Cuarenta Fishing Games

Cuarenta Fishing Games



Cuarenta is played in Ecuador, mostly by people from the mountains, including the cities of Cuenca and Quito (the capital). Cuarenta means "40" in Spanish; this is the number of cards in the deck as well as the points required to win. The play is supposed to be full of bravado, loud, exciting, even silly.

This page is based on a contribution from Paul J. Welty.

The Players

Cuarenta can be played by 2 or 4 people. If there are 4 players, then there are two teams (partners sit across from each other). One of the team mates keeps the score; the other collects cards as they are won.

The Deck

Cuarenta is played with 40 cards from a standard 52 card deck. The eights, nines and tens are removed leaving the numbers ace-2-3-4-5-6-7 (ace is low) and the pictures.

The removed 8's 9's and 10's are not used in the play, but they are used to keep score. At the start of the game they are placed in a face up stack between the two players who will be keeping score for their teams.

The Deal and Initial Announcements

Since the dealer usually has an advantage, the first dealer is determined by shuffling the deck and dealing face-up cards to each player in order. The first player to receive a diamond is the first dealer. After each complete hand (consisting of two or four deals) the turn to deal passes to the left.

Five cards are dealt to each player, in a single batch of five, beginning with the player to dealer's left, going around the table clockwise and ending with the dealer. If there are any irregularities in the deal, the dealer's team loses the entire game. The cards which left over from the deal are kept in a face down stack to be dealt out later.

After everyone has played their five cards (see play below), the dealer deals another five cards to each player in the same way from the remaining stock of undealt cards. If there are 4 players, each deal consumes 20 of the 40 cards, so there will be two deals in all during a hand. If there are 2 players, 10 cards are used each time, so there will be four deals.

There are two special announcements that can be made immediately after any deal:

    1. Four of a kind
  • If any one player is dealt 4 cards of the same rank, the cards are shown and that player's team wins the entire game immediately.
    1. Ronda
  • A player who has received 3 cards of the same rank immediately says Ronda (= round, like in singing in rounds). The player's team then collects 4 points (but does not reveal the rank of the ronda). The player sitting to the left of the ronda should take note, because if that player can find out the rank of the ronda, and capture one of its cards by a caída, they can claim a bonus.

The Play

The player to dealer's left begins and the turn to play passes clockwise. Each player in turn must play a card from hand face up on the table. This play may result in some cards being captured from the table, in which case the played card and the captured card(s) are taken and stacked face down in front of one member of the player's team (like a trick). If the played card does not capture anything, it stays face up on the table and may itself be captured by a later play.

There are three ways in which a played card can capture cards from the table:

    1. Matching
  • If the played card is the same rank as a card on the table, the matching card can be captured. So if for example if the table contains a queen and you play a queen, you can capture the queen from the table and place both queens in your trick pile.
    1. Addition
  • If the played card is a number card, it can capture a set of cards whose values add up to that of the played card. The values are the obvious ones: ace = 1, two = 2, three = 3, etc. up to seven = 7. Jacks, queens and kings have no numerical value; they cannot capture or be captured by addition. For example, if the table contains a two and a three and you play a five, you can capture the 3 and the 2 and put all three cards in your trick pile. If the table contains ace, 2, 4 you can capture all three of these cards by playing a seven.
    1. Sequence
  • When a capture is made by matching or addition, a card next higher in rank than the played card may also be picked up from the table, along with any further cards from the table forming an unbroken upward sequence. The ranking order from lowest to highest is A-2-3-4-5-6-7-J-Q-K. So, if a player matches a 2 on the table by playing a 2 from hand, that player may also collect a 3, if one is on the table. This collection of sequential cards may continue until the sequence is broken. If the face up cards on the table are 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, J then by playing a 2 you can capture 2, 3, 4, 5 - the 2 by matching and the 3, 4 and 5 by sequence. This leaves the 7 and jack on the table. You cannot capture the 7 or the jack because the 6 is missing from the sequence. If the same cards 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, J are on the table and you play a 6, you can capture 2, 4, 7, J - the 2 and 4 by addition and the 7 and the jack by sequence (note that the jack immediately follows the seven in the ranking order).

If the table is empty, as for example at the start of the game, then obviously there is nothing to capture, and the played card will just remain on the table.

If a card can make more than one possible matching or addition capture, the player can choose which capture to make, but can only choose one of the possibilities. If the cards on the table are ace, 2, 3, 4 and you play a four, you can capture the 3 and the ace by addition, or you can capture the 4 by matching, but not both at once. If you play a five you can capture the 2 and the 3 or the 4 and the ace by addition, but not both sets.

A sequence capture can only be made if the played card makes a matching or addition capture at the same time. If a 5 is on the table, playing a 4 does not capture the 5 unless the 4 also makes a capture by matching or addition.

If a player captures by matching or addition, but fails to take all or part of a sequence capture that is available at the same time, the players on the other team may take the sequence cards for themselves. For example the table contains 2, 3, 6, 7, J, Q. You play a 5 capturing the 2 and 3 by addition and the 6 and 7 by sequence, but forget to take the jack and queen. Your opponents can now take the jack and queen. However, there is no such penalty for missing a matching or addition capture. If in the same example you played a 5 but did not notice that you could capture anything at all, the opponents could not take any cards. All the cards would remain on the table.


