quar

History

Although "quar" [kar] has existed for centuries, its origin remains obscure. Scholarly research suggests a rudimentary version existed during the Middle Ages in the Alpine recesses of various monastic orders scattered across the heart of Europe, yet the game's nativity has never been assigned a particular date let alone a precise locality. During the Renaissance, "quar" attached itself to peripatetic minstrels and threatened to become a cultural plague. It was not the typical wandering-jou, however; this seemingly innocent diversion played a role in the extermination of thousands of no-talent bards who relied on Dame Fortune and a decent hand for their livelihood. Called "quar-el" (or "quar-tel") by the ladies of the 18th Century, it entered the parlor via the servants' door with most of its antagonistic qualities intact. Today "quar" survives modestly, as practiced and attenuated by the International Quar Society (IQS), whose members selectively recruit new players based on their interest in gaming, native aptitude, versatility, and willingness to pay the $30 annual fee.

The Deck

Quar is traditionally played with a deck of 48 "quarettes," the faces of which echo the original engravings of saints found on an ancestral tile set. (See Plate 10 of the booklet, "Life at Souche-Père-en-Colère: All for Fun and Prophet?" available at the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum bookstore, Zurich.) The cards are divided into four colors (suits) with six denominations: one through four, dix (ten) and douze (twelve). There are two of each card. A standard pinochle deck may be substituted. The cards have no relative value, that is, a two counts as much as a twelve, nor do denominations or colors have any inherent rank.


Sample "cards" from a modern quar deck.

Rules

Two to four people may play, but the traditional game requires four. Players are seated at the four cardinal points: North, East, South and West. In front of each player is his station, also known as his position or stack. Cards are played from the hands onto the stations. The four stations taken together are referred to as the table.

Cards are dealt one at a time until the deck is exhausted; thus, there are twelve cards per hand. The player on the dealer's left goes first and play continues clockwise.

There are only four basic rules in "quar," surrounded by a small cloud of qualifications. These four rules are:

  1. A player with an "open" station (au fond: zero cards at a position) must play one card directly on his own station.
  2. A player without au fond may play a card onto any opponent's station which shows a card of the same color, or he may play a card onto his own station if it shows the same denomination. "Faces down, colors around."
  3. If a player has played an exact match (dupe) anywhere, he may play again.
  4. A player may move after he has made at least one play. A move consists of picking up any station with at least two cards and moving it on top of another station, making sure the denominations of the two stations match. A player may move as many times as circumstance and strategy allow.

The object of the game is to get rid of as many cards as possible, as each card in a player's hand counts against him in scoring. However, blindly throwing off as many cards as possible in one turn may work against the player's endgame position (see "Strategies"). Now for the qualifications:

1a. A player who must satisfy au fond may only play that one card and pass; he may neither move nor play again. Note: If he is the last remaining active player (all other hands have folded), he treats au fond as a play followed by a sequence of three passes.
1b. A player may not play on another's au fond; therefore,
1c. If a player folds and his station becomes open, it will remain open for the duration of the round.
2a. When a card is played, it should conceal all other cards below it. Players are not allowed to review the history of a station.
2b. A player must play at least one card per turn. If he passes without playing, he must fold and place his cards face down in front of him. He may not touch his hand again until the round is over and scoring begins.
2c. Once a player plays a card, he is not obligated to move, nor (if the card was a dupe) must he play another card.
3a. A player may play as many dupes in sequence as he chooses, and these plays may alternate with moves. Only if the last card played is not a dupe may he not play an additional card. (But note that he may still move.)
4a. Although a station in motion (stack being moved) must contain at least two cards, the destination station may have as few as one card.
4b. If a player creates au fond at his station while moving, he may continue to play and move according to the rules, but he may not satisfy au fond until his next turn.
5. A player, on request, must truthfully state how many cards remain in his hand.
6. If three of the four players have folded, the remaining player continues to dispose of his cards according to the rules until he exhausts his hand or until he can no longer play.

The round is over when either a] A player runs out of cards (a perfect score of 0), or b] Every player folds. A game is a set of rounds played until one or more players break 1000 points; the lowest score at that time is the winner of the game. The deal and first play rotate one position to the left between rounds.

