This description was written by John McLeod, and revised to incorporate corrections and extra material from Fernando Hernandez Morondo, Stephan Ocker and Joseph Jaureguy.
Mus is a popular Spanish game, of Basque origin. It is unusual in that although its mechanics - drawing cards and then betting on who has the best hand - are reminscent of gambling games like Poker, Mus is a partnership game which does not need to be (and usually is not) played for money.
Mus is actually quite quick and straightforward to play, with a lot of scope for bluff and jokes. Please don't be put off by the fact that the description below may look rather long and complicated. This is mainly because the betting procedure, though quite simple in practice, is a little tricky to explain accurately in words.
- Players and Cards
- Object of the Game
- Deal and Mus
- The four ways of comparing hands
- The Betting
- The Showdown and Scoring
- The Signals
- Other Mus WWW pages, equipment and software
Players and Cards
Mus is a game for 4 players in fixed partnerships; as usual you sit opposite your partner. It is played anticlockwise.
The standard 40 card Spanish pack is used. The suits are swords, batons, cups and coins, and each suit consisting of Rey (R), Caballo (C), Sota (S), 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace (A). The Rey (or King) has a crown and is numbered 12 on the card, the Caballo (Horse) is numbered 11, and the Sota is numbered 10.
In the game of Mus the suits have no significance. Also the 3's are equivalent to kings and the 2's are equivalent to aces. So for the purposes of Mus the pack effectively consists of eight kings (Rey), four each of Caballo, Sota, 7, 6, 5 and 4, and eight aces. The ranking order of the cards is:
|R or 3
|C||S||7||6||5||4||A or 2
|10 points||10 points||10 points||7 points||6 points||5 points||4 points||1 point|
The cards also have point values, shown above, which are used only in the fourth and final stage of each deal, the juego.
In North America, Spanish cards can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.
Object of the Game
Each game is won by the first team to reach 40 points (this will usually take several hands). Normally the best of three games is played, so the overall winners are the first team to win two games. The points are counted using small stones (piedras). Points are scored for having the best hand of cards in each of four categories: Grande (high), Chica (low), Pares (pairs) and Juego (game). Players can try to increase the points scored for any category by betting. The betting on each category is taken in strict order, and only after all four betting rounds are complete is there a showdown where the hands of the players are compared and the points calculated.
In this account I shall use the word round to mean a round of betting on one of the four categories. A hand is the period of play from the deal, through the four rounds of betting and the showdown to the final scoring. A game consists of however many hands it takes until one team reaches 40 points, and the match consists of two or three games, the side which wins two games winning the match.
Deal and Mus
The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts, and the dealer deals the cards (anticlockwise) one at a time until each player has four. The player to dealer's right, who speaks first in each round of betting, is known as the mano.
Mus is a proposal that all four players should have a chance to improve their hands by discarding one or more cards. This can only happen if all four players agree. The players speak in turn starting with the mano. If all four agree to change cards by saying "Mus" the discard takes place as described below, but if any player disagrees by saying "No hay mus" there is no opportunity to discard and the game proceeds immediately to the first round of betting.
If everyone said "Mus", then each player in turn, starting with the mano, discards from one to four cards face down and is dealt an equal number of new cards. The players look at their new hands and there is another opportunity to propose "Mus" as before.
If the players keep on agreeing to Mus, eventually the dealer will run out of cards. If this happens while more than one player requires cards, all the discards are shuffled to form a new stock to deal from. If the cards run out while only one player is short, then the cards excluding that player's discard are shuffled to make a new stock.
The four ways of comparing hands
The players compete to establish who has the best cards in each of four different categories, Grande, Chica, Pares and Juego, which will now be explained.
Note: In all cases, if two hands are otherwise equal the winner is the mano, or the earlier player after the mano in anticlockwise order. In the diagram, in case of equality, A beats B who beats C who beats D.
This is won by the hand with the highest cards. In comparing two hands the cards in each are arranged in descending order. The hand with the higher first card wins, or if these are equal the hand with the higher second card, or if these are equal too, the higher third card, or if the first three cards are tied the higher fourth card.
