What is Écarté?
Écarté, pronounced Eck-ar-tey, is a classic French trick-taking card game designed for Two-Players. Although originally a casino game, Écarté can also be enjoyed simply for bragging rights or a game of fun.
The game is much less popular than it was at one point in its history, but nevertheless is still considered a cherished time-honored classic that can still be enjoyed by people of all ages.
How to Play Écarté?
Before playing a game of Écarté, a standard Anglo-American or French Suited standard deck of 52 cards must be modified. Ensure that there are no jokers in the deck, and then remove all the cards ranked (Ace, K, Q, J, 10-2) from 2-6 are removed from the deck. This creates the 32 card French Piquet deck, used in numerous French trick-taking games.
- Once the Piquet deck has been formed, the deck should be shuffled to ensure cards are equally distributed.
- The deck should then be cut, and the top two cards from one of the deck-halves drawn.
- Players will compare their cards, and the Player with the highest ranking card will be the dealer.
- Players should place their cards on the bottom of the half-deck from which they were drawn.
- Players should then place the alternate deck on top of the drawn deck.
From this point, the Dealer will then give each Player five cards. Traditionally, these cards should be dealt three to each Player, and then two to each Player.
Once both Players have five cards in their hand, they may look at their cards while the Dealer draws one more card from the remaining deck. This card is placed face-up, publicly, next to the deck.
This card represents the Trump suit for the remainder of the game. Whatever the suit of this card, becomes the Trump suit. If this upturned card should be a King, then the Dealer immediately awards themselves one bonus point.
The game of Écarté is not simply a trick-taking game. It is also a game of negotiation and strategy. The non-dealing Player, known as the “elder hand” may make an initial proposal to the Dealer. This proposal involves the number of cards the Elder Hand wishes to discard.
The Elder Hand may discard from between 0-5 cards in their proposal, choosing to discard either none of their cards, or their entire opening hand. The onus then falls upon the Dealer, who may Accept or Reject the Elder Hand’s Proposal.
If the Dealer does accept the Proposal, the Elder Hand may look at the cards they are dealt, and is within their rights to request another proposal. If the Dealer Accepts once more, then the Elder Hand may discard and re-deal more of their cards.
The Elder Hand may make proposals until the Dealer Rejects them, or until they are satisfied with the hand that they have.
Be warned, like in many German trick-taking games such as Sechsundsechzig (66), there is a mechanic of “vulnerability” in Écarté. Vulnerability is a mechanic found in many trick-taking games which involve scores. Vulnerable players essentially award their opponents bonus points at the end of a round.
In Écarté, the Dealer is vulnerable if they reject the Elder Hand’s initial proposal. Conversely, the Elder Hand will become vulnerable if they do not decide to discard any opening cards with an initial proposal.
The exact mechanism of vulnerability will be further explained in the relevant areas of the “Scoring” section.
The Game and Trick-Taking
The trick-taking procedure of Écarté is actually somewhat different from other conventional trick-taking games. This is because of the ranking of cards. In Écarté, the Ace is not the highest ranking card. Rather, it is ranked in the following manner: K, Q, J, A, 10, 9, 8, 7.
Tricks, in trick-taking games, are essentially a comparison of cards, with each Player placing one card into the play area and comparing their cards to the other cards played by other Players. The highest value card, determined by its suit and rank, wins the trick and takes all of the cards within the trick, setting them aside apart from their hand.
Notice that the King is the highest ranking card, with the Ace below the Jack but above the 10.
Before the game properly begins, any Player who has the King of Trump in their hand may declare it. If they do not declare this King of Trump before the initial trick, then they may not declare for the rest of the game. The Player who successfully declares the King of Trump wins an extra point.
The Elder Hand may then lead the initial trick. Players must “follow suit” if they are able. In order to follow suit, a Player must play a card of the same suit as the leading (first) card of the trick. If a Player does not follow suit because they are not able, the other Player automatically wins the trick.
An additional rule, unusual in trick-taking games is also in effect: Players must win tricks if they are able.
Utilizing the ranking order above, the highest ranking, suit-following card wins the trick. An exception to this rule are the Trump cards. A card of the Trump suit, as determined by the face-up card adjacent to the deck, will always beat a card of another suit, even if it is of a lower ranking. The 2 of Trump, for example, will always beat the King of non-trump. Only a higher ranking Trump may beat another Trump in the trick.
The game continues with trick-taking until both Players have exhausted their hands. Scoring is explained below, with the winner being the first player to accumulate 5 points.
Games of Écarté often utilize matchplay, with individual games making up “rounds” in an overall “match” with a larger score necessary, such as the first Player to win 2 or 3 games.
- If the Dealer rejects the initial proposal, they are vulnerable. If the Elder Hand does not make an initial proposal, they are vulnerable.
- The Elder Hand may keep making proposals so long as the Dealer continues to accept them. Proposals end the instant the Dealer rejects one proposal.
- Cards in Écarté are ranked K, Q, J, A, 10, 9, 8, 7.
- The first to five points wins an individual game.
Écarté utilizes a unique scoring system, awarding points to Players upon the achievement of certain conditions in a game. The first Player to accumulate five points wins:
- One Point for the Dealer if the card which determines Trump is a King
- One Point for declaring the King of Trump in the hand
- One Point for winning the majority of tricks.
- One Point for winning ALL tricks (Scored simultaneously with the previous point for 2 total Points)
- One Bonus Point for taking the majority of the tricks against a vulnerable Player
If a Player does not win five points in a single game, then another game should be begun. The deck should not be shuffled, and cards should be drawn immediately from the remaining deck. In the case of matchplay, the round is not yet completed, so this second game will still be the first “round” of games.
Once a game is completed and a Player scores five points, then the deck should be reshuffled and a new round begun.
The following is a possible starting hand in a game of Écarté:
7♦, K♣, 9♠, A♥, J♥
Assuming that the Trump card is the 7♣, a Player should declare that they possess the King of Trump for an extra point. However, a Player should consider making a proposal, as the card only possesses a single Trump card.
Proposals must be made before declaration, so be sure not to discard your King of Trump on accident!
If the Dealer rejects the proposal, hope is not yet lost. There are still high ranking cards in the hand, even though they are not Trumps, and the Dealer rejecting your proposal makes them vulnerable. It is possible to win an extra point still.
Strategy & Tips
- You can fake out the Dealer with a fake proposal. Even if you do not truly want to discard, a strong bluff against obstinate Dealers could be to offer a proposal you WANT them to reject. This will make them vulnerable, while leaving you with your strong hand.
- Inversely, the Dealer may call this bluff by accepting the proposal. This will remove useful cards from a Player’s hand, and force them to avoid the bluff the next time they get a good starting hand, instead making the Elder Hand vulnerable.
- Make as many proposals as you can get away with until you have a solid hand. The game does not start until the Dealer CHOOSES to reject the Elder Hand’s offer, or until the Elder Hand has decided that their hand is strong enough.
What is the meaning of Écarté?
Écarté, properly written with accents as Écarté, is a French word which means “Discarded.” This refers to the Proposals before the trick-taking stage of the game begins, with the Elder Hand proposing to remove cards from their hand.
Who becomes the next Dealer in Écarté?
The Elder Hand of the previous round should always become the Dealer, even if they lost the previous round. When a new game begins, Players may either keep the alternating order, or recut the deck to determine a new Dealer.