Scoring

Each card in a hand counts 100 points; each card that dupes with an exposed card on the table counts an additional 50 points, and each pair of dupes within a hand counts an additional 100 points.

Rules for Fewer than Four

A "dummy" hand is dealt for each missing player. With three, the dummy is placed on the dealer's right and play commences on his left, as usual. When two play, the dealer faces his opponent and the dummies occupy left and right positions, with the left dummy leading. A dummy card is turned over only when that station has au fond and it is the dummy's "turn." The last person to play is responsible for turning over the dummy's hand.

Strategies

There are quite a few approaches to strategy, most of which are outlined in the hardcover volume, "Quar: More Than a Four-letter Word." However, three are of particular interest to the average player:

The Naive Approach: Surprisingly effective, especially when a player is confronted by opponents with more sophisticated thought patterns. Beginners use this strategy unwittingly, and more experienced players are sometimes shocked when the neophyte trounces the old hands. This is a conservative playing style all the way through, with little regard for table manipulation; the player need only observe the rule of balance (see below) and play one or two cards per turn in order to be assured of modest (though sometimes dramatic) success.

The Aggressive Approach: Dangerous but rewarding technique for alert players, it recommends a follow-through on all possible plays and moves that advance the player's position. For instance, many players with the lead play will "mess up" the table on the second turn, that is, play or move on as many opposing stations as possible to counter anticipated dupes. Aggressives often forget about the rule of balance, which can mean becoming susceptible to group presses.

The Balanced Approach: Restrained aggressive behavior in the early game followed by conservative plays in the endgame. Not a perfect strategy (astute presses in the endgame are quite effective) but one that strikes a compromise between risk and reward.

In general, all strategies are best served by loose adherence to certain formulas of play:

Openings: When confronted with au fond in the early part of the game, play an in-hand dupe from the strongest suit. If untouched, it will give an automatic dupe in the beginning of the next turn. If there are no dupes in the long suit, go to the second longest suit. Do not put down part of a dupe pair in a short suit until later in the game, and resist the temptation to dupe if the act threatens to throw the hand out of balance. If there are no playable dupe-pairs, look for matching denominations across suits and play one of those from a long suit. Observe conservation of color as much as possible.

Limiting: In the early game, players tend to limit their opponents in order to gain control of the table. This is generally done by playing on anticipated dupes and moving so that as many opponents as possible are given au fond. In the endgame, the nature of limiting is reversed: a player without au fond is limited by the choices that remain. A player in trouble often tries to vacate his station so that he may play at least one more card on his next turn.

Presses: A press occurs when a player (or players) thinks an opponent is dangerously short in one color. The tip-off may be an early self-imposed au fond followed by a play of a color not currently exposed on the table. In this circumstance the other players will often modify their strategies to keep the dominant color(s) on the table and perhaps force a player to fold early.

Rule of Balance: In general, a player should always try to balance his hand so that there are equal numbers of each color. Strategy and situation of play may force him down in one or more colors, but reserving at least one of each color for the endgame assures survival.

Conservation of Color: This means not introducing a new color unless it is necessary or extremely beneficial. By pressing one or two colors on the table, the hands weakest in those suits will likely be forced out early. A crucial part of a press.

Introduction of Color: When other players are pressing with a disadvantageous color, the best way to introduce a new color is to play down (same denomination) and move out. This sequence will likely confirm their suspicions regarding the contents of your hand.

Endgame: The endgame begins roughly when a player has played half his hand. Balanced strategies become more conservative as players try to guarantee future plays. Au fonds become important "life savers," and denomination plays become more important. "Stretched dupes" are in-hand dupe pairs played without duping: one half is played to satisfy au fond or played on an opposing station, and the other is later used to set up another station for a two- or three-part move. Remember that to fold with one or two cards is not bad--if the remaining players are unfortunate enough, 200 may be the lowest score in the current round!

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Copyright 1970-2003 by the International Quar Society. These pages, the game of Quar, and all associated rules and images are property of the IQS. Individuals may make copies of this text for their own, non-commercial, personal use.