For example, R-3-4-4 beats R-C-C-C for the Grande, because the 3, being equivalent to a king, beats the first Caballo.
In the absence of betting on the Grande, the side with the best Grande wins one stone.
This is won by the lowest hand. The cards are arranged in ascending order and the hand with the lower first card wins, or if these are equal the lower second card, and so on.
For example, R-3-4-4 beats R-C-C-C for the Chica as well as the Grande, because the 4 is smaller than the Caballo.
In the absence of betting on the Chica, the side with the best Chica wins one stone.
These are sets of two or more cards of equal rank. There are three types. In ascending order they are:
- Par Simple
- Two cards of equal rank and two of different ranks - such as R-S-S-5 or 7-6-2-A (because twos and aces are equal). The hand with the higher pair wins, and the other two cards are irrelevant even if the pairs are equal. Therefore between 7-7-4-3 and R-C-7-7, the winner is the mano or the earliest player after the mano in anticlockwise order.
- Three cards of equal rank and one card of a different rank, such as R-R-3-6. The hand with the higher set of three cards wins, and the rank of the fourth card is irrelevant.
- Two pairs of cards of equal rank, such as C-C-5-5. There is no special significance if all four cards are of the same rank - this just counts as two equal pairs. If more than one player has duples, the higher pair is compared first, then the lower pair. So C-C-5-5 beats S-S-S-S because the Caballo is higher than the Sota, and C-C-5-5 beats C-C-4-4 becaause the 5 beats the 4.
Any duples beats any medias, and any medias beats any par simple, irrespective of the ranks of the cards.
If there is no betting on the pares, whoever has the best hand scores for her own and her partner's hand as follows:
|Par Simple||1 stone|
and the other side score nothing for any pares they may hold.
For the purposes of the Juego, the cards have point values as follows:
|R or 3, C, S:||10 points|
|A or 2:||1 point|
In other words pictures are worth 10 (including threes, which are really kings), and other cards are face value (bearing in mind that twos are really aces and so are worth 1).
For the Juego, you simply add up the point values of the cards in your hand. To have a Juego you must have at least 31 points.
The best Juego is a hand of exactly 31 points. The next best is 32. Then come in descending order 40, 37, 36, 35, 34 and 33, which is the lowest Juego. Totals of 39 and 38 are not possible, and if your cards total 30 or less you don't have a Juego. Note that a 31 point Juego held by the Mano is unbeatable, unless you play the variation Juego Real.
If there is no betting on the Juego, then the side with the best Juego score for both their hands: 3 stones for a Juego of 31 and 2 stones for any other Juego. The other side score nothing.
If no one has a Juego, then you compete instead for the best Punto, which is a hand totalling 30 or fewer points. The highest Punto is a hand with 30 points, then 29, 28 and so on, down to 4, which is the worst. If no one bets, the player with the best Punto gets 1 stone.
There is a round of betting for each category of hand: Grande, Chica, Pares, Juego, and they must be taken in strict order. Each round is begun by the mano (the player to dealer's right). The mano may announce each round so that the players know what they are currently betting on, but this is not really necessary if the players are awake because the four rounds always occur in sequence.
Each round of betting is begun by the Mano , who may either pass (paso) or bet (envido). If the mano passes, the next player in anticlockwise order may pass or bet, and so on round the table. If all four players pass, there is no betting in that category, and the mano begins the round of betting for the next category.
A bet is a proposal to stake some number of stones, at least 2, on the outcome of the category. If no number is mentioned, 2 is assumed, so if the mano starts the first round of betting by just saying "I bet", it is a proposal to stake 2 stones on the Grande. It is also possible to bet a higher number by saying for example "I bet 5", or "I bet 20".
If someone bets, the opposing team have three options. They must decide whether to:
fold (no quiero) - conceding that the betting side wins that category, irrespective of who has the best cards, but losing only one stone;
see (quiero) - agreeing that the side with the best cards will win the amount bet; or
raise (reenvido) - proposing to raise the stake further.
