Neil Trentham — Barbu Corner

Card reading at barbu

Before talking about partnership issues, it is useful to talk about card reading. In order to maximize the benefit of working with one or more of the other players you need to figure out what cards your partner or partners has.

Even playing as an individual, card reading is important for the rest of the game. Here are a few guidelines for the different games.


if somebody cannot overtrump, they do not have high trumps.

if somebody is leading out trumps and then stops, they probably have the rest of the trumps, maybe missing one high card.

leading a low card of a suit probably denies the ace, usually the king as well. If that person is subsequently found out to have the king, they probably have no good suit to lead.

Watching what small cards are played when somebody leads the ace of a suit can be very useful in placing the other low cards and therefore on getting a complete count. For example if somebody plays the nine on an ace and the other person plays the two and you hold only the eight, you can place all the cards between the three and the seven between the player who led the ace and the person who played the two.


people usually play cards in suits they hold an end card and hold up suits they do not hold any cards near the end.

there is a great deal of information to be gained from watching the precise order in which each player plays their cards. For example, at dominoes from the ace a player might hold up the ace of spades and keeps playing diamonds, it would be safe to infer that they do not have any low spades and that they have one or two low diamonds. In the middle of all the action, they might release the eight of clubs before the eight of hearts. This suggests that their lowest club is lower than their lowest heart. For example, they might hold the four of clubs and the five of hearts. This information may be important near the end. The amount of information available from these inferences is huge but the level of concentration required to take advantage of them is also huge. This is why I think dominoes is by a very long way the most difficult game – at most of the other games, you need to make one or two key decisions but at dominoes you need to concentrate throughout the deal as new information comes in.


when somebody leads a high card, it is usually a singleton or maybe a doubleton

when somebody leads a very low card, some of the time it is a singleton and some of the time it is a low card that is an exit from a very safe long suit. The bidding usually tells which kind.

When somebody leads a middle card, it is often from a long suit and they are trying to clear out the little cards in that suit so as to avoid getting thrown in at the end.

Very often you need to piece together somebody’s length in one suit by counting the other three suits. If somebody is short in three suits, they can be thrown in at the end to take lots of tricks at the end in their long suit if things are timed carefully. Interesting partnerships can be generated here and I will talk about some of the situations later.

no queens

if somebody leads a suit they normally do not have the ace, king, or queen. Very often it is a short suit. The lead of a 2 is often a singleton.

If somebody leads a suit and later on turns out to have the ace, king, or queen, this suggests that the rest of their hand is very awkward.

If somebody leads a queen and then exits with a second card in the same suit, this is normally a doubleton.

No last two

people usually lead out their dangerous suits when they get the chance, or discard in those suits. One person’s danger suit is usually another person’s good suit.

The desperation with which people try to find entries is usually an indication of how bad their dangerous suits are. For example, hanging onto the Queen until the third round of the suit when you have Q32 is usually indicative of a terrible danger suit, something like 987.

Identifying secondary danger suits late in the deal is important. This can help considerably in placing the remaining cards. For example, if a player that has bid strongly discards the five and the four of the same suit in the middle of the deal, the inference is that they have no real danger suit and they don’t have any higher cards in the discard suit.

No hearts

many of the same comments as for the other negative games apply here as well. Probably the most important inference is that if somebody stops leading a suit and does not lead it again when they get in, they probably have no more cards in that suit.

If there are two cards remaining in a suit, and you need to decide if they are 2-0 or 1-1, an important clue comes from the playing strategy of the players concerned. If the danger suit of one of the players is better than this suit would be if you could place one or both of the remaining cards in the suit into their hand, then you can infer that the other player holds both of the cards. This decision is often worth a lot of points in this game.


If somebody leads a suit, they are normally short in that suit. If the dealer who leads to the first trick has the king of hearts, it can be very useful to know where their shortage is. If they are redoubled with one of the other players, it is often a good idea to keep playing this suit. They could then discard down to a void in a second suit and you can try to trap the redoubled player in that suit.

Sometimes you need to decide if the king of hearts is with the dealer who chose the game or some other player who did a maximum double. The way to tell is to see which player is more fearless in leading out high and middle cards when they get the lead. This player is not afraid of taking the king of hearts so probably holds it themself. This information is usually so important that it is worth getting the lead onto one of those players, even if it involves putting yourself at risk.

