to instinct;
♣ After considering the previous 2 points, other things being equal the player should conform to traditions and proverbs like “Partner kárót nem tart, ha tart, kettőt tart” (“The declarer’s partner does not keep diamonds, but if he does, he keeps 2 of them”), “Pikken csúszik a pagat” (“The pagat escapes on spades”), “Pikket ha baj van” (“Lead spades when in trouble”), “Ulti ellen feketét” (“Lead a black suit against an ultimo”), “Pikken vész el minden” (“Spades ruin everything”). So, for example, if a player has the first lead and expects to be playing against a pagat ultimo, he should prefer keeping a card in a black suit because his partner will do the same.
The player who leads to the first trick should think about what he will lead before discarding. For example if he is an opponent and has 3 kings he should often keep a card of the fourth suit because it may be very important to be able to lead from a kingless suit.
Against a pagat ultimo usually it is effective to have several different suits, but this depends on the relative position and strength of the players, the number of trumps held, etc.
When an opponent is very weak and especially if he has few trumps, if the declarer (or his partner) leads to the first trick, he should prefer the second tactic (discarding high value cards) to the first (creating a void) because he won’t be able to affect the game with his trumps anyway. (This is no longer the case if his partner (the other opponent) has the first lead.)
A player with few (1-3) but high trumps (e.g.. single XX or doubleton XX, XIV) should keep as many different suits as possible to avoid having to overtrump his own partner.
Helping a player whose XXI is in danger of being caught is actually an “art”. In this case if the trouble can be anticipated from the bidding, the partner of the holder of the XXI should keep as many suits as possible to be able to lead them to his partner, even if he has to discard trump(s). Generally we can say he should keep 3 suits if it is possible. To keep all 4 suits is worthwhile only if it does not cost too much, so if a player has 6 trumps he should not discard a trump in order to keep the fourth suit. Of course, if he has 3 kings, this must be reevaluated…
The player with the skiz who wants to catch the XXI should keep 2 or 3 different suits. Of course this depends on the strength of each player. If he has a strong partner it is enough to have fewer suits. The partner of the holder of the skiz should have as few suits as possible unless the bidding shows that the holder of the skiz is weak and will need suit leads.
A declarer with 8 trumps but without a king should keep a queen, even if he is tempted to discard it because of its value. The logic behind this that there is a possibility that an opponent may save the king of the same suit by playing it to one of his partner’s tricks, and then the queen can win the last trick. Also, since the declarer’s partner discards low value suit cards, there is a better chance that he can trump the queen if its suit is led.
What should be led to the first trick:
It is profitable in most cases to hinder the play of strong declarers by leading from a kingless suit. (That’s why we say above that it is worthwhile to keep a card of the fourth suit if one has 3 kings.) However, if the partner of the opponent who has the lead is playing last to the first trick, in some cases it can profitable to lead away from king of a long suit (usually a queen) because the declarers will usually not play a high trump to this, allowing our partner to win the trick in the last position.
If a pagat ultimo has been announced without a trump count, an opponent with 6 trumps and 2 different suits whose trumps are too low to have a chance of taking the lead twice during the game should lead his singleton, because his best chance is that he has the same doubleton suit as the player holding the pagat.
The declarer (or his partner) should lead a low trump when leading up to his partner (on his left) because the opponent who has fewer trumps will usually play a high trump anyway, so his higher trumps end up being promoted. When all the high trumps whose positions are known have been played, the player should lead his highest remaining trump to inform his partner. See the exceptions later.
If one sits as an opponent to the left of a bidder whose partner is not known, one should consider leading a trump to allow his partner’s XXI to be played, in case his partner is on his left (opposite the declarer). If the leader has a trump high enough to win a trick soon, it is only necessary to lead a trump if his partner is probably very weak (low on trumps). If the player opposite the declarer bid but did not go to a higher bid (“1”) it is also unnecessary to do this because he should have insisted on being the declarer (by bidding “1”) if he had had a bad hand.
If a pagat ultimo has been announced, the opponent with fewer trumps should lead a short black suit, conforming to the tradition “Lead a black suit against an ultimo” because his partner (with hopefully 6-7 trumps) will play in accordance with the same tradition and keep black suits.
