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Buraco Game: History, Rules and Variations Essay


Buraco is a card game that is common across Brazil and other countries across South America, Europe, and all over the world. Buraco is “related to Canasta, and in some ways similar to Samba, in that the aim is to meld combinations of seven or more cards that can be either set of equal ranks or sequences related in a suit” (Parlett, 1996, p. 23).

Just like in Canasta, Buraco allows players to stack standard melds-cards of similar values and also those that follow each other sequentially. Although Buraco is mostly popular in Brazil, the game is thought to have originated from Uruguay and/or Argentina around the mid-1940s (Culbertson, 2003).

The card game is also popular in some parts of the Persian Gulf, where the locals fondly refer to it as ‘Baraziliya.’ Buraco is often played in leisure meetings involving friends and families, barbeque, parties, and as part of holiday fun. There are no specific/strict rules for playing Buraco, and the rules of this card game keep changing from time to time. Consequently, there are several variations of Buraco, but this paper focuses on the mainstream version of the game and also makes references to its variations.

The Setup of Buraco

Buraco is often played by four main players who are grouped in two teams of two players each. The game is “played using two decks of playing cards totaling 104 cards” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1). In some versions of the game, four wild jokers might be added to the total number of cards to make them 108 in number. The two teams of players play against each other while they are seated in opposite directions such that no two team-members are sitting next to each other.

Before each Buraco game begins, the person who cuts the deck is determined through a random draw of cards. The “player from the team who has the lowest card must deal with the player of the other team who has cut the highest card” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1).

The dealer of the game cuts two piles of cards that have eleven cards each (pots), and they are consequently set aside for use by either of the players who might run out of cards first. The remaining cards are placed face-down and used as the drawing stack. The game begins when one card is laid out to start a discard pile.

Rules of the Game

In a game of Buraco, cards are assigned their worth according to their face value, just like in most card games. A wildcard is represented by either a joker or the number two cars (deuces). Consequently, a wildcard can replace any card in a sequence of laid out cards.

For example, a sequence that reads 8, 7, 2, & 9 is still logical because the two are a viable replacement for card number 8. A ‘Mount’ is the stack of cards that remains after all the other cards have been distributed (Confianza, 2015). All players can use this mount to draw cards during their turns in a game. A mount has to be placed face down in the table because its contents are supposed to be secret until someone draws a card from it.

A pot refers to a stack of eleven cards each that is placed beside the mount. Before the beginning of every game, two stacks are set aside. The rule in Buraco is that each team is assigned a pot for use during the duration of the game. When a game has four people (two in each team), the team player who finishes his/her cards first is entitled to the pot. The depletion of cards from a player’s hands and on the pot signifies the end of a game. In a Buraco game, Garbage refers to a stack of cards that has cards facing up. Garbage is the place where players are expected to ‘dump’ the cards that do not fit into their melds.

Taking a card from the mount can only be done once by each player. Taking a card from the mount is also the first thing that a player is expected to do when it is his/her turn to play. However, if the player decides to collect all the pile of discarded cards, he/she cannot draw a card from the mount. The final score in the game is only tallied after the game has come to an end.

A game can only be scored when a player places a meld on the playing table. Nevertheless, for this score to be valid, “the cards have to be in the same suit and be in a sequence or if the cards have the same value” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1). Three similar cards should not contain a wildcard in their midst. There is only one recognized sequence in a Buraco game, and it reads; ‘A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A’.

A Buraco Game

The aim of either team in a Buraco game is to score a point by laying down a logical set of cards. Each team lays out its sets of cards together, and a team member can add on piles of fellow teammates but not from the opposing side. A complete meld in a Buraco game consists of at least three logical cards. The sequential flow of cards starts from ‘A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A’ whereas a full sequence can include a set of fourteen playing cards.

In some versions of the game, either the Joker or the number two card can be used as substitutes for any card in the sequence. On the other hand, a group of cards must have at least three cards of the same value, and it cannot include a wild card. Sequences are categorized using the cards that they utilize. A ‘dirty run’ is a seven-card sequence that includes wild cards (the Joker or number two), while the ‘clean run’ consists of seven sequential cards that do not utilize a wildcard.

When the number two card or deuce is used in the capacity of its face value, it does not serve the capacity of a wildcard. Furthermore, all sequences can only have one instance of a wild card. In some versions of Buraco, groupings of similar cards are not permitted, and only sequences suffice.

