Piquet is a card game for two players. It is one of the oldest card games still played, first documented in the first half of the 16th century in France. The earliest sources call it "cent", referring to the target score of piquet au cent (see below). The current name is first recorded around 1600. In English the traditional pronunciation is pickett, but recent dictionaries also recognize the French pronunciation, peekay; either is usually accented on the second syllable. The French terminology used nowadays is a 19th-century reversion: earlier English sources use Anglicized terms. Its importance in former times is illustrated by its being one of only four card games on which the eponymous Edmond Hoyle published treatises, and one of the small number for which the Portland Club (London) published "official" codes of laws. It ceased to be a popular game around the first world war. It is generally regarded by British and French connoisseurs as the best card game for two players, but is virtually unknown in America.
- players discard some cards and draw replacements; this is the main skill in the game
- players declare and score for various combinations of cards in their hands
- players play their cards in tricks and score for those
The original form of the game, piquet au cent, is now obsolete, having been displaced in the late nineteenth century by the present game, technically known as rubicon piquet. In this, a partie (game) normally consists of six deals or hands. It usually lasts about half an hour. If the loser at the end of this has under a hundred points they are penalized for failing to cross the rubicon.
There is an "official" code of rules issued by the Portland Club in 1882, which is described here. However, in practice there are numerous variations, with almost every book about card games (if it includes the game at all: American books generally do not) giving slightly different rules. Some of these variations are mentioned here.
Piquet is played with a 32-card pack, consisting of the cards ace, king, queen, jack (or knave), ten, nine, eight and seven in each of four suits: spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs. The rank of cards in each suit is as listed here, ace highest. There is no rank among suits.
Originally popularised by piquet, the same pack is still used very widely for various other card games such as skat and most games of the jass–belote family of games. It is interesting to note that Swiss jass is played with a pack of 36 cards (including the six in each suit), and that this corresponds to the earliest descriptions of the piquet pack.
At the start of the partie each player cuts the pack. The player cutting the higher card has choice of whether to deal first. It is recommended that they should choose to deal first. If the players cut equal cards the process is repeated. The players deal hands alternately. The dealer is known as younger hand, the other player as elder hand. The pack is shuffled and cut before each deal. In accordance with usual card-game procedure, elder and younger shuffle in that order, and elder then cuts. The dealer deals the cards either two or three at a time, face down, to the players alternately, starting with elder hand, until each player has twelve cards. Each player has the option of dealing by either twos or threes, but must then maintain that choice throughout the partie. The choice is not binding on the other player. (These are the Portland Club rules (Law 9); there are a number of variants here.) The remaining eight cards, known as the stock or talon, are left face down. Once the deal has been completed the players pick up and examine their cards, without showing them to the opponent.
If either player notices they have a hand with no court cards (king, queen or jack), they must announce carte blanche for a score of 10 points. A special procedure is followed in this rare case, for which see below.
Elder hand now selects cards to discard. They must discard at least one, and may discard as many as five. If they discard fewer than five they should inform younger. The discards are placed face down, where elder, but not younger, may consult them at any subsequent time during the deal. It is recommended that elder should nearly always discard five. Having discarded, elder then draws an equal number of cards from the top of the talon, not showing them to the opponent, but adding them to their own hand. If elder discards fewer than five, they may examine the remaining cards they might have drawn.
It is then younger's turn to discard, up to the number remaining in the talon, usually three, again replacing them with the same number from the top of the talon. The Portland Club rules say younger must discard at least one card (Law 22), but many books say this is optional. It is recommended that younger should usually discard the maximum, but exceptions will be commoner than for elder. As before, younger's discards may be examined at any time by younger, but not at all by elder. The rule for any remaining cards in the talon is different, however. Either both players or neither may see them, at younger hand's choice. This choice must be made after elder has led to the first trick, or announced the suit to be led.
After the players have discarded and taken replacement cards, they then declare various scoring combinations in their hands. Declaration is not compulsory, except for carte blanche as noted above, and players may declare less than they hold. This practice is known as sinking. According to the Portland Club rules (Law 55), either player has the right to see any cards the opponent has scored for or equalized (see below) immediately and/or at any subsequent time in the deal (except for carte blanche, which is governed by special rules detailed below, and subject also to the qualification for younger hand's equalizing holdings mentioned below). This rule is omitted from many books. It implies that a player declaring less than they actually hold must nevertheless declare cards they actually hold, not others of lesser scoring value. This rule is not just about checking the honesty and accuracy of one's opponent. It also specifies information one is entitled to about opponent's cards. One may simply ask for the information rather than a physical look at the cards. The price for scoring combinations is telling the opponent some of one's cards.
There are three categories of declarations: point, sequence and set. Elder hand declares first, starting with point. The Portland Club rules allow the last two to be reversed (Law 47), but many books specify that sequences must be declared before sets.