Capturing the card just played by the previous player by matching it is called a caída (a fall). The team which makes the capture scores two extra points. Note that a capture is only a caída if the card is captured by matching by the next player in turn, immediately after the captured card was played. Taking the previous player's card by addition or sequence is not a caída.


If a player clears the table of all cards, that player's team recevies 2 points for a limpia (clean). It often happens that one player puts a card down on an empty table, and the next player makes a caída on that card and takes it off the table, which also has the effect of cleaning the table (there was only one card). In this case, the capturing team gets 4 points: 2 for caída and 2 for limpia.

New deals

Play continues until everyone has played their 5 cards, and then if there are undealt cards remaining in the pack, another 5 cards are dealt to each player. There may be cards left on the table after everyone has played their cards from the first deal. These cards are available for capture after the new deal. Thus the first player gets a chance to collect some easy points if the table was not cleaned from the previous hand.

However, it does not count as a caída if the first player after a new deal matches and captures the last card played by the dealer at the end of the previous deal.

End of the play

After all 40 cards have been played (which takes two deals if there are 4 players, and 4 deals if there are 2 players), the hand ends and the teams score for the cards that they have taken. Unless the very last play was a limpia, there will be uncaptured cards left in the centre of the table, and these do not count for either team.


Each team counts its collected cards. A team with 20 cards scores 6 points. A team with more than 20 cards scores one extra point for each extra card, rounded up to the next even number. So a team with 21 or 22 cards score 8 points, 23 or 24 cards score 10 points, and so on. If both teams take 20 cards, then only the non-dealing team scores 6 points.

If neither team gets as many as 20 cards, the team with the greater number of cards scores just 2 points. When both teams have the same number of captured cards but fewer than 20 each, the non-dealing team scores 2 points.

The first team to reach 40 points wins the game.

Special Scoring Rules

If a player makes a caída by capturing a card that was part of a ronda, and remembers this event and the rank of the ronda cards, the capturing player's team gets 10 points. The announcement of the remembered event is made at the end of the hand. The bonus cannot be collected once the next deal has begun. It is therefore not advisable for a ronda team to remind their opponents of what has happened.

A team which has 30 or more points cannot score for rondas, nor for capturing a card of the opponents' ronda by means of a caída. However, if the opposing team have less than 30 points, they may still collect 10 points if they capture a card of an "unannounced" ronda by a caída, and they notice this.

A team which has 38 points cannot collect for limpia. This has the result that a team can only win the game by counting cards or with a caída.

However, a team has 36 points can still score 4 points for a caída y limpia, thus winning the game.

Keeping score using the eights, nines and tens

Each of these cards represents 2 points when face up. One of these cards face-down represents ten points (called a perro dog). The score could just as well be kept on paper, but this traditional method is easier and more fun.

All the scoring cards start in a face-up stack between the scorers. Each scorer takes cards from the stack to represent their points as they score them. When you have five face up cards you should trade them in for a perro, otherwise the scoring cards will run out. When you reach 38, this is indicated by returning all your score cards to the face-up stack. This way there are just enough cards to keep score in all situations.


When the table is empty, the player whose turn it is is in trouble. A caída y limpia is likely (and 4 points is a lot; and it leaves partner in the same position). This is one reason why the dealer is somewhat at an advantage. So generally you try to play one card of a pair in your hand, to minimize the chance of a caída. Of course, this doesn't always work. You should count the cards, so that if you don't have a pair, you know what has and what has not been played, and can play something that has already been played. When even this fails, you try to play something that can't be used against you. Playing an Ace is bad because it adds up with just about anything. Face cards are a good option when you don't know what to do.

When the table has some cards on it, but the player can't make a match, you can still follow the above recommendations, but don't play something that will easily add. Don't play a card that will begin a sequence of cards. This can make a caída into a caída y limpia because of the picking up in sequence rule. Again, an already-played-card or face-card is a good choice.

Hunches count! Sometimes you can tell what the person to your right is hanging onto. So, you keep that card until the end to capture it. Of course the person to your left will do the same to you.


When making a caída, a special flourish is employed. The card is sometimes "snapped" down on top of the captured card with great vigor and from well above the surface of the table. Then, both cards are taken as usual. This is a purely friendly, but nonetheless rib-poking, gesture.

Near the end of the deal, a player occasionally "predicts" an upcoming caída by taking a card from his hand and holding it face down near the playing surface in anticipation of the right hand opponent's play. It may not often work, but, if you really count the cards, you can do this consistently. Another silly variation is to taunt the opponent by putting the card you expect to use as a caída on your forehead (facing you, of course).

It is said that, in Ecuador, the really good players can tell exactly what you have in your hand by how you hesitate before a play.

Other Cuarenta WWW Pages, Software and Online Games

Cristina Abad Robalino, Rafael Bonilla Armijos, César Salazar Tovar and Profesor Ing. Glenn Maldonado Vaca of Guayaquil, Ecuador have published a Cuarenta web site in Spanish, which includes rules, information about the World Championship, and a Cuarenta computer program for download.

Cuarenta can be played online at Tabletopia.