If the game has been doubled and the partner of the player who doubled it has the lead to the first trick, his play depends on the relative position of the players. Let’s say he has 3 trumps including a high one. If he sits to the left, or across from his partner, he should lead a high trump. But if he sits to the right, he should lead a low one, so that in the next trick he will be able to use the high trump to force the declarer’s team to play high, too.
If the player who has been called by the declarer leads to the first trick, when there is a XXI-catch possibility (for example the declarer bid alone and did not announce trull), he should lead his highest trump (usually the XX, or if he has some trumps in sequence with the XX, the lowest of these) if he sits opposite or to the right of the declarer. If he sits to the declarer’s left, this does not make sense, so he should lead a low trump. (If possible, he should not lead the lowest one, because having a low trump allows giving the lead back in the later stages of the game, which can be vital in pagat ultimo and XXI-catch situations.)
It is always a problem what to lead first if one is trying to help his partner to escape with the XXI. Though it is quite obvious in many situations (for example they bid up to solo, the player with the skiz doubled the game, so the partner of the player with the XXI should lead a suit), there are many cases when it is not so easy. This time the player should consider how high the bidding ended, whether the player with the skiz doubled, whether his partner did, whether anybody announced 8/9 trumps, and of course last but not least his own hand. If there is a chance that the partner (with the XXI) wants trumps led, it can be worthwhile leading the XX (or if he has some trumps in sequence with the XX, the lowest of these), to which the partner (and also the opponent with the skiz) will play a trump below X if he wants suits, and X or higher if he wants trumps to be led. Of course it can happen that he is not able to do that (for example he does not have a trump below X), so the subsequent tricks are also important. Players need to take note whether trumps are played in ascending or descending order. In the first case, the player in question wants suits led, in the second he needs trumps to be led. It is also a problem what to lead if the partner (with the XXI) does not know yet who his partner is. In this case it can happen that the player with the XXI does not dare to play the XXI on the led suit because he is afraid that an “evil” opponent has led away from the king. But by leading the XX to inform his partner, the player gives up a trick (so he will have one chance fewer to help by leading a suit) and he may be driving his partner unnecessarily. So in this case one should consider whether it is likely that his partner (with the XXI) needs him to lead a trump. If he is sure that his partner needs suits he had better not lead his “best” suit immediately (maybe the partner will not dare to play the XXI, wasting the best chance to escape), but he should lead a king or a longer suit instead. If the partner with the XXI is in a big trouble, he will play the XXI anyway. If the player with the XXI is able to win a trick, he can make the situation obvious by leading a trump, but if he leads a suit it is still not obvious that he needs his partner to lead suits as well. In this case his partner should consider whether the player with the XXI led a short or a long suit (which of course is not always obvious). If the player with the XXI can win a trick and lead twice, and he leads the same suit for the second time, he must need his partner to lead trumps because a weak player with the XXI would lead different suits to hinder the strategy of the opponent.
Other conventions and advice:
When all the high trumps whose position is known have been played, a player should lead the highest trump he has. But if he has the second highest trump remaining, he should lead a low trump instead, to inform his partner about this. So if one has the XVIII but could not show it to his partner by playing it (because the opponent has the XIX) he can inform his partner about it. For example if one has overtaken the XIX with the XX then he could lead the XVIII but sometimes it is very important to be able to win a trick later and lead through the opponents one more time. So he leads a very low trump (which is obviously not his highest) and then his partner will know he has the XVIII.
In a contract of 3 if the declarer announces trull and nobody announces anything else the game will not be played and each opponent will pay the 3 units. So in this case an opponent with the pagat and 7 trumps may double the trull. To double the game is worthwhile only if the trull can also be beaten, otherwise it has very little chance. It is also worthwhile for the opponents to announce 8/9 trumps because in this case the game has to be played. If the declarer has not got a good hand, for example he has 6 trumps and poor suits but he has the XX, he can call himself to make all the others pay him. Some consider this unfair but it is not so. First of all the game is uninteresting from the point of view of either profit or enjoyment, and also the declarer risks somebody announcing something (for example 8 trumps or trull doubled) and then he has to play the game alone. (If the trull is announced by the declarer’s partner, the game is always played.)
