A great card game for two people

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.

2) At the beginning of the game, each player looks at their cards. If a player has the ace of trumps, h/she says ‘I declare the ace of trumps’. The player immediately scores one point.

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 [3] 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 [1] 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.


8 responses to “A great card game for two people

  1. I find this interesting, but a bit confusing. I just tried it and ran into problems, like, I dealt, and we had a spade as the trump. My wife didn’t want to change, so she started with a heart, I laid a heart and she laid a spade, winning the trick. The she laid a club, I laid a club and she laid a spade, winning. Next she laid a diamond and was out of cards, while I still had 3. A YouTube video would help…I couldn’t find one, perhaps you could make one?

    • Hi Eric, sorry to hear about the confusion. Your problem comes here: ” she started with a heart, I laid a heart and she laid a spade, winning the trick.”
      Each trick is only composed of two cards. So your wife played the heart correctly. You then played a heart. That’s the end of the trick. the highest card wins the trick, and collects the two cards. You then start the next trick.
      Your mistake was to keep playing the trick by playing a third card (the spade).
      In the fourth photo above, you see how this will end up. The top player has won three tricks (three groups of two cards) and the bottom player has won two tricks (two groups of two cards).
      Sorry – no time for a video!
      Hope that helps. Try it again and see how you get on.

  2. This sounds similiar, if not the same, as a card game my grandmother used to play, called Euchre – although having just looked it up, there are some differences. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euchre

    Anyway, thanks for the memory of the euchre nights my grandmother used to run in her home. The lounge room would be filled with tables and around20 people used to come and play Euchre all night, followed by a supper of home-made cakes and all manner of goodness. Happy memories.


    • Thanks for the link, Lisa. That’s fascinating, especially the origin of the joker card. The main difference seems to be that ecarte is for two people and Euchre is for four. I noticed that in Euchre too the ace is not the highest card, but rather the jack. In my variant here, we changed the status of the king as the highest card because it got too confusing for us.

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