Neil Trentham — Barbu Corner

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.

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