Burraco

Introduction

This page is about the card game Burraco as played in Italy. There are separate pages about similar games played in South America:

  • the card game Buraco, as played in Brazil
  • the tile game Burako, as played in Argentina

Burraco is related to Canasta, and 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 this 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. It originated in South America, probably in the 1940's, and is still widely played there. Since the 1990's a version of the game has become extremely popular in Italy, and thanks to an active tournament scene and the establishment of a national organisation, the Federazione Italiano Burraco, the Italian rules have become more or less standardised.

Players and Cards

The usual game is four players in fixed partnerships: North and South play against East and West. There are less interesting versions for 2to 5 players, playing as individuals. Deal and play are clockwise.

Two standard international 52-card packs with 4 jokers are used – 108 cards in all. The Jokers, known as in Italian as “jolly”, are wild cards. The twos, known as “pinelle” can be used either as wild cards or (within a sequence) as the natural two of their suit.

The cards have point values:

  • Each joker: 30 points
  • Each two: 20 points
  • Each ace: 15 points
  • Each K, Q, J, 10, 9 or 8: 10 points
  • Each 7, 6, 5, 4 or 3: 5 points.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen by drawing cards from the shuffled pack: the player who draws the lowest card deals first. For this purpose the cards rank from high to low: joker, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3. Among equal cards, the suits rank in bridge order spades (high), hearts, diamonds, clubs (low). If more than one player draws a joker, those players draw again to break the tie. The draw can also be used to determine the partnerships and seats if not decided in advance: the two highest play against the two lowest, and the player who drew the highest card site to the dealer’s left and therefore plays first. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer shuffles the cards thoroughly and offers them face down to his right-hand opponent to cut. This player lifts approximately the top third of the pack – for the deal to work smoothly he needs to take at least 22 cards and leave at least 45 behind. The dealer takes the remainder of the pack – the part that was originally at the bottom – and from the top of it deals the cards one at a time face down clockwise to the players until each has 11 cards. Meanwhile the player who cut deals cards from the bottom of the section of the pack that he lifted, to form two face-down piles called pozzetti. The cards are dealt one at a time alternately to the piles until each has 11 cards. The cutter then places these piles one on top of the other in a cross formation towards one corner of the table, and puts the remaining cards of this part of the pack face down in the middle of the table. Having dealt the four hands, the dealer places the next (45th) card face-up in the middle of the table and stacks the remaining cards next to it on top of the stack placed there by the cutter, thereby completing the cut. So now each player has a hand of 11 cards, there are two face-down 11-card stacks in a corner of the table, and in the middle is a face-down draw pile of 41 cards, with a single face-up card beside it (see diagram).

Melds

The objective is to form melds which may be sets of equal cards (combinazione) or sequences of consecutive cards in a suit (sequenze), and place them face up on the table. Each team keeps its melds together, each meld or sequence in a column as shown below. Each meld (set or sequence) must contain at least three cards. You may extend your own team’s melds, whether begun by yourself or by your partner, by adding cards to them, but you can never add cards to the opponents’ melds.

A set consists of three or more cards of the same rank: A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 or 3. At most one wild card (two or joker) may be included in a set, so the maximum number of cards in a set is nine. Sets consisting entirely of twos and/or jokers are not allowed. It is not legal for one team to have more than one set of the same rank. Examples of valid sets:

club10-club10-spade10 ; spade4-diamond4-heart4-club4-spade2 ; spadeK-diamondK-joker.

A sequence consists of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit, the order of the cards being (A)-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-(A). At most one wild card (two or joker) may be included in a sequence as a substitute for a missing card. However, a two of the correct suit may also serve as a natural card (next below the three), in which case it is possible for a sequence to contain two twos or a two and a joker. An ace can be placed at either end of a sequence, above the king or below the two, but it is not legal to place two aces in a sequence, one at each end. However a sequence can contain a wild card in addition to 13 different natural cards. It is possible for one team to have two separate sequence melds in the same suit, but sequences once placed on the table cannot be joined together or split. Examples of valid sequences:

heart7-heart8-heart9 ; spadeA-spade2-spade3-heart2-spade5 ; club9-club2-clubJ ; joker-diamond5-diamond6.