Apart from some cases in which the declarer leads suits, his partner should lead trumps, especially if trull was announced in the first round.
To manage trull easily, it is not a good idea for the player playing fourth to play his pagat to a small trump played by his partner sitting in the third place (after one opponent led a suit and his partner followed suit). He should win the trick and lead the pagat instead, so as to force an opponent to play a high trump.
If the partners sit opposite each other, it is preferable to finesse such that, in case of failure, the player with more (and higher) trumps ends up playing last to the next trick. When a high trump is led with the obvious aim of a finesse, the second player can play the pagat to force the third player to overtake his partner’s high trump with a guaranteed winner. This is worthwhile if the player with the pagat also has a high trump which can thus be promoted. For example if the declarer or his partner leads the XVII and his right hand opponent has the XVIII, he can play the pagat, so the leader’s partner must win the trick and is not able to finesse the XVII.
If the declarers are positioned across from each other and one of them has both the XIX and the XVIII, he should play the XIX first because otherwise his partner will think he is finessing against the XIX (with the XVIII) and he will lead a high trump (for example the XVII) unnecessarily. If he has few trumps, it is best to lead the XVIII immediately after playing the XIX.
If the opponent playing second has few trumps but high ones (for example he has 4 trumps with the XVIII and XIX) he may play a high trump even when sitting opposite his partner to prevent a finesse.
When helping our partner to escape with the XXI, we should not overtake a medium trump led by an opponent if there is a chance that our partner can also do so. For example if the opponent leads the XVI to drive out the XXI, we shouldn't play the XX because our partner with the XXI might be able to win with the XVII, XVIII or XIX. If, however, we also have the XVII, it is safe to play because if our partner does have the XVIII or the XIX, he can still decide whether to cover it or to let us lead.
The declarer's partner can inform the declarer about holding the pagat with a very refined play. If he announced trull with the XXI and the XX, and he plays the XXI first, this shows he is not afraid of getting the XXI caught because he knows that his partner bid on the skiz, so his partner can deduce he must have the pagat. If he plays the XX first, his partner will know he has not got the pagat. Similarly, with skiz and XX, playing the skiz first indicates holding the pagat (knowing that the catch is not on).
If it happens that the unknown partner (with the XX) is forced to play a high trump before the declarer (because he has few trumps, all high), he should play the XX, otherwise his partner will overtrump him unnecessarily (believing that he is an opponent).
If the opponent leads a suit, the second player should play a high trump only if he has a lot of them so he can afford to “waste” one. (Of course if the suit is led for the second time this is no longer valid.)
If a XXI is in danger but its owner has a suspicion that the player who wants to catch him has not got the skiz (he bid with only pagat or he did not bid at all), but he is just pretending, the player with the XXI should play the XXI at the latest when he still has one other trump. If the skiz is really in the hand of the player sitting after him it is no shame to be caught (even with a slightly wrong play) but if somebody is caught by his left hand opponent it will provide material for anecdotes for years…
How to handle a sequence of trumps:
If one has a sequence of trumps (for example XV, XVI, XVII) he should try first of all to utilize all of them and also to inform the partner about them. The general rule of thumb is that when leading to a trick, one should lead the top card of the sequence, and when overtaking another player’s trump, one should play the lowest card of the sequence, but there are a lot of exceptions. If one leads to a trick with the intention of driving out a higher trump, the lead should be from the bottom of the sequence. A typical example is when trying to drive out the XXI holding XVII-XVIII-XIX, one should lead the XVII. If the defenders sit next to each other and the first one decides to play a higher trump (because he has fewer), he should consider not playing the lowest card from his sequence because it may be deemed too low by his partner and overtaken unnecessarily. If the declarers are sitting opposite and they attempt a finesse, the opponent playing last may decide not to win the trick with the lowest card of a sequence, to make it more difficult for the other team calculate the position of the cards. For example if he has the XVII, XVIII and the XIX and the declarer finessed the XVI, sometimes it is better to win with the XIX (or even the XVIII!) first. A player who made an invitation should play the other equivalent trumps before the one that is known from the bidding. (For example, if he has the XX but he invited his partner with the XIX, he should play the XX first).
