Durak

Players

Podkidnoy Durak is best for four people playing in teams, two against two, with partners sitting opposite each other. It can, however, be played by any number of people from two to six, playing as individuals, or by six players in two teams of three, sitting alternately.

Cards

A regular pack reduced to a 36 card pack (here US), the cards in each suit ranking from high to low: ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6.

Objective

This game has no winner - only a loser, or a losing team if played with partnerships. At the start, each player is dealt six cards, which are played in a series of bouts of attack and defence. When a player's hand is reduced to fewer than six cards it is replenished from the talon of undealt cards. After the talon is exhausted, there is no more replenishment and the aim is to get rid of all the cards from your hand. The last player left holding cards is the loser. This player is the fool (durak) and is ridiculed by the other players. In the partnership game, when one team has played all of their cards, the team which is left holding cards loses.

Durak is almost never played for money. Sometimes matchsticks are used to keep track of how many times each player or team has lost. It can be agreed that the player or team that loses most games has to pay a forfeit, such as crawling under the table and crowing like a cockerel.

Deal

Any player may deal the first hand. Subsequently each hand is dealt by the loser of the previous hand. The dealer shuffles and deals out the cards face down to the players one at a time, clockwise, until everyone has a hand of six cards. The next card is placed face up in the centre of the table; its suit determines trumps. The remaining undealt cards are placed in a stack face down on top of the trump card, but crosswise so that the rank and value of the trump remain visible. These central cards are called the prikup (talon).

Note that dealing is traditionally regarded as menial work, undertaken as a punishment by the loser of the previous hand. Only the dealer handles the cards - they are not usually cut, as in other card games. If any other player touches the cards they become the fool and take over the job of dealing. Sometimes the dealer may offer the cards to be cut after shuffling; if the player to whom they are offered falls into the trap of cutting the cards, that player becomes the dealer and takes over the role of the fool. Hence the expression: "Shapku s duraka ne snimayut" ("One should not take the hat away from a fool").

With six players and 36 cards there will be no talon. All the cards are dealt to the players and the dealer's last card is turned face up to determine the trump suit. This trump is part of the dealer's hand and is picked up along with the dealer's other five cards when everyone has had a chance to look at it.

The players pick up their cards and look at them. In the first hand of a session, the holder of the lowest trump plays first. If anyone has the trump 6 they show it to prove they are entitled to begin. If no one has the trump 6, then the holder of the trump 7 will start; if no one has that, the trump 8 and so on. The first play does not have to include the lowest trump - the holder of the lowest trump can begin with any card. In the second and subsequent hands of a session, the player to the left of the dealer begins the play.

The Play

Attack and Defence

The play consists of a series of bouts. During each bout there is an attacker (who may be helped by other players) and a defender (who defends alone).

The attacker begins by playing any card from hand face up on the table in front of the defender. To beat off the attack the defender will have to beat this and all subsequent attacking cards. A card which is not a trump can be beaten by playing a higher card of the same suit, or by any trump. A trump card can only be beaten by playing a higher trump. Note that a non-trump attack can always be beaten by a trump, even if the defender also holds cards in the suit of the attack card - there is no requirement to "follow suit".

Alternatively, if the defender cannot or does not wish to beat off the attack, the defender simply picks up the attack card, which then becomes part of the defender's hand; in this case the attack has succeeded.

If the defender beats the first attack card, the attacker can continue the attack by playing another card. If the defender beats this second attack card too, the attack can be continued with further cards, subject to the following conditions:

  1. each new attack card must be of the same rank as some card already played during the current bout - either an attack card or a card played by the defender;

  2. the total number of cards played by the attackers during a bout must never exceed six;

  3. if the defender had fewer than six cards before the bout, the number of cards played by the attackers must not be more than the number of cards in the defender's hand.

The attack cards are placed separately face up in front of the defender, and each card played by the defender is placed face up on top of the card it is beating, slightly offset so that the values of all cards can be seen.

The defender succeeds in beating off the whole attack if either:

  1. the defender has beaten all the attack cards played so far, and none of the defender's opponents is able and willing to continue the attack;

  2. the defender succeeds in beating six attacking cards;

  3. the defender (having begun the defence holding fewer than six cards) has no cards left in hand, all the defender's cards having been used to beat attack cards.

When an attack is beaten off, all the cards played during the bout (the attacking cards and the defender's cards) are thrown face down on a discard heap and are not used again during the play of this deal. The defender becomes the attacker for the next bout, and the player to the new attacker's left is the new defender.

