Posted by: Jena Davison | December 6, 2011

How to Play Cuarenta

Cuarenta is Ecuador’s national card game and you will likely come across a tournament or two during Fiestas de Quito. Here are the basic rules for how to play so you can join in on the fun instead of sitting on the sidelines:

First off, you will need a full deck of cards. All of the 8’s, 9’s and 10’s then need to be removed from the playing deck. These three numbers serve as “points cards” and are not used during the actual game. Each of these cards has a value of two points.

One person starts as the dealer. The person to the right cuts the deck, then the dealer hands out 5 cards to each player. Typically, the game is played with four people acting as two pairs. The goal of the game is to be the first pair to earn 40 points.

If players have three of the same cards in their hand, they should say “ronda” and will automatically receive two points.

The player to the right of the dealer starts by throwing down a card. The circle continues counter clockwise, with each player trying to earn points and/or cards in one of the following ways:

1) Making a pair by placing one of their five cards on a card that has already been thrown down of the same number. Example: throwing down a “5” on top of another “5,”  no matter the color or suite. Whenever a pair has been made, the player takes both cards and adds them to the team’s pile. Two points are only gained in the case of “caida,” when a player throws down a card of the same number as the card thrown down by the previous player. However, if a player gets caida on the other team’s “ronda” cards, then he/she will receive 10 points.

2) Adding cards. For example, if there is a number 2 card and a number 3 card already thrown, the current player should throw down a number 5 card if possible. Same with throwing down a 7 card if there is already a 3 and 4 card on the table. Keep in mind that Ace has a value of “1.” In these cases, players can take all three cards to add to their pile. The only way two points is earned here, however, is if the table has been completely cleared, or if once these cards are taken, there are no more left on the table.

3) Sequence pair. If there is a sequence already on the table (i.e. 2, 3, 4 OR 5, 6, 7 OR J, Q, K), your best bet is to throw down the lowest number in the sequence. If you throw down a 2 card and there is already a 2, 3, 4 sequence, you get to take the two 2 cards plus all the cards above it in the sequence. Remember, since you are not playing with 8, 9 and 10, Jack is actually the next card in the sequence after 7. In the case of a 5,6,7 sequence with a J and Q also on the table, if you put down a 5, you can take the two 5’s, plus 6, 7, J and Q, adding 6 cards to your pile. Again, you will only earn two points for this move if you have cleared the table, though.

Besides earning points, it is important to always collect as many cards as possible on each move. Every time the deck runs out, each team counts the cards in its pile. You will only earn points for cards beyond 19. Once you hit 20 cards, your team will earn six points or more, depending on how may cards  beyond 19 you have (1 point more for each card). For example, if you have 22 cards, you will receive eight points. But there is a catch: Since each “points card” is worth two points, it isn’t possible to receive an odd number of points. So, if you have 21 cards, you will also earn eight points, even though it adds to seven points.

Again, the goal is to be the first team to get to 40 points. Once you get to 38 points, you can no longer receive points for clearing the table, only for caida and you have to say “treinta y ocho que no juega” to alert the other players that it is the last two points left to win the game.

This game tends to be more about strategy than luck, as it is important to remember which cards have been thrown in order to set up plays to your benefit.

Who is up for the challenge?



  1. Hi, this is a good post and I’m going to save it for reference. I have to admit though, I found understanding the rules a little confusing. And I have successfully played cuarenta before, although it’s been a few years. I must have forgotten everything.

    • I have to admit, it is a little hard to explain in words…much easier when taught in person. It isn’t too hard, and it is lots of fun! Hope you find a buddy to practice with so that you can win next time you are in Ecuador!

  2. My Ecuadorian boyfriend taught me this game and I love it. We are an unstoppable team 🙂

    I really love your blog. It’s nice to see pictures of so many of the things he’s told me about (like New Years). And your posts about the slang…so helpful for me!

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