Afterword on playing strategies
It is quite obvious that this is a difficult game. The players need to know a lot of things and still, the conventions and strategies explained above include expressions like “in most cases” or “generally”. So at any point in the game a lot of possibilities have to be considered, and it is therefore impossible to specify general tactics that always work. So, as mentioned above, it is very important to follow the game with great attention.
Also it is obvious that one has not got all the necessary information for a sure decision in many cases. Then the players should try to find a tactic that works for most cases and also they have to think about the odds and the possible profit or loss and they have to create, and later refine and modify their strategies accordingly.
In some cases the game is not played but
annulled. This is when the “ultimo pot” is created: every
player (including the dealer) puts 2 units in the pot. This amount can
subsequently be won by the players who announce and make pagat ultimo.
If, however, an announced pagat ultimo fails, those on the announcing
side have to double the amount in the pot. The amount can therefore become
quite significant in case of a high number of failed pagat ultimo announcements
and annulled games. We play that whenever the amount exceeds 48 units
(50 in the case of 5 players), the maximum amount that can be won or doubled
is 24 (25) units, else the proportions would reach an uncontrollable extreme.
With a large amount in the pot, it needs to be re-evaluated when to encourage
our partner to announce pagat ultimo: it might be worthwhile to announce
four kings or high game even in riskier situations if we expect that our
partner might be able to announce pagat ultimo in response (see
A hand can be annulled in only the following cases, after the bidding has finished and the kitty has been distributed:
♣ When a player has all 4 kings in hand (this is possible even before receiving the kitty, in which case it is okay to annul right away, but waiting it out is acceptable too; however, it is usually not worthwhile, as with 4 kings it is virtually impossible to win);
♣ When a player has no trumps at all (again, not required but definitely worthwhile to annul);
♣ When a player has a singleton XXI (if nobody has bid yet, it is possible to annul immediately [by bidding solo], otherwise the kitty must be distributed first, possibly adding another trump).
If the first three players have passed, the fourth player can choose to bid even without holding one of the honours. However, in this case, if he does not pick one from the kitty either, he alone must pay twice as many units as there are players (4 or 5) into the “ultimo pot”. (In case no “ultimo pot” is used, he must pay 2 units to each player.) The reasoning behind this is that one only bids in this situation with a really good hand, expecting to win handily if an honour does show up.
With a singleton pagat or a doubleton pagat and XXI, the game cannot be annulled, these traditions have no backing logic. In “magas” [high] Tarokk there are bonuses involving playing the pagat (or the “eagle” [trump number II]) to the first trick, therefore it makes sense to allow annulling hands with all combinations of the pagat, the II, and the XXI (with only suit cards alongside them), but in regular Tarokk this does not make sense. (The pagat with 8 suit cards is a better hand than for example the V with 8 suit cards – in any case, the opponents won't make pagat ultimo; yet the latter cannot be annulled.) Such conventions decrease the number of interesting hands.
The XX (or other card about to be called, e.g. the inviting card when an invitation was accepted) must never be discarded. If discarding it was allowed, a player holding a XXI in danger could be abandoned to playing alone at any time, which runs contrary to the spirit of the game. What can happen, although very seldom, is that the player holding the skiz discards the XIX having an extremely strong hand while the declarer (who has the XXI in danger) calls it after getting the XX from the kitty. In this case the player who discarded the XIX has to “officially double the game” to make it known that the called trump is in the discard. The declarer (with the XXI) plays alone and is likely doomed, his only chance being winning a trick with the XX and leading a suit to muddy the waters. This is an extremely rare situation because a player holding the skiz and such a strong hand that discarding the XIX is reasonable would do better making an invitation. Thus the only meaningful way this can happen is by the player holding the skiz also getting high trumps (XIX, XVIII) from the kitty while the declarer receives the XX at the same time.
Having established that the XX must not be discarded, it no longer makes sense to allow any trump to be called as a partner instead of the XX if at least one trump has been discarded.
