How To Play Cuarenta – Ecuador’s Favorite Card Game


An Easy to Learn 2 Player Card Game

VIDEO: How to Play Cuarenta -- Ecuador’s Favorite Card Game

It’s common to visit a park in Ecuador, especially in the Sierra region, and see a group of older men crowded around two people playing cards. These two old-timers are probably playing Cuarenta, the most popular card game in Ecuador.

Cuarenta means 40 in Spanish. The game is called this because it only uses 40 cards, and the first to 40 wins the game.

It’s a really fun game to play. If you and a partner are traveling to Ecuador, why not learn the rules so Cuarenta can keep you entertained as you travel the beautiful country of Ecuador.

How to Play Cuarenta

Cuarenta can be played by 2 people, or by 2 teams of 2. If you are playing in teams, the rules are essentially the same, but you collect cards and points as a team (sitting across from each other).
Cuarenta is only played with 40 cards, so you’ll need to remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s from the deck. You can use them to keep score, but for beginners I suggest just a paper and pen.
The order of cards is Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Jack, Queen, King.

Starting the Game

To decide who deals first, cards are flipped over to each player, and the first player to get a diamond is the first dealer.

Cards are dealt to one player at a time going clockwise around the table and ending with the dealer.
The remaining cards in the deck are set aside.

Special Scoring off the Deal

Upon receiving your cards, there are 2 ways to score immediately:

  1. Ronda -- This is when you receive 3 of a kind. You immediately announce “Ronda” and are awarded 4 points. Do not reveal your Ronda though, it’s possible for your opponent to cash in on it. More on that later.
  2. Four of a Kind -- If you are dealt four of a kind, you win automatically. You can throw down your cards and gloat as much as possible.

The Play

Starting with the player to the dealer’s left, the players take turns flipping over a card of their choosing, going clockwise around the table.
The object is to collect cards, stacking them face down beside you, which will be counted up at the end of the round and exchanged for points.

Ways to Collect Cards

There are 3 ways you can collect cards:

  1. Matching -- when you put down a card that matches another card on the table. Take both cards and put them in your collected cards pile.
  2. Addition -- When you play a card that adds up to 2 or 3 of the cards on the table. For example, you play a 7 and there is a 3 and 4 on the table. 3+4=7. You take all the cards involved and put them in your collected cards pile.
    Scoring a Addition in Cuarenta
  3. Sequence Bonus Cards -- You can collect extra bonus cards if there are more cards that are higher and next in sequence from the card you played to collect cards. For example, if you put down a 4 and it matches another 4 on the table, you get the 4s, but if there’s also a 5, you get that too. If there’s also a 6, you get that too. You get all the cards that come after the 4 as long as they’re in an unbroken sequence. If you match a 7 and there’s a jack, queen, and king on the board, you get them all. But if there’s no Jack, you can’t collect the Queen and King because the sequence is broken. Remember the order of cards is Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Jack, Queen, King.
    You can also get bonus cards when you make an Addition. So if there’s a 2 and 5 on the table and you play a 7 (2+5=7) you get those cards, but if there’s also a Jack, you get that as well. Those are the only times you get to collect cards on a sequence. Playing a 4 when there’s a 5 on the table, doesn’t get you the 5 unless the 4 completes a Match or an Addition.

    Stealing Sequences

    If you fail to collect your Sequence Bonus Cards, your opponent can steal them. You can only steal Sequence Bonus Cards, not Caida or Addition matches. If a player fails to collect those, the cards stay on the table. The most common missed Sequence is if someone scores using a 7 and they forget the Jack comes after it.

The cards that can’t be collected with a Match or Addition, remain on the table. The more cards that collect up, the greater your chances of scoring.

If a card can make both a Match and an Addition, the player can choose which he or she would like. Normally, an Addition would be worth more cards, but sometimes the Match can get you more if there are Sequence Bonus Cards that can be collected from it.

Bonus Points

There are 2 ways to collect points during normal play:

  1. Caida -- A Caida is when you make a match with the card that was last played by your opponent. It gets you 2 bonus points. For example, your opponent plays a 6 and you immediately match it. 2 bonus points! You only get the points if it was the last card played, and this does not span hands, so if it’s played at the end of the hand, and you can match it after the next hand is dealt, you don’t get the bonus points.
  2. Limpia -- A Limpia is when you clear the table of all the cards. You get 2 points for a Limpia.
    It’s quite common, and very rewarding to get a combo Caida/Limpia at the very start of a round. The first player plays their card and you immediately match it for 4 big points (the Caida for matching the last card played, and the Limpia for clearing the table).

After each player has played their 5 cards, the same dealer takes the remaining deck and deals out 5 more cards each (first 5 to the opponent, then 5 to themselves), and you continue play. The cards that are on the table from the last hand stay there and can be used to Match or Addition as per usual.

End of Round

If you are playing with 2 players, the round will end after 4 deals (5 cards each, 4 times equals 40 cards). In a four player game there will only be 2 deals.
At this point, it’s the end of the round and it’s time to count your collected cards.
Any cards that are left on the table are simply ignored.

Scoring

If you have over 20 collected cards, you get an automatic 6 points. You also get a point for every card over the 20 that you collect, rounded up to the next even number. So if you have 21 or 22 cards, you get 8 points (6 for having 20 and 2 points for the extra cards). If you have 25 cards, you get 6 points for the 20 cards, plus an extra 6 points (5 points for the five extra cards, rounded up to the nearest even number = 6) for a total of 12 points.

If you have less than 20 collected cards you get no points.

If both teams have under 20, the team with the most cards gets 2 points.

If the teams have the same number of collected cards, the team that didn’t deal gets 2 points.

These points are added to the points you got from Limpias and Caidas.
The first team to 40 wins.

After you’ve counted up your points, the cards are collected and the next round begins with the player next to the dealer now becoming the dealer.

Special Scoring

Stealing a Ronda

If you are dealt 3 of a kind and call a Ronda, it’s possible for the other team to cash in on it. If the opponent next to you is able to Caida one of the cards that make up your Ronda, they announce at the end of the hand that they have done it, revealing what the card was, and their team is awarded 10 big points. Of course, this is very difficult to do, because the person with the Ronda already has 3 of the 4 cards.

You cannot collect points off a Ronda if you have 30 or more points, and you can’t steal a Ronda for 10 points if you have 30 or more points. However if you get a Ronda and have 30 or more points, and your opponent notices this (despite you not announcing it), they can still steal it and get 10 points if they are under 30 points.

A team can also not win with a Limpia if they have 38 or more points.

The only way to win is by counting your collected cards, or with a Caida. It is, however, possible to win if you have 36 or more points and you collect a Caida/Limpia combo for 4 points.

Cuarenta is usually played with a lot of gusto. Feel free to throw down cards with force, trash talk a bit, and celebrate when you’re doing well. It’s all part of the game. Just be sure you’re playing someone that’s not a sore loser. In Ecuador being a sore loser is frowned upon, but being a cocky winner is somewhat okay.