Game list

The games presented in these pages can be classified in two basic types, according to their objective: Among combination games, I present: The trick taking games to be played are:

Spanish and French Decks

Most of the games described here are played with 40 cards, which is the most common form of the standard Spanish and Italian decks. These cards are the numbers from Ace to 7, and three court cards. In the Spanish deck, the three court cards are the Valet (or Foot-soldier), the mounted Knight (or Horseman), and the majestic King. These cards are the functional equivalent of the three court cards present in the deck most popular in the USA, which is the French-suited deck. They are, of course, the Jack, Queen, and King.
All these cards are organized in four suits, either the standard Spanish suits of Coins, Cups, Swords, and Clubs, or the standard French suits of Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs.
I'll leave it up to the players what kind of deck they prefer. For authenticity purposes, it can be observed that both kinds of decks existed in period, and it was quite common to adapt games from one deck to the other, usually following the standard suit-and-rank correspondences shown above.
[Note only for the real fan: in some modern Brazilian games, the rank correspondences between Spanish and French ranks are altered, so that Valet=Queen, Knight=Jack, King=King, with the strange result that the Jack captures the Queen! There is an interesting story behind this, probably related to the gender symbolism of some cards.]

Direction of play

The historical and Southern European direction of play is counterclockwise, to the right. But nothing serious of the game mechanics changes if the games are played clockwise, to the left.

Combination Games


Attested in 1691. Rules based on a text of 1729.

This game is played with a small deck, having only the cards from 1 through 6, ace low.

Players try to make the highest-three card combination, as described below.

At the beginning of a hand, a single card is dealt to each player. A betting round starts, without raises. At first, players can either pass, or bet one counter. If someone bets, then the other players, each in their turn, can either match the bet, or fold. That's done until all players have been given their opportunity to see the bet. If all players pass on this first card, the hand is void, and the cards are shuffled back into the deck.

A second card is dealt to each active (non-folded) player. A second betting round ensues, also without raises; only passes, bets, calls and folds are allowed. In this round, the bet is fixed to two counters, making the total stake risked by each active player 3 counters (counting the previous bet). It is possible that everyone passes on the second card; in that case, the pot is still one counter per active player, and the game continues with the third card.

Once the betting round of the second card is finished, a third card is dealt to each active player; the third and last betting round starts, with all active players placing their bets in order. Bets and raises are now allowed with no more limit than the total number of counters still in the hand of each player (the resto). If two or more players are still active at the end of this third betting round, a showdown ensues; and the best combination wins.

List of combinations:

In case two or more combinations of the same kind and point value are tied, the eldest player wins. I believe that this is intended to compensate the advantage that the ``younger'' players have by being able to bet or call based on previous knowledge of the actions taken by their ``elders''.
Note: it might be that the premium for the three-card flush is 30 instead of 20. This does not change the ordering of combinations, or the strategy of the game. While this would be a more ``logical'' choice than that presented in the reconstruction, the choice presented above has the universal agreement of modern descendents on its side.


Attested in 1610. Rules based on a text of 1732.

This game is played with the full 40-card deck, with the same game mechanics, betting system, and tie-resolution as Cacho. Only the combinations and their point-value differ.

The combinations are, Three-card flush (Flor), followed by the Two-card flush, and finally the single best single High-card. For this purpose, the point-value of the cards follows (according to the Diccionario de Autoridades) a quite unusual schedule, that I haven't seen used in any other game:
Ace: 11
Two: 12
Three: 9
Four: 8
Five: 10
Six: 6
Seven: 7
Court cards: 10.

The youngest player has a special advantage: the first card taken, if it is shown to all the other players, acquires automatically the point value of 10, even if its natural value was less.

The combination of the better class wins. In case two combinations of different class are compared, the higher point value wins. In case two or more combinations of the same kind and point value are tied, the eldest player wins.
This reconstruction does not take into account certain evidence suggesting that if someone has Flor, a player who does not have Flor cannot participate in the betting round. Enforcing this rule would require each player having Flor to truthfully announce his good luck; compare with a similar situation attested in the game of Pechigonga described below. The evidence for this consists in modern games known to descend (at least in part) from Flor, and comparison with the games of the Primiera family.


This is a variant of the famous Italian game of Primera. It is attested in the late 17th century, and said to be of very early Spanish American origin. The rules presented here are based on the Diccionario de Autoridades (1737).

Note on wild cards

It seems that in many gambling games of the time, it was customary to play with one or two wildcards, by agreement of the players. These potential wildcards were the Pendanga (or Whore), that is, the Valet of Coins [with a standard equivalent in the Jack of Diamonds, but apparently more often replaced by that of Hearts]; and the Pericón, or Knight of Clubs [equivalent to the Queen of Clubs in the usual French deck, but apparently often replaced by the Queen of Hearts].