A meld that consists entirely of natural cards is clean (pulito) and a meld that contains a wild card is dirty (sporco). A meld of seven or more cards is called a burraco, and earns a bonus for the team that owns it: a clean burraco scores more than a dirty one. A sequence that contains a two of the correct suit in its place is of course clean. A burraco is usually indicated by placing its last card crosswise if it is dirty, or its last two cards crosswise if it is clean, as shown below.

sets and sequences

The Play

The player to dealer's left begins. Players take turns to play, in clockwise order around the table, until someone goes out or the play ends because the stock is exhausted.

A turn consists of:

  1. either drawing the top card of the face-down draw pile, or taking the whole of the face-up discard pile, and adding it to one's hand;
  2. optionally laying down any number of valid sets or sequences, or adding cards to sets or sequences already melded by one's own team, or both;
  3. discarding one card from hand face up on top of the discard pile.

The first player who gets rid of the last card from his or her hand picks up takes the first pozzetto of 11 cards to use as a new hand. The second pozzetto is taken by the first player of the other team who runs out of cards. There are two ways to take a pozzetto.

  • Taking a pozzetto directly. A player whose team has not yet taken a pozzetto draws, melds all the cards in his or her hand, picks up a pozzetto and continues playing. Often it will be possible to meld some cards from the pozzetto immediately, either as new sets or sequences or by adding to the team's existing melds. When the player does not wish to meld any more cards, a card is discarded to end the turn as usual.
  • Taking a pozzetto on the discard. A player whose team has not yet taken a pozzetto draws, melds all but one of his or her cards and discards the final card. Having no cards in hand, the player takes a pozzetto and keeps it face down, while the opponent to the left and the player's partner take their turns. After the partner has discarded, the player picks up the pozzetto to use as his or her hand for the next turn. This delay in looking at the pozzetto is to avoid any temptation for the player to influence partner's play on the basis of the cards in the pozzetto.

The play can end in one of three ways.

  1. A player goes out: this is known as chiusura (closing). In order to close, the following conditions must be satisfied:
    1. the team has taken its pozzetto;
    2. the team has melded at least one burraco - a set or sequence of 7 or more cards;
    3. a member of the team melds all but one card from hand and discards this final card, which cannot be a wild card.

    Note that it is not legal to go out by melding all one's cards. A final discard is always required. Also, it is not legal to go out if one's team does not have a burraco. If your team has taken a pozzetto but you do not have and are unable to make a burraco, then you must keep at least two cards in your hand after melding: one to discard and another to hold in your hand to continue playing.

  2. There are only two cards left in the draw pile. When a player draws the third last card of the draw pile, the play automatically ends at the end of that player's turn. After that player has discarded, the discard cannot be taken and no further cards can be melded by any player.
  3. Stalemate. If the discard pile contains just one card and all four players choose to take the discard and discard another card, the players may simply be exchanging unwanted cards between them, and if no one wishes to draw from the draw pile no progress can be made. When this happens the play ends and the hand is scored.

Please note the following.