When playing Buraco, “the first player picks the card that is located at the top of the draw pile, takes a moment to look at it, and continues to decide whether it is worth keeping” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1). Consequently, the player can either keep the card and add to his/her team’s melds or discard a card, thereby signaling that it is the turn of the next player.

Another option for the first player in Buraco is “discard the first card face up; take a second card from the draw pile; possibly put one or more melds; discard a second card face-up on top of the first to end turn” (Parlett, 1996, p. 33). After the turn of the first player, the play continues to move on to the other players.

The turn of each player involves various play-options, including lifting a playing card from the top draw pile, taking all cards from the discard pile, selectively adding to the melts of own team, and throwing a card face-up on the discard pile. The overall rhythm in a Buraco game is that the player has the option of the top card on the discard pile or drawing a new ‘unknown’ one.

The two reserve piles of eleven cards each are only used after either player exhausts his/her original set of cards. The other reserve-stack is assigned to one of the members of the opposite team, depending on the stack that runs out first. A stack might run out due to two developments. First, a player’s cards can all be melded, whereby the player might pick up the reserve stack and continue to meld.

On the other hand, a stack can run out if a player throws away the last card on his/her pile. In this last case, the new 11-card stack cannot be used until it is the turn of the new player. If the cards in the thaw pile are finished before both the reserve piles have been utilized, then a reserve sack is changed into a new drawing pile, and the card game continues. However, if the drawing stack is exhausted and both reserve piles have been used, the game comes to an end. Therefore, the player who drew last plays his turn, and the total score is tallied.


Scoring during Buraco is done at the end of every game when all cards in the play have been exhausted. After a game is over, the total points for each team are counted. Counting of the score involves accounting for all the ‘canastas’ that appear in the table at the end of a game. Each of the cards in a sequence has its own score, and each complete sequence has a cumulative score. This is Buraco’s scoring methodology in relation to melds and ‘canastas’:

  • Cards on a meld or a sequence of at least three cards are added up in accordance with their individual scores. Consequently, the numbered cards 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 are assigned a score of 5. Cards 2, 8, 9, 10, J, K, and Q have a flat score of 10 each. The Ace card accounts for a score of 15 while the Joker counts for a score of 20. The total tally of all the cards in complete melds are tallied and added to the main score.
  • On the other hand, the total number of cards that are in players’ hands when the game ends are often subtracted from the total score of their players’ respective teams (Confianza, 2015).
  • A clean sequence of more than seven cards is known as a ‘canastra limpa’ or clean canastra, and it is worth 200 points plus any other extra cards in the meld
  • A dirty sequence of more than seven playing cards and a wildcard is known as a ‘canastra suja’ or dirty canastra, and it is worth 100 points plus any other extra points
  • A complete clean sequence of thirteen cards is worth is known as ‘canastra meia real’ or half royalty canastra, and it is worth 500 points
  • A complete clean sequence of fourteen cards is worth is known as ‘canastra real’ or royalty canastra, and it is worth 1000 points
  • The person who ‘closes’ the game earns his/her team an extra 100 points
  • If a team has not utilized its reserve stack of 11 cards, that team loses a 100 points from its total tally
  • The penalty for not using the reserve only applies if only one of the playing team has used its stack
  • The winner threshold or the maximum points in a game amount to 3000 points and a team is considered winner if it achieves these points
  • A team that has “fifteen-hundred or more points in the match must initially meld a minimum of seventy-five points…if a team fails to meld the minimum initial amount of points, then all the Runs are placed back into the hand of the player, and fifteen more points are added to the initial amount to meld for that team during that game” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1)

Variations of the Game

Some versions of the game only use the number two card as the wildcard and not the joker card. However, other games use both the joker and number two cards but assign the former a score of 30 instead of 20. Another variation of Buraco is a game that accommodates three teams instead of the usual two. In this variation, a new set of cards is used, and the pot will also consist of three stacks.

In other “variations of the Buraco card game, an Ace can only be used as a high card (number thirteen) or a low card (representing number 1) and not both” (McLeod, 2012, p. 1). In some versions of the game, players do not mix clean and dirty runs. There is also a version of Buraco where players play against time instead of continuing until the game is over.

In a time game, points are counted after the preset time has elapsed. Furthermore, some versions of Buraco do not consist of the usual target of 3000 points, and they may change their expected tally to about 2000 or 3000 points. Other variations in score may also feature prominently in various versions of Buraco.

Psychological, Physiological, and Sociological Effects of Buraco

Buraco is a card game that offers players positive leisure time and also enhances their physiological, psychological, and sociological welfare. A game of Buraco provides a player with the chance to gain entertainment in a group setting, and it is, therefore, one of the most viable indoor activities for grownups. One physiological advantage of playing cards is that they are “portable and therefore accessible to people of all ages” (Nejem & Muhanna, 2014).

