We’ve all been there on holiday: that dull dip in the afternoon between 4 and 6 p.m. when there’s nothing to do. It’s the perfect time for a quick game of cards, but if there’s just the two of you, what can you do? Most two-person card games are based on raw luck, and don’t allow you to crush your opponent through your superior powers. Here is one that mixes luck and low cunning. It’s a bit like whist, and it is horribly addictive! It’s called ecarté.
First prepare the deck. You only need the cards between 7 and the ace (aces are high, never low in this game). Remove all the other cards (2, 3, 4, 5, and 6), including the jokers.
You play ecarté for points, so you also need a notebook and pen to record each player’s scores.
1) Shuffle the pack and deal out five cards to each player. Turn over the top card of the deck and leave it open. This card is not in play: it shows the trumps for that hand.
In this case, trumps are clubs.
3) Now the non-dealer (player 1) may choose to change any of their cards. They must ask permission from the dealer (player 2) by saying ‘I propose to change  cards.’ Player 1 is not obliged to change any cards: he/she can start the game at this point.
4) Player 2 can accept or reject this proposal. If the proposal is accepted, Player 1 changes their cards by throwing away the rejected cards (these remain face down) and taking new cards from the top of the deck. Each player always has five cards at the start of the game.
5) If Player 1 changed cards, player 2 may automatically change cards too. He/She does this by saying ‘I propose to change  card.’
6) Players are trying to win tricks. The non-dealer (player 1) begins. He/she places a card. The other player must follow suit. If Player 1 placed a diamond and Player 2 has a diamond, he/she must play it.
Sometimes a player cannot follow suit. In this case, he/she must play a trump. If the player does not have a trump, he/she can play any card.
The highest card wins the trick. If a player plays a trump, the trump beats any other suit. The highest trump will win the trick.
In this case, player 1 played a diamond. Player 2 does not have a diamond, so must trump. Player 2 plays the 7 of clubs, a trump. Player 2 wins the trick.
9) When a player wins a trick, he/she takes both cards and keeps them. The winning player now takes control of the game, and chooses the next card to play.
10) The game continues in this way, until all five cards are played. Then the player with the most tricks wins the hand.
In this case, the player at the top of the picture has won three tricks. The player at the bottom has won two tricks. The top player wins the hand.
If players changed cards at the beginning of the hand (the proposal was accepted), the winner gets 1 point.
If no cards were changed at the beginning of the hand (no proposal was made, or a proposal was rejected), the winner gets 2 points.
If a player wins all five tricks in a hand, he/she gets 2 points, regardless of whether the proposal was accepted or rejected.
At the end of a hand, add the points together. Return the cards to the deck, change the dealer, and reshuffle the cards. The dealer alternates for every hand.
Repeat steps 1-10 above.
The game continues until one player scores 10 points.
The rules above are my variations on standard ecarté. The standard rules are slightly different:
* the game is played to 5 points not 10. I rejected this because 10 points gives more room for reversals of fortune, and allows you to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat.
* the king is actually placed higher than the ace. This is far too confusing in practice.
* players are free to propose and change cards at the beginning of each hand as many times as they like. In practice, this rarely happens more than once.