Monday, April 25, 2011

El Truco

A weekend game of truco

'Son buenas.'
'Quiero re truco.'
'Quiero vale cuatro.'
'Hijo de puta.'

Truco, Argentina’s card game of choice. Just watching can be exhausting; actually playing, an on your toes, get stuck in fully blown, loud, deceitful, slap you on your back Argentine experience.

Truco (Trick) is just that. A game filled with trickery, lies, gamesmanship, tactics, skill and like with any other card game, a little bit of old lady luck.

It is played with what are known in Argentina as Cartas Españolas (Spanish cards). The deck is made up of fifty cards numbered one to twelve. There a four suits, called palos. Basto (clubs), Oro (gold), Espadas (swords) and Copas (cups). For truco the eights and nines are removed from the deck.

The game can be played one on one but generally the real version is played in pairs, two on two; or in extreme situations with six players. 

Spanish Cards used for Truco
The object: to be the first to get thirty points. The first fifteen points are known as malas (bad) and the second half buenas (good). Points are obtained by winning during the two parts of each round, the envido and the truco.

The round starts with three cards dealt to each player. If you’re playing with a partner then some face signals will be made to let him know what cards you have. Bravado, lies and perhaps some truths are shouted around the table as the round gets underway.

Reading this without ever having encountered the game will no doubt be a tad confusing but the basic idea for the envido is to have the highest total, or to make your opponents think you do.

If you have two cards of the same suit, then you have something to play. You take the total of your two cards and add that to twenty. For example, if you have the seven of Gold and the six of Gold then you have thirty-three (the highest possible as 10s, 11s and 12s count as zero). If you’re left with nothing, then your only chance of winning is to out lie your opponents in a macho effort to convince them you have more than they do.

La mano (the hand) is the person to the right of the dealer and he has first chance to bet. If he chooses to he will shout envido (as soon as that word is mentioned at any moment then the bet is made). During the betting, players will crack jokes and employ other means of distraction to try to put their opponent off; be it to dissuade his betting or to to lull him into a false sense of security.

The betting responses to a call of envido are:
Quiero (I want) - the round is worth two points. 
Real envido - ups the stakes to three points.
Envido - means there are four points up for grabs.
Falta envido - you win whatever your opponent needs to complete his malas (first fifteen) or his buenas. 
No quiero - You bow out and automatically lose points.

After concluding who has the highest (without showing your cards for now), the second part of the round commences; the truco.

In the truco it is a fight to see who has the best cards. The cards are ranked in order of value. 

The One of Swords
The One of Clubs
The Seven of Swords
The Seven of Gold
The 3s
The 2s
The One of Cups & the One of Gold
Then from the 12s down to the 4s

Each player in turn throws down a card face up and the highest card kills the other cards and wins. The idea is to win two out of the three throws to take the points for truco. Throughout this part of the game more betting is going on in a similar way to that of the envido. Calling truco sets up the betting, and you can up it all by shouting re truco and then quiero vale cuatro (I want it’s worth four). 

If envido was played for, then knowing the total of your opponent gives you some idea what cards he has; but throughout the betting more lies and gamesmanship go on as you communicate with your partner as to the order in which you want to throw your cards or you use one of the many sneaky little tricks available to win. And remember, if at the end of the round no one has seen your cards and you won the envido, then be sure to show your total, or all the points you should have got will go to the other side the moment your cards are back in the pack.

A truco scorecard
If it all makes absolutely no sense whatsoever here, then rest assured it makes even less sense the first time you see a game played.

But when in Argentina, if you learn the value of the cards, the lip-licking and eyebrow raising face signals, then you can sit down around an empty crate of beer with a plank of wood on the top in a neighbourhood anywhere in the country, with one, three or five compañeros; and with some hard practice to get used to the pace, the jargon and the loud and jocular atmosphere of it all, you'll start to get the hang of it. And though you'll probably lose a few pesos as you get going, somewhere down the line with an afternoon's game of truco you might just end up winning a few bottles of Quilmes as you relish in the enjoyment of a truly great card game.

1 comment:

  1. Brilliant story, admittedly it seems to be on the complicated side that game, but it's great to read about these native things of that faraway land!