The point is simply the largest number of cards in one suit in a hand. Elder announces, for example, "point of four". Younger may then
- say "good", allowing elder to score for the point
- say "not good", holding a longer suit; younger does not yet give details
- ask "how many?" or "making?" or some equivalent question; this means younger has a suit of the same length; in this case elder counts the total for the suit at 11 for ace, 10 for court cards, and the other cards at their numerical value; younger will then say "good", "not good" or "equal" as appropriate
(Of course, if elder announces point of eight, younger can only say "good" or "equal".)
The winner of the point simply scores one point for each card in the suit. If the two players have equal suits in both length and numerical value then neither player scores for point.
It is customary for each player to keep count of their cumulative score on each hand out loud. Thus, if elder wins the point, they will announce, say, "four". Scores are written down at the end of each hand.
A sequence consists of at least three consecutive cards in the same suit. Sequences of 3-8 cards are called tierce, quart, quint, sixième, septième and huitième, respectively. The scores for tierce and quart are simply the length. For longer sequences 10 extra points are added. Thus the scores are 3, 4, 15, 16, 17 and 18, respectively. A longer sequence outranks a shorter one. Between sequences of equal length a higher one outranks a lower one.
Elder announces their best sequence, if any, specifying its length and how high it is: "tierce to the king" or whatever it may be. The terms "tierce major" and so on mean "to the ace". At the other extreme, "minor" means the lowest cards in a suit. (It is of course unnecessary to specify how high a huitième is.) Younger responds "good", "not good" or "equal", similarly to the case of point above. Only one player can score for sequence, just as for point. There is an important difference, however. Whereas only one point can be scored in a hand, the player declaring the best sequence can also score for any other equal or inferior sequences they may hold.
This term refers to three or four honour cards (ace, king, queen, jack, ten) of the same rank. Sets score 3 and 14 respectively, and are therefore known as trios and quatorzes. A quatorze outranks a trio, and higher outranks lower for the same size.
Elder hand announces their best set, if any, specifying number and how high, as with sequences. It is traditional to talk of, say, "fourteen aces", referring to the scoring value. Younger responds "good" or "not good", equality being impossible in this case. The winner can also score any other, inferior sets, as in the case of sequences.
The end of the declarations
Elder hand, having finished declaring, leads a card or announces the suit to be led. Younger then announces any winning declarations. If anything has been declared equal, elder is entitled to see younger's equalizing cards only at this point, while younger was entitled to see elder's when the equality was announced.
The player on lead leads any card from those remaining in their hand. The other player must then play a card of the same suit if they still have one in their hand. Otherwise they may play any card. The card led wins the trick unless the opponent plays a higher card of the same suit. The winner of a trick leads to the next. According to the Portland Club rules, players are entitled to examine the cards in past tricks (Law 60). This rule is omitted from many books.
The scoring for tricks is described in the Portland Club rules as 1 point for every card one leads, or with which one wins a trick, but counting 2 for the last trick instead of 1. It is left to the reader to understand that "or" is intended inclusively, so that a card that one leads and that also wins the trick scores only 1, not 2 (except for the last trick). Most books explain this in a perhaps clearer way:
- 1 point for leading
- 1 point for winning a trick to which the opponent led
- 1 extra point for winning the last trick, whoever led to it
After play is concluded, a player who has won the majority of the tricks scores an additional 10 points for "the cards". However, if one player wins all the tricks, they score 40 points for capot instead (see below). If each player wins six tricks there is no such score.
Four scores are called "special" in the sense that they are fairly infrequent. Three of them are also the largest scores in the game.
Carte blanche has already been mentioned. A player dealt a hand with no court cards scores 10 points. The procedure here differs from other declarations. Opponent is still entitled to see the cards sufficiently to verify that the claim is correct, but has no right to full information about the hand. The procedure is simpler when younger hand has carte blanche. This must be declared as soon as noticed, but younger then waits for elder to discard before counting the cards quickly face up on the playing surface. A quick glimpse is sufficient for opponent to distinguish court cards from others.
The procedure is more complicated if elder has carte blanche. In this case, elder, having announced carte blanche, then announces how many cards they intend to discard, but does not actually discard them yet. Younger then discards up to the number remaining as detailed above, but does not yet draw replacements. Elder then counts the cards as before, then discards the number specified and draws replacements, and younger finally draws replacements. Thus younger verifies elder's carte blanche, each player gets the replacement cards they were entitled to, and no additional information is acquired beyond the minimum necessary.
(As there are 12 court cards and only 8 cards left in the talon, it is obviously impossible for both players to have carte blanche on one hand.)
