How to Play BarbuBarbu (French slang for “the bearded one”) is a complicated card game usually reserved for gambling situations, but it’s also worth playing in your own home. The “Barbu” in the title of the game is the King of Hearts — in most decks of cards, the King of Hearts wears a prominent beard.
History of Barbu and Relationship to Bridge
The history of the game of Barbu is all tied up with the history of Bridge, as it was originally developed by Bridge players in France and modeled on a game there called “Guillotine”. Barbu is still popular in Bridge circles, and hands of Barbu are often played during downtime at Bridge tournaments or Bridge clubs. Barbu is also a popular game on college campuses, with dozens of colleges hosting Barbu clubs and teams.
7 Card Games in 1
Barbu is really seven card games wrapped in one. An optional eighth game (also called “contracts”) is sometimes played in order to create a symmetrical number of hands dealt.
The standard game of Barbu consists of 28 individual hands. Each of the standard four players has the opportunity to play every contract in the seven (or eight) contract schedule.
Barbu uses a standard 52 card pack as is used for bridge or poker, and the cards rank as usual from highest to lowest, Ace through deuce, in each of the four standard suits.
In the course of a session of Barbu, each player will play each of the seven contracts once, so that there are 28 hands played in all. If you use the optional eighth contract, you’ll play 32 hands in all.
It is up to each player to select and complete the Barbu hand of his choice, and once this takes place, that contract is eliminated from his personal list of contracts.
There are five contracts that offer negative point values, and two contracts with positive point values. The eight contract (the optional Ravage City contract) is neutral, yielding no points.
Here is a breakdown of each contract in the wild and crazy world of Barbu.
Contract 1 – No Tricks (also called “Nullos”)
This contract is worth negative 26 points towards a player’s score. Each trick taken in this contract counts as negative two points. There are thirteen tricks to be distributed during “Nullos”. A player with a hand full of low cards should go after “Nullos”, because the object is to win “No Tricks”. The contract “Nullos” is also often used as an “easy out” if a player can’t make another contract choice.
Contract 2 – No Queens
This contract is worth a total of negative 24 points. In No Queens, each Queen taken counts as minus six points, for a total of negative 24. After all four Queens have been captured, the hand ends.
Contract 3 – Trumps Plus
One of only two contracts offering positive points, Trumps Plus can be worth 65 points to your total.
There are thirteen tricks in Trumps Plus. The player who selects this contract starts by declaring a trump suit, though “No trump” also counts as a trump choice. When a trump is played, the next player must play a higher trump (also known as “climbing”). Like in other trump games, if a player leads an off-suit, other players may trump or discard another suit.
Contract 4 – No hearts
This contract is worth a total of negative 30 points.
This contract is the most similar to the game of Hearts, with just two exceptions. The Queen of Spades doesn’t count as a penalty card, and in its place the Ace of Hearts counts as a six point penalty. All of the other hearts count for minus two points each. Hearts may not be led until the heart suit is “broken” or a player has all the Hearts in his hand.
Contract 5 – Last Two
This contract offers negative thirty points.
This is considered the most difficult of all the contracts in Barby — for starters, there is no trump suit. The player who takes the second to last trick is pinned with a penalty of negative ten points, and the unfortunate winner of the last card gets a penalty of negative twenty points — this is called getting “yoked”. “Last Two” is the most brutal of all contracts in Barbu.
Contract 6 – Barbu or King of Hearts
This contract has a value of negative thirty points.
In the contract Barbu, the King of Hearts is like the Queen of Spades in Hearts, only worse. Whichever player catches the Barbu is hit for a total of negative thirty points. The suit of Hearts may not be led until the suit is broken. The contract Barbu ends when the King of hearts has been taken and has doled out his punishment.
Contract 7 – Fan Tan (or Dominoes)
This is the only other contract in Barbu that holds a positive point value — worth 65 points.
Fan Tan is a popular standalone game. The person selecting the contract “Fan Tan” leads the game by laying down any card in their hand. From the lead, the next person in line must play a card that is either one rank higher or lower of the same suit, OR the identical rank of any other suit. Otherwise, a player must pass. The idea of Fan Tan is to get rid of all of your cards, and to do it as soon as possible. The first person to go out earns 40 points, the second person 20, the third 5, and the last player to go out earns no points.
Contract 8 – Ravage City (Optional)
This is a value-neutral game that is only added to make for an even number of deals. You don’t have to play the 8th contract if you don’t want to.
The idea behind Ravage City is to take no more than four cards in any given suit. The most popular scoring system of Barby penalizes the person who has taken the most cards in the same suit, minus 24, with the others receiving zero points each. Ties split any negative points. This makes this particular contract fairly neutralver.