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Barbu History

Chris Dixon tells us a bit about the history of Barbu:

I first played Barbu in the late 60s and have played in France, Israel, Italy and the Lebanon (on my honeymoon in 1971!).  I believe that I coined the term 'Israeli Rules' in 1972 when playing with members of the Israeli team at the WBF Olympiad in Miami (Mauri Stampf was a keen player).  I think that the term 'Maximum' also originated from the games we used to play at the Acol [Bridge Club in London] in the 70s. The way they handled the scoring in the Lebanon was very effective.  Players had poker chips, paid or received the base amounts from the table host and settled doubles as side bets. It is interesting to recall that in that Olympiad, for political reasons Israel and the Lebanon did not play their bridge match - but played Barbu together instead!

The descriptions of the simplified rules which you have found for the French and Italians do not reflect my recollections of the style of the Italian and French bridge players who played Barbu.  The standard was very high and the basic form of the game very similar to ours.  The Italians also played partnership Barbu - sometimes for very high stakes. The auction was individual, but there were conventions of card play which were quite advanced.  I used to think that I was quite good at Domino, but the top Israelis could wipe the floor with me at that discipline.

I wrote a scoring program many years ago which accommodated 4 or 5 players.  A five handed game is not particularly interesting; better is to play with players sitting out in rotation.

Barbu is, of course, related to 'Hearts' - particularly to the complicated Polish version 'Kieri' or 'Kierki'.  In this game, with which you may be familiar, the constituent parts of Hearts, KH, Tricks, Queens, No Last 2 as well as Ks and Js were all incorporated into the same hand (a bit like the 'Salade' hand in one of the French versions)


A brief history of Barbu in NYC   (By David Beer)

Karen Allison lived in Paris for while in the 60's and got back in 1965. In 1969 (?) Paul Heitner invited a bunch of the bridge crowd to his parents' house for a Chinese New Year's party. In attendance, were Abby (later to be his wife), Ken Lebensold and a non-card-playing girlfriend, John and Helen Lowenthal, Karen and me. After dinner and some other card games, Karen taught us Barbu.

Her version was different from the online game in the following ways:

¨ No mandatory doubles of declarer

¨ No doubles of non-declarer

¨ Could lead hearts in hearts once they had been broken, even if not heart tight

¨ Barbu was -15 and fantan was 40, 20, 10, -10

¨ Transfer of tricks in no tricks and trump on doubles, the purpose of which is to make double worthwhile. The winner either gets (trumps) or gives (no tricks) their tricks to the loser. For example, I double you in trump and beat you 5 to 4: under online scoring, I win 6 tricks, you win 3; under transfer, I win 10 (my 5, your 4, the difference), you win -1(the difference). There is no extra transfer for redouble.

I taught this to a bunch of people at work, including Regina, mostly because I didn't want to play bridge at lunch, and the game is still going. At one point, we had more than enough players for two games, but there are only 5 active players as of now. It also spread to the NY bridge community.

We tended to play the 5-handed version (player to right of dealer sits out) and lowest finishers would not be in next game.

Not long after we started, we made some rule changes:

¨ Bridge rules in trump, not pinochle (no mandatory trump or beat trump). This makes it easier to play in your own best interest, especially if you've doubled or been doubled.

¨ Didn't have to throw otherwise mandated cards (except Barbu) if not involved in double. Discarding short A or K in queens instead of protected Q, for example. This produced some arguments a/c some peoples judgment about what is dangerous is not the finest, resulting in accusations of whatever.

More recently, one of the players was surfing and came across some of the web sites relating to Barbu. After a little experimentation, we added Ravage (lots of fun and in some ways very different from other negatives) and required at least two doubles of declarer. Ravage splits 24 points among the ravagees. As a result, the check total is -24, not 0.

Finally, I saw an ad for the online game in the daily bulletin of the summer nationals back in July and e-mailed the web site name to the Barbu group. John tried it and has been trying to get others to do so.


Dutch Barbu: “Bonken”

Gerben Dirksen, from the Netherlands, now living in Germany whilst he completes his PhD, sent us this information:

Let me take this opportunity to bring you to the attention of a Dutch Barbu variant called “bonken”. Unfortunately the rules vary… 12 hands are played, every player is declarer 3 times. The 12 possibilities are:

Misere  -10 per trick   -130

No Hearts -5 per heart (cannot lead hearts) -65

No Men   -20 per king and –10 per jack -120

No Queens -15 per queen   -60

No K©  -45    -45

Not the last trick -40 if you get it   -40

7 /13  Each player has to get either 1,5, or 13 tricks. All with a different number of tricks share the 60 minus points. (60, or 30-30, or 20-20-20 or 15 each) -60

§ Trumps 10 for each trick   +130

¨ Trumps “    +130

© Trumps “    +130

ª Trumps “    +130

No Trumps “    +130

Dominoes (50, 10, -20, -40)   0




History Of Barbu © Brief History of Barbu in NYC © Dutch Barbu © Lingo






No king of hearts; no kongo


Diamonds are trumps




Dominoes. (“From the pretzel”, means from the 8)

Flanks or Family

Double the 2 players other than declarer

Last Two


Losing tricks

Misere or Nullo

Maximum or Table

I double everyone that I can double & I redouble everyone that I can redouble


The negative scoring games – all but Fantan and Trumps

To Pryor

At Dominoes, to pass when you are able to play