Pique and repique
Pique and repique are similar to each other. A player who scores 30 points in declarations before opponent scores anything adds 60 points for repique. If elder hand scores 30 points in declarations and play before younger scores anything, they score an extra 30 points for pique. (As elder hand scores 1 point for leading at the very start of play, it is impossible for younger hand to score pique.) In this context "before" does not have a strict chronological meaning. Instead, scores count strictly in the following order:
- carte blanche
Note that (at least in the Portland Club rules) 10 for the cards is deemed to be scored after play, not when one takes a seventh trick, so it cannot count towards pique. Similarly for capot.
It is traditional to jump in scoring, e.g. from 28 to 91, rather than go through 31 and add repique separately (and similarly for pique).
As noted above, a player who wins all the tricks scores 40 for capot instead of 10 for the cards. This bonus is regarded as being scored after the play has closed, not during the last trick, so that capot cannot count towards pique.
The partie and the rubicon
A partie normally consists of six deals. However, if the scores are tied after six, another two are played. If the tie is repeated then, it stands as the final result.
Normally, the difference between the players' scores is calculated and a bonus of 100 points added for winning. The result is the margin of victory, and the basis for payment of bets if relevant. However, if the loser has under 100 points (the rubicon) in total from the six (or eight) hands, the scores are added instead of subtracted, again with the 100 point bonus. This applies even if the winner is also below 100. Thus, if in the last hand it is clear one has little chance of reaching 100, while the opponent has done or probably will win, then one should try to minimize the total score, for example by equalizing declarations and taking exactly six tricks.
A note to the Portland Club code of laws says that, by agreement, players may play a partie of only four deals, with the first and last counting double.
Piquet au cent
The original form of the game differed in having no fixed number of deals. Instead, as many deals were played as required for one player to reach a total of 100. Another difference was that the scores for leading to a trick and for winning a trick from the opponent's lead applied only if the card concerned was an honour. (It was thus theoretically possible for younger hand to score pique.) The extra point for the last trick was not subject to this restriction. In the earliest sources the game was played with a 36-card pack, including 6s, but this changed long before the change to rubicon piquet.
There are versions for three and four players, and a game called imperial which adds in the idea of trumps. These seem to have achieved no significant success. They all involve little or no discarding. As that is the main skill in the original game, these variants require substantially different skill-sets.
As noted above, the main skill is in discarding. One should think particularly of the prospects for the largest scores: 60 for repique, 40 for capot, 30 for pique. Elder hand has the advantage, going first and being able to replace more cards. Thus elder should more often play aggressively, to increase the chances of large scores, while younger should more often play defensively, trying to reduce elder's chances. One should pay particular attention to point because, although it does not score much in itself, it takes priority (except in the rare case of carte blanche), so that winning point prevents pique or repique by opponent, while keeping open the possibility for oneself.
Taken from Cavendish on Piquet (link in note), pages 103-5, with terminology somewhat modernized, and notes added in square brackets. This illustrates the procedures of the game, not necessarily good play.
Deal and discard
Elder hand is dealt the following:
♠ A K J
♥ A Q J 8
♣ J 8 7
♦ 9 8
♠ 10 7
♥ 10 9 7
♣ K Q 10
♦ A Q J 10
♣ 8 7
♦ 9 8
♠ 9 8
♥ 9 7
The hands are now as follows:
♠ A J 9 8
♥ A K Q J 8
♣ J 9
♠ Q 10
♣ A K Q 10
♦ A Q J 10 7
E: Point of 5
E: 5 [running score] In hearts [as a matter of courtesy, E gives this information without waiting to be asked for it]
[E continues]: And quart major
E: 9 Three jacks
Y: Not good
E leads ♥ A and gives running score: 10
Y: Four [or "fourteen"] tens, 14, and 3 queens, 17
[E ♥ A: in between E's and Y's declarations] Y ♥ 10: 17 [repeating running score]
E ♥ K: 11 Y ♦ 7: 17
E ♥ Q: 12 Y ♦ 10: 17
E ♥ J: 13 Y ♦ J: 17
E ♥ 8: 14 Y ♦ Q: 17
E ♦ K: 15 Y ♦ A: 18
Y ♣ A: 19 E ♣ 9: 15
Y ♣ K: 20 E ♣ J: 15
Y ♣ Q: 21 E ♠ 8: 15
Y ♣ 10: 22 E ♠ 9: 15
Y ♠ Q: 23 E ♠ A: 16
E ♠ J: 17 Y ♠ 10: 23
E: plus 1 for last and the cards, 28
The final scores 28 and 23 are then written down. Score counting starts again each deal.
- The oldest of all is Karnöffel, first documented in 1426 and still played in parts of Switzerland.
- The others are whist, brag and an obsolete four-player game called quadrille (the three-player variant is still played in Denmark).
- though it is mentioned in Jack London's short story "A Goboto night"
- reprinted in Cavendish on Piquet, viewable at