Tresillo

This page is mostly based on information contributed by Joan C de Gispert

Introduction

El Tresillo is a trick-taking card game for three players. It originated in Spain at the beginning of the 17th century, when it was also known as El Hombre ("The Man"). This name was lost in Spain, where the game is nowadays known only as El Tresillo (this name simply refers to "three" - the number of active players in the game). In the rest of Europe the game was generally known as Hombre (or variations of this name such as l'Hombre, Ombre, Lomber and Lumbur). In South America it is called Rocambor, and in Portugal it was known as Voltarete.

El Tresillo or Hombre spread rapidly across Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and became a very famous and fashionable game, enjoying a position of prestige similar to Bridge today. During the 18th and 19th century, Hombre was progressively displaced in most of Europe by other games - first by the four-player variation Quadrille and later by Whist. Although it has by now died out in most parts of Europe, El Tresillo is still played in Spain, though unfortunately it is far less widespread than formerly. The game also survives in Denmark as l'Hombre, in the Faroes and Iceland as Lomber, and in Peru and Bolivia as Rocambor.

An excellent account of the early history of Hombre can be found in a series of three articles by Thierry Depaulis in The Playing-Card (Journal of the International Playing-Card Society). They are entitled "Ombre et Lumière. Un Peu de Lumière sur L'Hombre" and appeared in Vol XV, No 4, pp 101-110, Vol XVI, No 1, pp 10-18, and Vol XVI, No 2, pp 44-53.

This page describes how El Tresillo is currently played in Spain.

General description

El Tresillo is a plain-trick game, which is basically for three players. It is very common for four people to take part, but there are only three active players in each hand. A deck of 40 spanish cards is used. Each active player is dealt 9 cards and the remaining 13 are placed in a face down heap, which the players can later use to try to improve their hands.

After the deal there is an auction (the bidding is known as "cantar" - singing). The purpose of this is to decide who will be the declarer - known as "el hombre" (the man) or "el jugador" (the player) - and what will be the contract. In all contracts, the declarer plays against the other two players, who are known as "los contrarios" ("the opponents").

The declarer has the privilege of choosing the trump suit ("cantar un triunfo"), and must take more tricks than either opponent in order to succeed in the contract. The declarer also has the first chance to discard some cards in the hope of drawing better cards from the heap, if the contract allows this. The opponents cooperate against the declarer, and will decide between themselves which is to be "el primer contrario" ("the first opponent"), who will try to defeat the declarer by taking at least as many tricks, and which is "el segundo contrario" ("the second opponent"), who will play to help the first opponent. The first opponent has the chance to discard and draw replacement cards from the heap after the declarer has done so, and finally the second opponent can do the same.

The cards are played out in nine tricks. After the play, payments are made in tokens ("fichas"), acccording to whether the contract was successful. The main payments are made to and from a pool ("el plato"). There are other payments between the players, which increase with the rank of the contract.

The whole game - the deal, the bidding and the tricks - is played anticlockwise.

The Cards

El Tresillo is played with a deck of 40 Spanish cards. Many Spanish packs are sold with 48 cards - in this case the eights and nines are not used. The standard Spanish suits are swords (espadas), batons (bastos), cups (copas) and coins (oros), and the cards in each suit are

  • the king (El Rey), with index 12
  • the horse (El Caballo), with index 11
  • the jack (La Sota), with index 10
  • the numeral cards 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • the ace (El Uno), with index 1.

In El Tresillo, as in many of the oldest card games, the numeral cards in the round suits (cups and coins) rank in the reverse order from the numeral cards in the long suits (swords and batons). When these suits are not trumps, the ranking order of the cards from high to low is:

  • in swords and batons: 12, 11, 10, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2
  • in cups and coins: 12, 11, 10, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

In El Tresillo, there is always a trump suit. The ace of swords and the ace of batons are permanent trumps (which is why the 1 of these suits is missing from the non-trump ranking above).

  • The ace of swords, which is the highest trump, is called "la espada" (abbreviated S).
  • The ace of batons, which is the third highest trump, is called "el basto" (abbreviated B).
  • The second highest trump is "la mala" (sometimes abbreviated M). It is the card which would have been the lowest in the suit if it had not been chosen as trumps - i.e. the 2 of a long suit or the 7 of a round suit.
  • There is one other complication in the order of trumps. If cups or coins are trumps, the ace of the suit - called "el punto" - becomes the fourth highest trump, ranking above the king instead of below the jack.
In summary , the ranking of the trump suit from high to low is:
  • in swords and batons: S, 2, B, 12, 11, 10, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
  • in cups and coins: S, 7, B, 1, 12, 11, 10, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

The highest three trumps (espada, mala, basto) are collectively known as estuche.

The scoring equipment

The scoring equipment for Tresillo may seem elaborate, but in practice, when the players are familiar with it, the scoring process works smoothly and efficiently. All scores and payments are in units known as tantos. Tresillo is normally played for stakes, and at the start the players should agree the monetary value of a tanto. A moderate value could be 1 tanto = 5 pesetas. Normal values could be: 1 tanto = 10 pesetas or 1 tanto = 25 pesetas.

The equipment required is as follows.