Either partner may speak; if they disagree, in general the more aggressive action prevails (raise rather than see, see rather than fold). However, it is possible for a player to overrule partner by using the plural: "we fold" or "we see". If the opponents fold in response to the first bet of a round, the side that bet immediately win one stone for "no". If the opponents see the bet, the scoring is deferred to the showdown at the end of the hand. Raising is a proposal to increase the stake further, by at least 2. If no number is stated, 2 is assumed, but it is possible to raise by any higher amount. It is helpful to state the amount of the raise and the new total - e.g. "I bet 3", "I raise 5, making 8". After a raise, the other side now has to decide whether to fold, see or raise further, and so on.
The round of betting continues until one side or the other either folds or sees the last bet or raise. If one side folds, the other side immediately takes the number of stones previously staked (example: A says "I bet"; B says "I raise, making 4"; A says "I raise 16, making 20"; B says "We fold". A and C immediately take 4 stones.) If the last bet or raise is seen, then in the showdown, the side with the best cards in that category will win the agreed stake.
The betting procedure described above applies to the first two rounds, the Grande and the Chica. The procedure for the Pares and the Juego is slightly different.
Pares Before any betting on the Pares can begin, each of the four players must announce in turn (truthfully) whether they actually have Pares by saying "yes" or "no".
If at least one player from each partnership says "yes", then there follows a round of betting on the Pares, using the same procedure as for the Grande and the Chica.
If both players of one partnership say "no", but one or both of the other partnership say "yes", then the side with Pares will score for them at the end, but there is no betting.
If all four players say "no", then there will be no score for Pares at all on that hand, and of course no betting.
Juego Before any betting on the Juego can begin, each of the four players in turn must say whether they have a Juego - that is whether their cards total at least 31 points.
If at least one player from each partnership says "yes", then there follows a round of betting on the Juego, using the same procedure as for the Grande and the Chica.
If both players of one partnership say "no", but one or both of the other partnership say "yes", then the side with Juego will score for them at the end, but there is no betting.
If all four players say "no", then there will be no score for Juego, but instead, there is a competiton for the Punto (also known as Juego No). So in this case there is a round of betting on who has the best Punto, using the same procedure as for Grande and Chica.
Órdago is a special bet - a proposal for an immediate showdown, staking the outcome of the whole game on the current category. During any of the four rounds, a player instead of betting or raising in the normal way may say órdago. The opponents must then either fold - conceding the loss of that category, or see it, in which case there the cards are shown and the game is decided. The word comes from the Basque hor dago (meaning 'here it is').
Here is an example. In the first round of betting A, B and C pass, D says "I bet 5" and A says "I'll see it". So the Grande will be worth 5 stones. Second round of betting (Chica): A says "I bet"; B says "I raise 4, making 6"; C says "órdago". B and D must now either fold or see. If they fold, A and C take 6 stones. If they see it case whichever side has the best Chica wins the game immediately (and the 5 stones for the Grande become irrelevant, even if they would have been enough to decide the game).
It is of course, possible to say órdago instead of the first bet of a round. If you do this and the opponents fold, you get just one stone, for "no".
The Showdown and Scoring
After the end of the last round of betting (on the Juego or the Punto), all four players show their cards, and the hand is scored. Again this is done in the order Grande, Chica, Pares, Juego. The order of scoring is important because it is possible for the game to be won by one side reaching 40 points part way through the scoring process.
If either side folded during the corresponding betting round there is no further score - the winners have already had their stones. If for example A and C bet on the Chica and B and D folded, then even if B or D actually turns out to have the best Chica there is no score for this, as they have given up their right to win the Chica by folding (A and C have bluffed successfully).
If the betting round ended with one side seeing the other, or if everyone passed, then the hands are compared to see which individual player has the best combination of that type, and that player's team wins the agreed amount of stones (or one stone if everyone passed).
Example (for the Grande): A (mano) has 7-7-2-A; B has 3-3-S-2; C has R-R-S-A; D has C-C-C-6. Then B's hand is best (B and C have equal cards but B is earlier in the order of play), so B and D win the stake for the Grande.
