Bura and Kozel
This page is based on information from Alexey Lobashev and Alexander Tvaladze.
- Players and Cards
- Ending the Play
- Special Combinations
- Note on Cheating
- Kozel (Goat)
- Kozel for Points
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. This page also describes a related game Kozel, which can be played either for money or for points.
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:
The main aim is to be the first player to take at least 31 points in tricks.
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.
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.
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.
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 for money
There is a variation of Bura called Kozel (goat). The money version of this game can be played by up to five players. Four cards are dealt to each player and 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).
Kozel for points
Alexander Tvaladze describes a version of Kozel that is not played for money, but instead uses a scoring system described below. 2-4 people may play: two or three players play as individuals and four play as two teams, partners sitting opposite each other.
A 36-card pack is used, and the ranking and values of the cards are as in Bura (Ace 11 points, Ten 10 points, King 4, Queen 3, Jack 2, Nine 0, Eight 0, Seven 0, Six 0) with one exception. The 6 of spades, known as "шоха" (shokha, 'х' is pronounced like German 'ch' in 'Bach') is the highest ranking card, higher than any other card including the Ace of trumps (but its point value is still 0).
Each player is dealt 4 cards and the next card is turned face up to show the trump suit and placed crosswise under the face-down stock of undealt cards.
The play proceeds in general the same way that is described above. The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick, and the winner of each trick leads to the next, unless another player claims the lead by declaring a special 4-card combination (see below). There is no obligation to follow suit - any cards may be played to any trick.
When leading to a trick, a player may lead one, two, three or four cards, provided that the cards led are all of the same suit. A subsequent player can only beat a combination of two or more cards by beating each individual card, but the cards used to beat do not all need to be the same suit. For example with hearts trump a player may lead A-K-J and another player may beat it with 8-6-Q. and a subsequent player might beat that with 6-7-10. For the purpose of leading combinations the 6 can be used as a wild card thus be combined with any set of cards of the same suit (for example 10-K-6), making the lead unbeatable.
In this version of the game all non-winning cards and combinations are played face down. Cards are only played face up when beating the highest card or combination so far played to the trick.
After each trick the players draw cards from the stock, beginning with the winner of the trick and continuing clockwise until either everyone has four cards again or the stock runs out (the trump suit indicator card is drawn as the last card of the stock). When the stock is empty play continues without drawing until all the cards have been played.
There are two card combinations which allow the holder to lead to the next trick even if that player did not win the previous trick:
- Moskva (Moscow):
- A hand of four cards consisting entirely of Aces and Tens. It may include the 6 (as a substitute for a 10) and it must include at least one genuine Ace. So for example A-A-A-A and A-10-10-10 and A-10-10-6 are OK but 10-10-10-10 and 10-10-10-6 are not.
- Four cards of the same suit (not necessarily the trump suit), or three cards of the same suit with the 6.
A player who holds either of these combinations after drawing from the stock can declare it even if it would not normally have been their turn to lead. A Moskva has priority over Molodka. If two players have the same type of combination, the player whose turn to play the trick would have been earlier has priority and leads to the trick.
The game is played for penalty points. At the end of hand the players or teams counts the card points in their tricks. The total must be 120. The player or team that has the most points scores 0.
In a two-player game or a four-player game played two against two, the losing player or team player scores 2 penalty points if they have at least 31 card points, 4 penalty points if they have 30 card points or fewer but have taken at least 1 trick (even with 0 card points) and 6 penalty points if they have not taken any trick. In case of a 60:60 tie for card points each player or team scores 2 penalty points.
In three-player game each of the losing players scores penalty points: 2 penalty points if they have 21 card points or more, 4 penalty points if they have 0-20 card points and at least one trick, and a player with no trick scores 6 penalty points. In case of a tie for most card points, the tieing players score 2 penalty points each.
A player or team whose score is 12 or more points loses and drops out of the game. In a 3-player game, if one player drops out, the other two players keep their scores and continue playing until only one survives. The last surviving player or team is the winner.
If all surviving players reach 12 or more points in the same deal (which can only happen in the case of a tie for most card points), then the player (if any) with most penalty points drops out, and if more than one player (or team) remains, they play another deal and continue until there is just one survivor.
A computer game BurKozel is available from S_K Tools.