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Murphy’s Laws of Barbu © Saving Trumps © Wit, Wisdom & Woe




If something can go wrong it will, and that is true in spades (and hearts, and diamonds, and clubs) when playing barbu.

They always know.

Your opponents play as though the can see your hand.

The hall of shame beckons.

When you exit triumphantly with your deuce, there will be a bug in the program and it will be a suit with only 12 cards (surely you didn't miss a discard or miscount the suit).


If you call trumps before your last deal, you will be dealt a 2NT opener on your next deal.

If you wait until your last deal to call trumps, you will be dealt a Yarborough (and somebody will have a forced double).

If you make an early dominoes call, you well be dealt many middle cards on your later deals (called Dominoes revenge).

If you wait until your last deal to call dominoes, you will be dealt the best last two hand you have ever seen (all aces and deuces).

Whatever you call, on your next deal you will be dealt a perfect hand for that previous call (who said cards have no memory?).

If you call trumps on a shaky trump suit, the trump stack will always be on your left (and you will hear about it).

If you make a marginal dominoes call, one of your opponents will blurt out "Dominoes from the what?" (and of course double you).

If you call misere on a poor hand because you think it won't cost much, you will be doubled by everybody and find out exactly how must it costs (a lot).

If you save barbu for your last call, your chances of being dealt the barbu drop from 1 in 4 to 1 in 20 (and if you are dealt the barbu it will be singleton or doubleton).

If someone has a forced double on your last deal, you will be dealt a terrible hand for your forced call.


The dealer calls the game as though he were looking into your hand.

If you double only the dealer on a marginal hand just to get a double out of the way, one of two things will happen.  Either everybody else will pass with a sigh of relief and the dealer will quickly redouble you, or everybody else will max and the dealer will redouble only you.  Either way, he will get you.

If you bluff showing strength by doubling everybody when you are just trying to get a dealer double out of the way, it will be the non-dealers only who redouble you (guess who you will beat and who you won't).

If you pass a marginal hand in first seat when you might have doubled the non-dealers, the hand will be passed out so fast your head will swim.

If the players in front of you max encouraging you to join the crowd doubling the dealer, they won't have their bids but the dealer will (as you will find out when he redoubles you).

If you double the non-dealers at barbu on a fair hand, one of them will max and the dealer will quickly pass (guess who has the barbu, and who it will be aimed at).

If you double selectively, the opponents you don't double will do worse on the hand than those you do double.

When you have a forced double on the last round, the dealer will invariably have a great hand for his call (and you know what your hand will look like).

When you finally get a hand with all low cards, there will invariably be a delay before the dealer calls the game.  The reason is that the dealer is calling a positive game and has to click on the trump suit or the start card (if he calls dominoes, guess what the start card will be).


If you have only one danger suit, that will invariably be the suit the dealer will lead (if you hope he isn't leading a short suit, dream on).

When the dealer plays the 2 on the second round of the a suit and you have something like AK93, you confidently win and lead the 3 knowing that the barbu is coming down.  But the dealer discards something else -- he doesn't have the barbu.  Any guesses about what happens on the fourth round of the suit?

When you try to aim the barbu at the player you redoubled rather than discarding it earlier, at trick 9 that player will get in and thumb the queen of hearts in your face (oh yes, one of the other players will have discarded the ace of hearts).

When barbu is called and you are actually dealt the barbu for a change, it will always be singleton or doubleton and you won't have any other short suits.

When you play high on an early round of a suit retaining your deuce for later, suddenly you are looking at a new hand and wondering what happened (as if you didn't know).


If you have a 6-card suit (other than hearts) to the 3-spot, the suit will be divided 3-2-2 with the tripleton having the deuce (of course your other side suits will have been stripped when you get thrown in on the third round of your 6-card suit).

If your lowest heart is the 5-spot, each opponent will have one of the lower spots.

If your lowest heart is the 4-spot, you still aren't safe.  One of your opponents will have discarded all of his hearts by the time hearts are led (guess how the 3 and the 2 will be divided).

You opponents will discard meaningless side cards on tricks you lose, but they will be quick to discard a heart (usually the ace) on the trick you win. If you have a small singleton or doubleton in a suit, your opponents will strip that out of you and then magically never touch the suit again.


The queen lies over the ace or king -- when you own the ace or king.  When you own the queen, the ace or king magically jumps across the table so it is on your left.

If second hand plays the king and you top it with the ace confident that he has the queen, you will be in for a big surprise.

If you have a void, that suit will never be led.

Opponents discard aces and kings on tricks you lose, but when you win the trick guess what they discard.

If your left hand opponent is on lead and there are three suits he can lead for which it would be advantageous for you to play last, you just know he will lead the fourth suit which won't help you.

If you have an ace or a king doubleton or tripleton, the suit will always be led from your right, never from your left.


If you have a holding such as Q1074 and your right hand opponents leads the 6, if you play the 7 you will be owning that trick.  However, if you play the 4 it will go ace, king, and you will take many later tricks in the suit.

If you have a short suit with just low cards, the opponents will play exactly enough of the suit to strip out your low cards but then they will stop so you don't get a discard.

If an opponent gets an early discard, some party-pooper will continue the suit giving him another discard (and forcing you to win the trick, of course).

If you are somehow permitted to take a discard, there is no way that suit will be played again for the rest of the hand.

