Mus is a betting game for four players in partnerships. Players draw and discard until they reach a hand they’re happy with, and then the betting begins. But there’s not just one “best” hand—there’s four rounds of betting, each with wildly different criteria for how the best hand is determined, and one hand can’t be the best in all four categories!
Mus most likely originated in the Basque country, a region spanning the border between France and Spain. From there, the game spread throughout both of those countries. From Spain, Mus was carried to other Spanish-speaking countries throughout the world.
Object of Mus
The object of Mus is to be the first partnership to reach a score of 40 points. This is done by, through drawing, forming hands that compete well in a number of different categories.
Mus is traditionally played with a Spanish deck of 40 cards. To recreate such a deck from an English-style 52-card deck like Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all the 8s, 9s, and 10s. This will leave you with a 40-card deck consisting of face cards, 7s–2s, and aces in each of the four suits.
To keep score, you will need 22 counters of some kind, such as stones, beads, beans, marbles, or poker chips. These counters are kept in a pool in the center of the table. Uniquely, the value of each counter differs depending on who holds it! When a point is scored, one of the partners designated to do so draws a counter from the central pool. Upon reaching a score of five, this player returns four counters to the pool and passes the fifth to their partner. Thus, each counter this second player holds represents five points. When the second player has seven counters (representing a score of 35), they declare this and return them to the pool, putting their opponents on notice that they only need to score five more points to win.
Mus is traditionally played with a series of signals that players can use to indicate their holdings to their partner. These signals are the same for both teams. Part of the skill of the game is to figure out how to pass the signals to your partner without the opponents intercepting them. Which signals mean what, and what signals are allowed, should be discussed prior to game play.
As is usual with partnership games, partners should be seated across from one another, with an opponent on either side. The turn should alternate between partnerships as it passes around the table.
Shuffle and deal four cards to each player. The remainder of the deck becomes the stock.
Mus is most widely played “with eight aces and eight kings”. To achieve this, the 3s are considered equivalent to kings, and the 2s are considered equal to aces. They are treated exactly the same as if they were the same rank (to the point that K-3 is considered a pair). Cards otherwise rank in their usual order, with aces low.
Unlike in most games, game play is always conducted to the right.
Mus or no mus
The player to the dealer’s right goes first. They examine their hand and determine if they would like to exchange some of their cards for new ones for the stock. If they do, they say “mus”. The next player to the right must then make the same determination, and so on.
If all four players agree to a mus, then they discard one to four cards, face down, and the dealer gives them replacements from the stock. Then, another round of declaring “mus” or “no mus” takes place. (If the stock is depleted, shuffle the discards to form a new stock.) This continues until a player calls “no mus”. The game then proceeds to the betting rounds.
There are four rounds of betting, each of which has different criteria for winning. The betting rounds are always conducted in the same order, and follow the same procedure. Betting in each round begins with the player to the dealer’s right. They may make an opening bid of at least two counters, or pass. If they pass, the next player to the right has the same option, and so on. Once a player makes an opening bid, the opponent to their right may:
- See: agree to the bid, the amount of which will be won by whoever has the best cards for the category bid on.
- Raise: accept the opening bid and propose an increased bet.
- Fold. decline the proposed opening bid. The side that didn’t fold immediately collects the previously-accepted bid amount, regardless of who actually has the better cards.
If all players fold to an opening bid, the “previously accepted” bid is only one counter. If all four players pass with no opening bid being made, the round is contested with a stake of one counter going to the partnership with better cards.
There is one additional, special bid called órdago. If your opponent accepts a bid of órdago, the entire game is decided by the outcome of the current round of betting. The hands are immediately revealed, and whoever has the best cards for that round wins the entire game.
It is important to note that all bids are for the partnership, not the players. You may well have an awful hand, but find yourself betting a high number of counters because you know, either through previous bidding or signals, that your partner is a lock to win the round.
After each round of betting, the players proceed to the next one. The hands are kept concealed until all four rounds are concluded (except when a bid of órdago is accepted).
The four rounds of betting are, in order:
- Grande: Betting on who has the highest hand. Hands are compared by their highest card. If there is a tie, the second-highest is used to break it, then the third-highest, and finally the lowest.
- Chica: Betting on who has the lowest hand. Hands are compared the same as in Grande, but comparing by the lowest card, then second-lowest, etc.
- Pares: Betting on who has the best pairs. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they even have any pairs. If at least one person answers yes, the betting round takes place. Unlike the previous two rounds, the player with the best combination is entitled to a bonus, in addition to the agreed-upon stake. Possible combinations, from highest to lowest, are:
- Duples: Two pair, like K-3-4-4 or 7-7-2-2. Duples are compared by their higher pair, then their lower one. Three-counter bonus.
- Medias: Three of a kind, with one unmatched card, like 5-5-5-Q or A-A-2-6. The rank of the three-of-a-kind is compared first, then the kicker. Two-counter bonus.
- Par simple: One pair, like K-3-7-A or J-J-6-4. The rank of the pair is compared first, then the higher kicker, then the lower kicker. One-counter bonus.
- Juego: Each player totals the value of their hand, with aces (including 2s) worth one, face cards (including 3s) worth ten, and all other cards worth their face value. Before betting, players declare, in turn, yes or no as to whether they have a hand worth 31 or more points. If at least one does, the hands will be compared for best juego. A hand value of 31 is the best, and entitles its holder to a 3-counter bonus if it wins. Second is a value of 32, then 40, and then in descending order down to 33 (all of which are worth a 2-counter bonus if it wins).
- Punto: Only if nobody holds a juego is the Punto round played. This is simply betting on the highest hand value (30 being best, since 31 and above would be a juego, and 4 being worst). The holder of the best hand scores a one-counter bonus on top of the agreed-upon bet.
In any case, if two hands are exactly identical, whoever comes first in turn order wins.
After all four rounds of betting take place, the hands are revealed and compared. Payouts on rounds where betting actually occurred (or all four players passed) are done in exactly the same order as the betting rounds (Grande, Chica, Pares, Juego/punto).
If a partnership reaches a score of 40, stop immediately—they win the game, even if one of the other rounds would have allowed their opponents to surpass them. If nobody has a score of 40 after all four rounds have been scored, the deal passes to the right and another hand is played.