Truco is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Versions of it are widely played in many South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Chile. Each of these countries its own unique variant of the game. Truco is one of the most popular games in Brazil, where three different versions of it are played; one of these is the version listed below.
In comparison to most Western card games, a game of Truco is quite rowdy. Many things that would be considered outright cheating are explicitly allowed in Truco, and a game often devolves into raucous (but good-natured) shouting as players attempt to bluff and intimidate one another.
Object of Truco
The object of Truco is to be the first partnership to score twelve points by taking at least two of the three tricks in each hand.
Truco is played with a special 40-card stripped deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s, leaving a deck of aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits.
You will also need some method of scoring. Brazilian players traditionally score the game with large, bean-like seeds called tentos. You will need at least 22 beans if you wish to keep score with this method. The tentos are placed in a bowl in the center of the table. One partner removes one tento from the bowl for each point scored, keeping them visible on the table in front of them. You can also score the game with the tried-and-true pencil and paper if you wish.
Players divide into two partnerships and seat themselves so that partners sit across from one another. Usually, partnerships are decided by mutual agreement; if some players are inexperienced at the game, they are often paired with a player that has more experience. Partnerships may also be decided by high-card draw, if desired.
Prior to the first hand, each partnership may retreat to a location where the other team will not overhear them and devise a system of signals to use throughout the game. These signals can communicate anything that the players desire, including the overall strength of their hand, the cards they hold, what they want their partner to play, and so on. Nothing’s off limits! However, verbal discussion of what is in your hand is absolutely prohibited. You can only communicate this information by signals.
Truco has a very particular shuffling and dealing procedure. Only a single riffle shuffle is allowed—the wash and strip shuffle used in the casino shuffling method is not allowed. The player to the dealer’s left performs one to three cuts, although they are required to cut the cards into exactly two stacks. Scarne cuts and other cuts that produce more than two piles of cards are not permissible. The player cutting the cards may then request that the cards be dealt from either the top or the bottom of the deck.
The dealer then deals three cards, face down, to the player to their right, who is called the mão. This player has the option to keep the cards, pass them to their partner, or reject them altogether. What happens next:
- If the mão chooses to keep the cards, the dealer deals three cards to the dealer’s partner, then the mão’s partner, and finally themselves.
- If the mão chooses to pass the cards to their partner, they are dealt another hand of three cards, which they may either keep or reject. The mão may not pass any more cards once their partner has a hand.
- If the mão rejects the cards, they are turned face up and will remain out of play for the remainder of the hand. They then receive another three-card hand, which they may keep, reject, or pass to their partner. The mão may not reject more than three potential hands per deal.
After the deal is complete, the dealer sets the deck stub aside, and it takes no further part in game play.
Truco uses a very unconventional card ranking. 3s, 2s, and aces rank higher than the face cards, and one card of each suit is elevated to rank even higher than the remainder of the pack. The cards rank as follows: (high) 4♣, 7♥, A♠, 7♦, 3, 2, A, K, J, Q, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).
Play of the hand
The mão leads to the first trick. The next player to the right plays the next card, and so on until all four players have played. Whoever played the highest card, irrespective of suit takes the trick. Players can play any card they wish; there is no requirement to follow suit or play higher than the other cards in the trick.
In the second or third tricks, a player may play their card face down if desired. Face-down cards are unable to win the trick and essentially discarded. This option is not available on the first trick of the hand.
The winner of a trick takes the four cards played to it and puts it face-down on their partnership’s won-tricks pile. They then lead to the next trick.
If two players on the same time tie for high card, that partnership wins the trick, and whichever of the two players played first is entitled to lead to the next trick. If two players on opposing teams tie for high card, the trick belongs to no one. When a trick is tied, whichever team won the first trick that hand is the winner of the entire hand. If it is necessary to play another trick to determine the hand, whichever of the tying players played first gets to lead to the next trick.
The hand ends after the three tricks are complete or the outcome of the hand has been determined. Whichever team wins the hand takes one tento.
Raising the stakes
Any player may call “truco” prior to winning a trick in order to raise the stakes for the current hand to three tentos. This player, the trucador, must then wait for their opponents to respond to the truco before playing a card. The opponents have three options:
- Run away. The opposing team rejects the raised stakes. The trucador’s team immediately wins the hand for one tento.
- Accept. The opposing team accepts a stake of three tentos.
- Raise (retruco). The opposing team wishes to raise the stake further, to six tentos. The trucador’s team then has the option to run away, accept the six-tento stake, or reraise to nine tentos. If they propose a stake of nine tentos, the opponents may then reraise to queda, i.e. a stake of twelve tentos, the amount necessary to win the entire game.
Either of the trucador’s opponents may give the answer to the truco, but whichever one speaks first is binding. The opponents may consult with each other verbally and/or through signals before giving a final answer.
You are not allowed to raise the stakes beyond that which would be required to win the game. If you have a score of six, you can truco (raising the stakes to three tentos, which would give you a score of nine if you won). If your opponent retrucos, raising to six, accepting this and winning would give you a score of twelve, enough to win the game. Therefore, you cannot raise again to nine, since accepting the six-tento stake is enough for the win.
If a truco is accepted, the trucador and any players after them play to the trick. Whichever team wins the trick wins the hand at the stake agreed upon.
A team gains one tento if their opponents violate any of the following rules:
- Shuffling, cutting, or dealing against the procedure described above.
- The mão attempts to reject cards when not allowed to do so.
- Disclosing the content of one’s hand, either by discussing it verbally or by showing cards. (Signals are okay.)
- Raising the stakes beyond the amount needed to win the game.
You cannot score your twelfth tento as a result of your opponents breaking the rules. Instead, they lose one tento and you remain at a score of eleven.
A score of eleven
When a team reaches a score of eleven, one less than needed to win the game, special rules apply to them. First, the dealer simply deals a hand of three cards to each player, and the mão is no longer permitted to pass or reject cards. Before actual game play starts, the players on the leading team pass their hands to one another, briefly look at them, and return them to their owners. They then have the option to run away (end the hand) at a cost of one tento, or play the game for a stake of three tentos. If they play the hand, neither team is allowed to truco. If the leading team wins this hand, they win the game.
Should both teams reach a score of eleven, an iron hand is played. The game considers teams in this situation to have only gotten there due to luck, since they apparently cannot pull off an indisputable win. The dealer deals three-card hands to each player, and they cannot look at their cards. The hand is played by turning cards up, one at a time, and awarding the tricks as appropriate. Therefore, the iron hand is determined entirely by luck. If an iron hand results in a tie, additional iron hands are played until the outcome of the game is determined.