  • It is always legal to take the whole discard pile, instead of drawing from the stock. Unlike some forms of Rummy and Canasta, there is no requirement to be able to meld when taking the pile, and no card that freezes the pile. When taking the discard pile, the entire pile must be added to the player's hand: it is not possible to take a part of the pile or just its top card.
  • There is no minimum requirement to lay down a team's first meld. Any valid set or sequence of three or more cards can be melded.
  • When a sequence is melded with a wild card at the end, it must always be placed at the lower end - for example heart2-spade6-spade7 and not spade6-spade7-heart2. It can nevertheless be extended in either direction, in this case by the spade4, spade5, spade8 or spade9. This custom is followed to prevent a player suggesting to partner by the placement of cards in which direction the sequence should preferably be extended. For example a player who also held the spade10 would like partner to add the spade8 or spade9 and definitely not the spade4, but is not allowed to indicate this.
  • When a sequence contains a wild card, it is possible for a member of the owning team to add to the sequence by melding the real card that the wild card represents. The wild card is then moved to the lower end of the sequence, but can be used to represent the card at either end when the sequence is further extended. Example: a team has melded diamond8-joker-diamond10 and a member of the team holds the diamond9. This player can add the diamond9, making joker-diamond8-diamond9-diamond10. The sequence can then be further extended by adding the diamond6, diamond7, diamondJ or diamondQ. If the Q is added, it becomes diamond8-diamond9-diamond10-joker-diamondQ; in the other cases the joker would remain at the lower end of the sequence.
  • A wild card can only be replaced in a sequence by the real card it represents. It is not possible to exchange a wild card for a different wild card. Example. If your team has melded heart3-heart4-heart2-heart6 and you hold heartA and a joker, you might like to substitute the joker for the heart2, move the heart2 to its natural position and add your heartA. Although the resulting sequence looks valid, the move is illegal, because the only card that can replace the heart2 in this sequence is the heart5. If you have the heart5 you can put it in the sequence and move the heart2 to its natural place, and then add the heartA as well if you have it. Since the heart2 has now become natural, you could also add a joker or another two to make a burraco.
  • A natural two at the lower end of a sequence can be used as a wild card if necessary, in order to add a card at the top of the sequence. For example with diamond2-diamond3-diamond4-diamond5-diamond6-diamond7 on the table, a diamond9 can be added from hand to make a dirty burraco diamond3-diamond4-diamond5-diamond6-diamond7-diamond2-diamond9. The burraco can become clean again if the diamond8 is substituted for the diamond2, which then returns to its place at the bottom of the sequence.
  • If there is only one card in the discard pile, it is illegal to pick up that one card and discard the same card. However, when a pile of more than one card is picked up, it is legal to discard any of those cards, even the one that was on top of the pile. Also, if the discard pile has just one card, say the club5, and a player holds the other club5 in hand, it is legal to pick up the club5 from the pile and discard the other club5 - it is not the same card, even though it looks the same!
  • It is legal to discard a wild card, except as the very last card in one's hand when going out. In fact, discarding wild cards may be the only way to dispose of them if one has too many, since not more than one wild card can be used in each set or sequence. Although it is illegal to go out by discarding a wild card, a player whose team has not yet taken a pozzetto can discard a wild card as his or her final card to take a pozzetto.

Scoring

When the play ends, both teams score as follows, and add their scores to their cumulative totals.

cards in melds on the table plus card value
cards in players' hands minus card value
burraco pulito (clean meld of 7+ cards) 200 points extra
burraco sporco (7+ card meld including wild card) 100 points extra
for going out (closing) 100 points extra
a team that has not taken its pozzetto minus 100 points

Notes on scoring:

  • If the play ends because the draw pile is reduced to two cards, no one having gone out, or because of a stalemate, neither team scores the 100-point bonus for going out.
  • If a player goes out while an opponent (or even the player's partner) has taken a pozzetto but not yet looked at it, the owner of the pozzetto subtracts the actual value of the cards in it, as though they were already in hand, rather than 100 points.
  • It is possible for a team's score for a hand to be negative (if the cards in their hands are worth more than those they have melded), and a team's cumulative score can also be negative.

The game ends when either team has a score of more than 2000 points, and the team with the higher score wins.

Variations

Some play that a burraco of 8 or more cards that contains a sequence of 7 consecutive natural cards and a wild card or consists of at least 7 equal cards with a wild card, is "semi-clean" (semipulito) and is worth 150 points. This is indicated by placing the second to last card crosswise.

Some play that in case of a stalemate, after all four players in turn have done nothing but take a single card from the discard pile and discard, the play does not end. Instead, the next player in turn must end the stalemate by drawing a card from the draw pile.

Burraco for three players. Each player is dealt 11 cards and there are two pozzetti: one of 18 cards and one of 11. The first player who melds all his or her cards takes the 18-card pozzetto and plays alone. The other two play as partners and the first of them to meld all their cards takes the second pozzetto. The play and scoring are the same as in the four-player game, the partners dividing their total score between them. Note that in this game there is no point in melding cards before the partnerships are determined, until you are able to put down your whole hand and take the first pozzetto (a possible exception is if you have a complete burraco in your hand).

Burraco for two players. Each player is dealt 11 cards and there are two pozzetti of 11 cards each. The play and scoring are exactly as in the four-player game, but since you have no partner there is no advantage in putting down melds unless you are able to take your pozzetto or fear that your opponent will go out before your next turn.

On other pages of this web site there are details of Brazilian Buraco and Argentinean Burako.

Other Italian Burraco pages

Antonin Jaun's German language site canasta.ch has rules and information for Burraco.

Italian Burraco Software and Online Games

A computer Burraco game for Windows is available from Alberosa.