When you can't remember which of two suits provides an exit late in the hand, you will invariably get it wrong (and give an opponent a discard of your real exit suit).

Last two

If you are wondering what suit the dealer will lead, just look in your hand and see if you have any deuces -- if so, that will be his lead.

If you need to get in and play the king of a suit, it will always be taken by the ace.  If you don't play the king, the ace will never appear.

If you have a seemingly safe suit, such as Q74 tripleton, watch how unsafe it becomes as the opponents quickly discard that suit while some idiot is busy stripping out your best exit suit.

When just the 3 and the 4 of a suit are left and you have the 2 and other cards, the suit will be led from your right and you are guaranteed to get it wrong (and you thought a long suit with the 2 was safe).

If you forget a discard or miscount a suit, it is bound to be the critical suit which you misplay so you get stuck in for the rest of the tricks.


When you need a friend, you will have only enemies (they will play the suit you don't want played).

If the start card is an 8 and you have an ace or a two in a suit, that suit will invariably be played in the other direction.

If there is a high start card and you hold the 2 of diamonds, you are in big trouble (particularly if the dealer is under 35 years old -- BEER!)

If you have an ace, another player has an ace, and the person on play has two kings (with all other cards played), guess which king he will play.

When you are hoping to pass for control, your playing cards will get ripped out of your hand prematurely.


If you have a short side suit, the dealer can't get trumps on the table fast enough.

If you have late winners in side suits, trumps never get played (and guess what happens to those winners).

If you have the ace-queen of a suit which is led and play the queen, the king will show up on your left.  You don't really think the second round of the suit will live, do you?

If a side suit is lead and you have the king and don't play it, you will find that the person on your right chose not to play his ace for reasons best known to himself (to screw you).

The law of inverse distribution -- the more winners you have in a suit, the shorter in the suit somebody will be.

If both you and another player are short in a suit and can ruff it, that player will invariably be playing behind you when the suit is led.

If you are dealer and lead trumps from a broken suit, the high trumps will all be in one hand -- usually on your right.  If you don't lead trumps, you will be overruffed right and left.

Saving Trumps

Neil Trentham, November 2003

When I was very young, a question I kept asking myself was "What game should I leave until last?".  I watched what more experienced players did, in particular the ones who won a lot of games.  They seemed to leave trumps to last a lot, so this is what I decided I was going to do.

So leaving trumps until last became part of my game.  Not quite at the "do it without thinking" level, like leading out danger suits at NLT or doubling declarer at misere, but I tried to do it whenever I could.

Problems soon followed.  People seemed to double me a lot and then win more tricks than me.  Sometimes two and once even three people doubled me.  This was upsetting -- getting plus scores at my own positive games is a rare but great thrill that I do not like to be denied.  Nobody else seemed to get doubled as much as me.  I needed to figure out why this was happening.

The most natural explanation is that I hold worse cards than everybody. According to these web pages, I have so far played 277 games, which is 277 last calls and over 1000 opportunities to call trumps NOT on the last hand. I do seem to hold quite a few 4333 Yarboroughs on the last hand but the 277 is big enough that this type and magnitude of random fluctuation is likely to wash out.  So I must (reluctantly) discount poor cards as the reason.

Another explanation is that I play trumps very poorly, so much so that people double me for it.  I would be the first to admit I am not the greatest cards player in the world but I doubt that I am that bad.  The hands records bear me out. I seem to make an average of three tricks at trumps.  Other people with the same cards may make four.  If this was the real reason I might expect to get doubled about 25% more than other people.  But I am doubled much more than that -- about twice as much as everyone else.  Therefore I will (happily) discount poor card play as the reason.

A more sinister explanation is that people hate me and double out of spite. This would surprise me since I am a friendly sort of person, but I have been surprised before (often at no queens I end up very surprised with the result).  Were this the case I would expect to be doubled more by players who play late at night and have had a few drinks because alcohol brings these sorts of emotions to the fore.  I seem to get doubled equally at all times of the day so must (reluctantly) discount personal animosities as the reason.

While writing this, I got AKQ7642/J/AK5/K7 on the penultimate hand and 2nd seat owed 2 doubles.  I called spades trumps!  I then wished 2nd seat good luck, sent it back, got 10 tricks and +140.  This made me full of myself for a bit, but a couple of bad experiences at no hearts have made me humble again. It does illustrate, however, that saving trumps can pay so maybe I am being too paranoid about getting doubled.....  I think I need to reassess my attitudes.  Let's see what happens in the next 277 games -- perhaps I'll write something again next month or whenever those games are finished.

Jetsetting Probst sneaks ahead in race to conquer the world

During a recent visit to Trinidad, Richard Probst  added a sixth continent to the list of places in which he has played online Barbu, overtaking Steve Altus’s five.

The achievement was not without controversy.  In a ruling which is expected to set a precedent for other sports, the organising committee determined that although Trinidad was not on the South American mainland, its presence on the South American tectonic plate was sufficient for the island to be treated as a part of South America in this context.  The committee also determined that, should the question arise, there would be no need to pass through the immigration controls of the host nation.

Probst has now played online Barbu in Africa, Asia, Australasia, Europe, North America and South America, whereas Altus has yet to play in Africa.  In order to retake the lead, Altus will also have to visit Antarctica.  Or another planet.

New articles added Dec 2009 — please click Wit, Wisdom and Woe, above