Fichas (tokens)

Each player has a supply of tokens in their own colour. If there are four players the usual colours are blue, green, yellow and red. There are normally 30 tokens of each colour, in shapes representing different values as follows:

  • 10 rectangular tokens, each token representing 1 tanto
  • 10 round tokens, each representing 5 tantos
  • 10 square tokens, each representing 10 tant
Bowls
Each player has a bowl to hold their tokens. These bowls are kept to their owners' right. Initially they contain the 30 tokens of the owning player's colour, but during the game the players may win or lose tokens from other players. Because each player's original tokens were a different colour, it is easy to see how much each player has won or lost, and to settle up at the end. Also it does not matter if some players begin with a few tokens more or less than the standard amount.
El plato (the dish or saucer)
This dish is used to hold the pool of tokens that are being played for at any particular time. It is kept to the current dealer's right - i.e. next to the dealer's bowl. After each hand it is passed to the next dealer.
El plato para los pajaritos (the dish for the initial stakes)
This second dish is kept in a convenient fixed place on the table throughout the session. It is used to store the parajitos (initial stakes) of the players while they are waiting to be transferred to the plato.
El papel (the paper)
In addition to the tokens, bowls and dishes described above, a paper and pen is needed for recording certain debts that occur during the game, which are not immediately settled in tokens. These are debts to the common pool, and are also known as puestas reservadas (reserved puestas). The players' names are written on the left side of the paper, one under the other. Each player has a row, to the right of their name, and their debts are listed in the player's row. As soon as a reserved puesta is won, the player whose debt it was pays the amount in tokens to the player who won it, and the corresponding figure on the scoresheet is crossed out. This system will be explained in more detail in the scoring section.

At the start of the session, each player must put one pajarito into the plato para los parajitos. One pajarito is just one round token, that is, 5 tantos. These parajitos will gradually be used during the game. If at any stage the plato para los parajitos becomes empty, it must be replenished by each player once again putting in one parajito (5 tantos).

The deal

The first dealer is chosen at random. Before dealing, the dealer should check that the pack of cards is complete. The cards are shuffled by the dealer and cut by the player to the dealer's left.

If the plato is empty, and there are no outstanding debts recorded on the scoresheet, the dealer takes one of the parajitos from the plato para los parajitos and transfers it to the plato. The dealer then adds one tanto from his own bowl to the plato and places it to his right. It will then contain 6 tantos.

If the plato already contains some tokens left over from the previous hand, or if there is a debt on the scoresheet to be played for, the dealer simply adds one tanto to the plato from his own bowl and places it to his right.

The dealer now deals out the cards face down, anticlockwise, in batches of three cards to the active players, until each of them has nine cards. If there are four players at the table, the dealer is inactive and deals only to the other three players. The remaining 13 cards are placed face down in the centre of the table. They are the sleeping cards ("las cartas que duermen"), also known as the heap ("el montón").

The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

The auction

The player to dealer's right speaks first, followed by the other active players in anticlockwise order. Speaking in the auction is actually called "cantar" (singing). It continues around the table, for several circuits if necessary, until a declarer is determined, the other players having passed.

There are just three possible contracts. In all cases, the declarer has to take more tricks than either opponent, but there are different conditions concerning how trumps are chosen and whether new cards can be drawn from the heap. In ascending order, the contracts are:

Entrada or Juego simple
An ordinary game in which the declarer chooses trumps and can exchange cards with the heap.
Vuelta
The top card of the heap is turned face up; the suit of this card is trump. When declarer exchanges with the heap, he gets the face up trump card as the first card drawn from the heap.
Solo
The declarer chooses trumps, but does not exchange cards with the heap, though the opponents exchange in the normal way.

In the auction, there is a priority order among the players. The player to dealer's right (el mano) has highest priority, the player opposite the dealer (el medio) is second, and the player to the dealer's left (el postre) has lowest priority - assuming that there are four players at the table. When there are only three, the player to dealer's right is still el mano and has priority over the others, the player to dealer's left is el medio, and the dealer is el postre, and has lowest priority.

The declarer ("el hombre") will be the player who is willing to play the highest contract. If two players want to play the same contract, the player who has higher priority will be the declarer.

When bidding, the players do not normally state the contract they wish to play, but instead use the following expressions:

  • Paso ("I pass"): The player does not want to be declarer, and takes no further part in the auction.
  • Juego ("I play"): The player wants to be declarer. The contract can be chosen later, depending on the other player's bids.
  • Juego más ("I play more"): If a previous player has already bid, a later player who is prepared to compete in the auction can say "juego más". Since the first player was prepared to play at least an entrada, the player who competes against this with "juego más" must be ready to play at least a vuelta.
  • Va bien ("It's good"): A player, having previously bid, says this to drop out of the auction, allowing another player's bid to stand.

Here are some examples of possible auctions.

