Tribello is a trick-taking game for three players, played primarily in the U.S. state of Illinois. Like Trex, Tribello is an excellent example of a “compendium game”—the rules of the game change every three hands. That means Tribello is really like four games in one!

Object of Tribello

The object of Tribello is to have the most points at the end of the game. In the first three phases of the game, this is done by collecting as many tricks as possible. In the fourth phase, players try to take as few tricks as possible.

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Tribello uses one standard 52-card pack of playing cards. Naturally, we endorse the idea of using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You will also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper or a smartphone application.

The player to the dealer’s left cuts the cards prior to the deal. For the first three hands, the bottom card of the top half of the deck is exposed, setting the trump suit. Shuffle and deal four hands of thirteen cards each. Three of these will go to the players. The fourth hand is left face down and becomes the widow, which belongs to nobody, at least at first.

Game play

After the players have received their hands and had a chance to look at them, the players may draw from the widow. The dealer goes first, discarding any number of cards that they wish and drawing the same number from the widow. The player to the dealer’s left goes next, discarding any number of cards up to the number that are left in the widow and drawing back up to thirteen. If there are any cards left, the player to the dealer’s right has the opportunity to draw from the widow.

The four phases of play

Game play in Tribello takes place in four distinct phases of three hands each. The first three hands comprise the first phase. The fourth through sixth hands make up the second phase, and so on. Each player deals once during each phase.

During the first phase, the card exposed during the cut sets the trump suit. In the second phase, the dealer chooses the trump suit after looking at their hand. There are no trumps in the third and fourth phases.

Each player has a contract they must make. The contracts are the same amounts in the first three phases. For the dealer, the goal is six tricks, for the player at the dealer’s left, four tricks, and for the player to the dealer’s right, three tricks. In the fourth phase, where players are trying to avoid taking tricks, the contracts are three for the dealer, four for the player to the dealer’s left, and six for the player at the dealer’s right.

Play of the hand

Game play proceeds much like any other trick-taking game. The dealer leads to the first trick. The other two players, in turn, then play to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; otherwise, they may play any card, including a trump.

After all three players have played to the trick, the person who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played, wins it. The player winning the trick takes the cards and places them in a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them. To make it easier to identify the number of tricks taken, it helps to place each trick at right angles to the trick before it.

Ending the hand

The hand ends when all thirteen tricks have been played. At this point the hand is scored.

In the first three phases, players score one point for each trick taken in excess of their contract. If they fail to meet their contract, they lose one point for each trick below contract. Meeting the contract exactly scores zero. Because the three contracts add up to thirteen tricks, the same number as there are available, the three players’ scores should always add up to zero.

The fourth phase is scored similarly, but because the object is to avoid taking tricks, the signs are reversed. That is, for each trick taken in excess of their contract, a player loses a point. For each trick below contract that a player comes in, they score a point.

The player that has the highest score after the end of the third hand of the fourth phase (the twelfth hand overall) is the winner.


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