Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Argentina - the card game not the country

I remember being a little girl and watching my extended family play cards. They would sit around the table and laugh for what seemed like hours and tell stories and I desperately wanted to play. But I was too young and the game too hard.

Then when I was 9 my family went overseas for 6 months and my mother taught me the card game. I guess she was homesick and wanted something familiar and you really need 3 people to play.

So when we came back, I was finally able to play cards with everyone and I loved it. Stories were swapped and jokes told and we all bonded.

There were rules of the game and then there were the "shoulds" of the game. Things like you should not sit to the left of Granddaddy because he never threw away what you needed. You should have someone sit between certain players because they play as a team and it is not a team game.

There were also rules that are not against the rules but will get you banned from the game - like no throwing away wild cards. Wild cards have a high point value and so can really cost you if they are in your hand, so some family members will throw them away on the last hand rather than have them count in their score.

So in case you are wanting to play, here are the rules to Argentina - by the way, that isn't the real name but the real name was forgotten decades ago.


There are two types of groups you are wanting to get, books and runs. A book is 3 of the same card (3 kings, 3 jacks, 3 9's) and a run is 4 cards in the same suit in order (3, 4, 5, & 6 of spades jack, queen, king, & ace of hearts). Jokers and 2's are wild and Aces are high.

So on the first hand you are dealt 7 cards and try to get 2 books (so potentially you could have your two books plus one card then you are dealt. But that almost never happens.) Everybody picks up their cards and looks at them and sorts them. Everyone has their own system and it can even change over the years but I sort them out by numbers in this hand so that any potential books go together. So I might put them like this 5, 5, 3, 6, 9, J, A I have the 5's together because I want another of them the most because then that book would be done.

So the person to the left of the dealer starts play by turning over the first card into a discard pile and seeing if they can use it. Meanwhile everyone else who might want the card is yelling "I'll buy it!" The person who's turn it is decides whether or not they want the card. If they don't, it goes to the first one that said "I'll buy it."

The person doing the "buying" gets the card that they buy plus the top card from the draw pile. Then the person whose turn it is draws one and then discards what ever doesn't work in their hand (and people again can shout "I'll buy it").

And play continues this way until someone is able to get the required hand. So let's say after buying some cards and a few rounds I have 5, 5, 5, 9, 9, 2, J, K, 4 so I can lay down the 5's in one pile and the 9's and 2 in another (2 is wild remember). That leaves me with a j,k & 4. Someone else has already laid their cards down and they have Kings and 6's, I can put my king on their stack and then I only have two cards left so then I discard one. And then play keeps going until someone goes out. I can continue to add on to the card I have laid down plus anyone else who has laid down, on my turn only.

When someone goes out, everyone counts how many points are in their hands. Cards 3-9 are worth 5 apiece; 10, J, Q, K are 10 each, A are 15, 2's are 20, and jokers are 50. So if you had a 2, K, A, 6, Q, 3 & 7 it would be 70 points. If I had the J and 4 still in my hand that would be 15.

Make sense?

And now you are wondering (if you haven't forgotten about it) what about the run.

Well see the first hand is 7 cards with 2 books. The second hand is 8 cards with 1 run and one book - play is the same except you might want to sort the cards differently. And then each hand ends up being something different.

In chart form it looks like this:

7 - 2 books
8 - 1 run, 1 book
9 - 2 runs
10 - 3 books
11 - 1 run, 2 books
11 - run of 7, 1 book
12 - 2 runs, 1 book
13 - 3 runs no discard

The run of 7 is a run that has 7 cards instead of 4 - all in the same suit - so it would be like 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 & 9 or 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, A.

And the 3 run no discard is the hard one, you can't lay down your cards until you can lay every one of them down with no discard.

There is an additional rule of having at least as many naturals as there are wilds so my book can't be 5, 2, 2 but it could be 5, 5, 2, 2 and the run could be 5, 2, 7, joker.

It sounds confusing and it may be the first time or two but my family has been playing it since before I can remember. I used to play with my great-grandparents; Daisy now plays with us, she even won the final hand the last time we played.

The more people, the more fun the game so play as many as you can fit around the table. You just have to play with more decks of cards - we use at least 2 decks and sometimes 4 or 5.

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