In a fixed group of players, it is possible to end up being seated in the same “usual” seats for every session. This is a problem as it decreases the variability of the game. Instead, use the following method to randomise. Place a card of different suits plus a trump on the table near each of the (4 or 5) seats. Take another card of the same suits plus a trump out of the pack and shuffle these, then make each player pick one at random while holding them face down. Each player gets the seat having the card matching the one he picked, with the player who got the trump being the first to bid and lead in the first game (and the player on his left being the first dealer). If a player suffers a XXI-catch twice during the session, he can call for this procedure to be repeated if he wishes.
If there are 5 players, the dealer does not have extra responsibilities (apart from dealing). He does not receive a payment for honours taken from the kitty, and he is not the one who must announce if a trump has been discarded (it should still be announced by the player who discarded it).
If the game is doubled, the rule of 47 points is not reversed, the declarers must still get to 48 points to win the game. If the game ends with 47 points on both sides, payment is not doubled. Such a rule would be ludicrous.
The ultimo pot should not be filled up before the first game, nor immediately after it has been emptied. This would amount to increasing the value of pagat ultimo which is set at 10 units for a reason.
If a side makes both four kings and high game silently, no payment is made for four kings. If neither was announced, it is not deserved.
In a number of groups, high game is not played at all. (There are historical reasons behind this, high game was a relatively late addition during the game's evolution. However, as with all complex games, the final version of Tarokk was not invented overnight.) This reduces the players' ability to indicate the “extras” in hand, leaving only the four kings announcement for this purpose, which ultimately leads to more random variability and more of a gambling approach.
Some groups assign a different value to certain bonuses (e.g. 4 units to four kings, or 60 units to the XXI-catch). This makes little sense, the long evolution of the game has created an optimally interesting and fair price system.
When announcing 8/9 trumps, it is not necessary to clarify partnership (e.g. by doubling the game or announcing four kings). This is usually obvious anyway, but when it is not, it is still not a problem. When the declarer announces trull, a subsequent “8/9 trumps, pass” usually means the player is an opponent (or an extremely weak partner). Conversely, if trull was not announced, it suggests the declarer's partner (or an extremely weak defender). A related misconception is that a trump count announcement does not “keep up” the round of announcements, the same way as if only “pass” had been said, thus if the other two players pass, it is no longer possible for the declarer to respond. This is incorrect: all players received a significant piece of information that may lead to further meaningful announcements.
In many groups, inviting or yielding with the pagat only is disallowed. This is wrong, it removes a very interesting element from the game. With the conditions detailed above, it is very worthwhile to allow playing this.
There are groups where jump bids without holding the necessary inviting card (and cancelling with “hold” if somebody tries to accept the presumed invitation) are considered illegal. Relatedly, if a single player bids 3 and nobody else bids, they allow the declarer to reduce his bid as he wishes. Such rules decrease the amount or interesting hands (for example, they reduce the ability to invite with only the pagat as such an invitation must be cancelled if the accepting player is not on the inviting player's left) while also improving the situation for the player who already has a good hand.
If a player makes an initial bid of two, but subsequently holds another player's bid of one, this clarifies that an invitation was not intended. If the other player goes on to bid solo, he is no longer required to hold that, too, even without the XIX. He can pass, in which case the other player becomes declarer and must call the XX (unless holding it).
Last but not least, we must mention the rules related to compulsory trull announcements. Let us clarify right away that under no circumstances is any player ever compelled to announce trull! There are groups where this is expected of the player accepting an invitation (or even announcing ultimo if holding only the pagat); there are groups where the declarer's partner must announce trull if holding a high honour (even at the cost of redoubling the game, often leading to superdouble) or the declarer must do so if holding both high honours. All of these are very bad habits! They make the game poorer and remove the possibility of lots of nice strategies. Players playing like this let a lot of interesting hands go to waste.
Most descriptions of Tarokk dedicate a surprising
amount of attention to the situation in which a player reneges (breaks
a rule) despite the fact that this is always considered accidental rather
than intentional (a player who reneges intentionally would be avoided
in the future), moreover, most of these descriptions are aimed at friendly
play, not a competition. (In a competition it is reasonable to spell out
the procedure to follow in minute detail.) In many cases an elaborate
system of checks, responsibilities and penalties is set out. In fact the
main rule is simple: in principle, the value of any announced bonuses
must be paid by the offender to all three other players. Obviously
a rule can be broken before anything is announced, and in this way even
the prospect of a XXI-catch can be avoided easily by making an illegal
bid... But – as mentioned before – we do not assume bad faith,
and make every effort to avoid even the appearance of breaking the rules
Tarokk – like other difficult card games – should be played seriously. Do not deal with other matters while playing. Do not keep other players waiting during a game by telling long stories. Do not arrive late for a session, or if it is inevitable, inform the other players as soon as possible. Never forget there are 3 other players waiting for you.