Example No. 1
Player A: "Paso" (I pass)
Player B: "Juego" (I play)
Player C: "Paso" (I pass)
Player B: "Juego a oros y robo 4 cartas" (I play [an ordinary game] in coins [as trumps] and exchange 4 cards [with the heap])
Example No. 2
Player A: "Juego" (I play)
Player B: "Paso" (I pass)
Player C: "Juego más" (I play more)
Player A: "Va bien" (OK)
Player C: "Vuelta" [At this point, player C, having offered to play a higher game than A's, had a choice between vuelta and solo]
Example No. 3
Player A: "Juego" (I play)
Player B: "Juego más" (I play more)
Player C: "Paso" (I pass)
Player A: "Juego más, solo a bastos" ("I play more, solo batons") [A has priority, and therefore can always play a solo - the highest bid, even if B was also intending to play a solo]
Example No. 4
Player A: "Juego"
Player B: "Juego más" [Player B has the option of playing vuelta or solo]
Player C: "Paso"
Player A: "Juego más, vuelta"
Player B: "Juego más" [Player B bids more than A's vuelta, and will therefore have to play solo if player A passes]
Player A: "Paso" [At this point, player A could theoretically call solo, but this is very unlikely to happen in an actual game]
Player B: "Solo a copas" (solo in cups)

When everyone passes: espada forzada and penetro

If all three players pass, the player who has the espada (the ace of swords, which is the highest trump) must play as declarer in an ordinary game. This is called "espada forzada" (forced espada).

In a four-player game, if all three active players passed and no one has the espada (because it is in the heap) then the fourth player (the dealer) must say "Yo penetro" ("I enter"). The dealer now plays the equivalent of an ordinary game, taking 10 cards from the heap and discarding one. One of the other three players will drop out, so that the dealer has two opponents. The details of this are explained later.

In a three-player game, if all three active players passed and no one has the espada (because it is in the heap), then the deal is cancelled, and the turn passes to the next dealer, who must place one more tanto in the plato as usual.

Exchanging cards with the heap

After the declarer has determined the trump suit, by simply announcing it in the case of an entrada or a solo, or by turning the top card of the heap face up in a vuelta, the players can try to improve their hands by exchanging some cards with the heap.

If the contract is entrada or vuelta the declarer can discard any number of cards face down, announcing the number of cards discarded. The declarer then draws an equal number of cards from the top of the heap, including the face-up trump card if the contract is vuelta. So the declarer has nine cards again. If the contract is solo, the declarer is not allowed to exchange any cards.

Next, the two opponents decide between themselves which will have the first chance to exchange cards for any that have been left in the heap by the declarer. It is an advantage for the opponent with the stronger hand to exchange first, so as to become even stronger and have the best chance of defeating the declarer. The opponent who exchanges first is called "el primer contrario" (the first opponent) and the other is "el segundo contrario" (the second opponent). The agreement is achieved by means of a formalised conversation in which the two opponents speak alternately. The opponent to the right of the declarer speaks first. The only statements allowed are:

  • "Vienen" or "Puedo ir" or equivalent, which means "I would like to be the first opponent" and indicates that the player has a good hand
  • "Van y vienen" or "Como quiera" or equivalent, which means "I am not sure, it depends on you" and indicates that the player has an average hand
  • "Van" or "Usted" or equivalent, which means "You should be the first opponent" and indicates that the player has a poor hand.

If one opponent says "vienen" and the other says "van", then the conversation is over. Quite often, however, both will begin by saying "van", or both say "vienen", or one or both are not sure. In that case they continue speaking alternately until an agreement is reached. Through this conversation the opponents get an impression of the strengths of their hands, but the declarer of course also gets this information, which can be useful during the play.

The first opponent can now discard any number of cards face down, from none up to the number of cards that remain in the heap. For example if the declarer exchanged 6 cards, the first opponent can discard as many as 7 cards. If the declarer is playing solo there are 13 cards in the heap, and the first defender could in theory discard all nine cards, though in practice this is unlikely. Having discarded, the first opponent draws an equal number of cards from the top of the heap, so as to have a hand of nine cards again.

If any cards are left in the heap, the second opponent can now discard face down any number of cards up to this number, and draw an equal number of replacements from the heap. If any cards remain in the heap after the second opponent has exchanged, these remain face down and unknown until the end of the play. They are "permanently sleeping cards".

The cards that have been discarded by the players also remain face down until the end of the play. The players are not allowed to look again at the cards they discarded - they are supposed to remember what they were.

The procedure in case of penetro

In the four-player game, when the three active players pass and none of them has the espada, the procedure is as follows.

The dealer must say "Yo penetro" (I enter) and become the declarer. The dealer takes 10 cards from the heap - either the top 10 or the bottom 10 cards - but is not allowed to look at the heap cards before deciding which 10 to take.

The dealer then looks at the 10 cards, and is at this point allowed to surrender, and pay as though the result was puesta (see scoring below), thus avoiding a possible codillo. If the dealer wants to surrender, the other players cannot prevent this. If the dealer decides to play on, the next step is for the dealer to choose and announce a trump suit, and to discard any one of the ten cards face down.

Next, the other three players must decide which of them will be the first opponent, which will be the second and which will drop out. First, the player who will drop out is decided by a formal conversation, beginning with the player to the right of the dealer and continuing anticlockwise. The possible statements are:

  • "Me quedo", which means "I stay" and indicates that the player has a good hand.
  • "Puedo quedarme", which means "I could stay" and indicates that the player has an above average hand
  • "Puedo irme", which means "I could drop out" and indicates that the player has a below average hand
  • "Me voy", which means "I drop out" and is said when the player's hand is so bad that he definitely wants to drop out

As soon as one of the players says "Me voy", that player drops out. The other two players then agree between them as above which is the first opponent. There are only three cards left in the heap after the declarer has taken 10, so the first opponent can discard up to three cards, replacing them from the heap, and if any are then left the second opponent can discard up to the number remaining.

