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Cuarenta (40): Ecuadorian card game of choice

Those of you who know me know that I like to play cards.

Those of you who know me well, know that about the only thing I’m actually competitive in, in life, is cards.

Blame it on my grandmothers…. Both of them.

My family spends Thanksgiving playing cards.  And, I learned how to count and add by playing cards.

The most famous card game in Ecuador is:  Cuarenta (that means 40)

The object is to play to 40 points.

Playing Cuarenta in Quito, Ecuador

The idea:
Capture cards by matching what’s currently on the table with what you have in your hand.

How to play:

  • Remove all 8s, 9s, 10s, and Jokers from a deck of cards.  These cards are used to count your points.  They don’t count for anything else.
  • A point card face up shows 2 points, and face down shows 10 points
  • You play in partners, with 4 people total (2 people on a team)
  • You deal five cards (all at once, not going around the circle like with poker) to each player
  • Play happens from right to left (counter-clockwise)
  • The person who dealt goes last
  • If you are dealt 3 of-a-kind, say “Tengo ronda”, and you earn 4 points (This means you get 2 point cards face up, since each point card face up counts for 2 points. (Again, point cards are 8,9,10, and joker.) ).
  • If you are dealt 4 of-a-kind, you get 40 points and win the hand.
  • The first player after the dealer (to the right) lays a card face up on the table to start the game
  • If the next player has the same card, they play it and earn 2 points for “Caida”
  • If they are also able to clean off all the cards on the table, they earn 2 points for ¨Limpia¨ (cleaning)
  • If you have a card the same as is on the table, play your card and pick up the other card as well.  Keep these cards in a separate stack (to be counted later)
  • You can also add the cards on the table so that they match a card in your hand.  (For example, if there is a 2 and a 3 on the table, and you have a 5 in your hand, you can play the five and pick up all three cards (again, setting all 3 aside in a separate pile.)
  • You can pick up all cards in ascending sequence (higher than the one you played).  (For example, the following cards are on the table: 2,3, 6,7,J.  You have a 5.  You may: add the 2+3, play your 5 (to pick up the 2+3), and pick up the following cards as well because they are in ascending sequence 6, 7, J. — You can pick up the Jack after a 7 because remember all 8s, 9s, and 10s have been removed.)  You just earned 2 points for “Limpia” (cleaning all cards off the table).
  • After all 5 rounds have been played (because you’re dealt 5 cards to begin with), the remaining cards are dealt (in the same manner).
  • Play continues as before.
  • The first player after the second deal does not have an opportunity at “Caida” because it’s considered a new hand.  He / she does have a chance to earn 2 points for “Limpia”
  • After both rounds have been played, each team gathers the cards they collected and counts them.
  • If a team has more than 19 cards, they get bonus points: 6 points for 20 cards, 7 for 21, 8 for 22, and so on.  If you would receive an odd number of points (7 for having 21 cards) you round up to the nearest even number (7 points for having 21 cards receives 8 points).
  • If no team has more than 19 cards, the team with the most cards earns 4 points
  • Consolidate your point cards as you play.  (Once again, point cards are 8, 9, 10, and joker, and each is worth 2 points.)  Once you have 10 points showing, exchange your cards.  You do this by turning one point card face down, and return the other 4 point cards.)
  • First team to 40 points wins.
  • Play: Best 2 out of 3 hands to 40


  • If the dealer misdeals, the other team gets 10 points.
  • Your team earns 2 points for each “Caida” (having the same card as the person before you just played).
  • Your team earns 2 points each time you clean the table “Limpia”.
  • Once a team reaches 38 points, they only receive points for “Caida” to win the game.
  • If you make a mistake while playing (ANY mistake, such as picking up the wrong card, saying Caida and Limpia when it fact it was one or the other, playing out of turn, etc.) the other team earns 10 points.
  • If you forget to take the cards in your ascending sequence, the other team can pick them up.  This could mean that you give them 2 points.  (In the example above, you played the 5 to pick up the 2+3, then got the 6, and 7, but you forgot to pick up the Jack.  If the other team picks up the jack because you forgot, they cleaned the table (“Limpia”).  And, you just gave them what would have been your 2 points for “Limpia”.)

I’m sure that sounds complicated.  It’s hard to sit and write out all the rules at once.

But, grab a partner and a couple of friends and give it a shot.  It may take a game or two before you get the hang of it, but once you do, it’s easy.

Playing Cuarenta in Quito, Ecuador

And you’ll be hooked… at least I am.

One thought on “Cuarenta (40): Ecuadorian card game of choice

  1. Pingback: How to celebrate the 4th of July in New Zealand | Travel the world with Carrie and Jonathan!

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