The sources I've read up to now do not say which is the point-value of these wildcards if they happen to be present in a combination of Flor, Cacho, or Pechigonga. Comparison between some modern relatives of these old games suggests that it was a very high value - no nonsense of giving the wildcard zero points, as it is done as in the modern game of Scrabble.

Based on a more-or-less arbitrary comparison of three modern games using this kind of wildcards (Venezuelan, Uruguayan, and Jaenese Truco) I will rule that the point-value of the Pendanga and the Pericón is that of the highest card of the game, plus one point of premium for the Pendanga, and two for the Pericón.

Using wildcards in Cacho, it seems possible to tie on the highest combination of the game; I'll rule that in that unusual case, the Pericón wins over the Pendanga. There is some gender-related symbolism here, of the kind attested in the original sources.

Trick-Taking Games

The basics of tricks

Historical research has proven that trick-taking games are among the oldest card games played in Europe; the idea of taking tricks is as old in Europe as the deck itself.

Not only the oldest, but also quite vital; many popular games of today are played with this mechanism. Most well-known in the USA are Bridge and Hearts.

In a trick-taking game, each player in turn lays down a card on the table. The highest card wins the trick, and the player who laid down that card picks up the cards in the trick. In deciding who has won the game, some trick-taking games give points to special cards (counterproductive points in the case of Hearts), some to each trick captured, some to a combination of both.

Restrictions to the kind of cards to be played to a trick are frequent. The most familiar, is that there is a duty to follow the suit of the card that has started the trick.

It is also the general rule, that in all tricks after the first, the winner of each trick leads to the next: that's not always an advantage.

In the games presented here, the eldest player has the first lead.


Attested in 1598, and over all the 17th century. Rules of 1737, completed and checked with the help of a sample game of 1704, and modern descendent games.

This game is played by an even number of players in two teams; the most common numbers are four and six, but the literature also mentions games with two and eight players. The standard 40-card deck is used.

At the beginning of each round of the game, players receive three cards, and a final card is shown face-up. The suit of that card is trumps; those are the highest cards in the game, and the only ones with the power of capturing a card that is not of the same suit. The order of the cards in the trump suit is, from high to low: Two, King, Knight, Valet, Ace, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 3. In the other suits, the order is the same, except that the Two is the lowest card instead of the highest.

The first card led to a trick defines the suit of the trick, and only cards in that suit or trump cards can win.

If the first card led to a trick is a trump, everybody must play trumps (if they have them); this is called the sweep (arrastre).
This is the only case where there is any obligation to follow suit (while this fact is known from modern variants, it is compatible with the early data). In one of the modern variants of Rentoy, played in the Spanish region of Ávila, sweeps not only force players to play trumps, but also force them to place a card higher than all cards previously played to the trick, if they have it; this is reminiscent of some Tarot games.

Whichever team wins at least two of the three tricks, gets one point, which is the base value of the hand; and the game is played to twelve points.

However, the value of the hand can be raised; the first player to make a raise, raises the value of the hand to 3 points. The opposite team may either stay, raise, or fold. If a team stays, they keep the right to raise again at any later time. This is conceptually similar to the rules for the doubling cube in Backgammon. The successive values the hand can take are 1 point (the base value), 3 points (first raise), 6 (second raise), 9 (third raise), and 12 points (the full game staked on a single hand).
An example:
Let's suppose Team A has already collected 4 points, and Team B has 5. Cards are dealt, and a new hand begins, with its base value of 1 point. Let's suppose that team A raises the value to 3 points, and team B answers accepting it, and raising it further to 6 points.
The possible results are: A may fold, in which case the score is A:4--B:8; A may accept the raise, in which case the final score will be either 10--5 or 4--11, depending on who wins two tricks; or, A may answer (then or later) with its own raise to nine points. If B refuses this raise, the score is 10--5. If B accepts, the tricks are played out, and whoever wins two tricks has won this whole game of Rentoy, because both 9+4 and 9+5 are at least 12 points. It would be pointless for Team B to answer with a raise to twelve points, because nine points are enough for either side to win; the only possible reason to do so would be a hope to find Team A distracted.


The most common variants of Rentoy consist in adding some extra cards to the suit of trumps. For instance, in the 1704 sample game, the Valet of Coins is the highest trump, placed above the Two of trumps. In modern variants of the game, it's frequent to see an even larger number of special high cards: in Canarian Envite, these are the Three of Clubs, the Knight of Clubs, and the Valet of Coins; observe that the two traditional wildcards are present here.

In this same Canarian variant, the highest trump enjoys the advantage that the player holding it is not required to play it to a sweep; this can be very advantageous, for instance if one's teammates have already won the trick with a lower trump.