If one side folded in the betting round, then the side which made the final bet or raise automatically wins, even if their actual Pares are not as good as the side that folded. The winning side will already have won one or more stones for this in the betting round, but now in addition they score the appropriate amount of stones for the Pares in their hands, that is: 1 for par simple; 2 for medias; 3 for duples. They must have at least one example of Pares between them or they were not allowed to have bet. If both partners have Pares then both score.
If the betting round ended with one side seeing the other, then the hands are compared to see which individual player has the best Pares, and that player's team wins the agreed stake for the Pares, plus the value of the Pares in both their hands.
If there was no betting, the hands are compared as above, and the winning player's team just score for the Pares in both their hands. Of course if no one has Pares at all then no one scores.
Using the same example as before: A (mano) has 7-7-2-A; B has 3-3-S-2; C has R-R-S-A; D has C-C-C-6. A's hand is best (duples), so A and C score for A's duples and C's par simple. Assuming that A and C have bet 4 and B and D have seen it then A and C win a total of 8 stones (3 + 1 + 4). Alternatively if A and C bet 4, B and D raised by 6 making 10, and A and C then folded, B and D would now win 3 stones (for B's par simple and D's medias) in addition to the 4 they won during the betting round when A and C folded.
The principle is similar to scoring the Pares. If one side folded during the betting, then the other side has already won, and has already taken some stones. In addition to this, if the betting was on the Juego, both members of the winning team score the appropriate amount of stones for the Juegos in their hands (3 for 31, 2 for any other Juego). If the betting was on the Punto, they just take one additional stone for winning the Punto.
If the betting round ended with one side seeing the other, then the hands are compared to see which individual player has the best cards. In the case of Juego, the winning player's team wins the agreed stake, plus the value of the Juegos in both their hands. In the case of Punto, the winning player's team wins the agreed stake plus just one extra stone for winning the Punto.
If there was no betting, but at least one player had a Juego, then the team of the player with the best Juego scores for this and for her partner's Juego if any. If no one had a Juego, then the team of the player with the best Punto scores one point.
Keeping the Score - piedras and amarracos
This is done with small stones or pebbles, or other convenient small objects. You need 22 of them. They all start in a saucer in the middle of the table, and are taken and placed in front of the four players to represent the score. Each partnership decides who will keep the ones (piedras) and who will keep the fives (amarracos).
Note: I am told that in Basque, the word is in fact hamarreko, which (oddly) means "of ten" rather than "of five".
When a partnership wins one or more stones, the player keeping the ones simply takes the appropriate number from the saucer and places them in front of himself. When he has five, he gives one to his partner, who is keeping the fives, and puts the other four back in the saucer. When taking or moving stones you should always tell the opponents how many you are taking, and why.
When the player keeping the fives has collected seven amarracos, representing 35 single stones, she must warn the opponents by saying dentro (inside), to alert them to the fact that her team is within 5 stones of winning. The seven amarracos are then put back in the saucer. After a team is dentro, as soon as the partner keeping the piedras has collected 5 stones (making a total score of 40), they win.
Certain signals are allowed, by which players can communicate to their partner what cards they hold. Naturally they will try to do this while the opponents are not looking. Signals relating to specific card holdings must be truthful - for example if you signal medias you must have medias. The signals which are allowed vary somewhat between players. Here are the signals in general use:
Close (or lower) both eyes (ciego)
- means you have bad cards.
Bite your lower lip
- means you have two kings (doing this twice would show four kings).
Show the tip of your tongue
- means you have two aces (doing this twice shows four aces).
Distort your mouth to one side
- means you have medias (three of a kind).
Raise both eyebrows
- means you have duples (two pairs).
- means you have a Juego of 31.
Often it is useful for the first two players (the mano and the player opposite to the dealer) to signal their cards to their partners, who will decide whether to mus. Sometimes the last players are also in a better position to decide whether and how much to bet, if they know their partners' cards.
Mus with four kings and four aces
In Navarre, La Rioja, and some areas in the Basque Country, Mus is played in its original form with just four kings and four aces. In this game the threes and twos count as themselves, not as kings and aces. The cards rank K C S 7 6 5 4 3 2 A. In the Juego or Punto, the threes count 3 points and the twos count 2 points.