The play

The play is anticlockwise. The player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick. (In a penetro, if this player has dropped out, the next player in turn leads, i.e. the player opposite the dealer). A trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless it contains a trump, in which case highest trump wins it. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

Players must follow suit if they can, playing any card they wish from the suit led. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card, including a trump.

The obligation to follow suit does not apply fully to the estuche (the highest three trumps: espada, mala and basto). When a trump is led, the holder of an estuche need not play it unless a higher estuche has been led, and the player has no other trumps. It follows that the espada can never be forced out. The mala is forced out when the espada is led and the holder of the mala has no other trumps. The basto is forced out if the espada or the mala is led and the holder of the basto has no other trumps.

Only the highest three trumps enjoy this privilege - all other trumps can be forced out by the lead of a lower trump. Note also that if the first player to a trick leads a small trump, the second player plays the espada and the third player's only trump is the basto, then the third player need not play the basto, because the espada was not led to the trick.

Although players are not allowed to look at the discards, they are allowed to inspect the cards played to previous tricks - for example to check what trumps have been played - irrespective of who won the tricks.

The declarer tries to take more tricks than either opponent, and the opponents cooperate to arrange that one of them takes at least as many tricks as the declarer. Note, however, that this cooperation takes place in silence - there is no conversation or signals between the players other than the formal discussion to decide who is the first opponent, that was described above.

There are three basic possible outcomes of the play.

Juego sacado
The decaler wins, taking more tricks than either defender. This happens as soon as the declarer has 5 (or more) tricks, or if the declarer takes 4 tricks and the other 5 tricks are divided 3-2 between the opponents.
Puesta
There is a tie for most tricks. Most often this happens when the declarer and one opponent win 4 tricks each, the other opponent winning one trick. There are however, two other possibilities. When everyone takes three tricks, it is called a puesta sabia ("wise puesta"). If declarer takes just one trick, but cleverly arranges for the opponents to win 4 tricks each, it is called a puesta real ("royal puesta").
Codillo
The declarer fails, and one of the oppopnents wins, by taking more tricks than the declarer and more than the other opponent. The winning opponent takes 5 tricks, or takes 4 tricks with the remaining tricks divided 3-2 between the other players. It is said that the defender "ha hecho codillo al Jugador" ("The defender made codillo to the declarer").

The declarer's best result is to win a juego sacado, next best is puesta, and worst is to lose codillo. Note that the "puesta real" in which the tricks are divided 1-4-4 is not codillo, so it is better for the declarer to win one trick with the possibility of puesta real than two tricks, which inevitably leads to codillo.

An opponent's best result is to make codillo, second best is puesta, third best is for the other opponent to make codillo, and worst is for the declarer to win juego sacada.

It is normal not to play out the cards to the bitter end when the result is inevitable. If you can demonstrate that you are certain to take at least five tricks, it is polite to show your cards and claim a win, to save time.

The surrender

If the contract is entrada (juego simple) or vuelta, the declarer can propose to surrender, just before playing to the fourth trick. The declarer will choose this option when the risk of codillo outweighs the chances of winning. If the opponents accept the surrender, the result is a puesta. But either opponent has the right not to accept the surrender, but to say "yo sigo" ("I continue" or "I follow"). In this case the play continues, and the opponent who demanded the continuation takes over the role of declarer, while the original declarer becomes an opponent.

A solo contract cannot be surrendered, and a penetro can only be surrendered at the start, not at the fourth trick.

The bola

Winning all nine tricks is called bola and is rewarded with an extra payment. If you win the first five tricks you must decide whether to claim a win or to play on. If you lead to the sixth trick rather than claiming, you are considered to be trying for bola. If you succeed you get the additional payment for bola, but if you lose a trick you have to pay the others for your failed bola, though you are still paid for the basic contract.

Scoring

When the outcome of the contract is known, payment is made in tokens. There are two parts to this:

  1. The puesta system. On each deal there is an "amount in play". This is the amount that the declarer will win from the common pool of tokens in the "plato" if successful, or pay to the plato if the result is puesta, or pay to the plato and the winning opponent in case of codillo.
  2. Las condiciones (the conditional payments). These are direct payments between the declarer and the other players, depending on the contract undertaken, and certain other events.

The puesta system

The amount in play depends on the value of tokens in the plato, the amounts (if any) recorded on the paper, and whether the plato already contains an amount paid in by a previous losing declarer. There are three main possible cases:

The first puesta
This is the case when there are no outstanding debts on the paper scoresheet, and the plato contains only a parajito and the amount added by the dealer - i.e. it does not contain an amount paid in by a losing declarer. In this case the amount in play is whatever is in the plato plus one tanto for each player at the table. For example, in the first hand of a session with four players there will be 6 tantos in the plato - a parajito plus the tanto that the dealer put in, and so the amount in play is 10 tantos. According to the result of the play, the payments are handled as follws:
  • Juego sacado: the declarer wins the contents of the plato, plus one tanto from each of the other players (including the inactive player in a four-player game).
  • Puesta: the declarer pays the amount in play to the plato.
  • Codillo: the declarer plays the amount in play to the plato, and pays the same amount to the winning opponent.
Puesta in the plato
This is the case where the plato contains an amount paid in by an unsuccessful declarer. As with the first puesta, the amount in play is whatever is in the plato plus one tanto for each player at the table. For example, in the second hand of a session with four players, if the result of the first hand was puesta, there will be 17 tantos in the plato - the 6 that were there during the first deal, plus the 10 paid in by the previous declarer, plus the tanto added by the second dealer - so the amount in play is 21 tantos (17+4). The payments are handled similarly to the first puesta, except that no further tokens are put in the plato. Instead, any further puestas are recorded on the scoresheet as debts; these "puestas reservadas" (reserved puestas) are played for after the contents of the plato have been won.
  • Juego sacado: the declarer wins the contents of the plato, plus one tanto from each of the other players (including the inactive player in a four-player game).
  • Puesta: the amount in play is written on the scoresheet in the row belonging to the declarer. This is a debt that the declarer will have to pay later.
  • Codillo: the amount in play is written on the scoresheet in the row belonging to the declarer, and the declarer pays the same amount to the winning opponent.
Reserved puesta
This is the case where there the scoresheet has one or more debts on it that have not been cancelled, but the plato does not contain the amount paid in by a previous unsuccessful declarer. In this case the plato will only contain the single tantos put in by the players who have dealt since the contents of the plato were last won. The amount in play is the largest debt (reserved puesta) recorded on the scoresheet, plus the amount of tantos in the plato. The payments are handled as follows:
  • Juego sacado: the declarer wins the contents of the plato and the reserved puesta that was being played for. Therefore, the player against whom the reserved puesta was written has to pay that amount to the successful declarer, and the corresponding number on the scoresheet is crossed out, because the debt has been paid. If the successful declarer is the the same player whose reserved puesta is being played for, then the declarer simply wins the contents of the plato and the debt is crossed out.
  • Puesta: the amount in play is written on the scoresheet in the row belonging to the declarer. This is a debt that the declarer will have to pay later.
  • Codillo: the amount in play is written on the scoresheet in the row belonging to the declarer, and the declarer pays the same amount to the winning opponent.

Extra complications can arise when the original declarer tries to give up (before playing to the fourth trick), but one of the opponents insists on continuing and becomes the new declarer. There are now several possible results, which are handled as follows.

EventScoring Description
Original declarer gives up; an opponent becomes the new declarer and wins. The original declarer pays the amount in play to the new declarer. The plato and scoresheet are left as they are.
Declarer abandons and a defender becomes declarer, but the result is puesta. Two new puestas are generated. One by old declarer and another by new declarer.
Declarer abandons and a defender becomes declarer, but the new declarer loses codillo. Old declarer generates a puesta. New declarer generates a puesta and pays the amount in play to the winner.
Twin puestas.
When the original and new declarers are both unsuccessful, both have to pay the amount in play to the pool.
If this is the first puesta, in that the scoresheet has no outstanding debts (puestas reservadas) and the plato does not contain any previous declarer's losses, then both declarers pay the amount in play into the plato, which will make the amount in play in the next hand larger than usual.
If it is not the first puesta, but there is already a puesta in the plato or a puesta reservada on the scoresheet, then two new puestas reservadas are generated: each of the declarers has a new debt equal to the amount in play written in their row on the scoresheet. When the time comes, these two equal puestas reservadas will be played for separately - the order does not matter.

In general, when a Tresillo game session finishes, there may be tokens remaining in the plato and in the plato para los parajitos, and puestas reservadas reamining on the paper. Normally the tokens in the dishes would be distributed equally among the players, so that they can settle up in money corresponding to the quantity of tantos they have won or lost in the session. This paper with the puestas reservadas will be kept to use in next Tresillo session between the same players. At the start of this new session, the dealer will put one tanto in the plato, but no parajito, and the first hand will be played for the largest puesta reservada on the paper. If the same group of players are not expecting to play again in the near future, then each of the players should pay the money equivalent of their debt recorded on the paper into a common fund, which is then distributed equally among the players.

Las condiciones

Conditiones are additional payments, paid either to the declarer from each of the other players or from the declarer to each of the other players. They are in addition to payments due as part of the puesta system, which was explained above. If there are four players, the inactive player also takes part in these additional payments.

EventPaymentComment or explanation
Juego simple (entrada) none These extra payments for the higher contracts are paid to the declarer for a juego sacada. If the declarer loses (either puesta or codillo) the declarer has to pay the equivalent amount. In an ordinary game there is no extra payment for the contract - just the payments under the puesta system and any other condiciones that apply.
Vuelta1 tanto
Solo2 tantos
Penetro1 tanto
Estuche1 tantoIf the declarer has the highest three trumps (espada, mala, basta) and wins, everyone pays the declarer one extra tanto for estuche. There is no payment for estuche if the result is puesta or codillo.
Primeras1 tantoA declarer who wins the first five tricks and stops there gets one extra tanto from each player for primeras.
Bola8 tantosA declarer who wins all nine tricks gets 8 extra tantos from each player. If you continue after winning five tricks and fail to win all the tricks you have to pay everyone 8 tantos for a failed bola, though you are still paid for winning the contract and any other applicable condiciones. There is no payment for primeras if bola is attempted.