The player who begins the attack is the principal attacker, but other opponents of the defender can join in the attack if they have suitable cards to attack with. The principal attacker always has priority - the others can only join in with permission. For instance, the principal attacker can say "Wait, I am playing" or "Go ahead", or even ask the others questions such as whether they have a trump to attack with, and if not continue the attack himself. In the individual game with four players, the second attacker is the player to the left of the defender, and this player also has priority over the third attacker, who is the player opposite the defender. However, scope for dialogue here is limited in that the second attacker can stop the third attacker from playing, but is not allowed to ask him about what cards he has or what card he should play.

When 5 or 6 people play as individuals, it is usual to agree that only the players sitting next to the defender on either side are allowed to take part in an attack. Without this rule, there would be so many attackers that the first defender would be placed at a great disadvantage.

The defender always defends alone. When playing in teams you can do nothing while your partner is defending. You cannot help to beat off the attack, nor can you attack your partner, nor can you give cards to your partner when an attack succeeds. You can only sit and watch.

If at any stage, the defender is unable to or does not wish to beat one of the attack cards, the defender must pick up all the cards played during the bout - both the attacking cards and the cards used to beat them. All these cards become part of the defender's hand. In addition, the players who were entitled to take part in the attack can give to the defender (face up) any further cards which they could legally have played if the attack had continued. These extra cards must also be added to the defender's hand. The bout is then over. Since the attack has succeeded, the defender does not get a turn to attack. The next attacker is the player to the left of the unsuccessful defender, and the new defender is the player to the left of the new attacker as usual.

According to conditions (ii) and (iii) mentioned above, the total number of cards played by the attackers is limited to six, or to the number of cards in the defender's hand, whichever is less. The principal attacker has priority, followed by the other attackers in clockwise order. If the attackers play too many cards, the defender can choose which cards to beat or pick up, giving the remainder back to the attackers. The same applies if after the defender picks up, the attackers give too many additional cards: the defender only accepts six attack cards in total (including any beaten cards); the remainder are given back to the attackers.

In practice an attacker may play several cards at once, provided that all are legal. For example an attacker might begin by playing two sixes, rather than playing one six, waiting for it to be beaten or picked up, and then producing the other six. There is no real point in doing playing more than one card at a time, except to speed up the game; the same cards could equally well be played singly. In fact, attacking with more than one card gives the defender the advantage of seeing more of the attack before deciding whether and how to try to beat the cards.

Drawing from the Talon

After a bout is complete, all players who have fewer than six cards must if possible replenish their hands to six by drawing sufficient cards from the top of the talon. The attacker replenishes first, then the other players who joined in the attack, in clockwise order, and finally the defender.

If there are not enough cards in the talon to go around, cards are drawn as usual until it is exhausted. It may be that some of the later players do not draw any cards. The face up trump is drawn as the last card of the talon. After the talon is exhausted, the play continues without drawing.

If you are dealt the lowest trump (the six) or if you draw it from the talon, you are allowed to exchange it for the face up trump, placing your six of trumps under the talon and adding the turned up trump to your hand, at any time before the talon is exhausted. The six of trumps can only be exchanged by its original holder; if you acquire it from another player (as one of the cards you pick up when attacked) you cannot exchange it for the turned up trump.

If a player draws the trump 6 while replenishing, it can be swapped for the turned up trump even if that would be drawn by another player before the next bout. Even if another player has already drawn the turned up trump, the player who drew the six can still demand to exchange it provided that the bout after the one which exhausted the talon has not yet begun.

Sequence of Play

The general direction of play is clockwise, and for the first bout, the attacker is the player to the dealer's left. The defender is the next player in turn after the attacker - normally the player to the attacker's left. If an attack is beaten off, the defender becomes the next attacker, and the next player in turn is the new defender. If an attack succeeds, the defender does not get a turn to attack. The new attacker is the next player in turn after the defender, and the new defender is the player after that.

The Endgame

As players run out of cards they drop out of the play, and the other players continue. The effect of this on the sequence of play is slightly different depending on whether the game is being played individually or with partnerships:

  • In the individual game, when a player has no cards the turn simply passes over that player to the next person in clockwise rotation who still has cards.

  • In the four player partnership game, when someone has no cards, their turn is taken by their partner.

  • In the six player partnership game, as the players run out of cards, the remaining players of each partnership continue to play in order, skipping any member of the team who has no cards.