What happens with the raises/matchings/folds when teammates disagree? What is the proper order for speaking? How much communication is allowed? The most probable answers to these questions are as follows:


Communication is allowed either in the form of chat (seldom truthful:-) or of standardized signals. There is a signal for each high-card, and players try to pass signals without getting caught by the opposite team. The early sources are very clear that making signals in this way is essential to the game of Rentoy; some of these early signals are recoverable. However, I have decided that authenticity in game structure is better served by using a full system of signals, even if it is not identical to that of old sources. Such systems can be found in modern descendents of the game of Rentoy, and here I propose the system used in the Canarian game called Envite.

It is customary that these signals are passed only to one of the players, an informal leader of the team. It is convenient to choose the ``youngest'' player of the team for this.
List of signals:
Three of Clubs: raise the nose, lower the eyebrows
Knight of Clubs: twist the mouth to one side, without opening it, as if contracting one cheek.
Valet of Coins: wink one eye

Two of Trumps: show the tip of the tongue. This curious gesture is attested in early sources
King of Trumps: raise the eyebrows.
One single lower trump in hand: raise one finger.
Two lower trumps in hand: slide the tip of the thumb over the tips of the next two fingers in the hand.
Three trumps: fill up the cheeks.
Bad cards: close both eyes.
Lowest card of the trump suit: raise the shoulders.

Protocols of order

To place a raise, it is necessary to have the turn to play; the raise can be proposed either before or while playing the card. Any player of the opposite team is allowed to speak up, but it is recommendable to give the duty of ``speaker'' to the player who has received the signals. The answer may be either a fold, a match, or a raise -- observe that when answering, a player (but not a team) can raise out of turn. In case teammates disagree, the first person to speak counts.


Game well attested in the 17th century, and probably also in the 16th. Reconstruction based on rules of 1739 and 1674.

This game is probably of Catalan or Valencian origin; although the existence of a 17th century English variant (called Put), together with ancient and modern French variants, is suggestive of other possibilities.

The game mechanics and betting system are identical to those of Rentoy. The difference is in the capturing order of cards, and in the way tricks are made.

Using the 40-card deck, the basic order of the cards is 3-2-1-King-Knight-Valet-7-6-5-4. Variants where 4s and 5s were discarded were frequent and standard. The English variant uses the full French deck, with the order 3-2-1-King-Queen-Knave-10-9-8-7-6-5-4. Variants with special high cards were known; one of the oldest and most successful, was called Rat-slayer in Castile (Matarrata) and also Truc-of-the-Sword (Truc d'Espaseta) in Catalonia. It has the following four high cards: the Ace of Swords, the Ace of Clubs, the Seven of Swords, and the Seven of Coins.

When capturing tricks, suits are completely irrelevant. There is no trump suit. There is no concept of suit led to a trick, and any card of any suit can capture any card of inferior rank, no matter its suit; for instance, a Three of Cups can capture a Two of Clubs. This means that tied tricks are possible. What to do with them?

Tied tricks: a difficulty of the reconstruction

The earliest written rules for this game that I know of, are those for English Put, a two-player game (Cotton, 1674). There the rule is set forward, that if each player makes a trick and a tie, the hand as a whole is tied. However, this contradicts all modern versions of the game; in all versions, nowadays played in places so diverse as Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Uruguay, Jaén, Valencia, Catalonia, and France, ties are decided in favor of the earliest trick made. In the improbable case of three tied tricks, some of the modern rules keep it as a tie; but more of them give the game to the eldest team.

Following Cotton's rules (but no others I know of) there is also the question of who has the lead to the third trick in case the second was tied. Cotton does not answer this question, but the most probable answers are that it must be either the eldest player, or the winner the first trick.
This question does not appear in other variants, because there if a team has won the first trick and tied the second, it is the assured winner, and the third trick is not played.

I believe that the universal agreement of all modern versions against Cotton on this point is a strong hint that the rules for ties described by Cotton are specific to the English variant, perhaps even an idiosyncratic invention of Cotton. More research is needed...


Signals are used just as in the game of Rentoy. The high-cards being different, the signals themselves must be changed. Again, I have decided to adopt a complete modern set rather than using the incomplete remains found in early literary sources.
List of signals:
Ace of Swords: raise the eyebrows
Ace of Clubs: wink one eye
Seven of Swords: move both lips to the right (maybe showing the tip of the tongue)
Seven of Coins: move both lips to the left (maybe showing the tip of the tongue)

Threes: bite the lower lip.
Twos: kiss the air
Lower Aces: open the mouth a little.
Bad cards: close both eyes.
These are the signs used in the modern Argentine variant, very similar to those used in Valencia.


The earliest variants are remarkably uniform. They differ in the size of the deck (40, 32, or 52 cards), presence or absence of a few high cards above the Threes, and the number of points needed for victory (Cotton's Put is played to 5 points instead of 12), which also changes the value of the successive raises (for instance, Cotton has only one raise, and that one for the whole game).

Modern versions are more varied; some have a large array of special high cards, many have side-bets derived from the games of Flor and Cacho, etcetera.
Last update: 2001/09/29, by Ruben Krasnopolsky <ruben@oddjob>