♣ Do not give away information about the quality of your hand by the expression on your face as you pick up your cards.
♣ Do not discard a suit card received from the kitty without adding it first to your hand, as doing so gives away the fact that it wasn't a trump.
♣ Be careful how you sort the cards in your hand. Sometimes other players can guess how many trumps are left by observing the positions from which you play. Very experienced players don't sort their cards at all but medium-level players are still recommended to sort their hands because this makes it easier to follow the flow of the game.
♣ Never touch the card you intend to play before your turn, especially a suit card, as this lets the players before you know that you are following suit. Do not make up for this by touching a card all the time, even when you haven't decided yet what to play. An experienced player will usually know when this is a bluff. It is easier not to show anything than to bluff. The laws of psychology apply to everybody.
♣ Be prepared for surprises. Don't “forget” to catch a XXI that falls unexpectedly early. (It has happened.) Better to play (a little) more slowly than make a blunder!
♣ During the bidding and the round of announcements, do not use extra words or different expressions, instead keep to the standard forms of words. Elaborations and emphasis can can give away a lot of information. E.g. “I call the XX to help me by making some announcements...”
♣ Announce bonuses in a steady tempo. If you pause between two bonuses, it gives away a lot of information and it is reasonable for the opponents to object. Of course even announcing a series of bonuses after lengthy thought but without a pause between them can give away information, but this is sometimes inevitable.
♣ Think in advance so as to be able to bid, announce and play with tempo because pauses can also give away information. In many cases it is very important to decide quickly; for example, when the partners are sitting opposite and one stops to think about a double, the opponent will know where (not) to try a finesse. It may be important to play one of a doubleton suit quickly, otherwise the opponent will know that you have another card of the same suit. Nevertheless, sometimes one needs time to decide and it is more important to decide well than fast!
♣ It is a matter of prior agreement whether the players can check the cards in the tricks they have won (and, if partnerships are known, those won by their partner) during the course of the game. In strict clubs it is definitely not allowed and the opposite is suggested only with beginners in the game. However even if it is allowed it is not “elegant” to count and calculate by looking back at previous tricks, so everyone should try to avoid this situation. But in any case, even if it is inelegant (but allowed), it is better to do this than to make a wrong decision.
A player's personality is best shown by how he loses or wins;
♣ Don't complain about your cards. Not only is it useless, but your bad luck makes the others win more…
♣ Don't boast even if you are winning. Your luck could run out at any time!
♣ At the end of a game it is important and valuable to talk about problems that occurred, but without being aggressive. A weaker player should not be abused – this might just make him nervous and cause him to play even worse afterwards. And when somebody offends another player they should resolve their differences as soon as possible. After leaving the table, forget any unintentional, unfortunate remarks that might have been made. In a card game – just as in other team games – people sometimes say things that even they themselves regret later. Handling these situations peacefully is a part of team games. It is pointless and stupid to bear a long term grudge because of a fight during a game.
♣ Admit your mistakes and examine how you could have avoided them.
♣ Never leave the session before the agreed time because of bad luck. This spoils the other players' enjoyment.
There are some widespread customs in the world of card games that emphasize formal procedures. A typical example is that a player should not take the cards from the table before the dealer has finished dealing. But a good card player is defined by other qualities. He plays well and fast. The custom that has just been mentioned for example is definitely in contradiction with these features.
I would like to express my gratitude to those who have helped me to improve the manuscript by giving me valuable remarks, and to the card players who inspired me to write this essay:
♠ László Szenttamássy
♥ Zsolt Farkas
Dr. Kovács Endre – Dr. Szigetvári
Zoltán: Tarokk-őr Hornyánszky
Viktor Rt. – 1941
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