The game is played by a total of four players divided into two teams of two. Teammates sit across from each other and play counter-clockwise. Begin by removing all 8s, 9s, and 10s from a standard, 52-card deck. The remaining cards rank from high to low in the following order:
- 4 of clubs (called zap)
- 7 of hearts (called escopeta)
- Ace of spades (called espadilha)
- 7 of diamonds (called pica-fumo)
- Aces of clubs, hearts, and diamonds
- Black 7s
- 4s of hearts, spades, and diamonds
Brazilians traditionally keep score with seeds from the ormosia plant (called tentos), a tropical tree and shrub that that grows in Brazil, but beans or poker chips work just as well. You’ll need a minimum of 22 to play the game.
In each round, the players try to win one or more tentos. Each time they win a round, they take the appropriate number of tentos from a common pile and display their winnings in front of them. Once a team reaches 12 tentos, they win!
The designated dealer, who plays last (called o pé), begins by shuffling the cards and cutting the deck. Then, the player to the left (mão) of the dealer decides whether the dealer will distribute the cards from top to bottom (dece) or bottom to top (sobe). The dealer distributes three cards to the mão, who decides whether they’d like to keep their cards, pass their cards (face down across the table), or discard their cards (face up and then cast aside). The dealer continues distributing cards counter-clockwise to anyone who hasn’t received any, pausing in between each player as they make their decision to keep, pass, or discard their cards.
Note that within each round, only one set of three cards can be passed, and within the entire game, no more than three sets can be rejected.
Once the cards have been distributed, the mão presents his first card on the table face up, and one by one, the rest of the players present one of theirs. The highest card wins, and the player who wins it drops the next card on the table. The process is repeated once more to play all cards in that hand. Once the round is complete, the team who wins takes the appropriate number of tentos.
RAISING THE STAKES
Players may call truco to raise the stakes from one tento to three by betting on the current trick. When a player calls truco, they play their card only after the other team has decided to respond in one of three ways:
- forfeit: the game ends and the team who called truco scores 1 tento, thereby losing their chance to win more
- accept: whoever wins the round wins 3 tentos
- raise: the opponents raise the bet to 6 tentos and the player who first raised the bet must reply by either running away, accepting, or raising the bet. Players can continue to raise the bet by increments of 3
Within each round (but only for their second or third card), players are allowed to play cards face down. These cards do not count towards winning that round.
Players can signal or gesture in order to communicate with their teammates, so the game can get a bit rowdy!