Bezique is a two-player trick-taking game. Unlike in most trick-taking games, however, most of the tricks don’t affect the score at all! Instead, winning tricks gets you the right to form melds, which is where all the points are scored.
Bezique originated in France, probably deriving from Piquet and Sixty-Six. It reached its peak of popularity in France around 1840 or so, but spread across the English Channel and enjoyed a run of popularity in England until about the turn of the 20th century. Bezique is also the ancestor of Pinochle—in fact, its two-handed version plays nearly identically to two-handed Pinochle. Therefore, we’ve included the variant Six-Pack Bezique here. Six-Pack Bezique was said to be Winston Churchill’s favorite game, and he was well-regarded as one of the game’s earliest experts.
Object of Bezique
The object of Bezique is to score the most points by forming melds and taking the last trick of the game.
A single Bezique pack comprises 32 cards, from ace down to 7 in each of the four suits. Such a pack can be made by taking a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and removing all of the 2s through 6s. Six-Pack Bezique, as the name implies, uses six such packs, for a total of 192 cards. You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as paper and pencil.
Determine the first dealer through some random method. The dealer cuts as close to 24 cards as possible off the pack. The non-dealer estimates how many cards were cut and states their guess. The dealer then deals twelve cards to each player. If they had exactly 24 cards (exactly enough for the deal), they immediately score 250 points. If the non-dealer was exactly right in their guess, they score 150 points. The remaining cards become the stock, and are toppled over in a pseudo-fan in the center of the table to make it easier to draw from them.
Bezique uses the same ranking used by Sixty-Six and Pinochle. Tens rank higher than face cards, so the full ranking of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, J, 9, 8, 7 (low).
Before any game play begins, a player holding no face cards in their hand, only number cards, may show their hand to their opponent and score 250 points for carte blanche. Thereafter, if they draw another card that is not a face card, they may show this card before putting it in their hand and score another 250 points for another carte blanche. They may do this as many times as they both continue to draw number cards and show them. When they draw a face card, or they stop revealing their draws, they may no longer score for carte blanche.
Play of the hand
The non-dealer leads to the first trick. The dealer may play any card in response to this, and is not obliged to follow suit. However, only a higher card of the suit led can win the trick.
The winner of the trick is then allowed (but is not required) to declare and/or score any valid melds, as described below. The player that won the trick then draws a card from the stock, followed by the other player. Then, the player who won the first trick leads to the second trick. Cards from past tricks are simply left in the middle of the table and take no further part in game play.
The suit of the first sequence or marriage melded becomes the trump suit. Once the trump suit has been established, any trump can defeat a lead of a non-trump suit, regardless of rank. (If a trump is led, a higher trump is still needed to defeat it, of course.)
These are the melds that are possible in Bezique:
- Class A
- Sequence— A-K-Q-J-10 of the same suit. In trumps, worth 250 points, in any other suit, 150 points.
- Class B
- Marriage—K-Q of the same suit. In trumps, worth 40 points, in any other suit, 20 points.
- Class C
- Any four aces—100 points.
- Any four kings—80 points.
- Any four queens—60 points.
- Any four jacks—40 points.
- Four aces of trumps—1,000 points.
- Four 10s of trumps—900 points.
- Four kings of trumps—800 points.
- Four queens of trumps—600 points.
- Four jacks of trumps—400 points.
- Class D
- Bezique—Q♠-J♦. 40 points.
- Double bezique—Two beziques, e.g. Q♠-Q♠-J♦-J♦. 500 points.
- Triple bezique—Three beziques. 1,500 points.
- Quadruple bezique—Four beziques. 4,500 points.
Melding is done by playing any valid meld, as described in the list above, face-up to the table. A player may play multiple melds to the table at once, but they may immediately score the value of only one of the melds so declared. The player may score another declared meld each time they win another trick. Melded cards are still considered part of the hand, and they can be played on later tricks. If a meld is declared but not scored, it must remain intact on the table to be scored on a subsequent trick win.
A player can reuse previously-melded cards for another meld, but only if the new meld is of another class. For example, a Q♠ cannot be moved from a bezique to a different J♦ to form another bezique (both Class D). It could, however, be moved to form a marriage (Class B) with a K♠. There are two exceptions. One is when an existing meld is augmented with more cards: a player may play Q♠-J♦ to score a 40-point bezique, then, on a later turn, add another Q♠-J♦ to score 500 more points for a double bezique. A player may also break up a meld by playing one card to a trick, and then restore it with a card from the hand to score again for that type of meld.
When the stock is depleted
Once the last two cards of the stock have been drawn, no more melds can be made. Each player picks up all of their melds from the table, which should restore their hand to twelve cards. The final twelve tricks are then played. The second person to play to each trick must now follow suit if able. They must also win the trick if able to do so.
The player that wins the last trick scores 250 points for doing so.
Ending the game
After the hand ends, the final scores are tallied. The player with the higher score earns an additional 1,000 points for winning the game. However, if the loser failed to score at least 3,000 points (an act which is known as crossing the Rubicon), regardless of whether the winner did the same, the winner also scores a bonus equal to the loser’s score. For example, if a player won 3,500 to 2,800, the winning player’s final score would be 3,500 + 1,000 + 2,800, or 7,300 points.
How are the wood and ivory besique markers used in scoring this game?
I am unable to attach a photo of one of my own markers but an example can be seen here: https://www.antiques-atlas.com/antique/japanese_shibayama_bezique_markerc1890/as421a483
The Bezique markers were used pretty much like poker chips—each design was given a denomination and this was used to keep track of the score. Some sources show that each player kept a supply of markers on their left and moved them to their right as they scored points; others show that there was a central pool that players drew from as they scored.
In either event, the markers are not strictly necessary for the game, as poker chips or even pencil and paper can be substituted for them. If you’ve already got some, though, lucky you—they can be quite hard to find in modern times!