As there are fewer good cards in the pack, winning the game is less dependent on being randomly dealt an unbeatable hand and there is greater scope for bluffing.
In this version the sign of closing both eyes (ciego) to show bad cards is generally not recognised.
Some players recognise a special combination called Juego Real (Royal Game), which is 31 points consisting of three sevens and a 10 point card. This beats an ordinary Juego of 31 points, and is the only way a Juego of 31 held by the Mano can be beaten. You should agree whether you are playing this variation or not before you start the game, otherwise heated arguments could arise later.
For some players, the 10 point card in a Juego Real must be the Sota of Coins. This of course makes it extremely rare. There are other variations - for example that Juego Real consists of sevens of three suits and the Sota of the fourth suit.
Juego Real is valued as 3 points, the same as any other Juego.
Variations in Signals
In Navarre and many other places, the first hand of each game is played without signals.
There are several alternative versions of the signals - both of which signals are allowed, and of what they are. Here are some examples of additional signals:
Pout your lips, as though pronouncing the word "mus"
- means you would like to change some cards - or for some players means that you have 3 kings and an ace
Incline your head to the right
- means you would prefer not to change cards.
Shrug one shoulder
- means you have a Punto of 30
Bite your lower lip to the left or right
- means 3 kings (a combination of the signals for kinds and medias)
Show the tip of your tongue to the left or right
- means 3 aces (a combination of the signals for aces and medias)
If it happens that during the deal any card is exposed, this is called "mus visto". Some play that in this case, all four players have one opportunity to discard any number of cards and receive replacements, without the need for everyone to agree by saying "Mus". In the case of mus visto, you are not obliged to discard any cards - you can keep your dealt hand if you want to. After everyone has had their opportunity to change cards, the game continues with a normal round of saying "Mus" or "No mus".
Replacement Cards for 4-5-6-7
A hand consisting of 4-5-6-7 is one of the worst combinations you can be dealt. In this variation, a player who is dealt these cards as an initial hand can expose it immediately and is dealt a replacement hand of four cards. This must take place before the Mus.
Mus with Ten Kings
Roberto Alberdi reports that in Eibar (Gipuzkoa, Spain) the elders of the town play variation known as "Mus with Ten Kings". In this version, two of the four sotas (those of cups and coins) act as jokers, but with two limitations:
A joker can represent an ace or a king, but no other card.
A joker cannot change its value during the showdown and scoring - when the betting is complete, at the moment when the cards are exposed, the holder of a joker must decide whether to call it an ace or a king, and stick to that.
Example. Suppose you have three kings and one joker. Depending of the value you choose for the joker, you can have "Duples" of kings, or "Medias" (three kings) and 31 points. This is the Mus player's dream come true - Duples and 31 at the same time! The first option is unbeatable for "Grande" if you are "mano" and gives you a terrific weapon in "pares"; the second is not so good at Grande and Pares, but you get the powerful 31 points instead.
But, in the end, you cannot have both at the same time. When you show your cards for counting the "amarracos" you have won, you have to decide the final value of the joker, the king or the ace. Obviously, the final decision depends on how much you have bet, and thus the number of amarracos you will win from each option. Unfortunately, you can't have it all, even when playing Mus.
Other numbers of players
Mus with six players is also possible, though this version is rarely played in Spain. There are two teams of three players, who sit alternately (that is each player sits between two players of the opposing team). The rules of the game and the scoring are exactly as for the four handed game. As in the four player game, the last players of each team usually receives signals from their partners.
Joseph Jaureguy reports a variation of six player Mus which is played to 50 points rather than 40. In this version each team elects a captain who is responsible for deciding whether to Mus, keeping track of the bets, and counting the scores. If the table is rectangular, normally the two captains sit in the centre of each side, facing each other, like this:
Other Mus WWW Pages
The game of Mus is Basque in origin. The Mus page of the Basque Club of Ontario, Oregon (USA) includes the Mus rules of the Federation of North American Basque Clubs and explains the Basque terminology used in the game.
www.elmus.org has information about Mus clubs and tournaments
The organisation Duples is promotes the game of Mus in Germany and organises regular meetings and tournaments.