Burako

Introduction

This page is about Burako, a Canasta-like game played in Argentina using a set of numbered tiles. Similar games are played with cards in other countries, and there are separate pages about:

  • the card game Buraco played in Brazil
  • the card game Burraco played in Italy

Buraco originated in South America, probably in the 1940's. The game is in some ways similar to Samba, in that the aim is to meld combinations of seven or more cards that can be either sets of equal rank or sequences in a suit. Like several of the newer games of the Canasta family it also features a second hand of cards which is picked up by the first member of a partnership who disposes of all the cards from their first hand.

In Argentina, a version known as Burako is played with a set of tiles which are essentially the same type that are used in south-east Europe for rummy games, and in Turkey for Okey, and which have become available worldwide for Rummikub®.

Players and Tiles

Burako is played with a set of 106 tiles, consisting of two of each number from 1 to 13 in four colours: black, blue, red and yellow and two jokers (comodín).

There are four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. The values of the tiles are as follows:

each comodín 50 points
each 2 20 points
each 1 15 points
each 8 to 13 10 points
each 3 to 7 5 points

Deal

The tiles are mixed face down on the table. Each player draws 11 tiles: these are placed on racks positioned so that players can see the faces of their own tiles but not those of other players. Two face-down stacks of 11 tiles (muertos) are put aside for the use of the first player from each team who runs out of tiles. The remaining 40 tiles are stacked face down in four piles of 10: these form the stock from which tiles will be drawn.

Melds

The object is to score points by putting down tiles in valid melds. Each team keeps its melds face up in a single collection, and players may add tiles to extend melds made by either memeber of their team. There are two types of valid meld:

  • Escalera: a sequence of three of more consecutive numbers of the same colour, such as 8-9-10 or 2-3-4-5-6. A one can be used as a low tile next to the 2 or a high tile next to the 13, but not in the middle of a sequence.
  • Pierna: a set of three or more tiles of the same number, irrespective of colour, such as 12-12-12.

A comodín or a two of any can be used as a wild tile to substitute for any tile in a meld. A meld cannot have more than one wild tile, but a sequence that has a two of the correct colour in its place can have also have a wild tile, which may be a comodín or another two. A meld without wild tiles is pure (pura): one that includes a wild tile is impure (impura). A meld of seven or more tiles is called a canasta.

Play

Play is clockwise. The first player in the first game of a session is chosen at random. Thereafter the right to play first passes to the left after each hand.

The first player draws a tile from the stock and may either

  • keep this first tile, possibly put down some melds, and discard a different tile, or
  • discard this first tile, draw a second tile, possibly put down some melds, and discard a tile.

Discarded tiles are placed face up on the table, near the stock piles. This special procedure applies only to the first player. All subsequent players must:

  1. either take a face-down tile from the stock or take all the face up discarded tiles from the table;
  2. optionally put down some melds and/or add to melds already put down by the player's team;
  3. discard one tile face up.

The first player of each team who runs out of tiles picks up one of the muertos to make a new 11-tile hand. This can be done in the middle of a turn (compra directa), by melding all one's tiles, in which case the turn continues, or by discarding one's last tile (compra indirecta), in which case the muerto is picked up at the start of the player's next turn.

The play can end in two ways:

  1. a player whose team has taken its muerto and has melded at least one canasta goes out by running out of tiles;
  2. the drawing stock is exhausted.

The rules I have seen are not explicit about whether a final discard is required when going out, nor about exactly when the game ends if the stock runs out - for example whether the next player can take the tile discarded by the player who drew the last tile of the stock. If any players of burako can clarify these points, I hope they will let me know.

Scoring

When the play ends, both teams score as follows:

tiles in melds on the table plus tile value
tiles in players' hands minus tile value
canasta pura (clean meld of 7+ tiles) 200 points extra
canasta impura (7+ card meld including wild tile) 100 points extra
for going out (closing) 100 points extra
if one team has not taken its muerto, that team scores minus 100 points

If no one goes out, and the stock piles are exhausted before anyone has made a canasta, there is no score. If at least one canasta has been made, the hand is scored as above, without the 100-point going out bonus.

When a team reaches a score of 3000 points or more, the game ends and the team with the higher score wins.

Variations

Some score 500 points for a pure canasta and 300 for an impure one.

It is possible, though less interesting, for two people to play using the same rules. In this case each player begins with 12 or 15 tiles, according to agreement.

Other Argentine Burako pages

Rules of Burako in Spanish can be found on the Reglas y Reglamentos site and on the Anacomas site.