Consequently, they are a source of physiological exercise for a wide range of individuals, including those who are bedridden or partially immobile. Most other indoor games require considerable physical strain, and they may not be viable for a selected number of individuals. When it comes to psychological benefits, playing cards can help both advanced motor skills.

Buraco is a card game that presents players with a chance to develop both their overall and fine motor skills. For instance, moving cards from one stack to another and arranging melds at the same time engages some of the fine motor skill capabilities of the human brain. This benefit is important to children whose brains are still under development and for adults who might be recovering from brain trauma (Nejem & Muhanna, 2014).

The act of dealing or shuffling cards during a Buraco game is also beneficial to individuals because it improves the speed of reflexes in both children and adults. Furthermore, “handheld and freestanding card holders allow playing cards to be held securely and discretely if someone is experiencing reduced manual dexterity and he/she is unable to hold an entire hand of cards” (Dempsey & Casey, 2002).

Another physical benefit of playing Buraco is that the game is known to improve eye-hand coordination, and it might assist in stimulating advanced brain activities. This benefit is of particular importance to growing children who might require a certain level of brain stimulation (Brown, 2008).

One sociological impact of Buraco is that the game offers its players a chance of interacting with other players in an intimate setting whilst enjoying some friendly competition from the game. This social environment offers a viable balance of activities that other types of games might not provide their players.

For example, a Buraco game is not too competitive, and it does not also accommodate too much social interaction. Consequently, a game of Buraco is aptly balanced when it comes to both socialization and competition. According to research, a game of Buraco involves a great deal of strategizing, and this is particularly beneficial to the mental and social faculties of a player (Ramani & Siegler, 2008).

Buraco and other Games

Buraco is undoubtedly one of the most popular card games in some parts of the world. Buraco provides players with a pace that most of the other games cannot provide. The sport is also gaining in terms of popularity owing to the advent of internet applications that allow players to play against opponents in virtual environments.

Consequently, these applications have eliminated the need to have a quorum before engaging in a game of Buraco. However, some card game enthusiasts have cited the game for being ‘boring’ when it is compared to others like poker, blackjack, and continental. In some parts of America, the phrase ‘dead as canasta’ is used to reflect this sentiment. Nevertheless, the game offers players a wide range of benefits that cannot be provided by other games.

Unlike a poker game, Buraco has limitations when it comes to the number of players who can play at any particular time. Consequently, Buraco is the more natural choice in tournament settings. Furthermore, Buraco is a transparent game that has little room for cheating among players as compared to poker. Unlike blackjack, Buraco offers players more control over the outcome of the game. In addition, Buraco games are often longer than blackjack games; thereby, they are less exhausting.

Nevertheless, blackjack is a more thrilling game than Buraco owing to its association with mystery. When Buraco is compared to a game of Draughts, the former appears to offer more class and leisure that the latter. Draughts are more physically involving than Buraco, and their tally system does not appeal to some gamers. Buraco also offers players less movement than most board and marble games. In Buraco, there are also reduced chances of injury as there are inboard and marble games.


Brown, T. (2008). Strong medicine prescribing exercise for people living with Multiple Sclerosis. International Journal of Medicine, 6(4), 7-19.

Confianza, O. (2015). Buraco Rules. Web.

Culbertson, E. (2003). Culbertson on Canasta: A complete guide for beginners and advanced players with the official laws of Canasta. New York: Faber & Faber.

Dempsey, J. V., & Casey, M. S. (2002). Forty simple computer games and what they could mean to educators. Simulation & Gaming, 33(2), 157-168.

McLeod, J. (2012). . Web.

Nejem, K. M., & Muhanna, W. (2014). The effect of using smart board on mathematics achievement and retention of seventh grade students. International Journal of Education, 6(4), 107-119.

Parlett, D. (1996). The Oxford Dictionary of Card Games. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ramani, G. B., & Siegler, R. S. (2008). Promoting broad and stable improvements in low‐income children’s numerical knowledge through playing number board games. Child development, 79(2), 375-394.

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1. IvyPanda. "Buraco Game: History, Rules and Variations." May 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/buraco-game-history-rules-and-variations/.


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IvyPanda. 2020. "Buraco Game: History, Rules and Variations." May 9, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/buraco-game-history-rules-and-variations/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'Buraco Game: History, Rules and Variations'. 9 May.

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