Bura

This page is based on information from Alexey Lobashev.

Introduction

The game of Bura is particularly characteristic of Russian prisoners and ex-prisoners. Bura is a rather unusual point-trick game, in which it is possible to lead several cards at the same time provided that they are of the same suit.

Players and Cards

Most often Bura is played by two people using a 36-card pack, but up to six players can take part. The ranking from high to low and the point values of the cards in each suit are:

Card:acetenkingqueenjacknineeightsevensix
Value:11104320000

The main aim is to be the first player to take at least 31 points in tricks.

Deal

Everyone puts an equal stake into a pot, and the cards are dealt out singly until each player has three. The next card is turned face up to show the trump suit, and the rest of the stock is placed crosswise face down on top of it.

Play

When there are two players, the non-dealer leads to the first trick. If more than two people play, play is clockwise and it is usual for the player to the left of the dealer to lead to the first trick. A player may lead a single card, or any two or three cards of the same suit together. The other players in turn must play the same number of cards as were led. They can play any cards they wish - there is no requirement to follow suit. A card can be beaten by a higher card of the same suit, and any non-trump card can be beaten by any trump.

To beat a combination of two or three cards that were played together, you need to beat each of the cards with a better card.
Example: diamonds are trumps; A leads the queen and 7 of spades; B plays the diamond 9 and the spade jack, which beats A's lead. C holds the diamond king and 8 and the spade 9. In order to beat B's play, C would need to play both of his trumps. Alternatively C could throw the diamond 8 and spade 9, keeping the trump king for later, and leave B to win the trick.

Completed tricks are stored face down in front of the player who won them. After each trick the players draw cards from the stock, one at a time in clockwise rotation, starting with the winner of the trick, until everyone has three cards again. Then the winner of the trick leads to the next. If there are not enough cards left in the stock to go around, the remaining stock cards are not used, and the players continue playing from the cards in their hands without drawing.

Ending the play

The play continues until someone stops the game, claiming to have 31 or more points in their tricks. Players are not allowed to look back at the tricks they have won to count the points taken - they must remember what they have. After a claim, the claiming player's tricks are exposed and the card points are counted. If the claim is true the winner takes the pot and the players contribute to a new pot for the next hand. A player who claims wrongly, having taken 30 points or fewer, has to double the pot. Either way, the next hand is dealt by the player who claimed. If no one has claimed by the time that all the cards have been played, then there is no winner. The cards are thrown in, everyone adds another stake to the pot, and the same dealer deals again.

Special Combinations

There are a few twists to the basic game. The first is that certain combinations allow you to take the lead even if you did not win the previous trick. In descending order of priority, these are:

  • Bura - any three trumps.
  • Three aces.
  • Molodka (young lady) - three cards of the same suit (not trumps).

If two or more players announce the same type of combination at the start of the same trick, the lead belongs to whichever of the players would normally have played earliest to the trick. A Bura wins the pot and ends the play. If two or more players have Bura, the one whose turn to play to the next trick was earliest leads his Bura and the holders of the other Buras play theirs in turn; whoever wins this trick wins the pot.

Note on Cheating

If three or more people play Bura, there is scope for some of the players to collude by throwing each other high cards. You should therefore be wary of playing Bura against more than one opponent, unless you are playing with people whom you trust completely, or for stakes so small that you do not care about losing.

Variations

Some people play that three aces also win the pot (if no one has a Bura). Other players do not recognise the combinations of three aces or Molodka at all.

A popular variation is to play with closed cards. In this version, the lead to a trick is face up, and any play which is used to beat the best combination in the trick so far is also face up as usual. All non-winning cards and combinations must be played face down. It is also legal to play face down a card or combination that might have won, but if played face down it loses its power and cannot win the trick. No one, not even the winner of the trick, is allowed to see these face down cards until someone claims 31 points. This introduces an extra element of risk into the game - you do not know exactly what cards you have won, but in order to claim 31 before your opponent you may sometimes need to take a chance on having collected enough points.

Bura can also be played with a 32-card pack without the sixes.

According to one description the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, dealer playing second to the trick.

Kozel

There is also a rather rare variation called Kozel (goat). In this, there can be up to five players, and four cards are dealt to each player. The only possible leads are a single card or three cards of the same suit. A Bura of three trumps or a hand of 4 aces wins the pot. If neither of these happens, the hand is played out to the end, the players replenishing their hands after each trick while the stock lasts. When all the cards have been played the points in the players' tricks are counted and the player who has most points wins the pot (in case of equality the pot is divided).

Software

A computer game BurKozel is available from S_K Tools.

Bura can be played online at meingames.de. This version is played for points: players score penalty points according to whether they have most card points (0), more than 31 but less than some other player (2), more than 0 but not more than 31 (4) or none at all (6). The first player to 12 penalty points loses.