Partnership in Barbu

I found nothing about the details of partnership in barbu on the web so that I thought that I would write a few posts about the subject as I find it the most interesting part of the game. Barbu is an individual game, but identifying and playing with one or more of the other players on each deal so that you can maximize both your scores on that deal is a winning strategy. Nothing that I write will be new to the more experienced players, but my writing this will perhaps clarify and formalize things. I hope that new players find this interesting and that thinking about partnership issues would make them enjoy the game more.

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of partnership issues. One is positional: the player on your left is your natural friend at some of the games (for example trumps, because they lead around towards you) and your natural enemy at others (for example queens, because they can drop them on you). This can lead to amusing situations because you yourself are normally the enemy of the person you want as your friend. The other follows from the auction: if you have no business with somebody, they are your friend relative to a person you are doubled or redoubled with. This is often straightforward, but can be complicated. For example, if somebody has a forced double of your trumps and somebody else has a genuine one and you only redouble the forced one, you might want the genuine double to win as many tricks as possible at the expense of the forced one although they themselves want the forced one to do quite well.

What I will do in the next few posts is firstly outline strategies for identifying as well as for gaining partners (for example if two people max, sending back only one of the doubles will make the other maxer your natural partner – this player will often be able to help you more than the passed hand who is your most obvious partner, but is probably powerless to help you). I will then go through each of the games describing how partnership issues can be involved.

Strategy for playing

In the previous posts I indicated that I would outline some strategy. The most important thing is identifying what hands are good for each game, both in terms of choosing the games and of doubling the other players when somebody else is declarer:


having many cards on both sides of the start card is useful, as it lets you have control of the play. In particular, a long run of cards in one suit like 987654 can be useful

choosing a start card that you have in your hand is important if you wish to have a particular suit played out because you have end cards in that suit

choosing a start card that you do not have in your hand is a good idea if you need tempo so that you can gain control at some point in the play


as in bridge, having a long suit and high cards is important. A second suit to establish can be useful too

leading a middle card like a 9 or an 8 can flush out two or three higher honors because everybody has to cover the previous card


a long suit can be helpful if you can finish playing the other suits early on (as long as you do not get thrown in with it)

it is often a good idea to win tricks early and exit, rather than risk being thrown in late in the deal

no queens

a long suit is usually an asset but you need one or two low cards in the suit so you can avoid winning the trick when somebody throws a queen

it is often a good idea to take a queen early that you are probably going to win anyway, for example from a doubleton queen. The other card in the suit is a natural exit card because the other players will not be afraid to win that trick

no last two

aces are very important because they provide guaranteed entries to strip your danger suits. Also, a good hand has one or two low cards to exit (preferably 2s)

a long suit ending in 42 is ideal because you can guarantee not winning any tricks in it at the end. A long suit ending in 52 is much more dangerous, as you will need an accurate count on the suit if they are led from your right near the end

no hearts

heart length is useful because nobody can lead them until the end

on the other hand, heart shortage is dangerous, unless the hearts are very low. The worst holding of all is a high doubleton as you will probably get thrown in to take most of the hearts near the end (a singleton is bad as well, but at least you have the chance of discarding it on another suit)


if you hold the king of hearts, you need an outside short suit so you can throw it before they are led

if you do not hold the king of hearts, holding many of the other hearts is useful as those cards are not dangerous and can even be used to flush out the king of hearts

some general considerations

– it is useful to save for the final deal one of the games where declarer as an inbuilt advantage: dominoes (because they choose the start card) and trumps (because they choose the trump suit)

– misere is usually a cheap game (unless you take a very large number of tricks) so it is a good idea to use up one of your two doubles on this game. This means you only need to double one of the other six games

– second position (left of the dealer) is normally at a disadvantage because once you have passed, the two next players know you have a bad hand and won’t need much to double you

– fourth position (right of the dealer) tends to be particularly good at no queens (people do not choose this game if they have queens in their hand that they can throw on you after you play), but is particularly bad at barbu (declarer often has the king of hearts)

– trying to piece together what cards the other players hold is an important skill. It is easier to do this in some games than in others (dominoes is the most difficult in my opinion)

At a more advanced level, playing in partnership with the other players as you try to maximize your score is important. For example, if one player doubles the other three at no queens, those three players should try to work together to get as many queens as possible on the doubler. Similarly if two players double declarer at dominoes, they should try to help each other (by releasing each other’s suits) so declarer finishes as low as possible and they can each get as many points as possible. A particularly amusing situation happens when fourth seat has a forced double at dominoes, and one of the other players doubles as well, knowing that somebody will be there to help them, playing out their suits. By doubling, you are forcing somebody to partner you (I call this the barbu equivalent of arranged marriage). There are many such entertaining situations which is what makes this an excellent game. From what I have seen, people don’t need to be particularly experienced players to appreciate what is going on.