Notes:

  • Opponents cannot score for estuche or primeras.
  • In the event that the declarer gives up, the declarer still has to pay condiciones as though the result were puesta. This is not affected if another player takes over as declarer - the original declarer has to pay, and condiciones do not apply to the new declarer.

Example of scoring

Since the scoring system is rather complex at first sight, it may help to give a specific example. The table below represents a sample game between four players, North, West, South and East. The events are listed in order, with the resulting number of tantos in the bowls of the four players, the two dishes and on the paper.

EventNorthWestSouthEastPlatoPlato para los
parajitos
PaperComment or explanation
Start of session155155155155020emptyEveryone starts with 160 tantos, of which they place 5 in the plato para los parajitos.
North is chosen as the first dealer154155155155615emptyNorth transfers a parajito (5 tantos) to the plato and adds one tanto.
South wins a vuelta with estuche151152170152015emptySouth takes the pool plus 3 tantos from each player - one as part of the puestas system, one for the vuelta and one for the estuche.
West deals151151170152610emptyWest transfers a parajito (5 tantos) to the plato (because it is empty and there is nothing on the paper) and adds one tanto.
North plays a simple game and the result is puesta.1411511701521610emptyNorth has to pay the amount in play to the plato. The amount in play is the amount in the plato plus one for each player: 6+4=10.
South deals1411511691521710emptySouth adds one tanto to the plato.
All pass and no one has the espada. South says "Yo penetro", looks at the top 10 cards of the heap and surrenders.1421521661531710South: 21South must pay 1 tanto to each player (the condición for penetro) and a debt of 21 (the amount in play is 17+4) is written against South on the paper.
East deals1421521661521810South: 21East adds one tanto to the plato.
West plays a simple game but the result is codillo; North is the winner.1641301661521810West: 22
South: 21
The value of the game is now 22 (18+4). West pays this to North (the winner) and also has it recorded as a debt.
North deals1631301661521910West: 22
South: 21
North adds one tanto to the plato.
East plays a solo with estuche, tries for bola but loses the last trick.167134170159010West: 22
South: 21
East wins the plato and 1 tanto from each player as part of the puestas system, plus 2 from each for solo and 1 for estuche, but has to pay them each 8 for the bola.
West deals167133170159110West: 22
South: 21
West adds one tanto to the plato. This hand will be played for the largest puesta reservada.
All pass; South has the espada and is compelled to play; South tries to give up at the fourth trick but East insists on continuing; South and East win 4 tricks each (puesta).167133170159110West: 22
South: 21 23
East: 23
The amount in play is 23 (the largest number on the paper plus the 1 in the plato) so South and East each get a debt of this amount.
South deals167133169159210West: 22
South: 21 23
East: 23
South adds one tanto to the plato, so the amount in play is now 25 (that is 23 on the paper plus 2 in the plato).
West plays a simple game and wins.167158169136010West: 22
South: 21 23
West collects the plato and 23 tantos from East; East's debt is erased. West could equally well have collected from South - South's debt will be played for next.
East deals167158169135110West: 22
South: 21 23
East adds one tanto to the plato; the amount in play is now 24.
South plays a vuelta and wins.166157173134010West: 22
South: 21
South's largest debt is erased and South collects the plato and an extra tanto from each of the others for vuelta.

The game could continue, but if it were to stop at that point, there would be 53 tantos to be shared among the players: these represent the two unused parajitos and the two remaining puestas reservadas. Giving 13 each and the odd one to the loser (East) the players end with North:179, West:148, South:165, East:148. So if a tanto is worth 10 pesetas the final result is that North wins 190 pesetas, West loses 120, South wins 50 and East loses 120.

Etiquette and conventions

In addition to the actual rules of the game, there are a number of rules of etiquette and other conventions that have evolved over time. These are not indispensable to play, but they are strictly observed in many circles of players. Here is a list of those observed in the family of Joan C de Gispert, who provided most of the information for this page.

  1. A currency value equivalent to tokens must be agreed before play begins. It is important that all players feel comfortable with the level of the stakes.
  2. Before starting, the players agree a time at which the session will end. The ending time can be changed later if all the players agree to a new ending time.
  3. The first time that each player deals, the dealer should say to each other player "Que vaya bien" ("Have good luck"). Each other player will answer "Gracias" ("Thank you").
  4. Fair play must be assumed. For example, it is considered impolite for a player to pass having a very good hand, particularly if that player has previously bid but prefers to see another player fail. It also is considered impolite to intentionally play badly or play to favour a particular player.
  5. The opponents cooperate to make sure the declarer does not win, but as soon as they are sure of puesta, their cooperation ends. Once it is clear that the declarer cannot win a juego sacado, the weaker opponent should cooperate with the declarer to stop the stronger opponent making the declarer codillo.
  6. As soon as the outcome of the contract is clear, declarer should face his cards and say "extiendo" ("I face"). If all agree, play ceases and payment is made. Of course, if an opponent disagrees, considering that the outcome is not clear, then that opponent can compel the declarer to continue playing.

Variations

The above account is based on the version of Tresillo played in in the family of Joan C de Gispert. It is clear from the Spanish literature on this game that there were and probably still are many variations played in different parts of Spain and among different circles of players. Here are some examples of variations. I would be interested to hear from any Tresillo players who play these or other variations of the game.

