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.

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