Online barbu

An online barbu community has existed for several years. Shireen Mohandes and Andy Bowles maintain a webpage at and Shireen organizes an “Online Barbu Players” facebook group. There is a monthly competition and occasional online duplicates. If you would like to play, follow the “online barbu” link at this webpage or leave a comment here, indicating where you are and at what times of the day you wish to play. Games are played using a program that you can download from the website and there is also a program that can replay a game card by card.

Barbu rules

In the version of barbu we play online, the full game consists of 28 deals. The dealer for the first deal is chosen at random. Each of four players  is dealt 13 cards, as at bridge. The dealer then selects the first game from the following seven, having looked at their cards:


(Negative games – all trick-taking games)

misere – a player tries to win as few tricks as possible

barbu (or “no king of hearts”) – a player tries to avoid winning a trick containing the king of hearts

no queens – a player tries to avoid winning a trick containing a queen.

no hearts – a player tries to avoid winning a trick containing a heart. This is the same game as “hearts” he said that there is no penalty for the queen of spades and there is no shooting the moon.

no last two – a player tries to avoid winning either of the last two tricks.


(Positive games)

dominoes – the player who chooses the game chooses an initial start card. Suppose he chooses a seven. The first player to play a card (declarer) can place any seven on the table. Suppose they place the seven of diamonds. The next player can play the six or eight of diamonds or any other seven. Suppose they play the eight of diamonds. The next player can play the six or nine of diamonds or any other seven. The game progresses as each player can play adjoining cards to the ones on the table. The objective is to get rid of all your cards. If you can play a card, you have to. If you cannot play a card, you can pass. Aces are high. The winning player is the one who gets rid of their cards quickest. This is the only gamethat is not a trick-taking game.

trumps – the player who chooses the game also chooses the trump suit. This is like bridge, each player trying to win the most tricks they can. It is not possible to choose No Trumps.


The other players then bid in clockwise rotation. A player may double any of the other players (Including declarer) at negative games or double the declarer at positive games. If they have already been doubled by one of the other players, they may redouble that player. Once the other three players have bid, the declarer may redouble anyone who doubles them if they wish. Declarer then leads to the first trick. The deal is then played out and scored up.


The scoring is as follows:

misere -2 per trick

barbu -20 for the trick containing the king of hearts

no queens -6 for each queen won

no hearts -2 for each heart won other than the ace and -6 for the ace of hearts

no last two -10 for the penultimate trick and -20 for the final trick

dominoes +45 for the player who gets rid of all their cards first, +20 second, +5 third, -5 fourth

trumps +5 for each trick


Your score on each deal is your total corrected for the difference in points with each player you are doubled with and twice the difference in points with each player you are redoubled with. For example, at misere where N gets 2 tricks, E gets 6 tricks, S gets 4 tricks and W gets 1 trick, N if they are doubled with S and redoubled with W gets -4 corrected by +4 for the action with S and corrected by -4 for the redoubled action with W. Therefore North’s final score is -4.


The deal then passes to the next player, who chooses a game similarly. Then the next two players choose a game. Then the deal passes back to the original declarer, who may now choose one of the remaining six games (the original seven minus the one they have chosen already). The game then progresses until each player has dealt seven times and chosen one of each of the seven games.


During a game, each player must double the other three players at least twice when that other player is declarer.


During the play at trumps, you are required to play a trump card higher than the one currently holding the trick if you can and trumps have been led. Also, you are required to trump if you are void in a suit that has been led and overruff if you can (you are not required to underruff). At no hearts and barbu you cannot lead hearts until you have only hearts left . The software we use for the online game takes these considerations into account when deciding what cards you are allowed to play. What it does not do is require you to play the king of hearts in situations where you need to (you cannot save it for a particular player, unless you have doubled or redoubled action with that player). If in doubt, please ask the other players.


Slightly different versions of barbu are played in different countries. The above version is how many people play in the UK and is the basis of the online game.The different ways people play the game are listed in


In the next few days I will outline how to join an online game and also outlines some strategies.


Thanks to, I am starting a barbu blog. Over the past few years, an online barbu community has developed
and it would be good to exchange interesting deals and hopefully attract some more players. The game is similar in many ways to bridge and many barbu players are also bridge players so this seems a good forum. This is just a first post to introduce myself, and I will write a more detailed description and how to join in a game over the next few days.