Palo de favor
Many play with a palo de favor - a preferred suit, which is selected at the start of the game. In the auction, a bid with the palo de favor as the trump suit outranks a bid at the same level with another suit as trumps. So when a player says "juego más", it is sufficient that they are able to play an ordinary game with the preferred suit as trumps.
In this variation the possible contracts in ascending order are: entrada sencilla, entrada a palo de favor, vuelta, solo sencillo, solo a palo de favor. In vuelta, of course you cannot control what suit will be trumps, so you cannot bid a "vuelta a palo de favor". but if the turned trump happens to be in the palo de favor, the score is adjusted accordingly.
If the palo de favor is trumps, all the condiciones are doubled. Also, when playing the first puesta or for a puesta in the plato, the amount in play becomes the conents of the plato plus two tantos for each player, rather than one. If the declarer wins, the other players will pay two tantos in addition to the condiciones. When playing for a puesta reservada, the amount in play is not affected by the trump suit.
Penetro with four active players
Some play that no one drops out of a penetro - all four players take part. The results and scoring are the same, except that other configurations of tricks are possible. It is even possible to win with three tricks, if the other players are careless enough to win two tricks each.
Scoring variations
From the literature, it looks as though there were many slightly different scoring systems. It was traditional, and may still be common to work with scores which are 5 times the scores given on this page. In that case you should agree a smaller stake per tanto and the different shapes of fichas are worth 5, 25 and 100 tantos. The dealer puts 5 tantos in the plato, the parajitos (also known as enchiladas) are 25 tantos, and so on.
In this scoring system the condiciones are somewhat different. A typical scale of condiciones in this scoring system would be:
  • Entrada - 0 tantos
  • Vuelta - 2 tantos
  • Solo - 20 tantos
  • Bola - 100 tantos
  • Estuches - 3 tantos for the first three top trumps. If you have any more top trumps in sequence with these, there is one more tanto for each extra card, up to a maximum of five tantos for the top five trumps. If you make bola, the maximum of five does not apply: you can then score one tanto for each top trump in sequence, up to a possible nine tantos. Only trumps in unbroken sequnce count and you must have the top three to score anything at all for estuche.
  • Contraestuche - 3 tantos for three, plus 1 tanto for each additional, up to a maximum of five. Contraestuche are top trumps that are held by the opponents. If the declarer wins and the opponents had the top three (or more) trumps between them, the declarer is paid for contraestuche.
  • Primeras - 1 tanto
Since the smallest kind of token is worth 5 tantos, all payments are rounded up to the next higher multiple of five.
Payment for codillo
In earlier versions of Tresillo (and Hombre), a declarer who lost by codillo paid the amount in play only to the opponent who won. Nothing was paid to the plato or recorded as a debt in this case.
With this rule it remains true that it is worse for the declarer to lose codillo than puesta, as you would prefer to pay your loss to a common pool, where for the moment you still own a share of it, than to an opponent, wherby you lose it completely. This version also makes it clear that an opponent should cooperate with the declarer to prevent a codillo: as the weaker opponent you would prefer the declarer to increase the pool than to pay your rival.
From the literature it seems that the rule changed in Spain in the early 19th century to the version given in the main account where codillo causes the declarer to pay a puesta and pay the winner.

Books, proverbs and legends

This section was contributed by Joan C de Gispert

Some books and publications with rules of Tresillo

  • El Tresillo - Barcelona 1817 (the anonymous author is "a lover of Tresillo")
  • Circasiano Dorilovo: Reglas del Tresillo - Madrid, 1890
  • Pedro de Veciana: El Tresillo - Barcelona 1886
  • Luis Jaramillo Lara: ¿Quiere Usted Jugar al Tresillo? - Barcelona (no date)
  • Arturo Hermosilla: Quiere Usted Apprender a Jugar al Tresillo - Barcelona (no date).
  • Carmiña Verdejo: Juegos de Cartas - Salvat, 1995
  • Colección por fascículos Juegos de Cartas, Editorial Altaya, Barcelona 1997

Proverbs

El Tresillo was a game deeply embedded throughout a wide spectrum of old Spanish society. It was played in cities, towns and villages all around Spain, and it inspired some interesting writing. References are found in the works of some of the most important Spanish writers, such as Lope de Vega, who wrote in the 16th century. A range of amusing and interesting proverbs also shows how firmly El Tresillo was established as a part of Spanish life.

There are many proverbs referring to El Tresillo. In general, they give specific advice about how to play in particular situations. It is difficult to give satisfactory translations into English, because they are often involve word play and rhyming. In any case, a free translation is included. As well as being amusing, they can be useful for players, especially beginners. Here are some examples:

  • "Más juega el que mucho pasa que el que mucho juega"
  • "Juego con poco, juego de loco"
  • "El que bien pasa, bien gana"
  • "Juega y paga como un bobo, quien todo lo fia al robo"
  • "Si ligero entras, harás muchas puestas"
  • "Saber pasar es saber jugar"
  • "Jugar sin juego es jugar con fuego"

    All these first seven proverbs convey tha same idea: be prudent. Perhaps the sixth is the best: "To know when to pass is to know how to play", in other words, "a good player passes often".

  • "Fuerza al basto la malilla y a ambos fuerza la espadilla"

    It explains exactly the privileges of withholding an estuche when a lower trump is led.

  • "Quien con dos bazas se arriesga, poco sabe o mucho juega"

    Two sure tricks do not justify a bid, because is not very likely that exchanging cards will give you 5 tricks (or 4).

  • "Rey muy acompañado tiene cerca el fallo"

    If you have the king with many cards of the same suit, someone is almost sure to be void of the suit.

  • "Mira cómo y quién va al robo y lo verás claro todo"

    Look who and how exchanges cards with the heap, and all will be clear"

  • "Solo sin fallo, dejallo"

    A solo with out a void - don't play it.

  • "Con la espadilla y dos reyes, ir a Vuelta debes"

    With the espada and two kings, you have to bid vuelta

  • "Más vale mala Entrada que buena Vuelta"

    A poor entrada is better than a good vuelta

  • "Solo con fallo y rey, adelante con el"

    Solo with void and king - OK, play it.

  • "Más vale peueño solo que grande Entrada"

    A poor solo is better than a good Entrada

Legends

El Tresillo has created its own historical legends. One of them is found in an old spanish book entitled "Quiere usted aprender a jugar al Tresillo?" ("Do you want to learn to play Tresillo?") by Arturo Hermosilla, published in Barcelona (no date sepecified, but probabily 100 years ago). Legends do not supply scientific information, but often indicate the historical and sociological context of a subject. Here is a summary of this legend.

OriginalTranslation / commentary
"Una casita alegre y coquetona circundada de frondosa alameda, alzábase como blanca paloma sobre la extensa pradera de un pueblecito de nuestros Pirineos ...."This sounds like old Spanish. Note the location: a nice little house in the Pyrenees Mountains.
"Un venerable anciano que vestía el honroso uniforme militar ... su esposa ... y sus dos hijos eran sus moradores ...""A retired military gentleman ... his wife ... and two sons living in the house ...."
"... Corría a la sazón el año 1778. ... El anciano militar, recordando lo pasado, sentía entonces renacer su espíritu juvenil y su ardiente imaginación guerrera le hacía ver que la densa neblina era el humo intenso que esparcían los cañones en el campo de batalla ... Crecía su entusiasmo y, aumentando su ilusión, divisaba a lo lejos la vanguardia de su ejército, que en formidable choque luchaba cuerpo a cuerpo con el enemigo ...."The date is surprising: as late as 1778! ... The old soldier remembers old times. When he looks at the landscape around the house, his intense imagination confuses fog with cannon smoke ... and he sees his soldiers fighting hand to hand the with enemy ... (remembering Don Quijote!)...
" ... Pasaba la mayor parte de las veladas jugando al solitario y haciendo mil combinaciones. Un dia, estando de sobremesa, anuncia a los suyos que había hallado la manera de pasar las veladas lo más amenas y agradables que pudieran imaginarse por medio de los naipes. Pasaron al saloncito él con su esposa e hijos, les invitó a que tomaran las cartas y jugaran según las indicaciones que él les hiciera ...."... He spent his evenings playing patience ... and one day announced to his family that he had discovered a way to have the most enjoyable evenings imaginable ...
" ... Cierto día nuestro anciano recibió la visita de un hijo de su antiguo amigo y compañero de armas, a quien invitó a pasar una temporada, pues deseaba enseñarle un juego desconocido para él que con seguridad podría proporcionarle agradable pasatiempo si tenía cordura, o bien serios disgustos si lo tomaba como medio especulativo para hacerse rico. Después que se lo enseñó le dijo: - Ahí tienes ese juego, pero no quiero que en modo alguno se sepa mi nombre ...- Pues bien mi general, si acaso me preguntara alguien quién fue su inventor, diré que un Hombre ...-... One day our old man is visited by a friend's son. He teaches the new card game to the boy and urges him to conceal his name. The boy replys saying: "If somebody asks me 'Who invented this game?', I will simply answer: 'A Man' ..."

Well, this amusing legend relates Tresillo's origin to a happy family living in a nice house in the Pyrenees Mountains in 1778. It also suggests a military connection, converting hand to hand fighting to a card game. It also reveals the risks of the new game, recommending that it be played prudently, avoiding speculation. Finally, this history attributes the origin of the game's name to its inventor, "A Man" (El Hombre) who wants to conceal his name.

In more recent times it has been said that "Tresillo is played in our inner country, on Saturday and Sunday evenings in winter, when wind, snow and darkness encourages families to stay near the chimney around a table, and time passes slowly ...". Another saying goes: "Tresillo is a game of lawyers, doctors and priests ..." (Just three people!) This "rural" image of Tresillo in Spain fits well with the way of life in towns and villages in old times. But it is well known that El Tresillo was also played in cities - for example it was played in two of the most prestigious societies in Barcelona ("Cercle del Liceu" and "Círculo Ecuestre").

Other WWW pages

Rules of Tresillo in Spanish are available from the web site of the playing-card maker Fournier.

Here is a link to a page to Carlos de la Riva about Tridge, which is his English adaptation of the Bolivian game Rocambor. Rocambor is similar to Tresillo in its basic structure, though there are several notable differences.