Escoba – Rules and strategy of card games
Escoba is popular in Spain, and also in Argentina and Chile. The name of the game means “broom”, and no doubt refers to the bonus point scored for sweeping the table clean by capturing all the face up cards. Escoba is very similar to the Italian game Scopa – specifically to the variation Scopa da Quindici and indeed Escoba is sometimes known as Escoba de Quince.
Players and Cards
Escoba is a game for two, three or four players – four can play individually or in partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other.
Traditionally, a 40 card Spanish deck is used. This has suits of Coins, Cups, Batons and Swords, the cards of each suit being 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Sota (Jack), Caballo (Horse) and Rey (King). For the purpose of capturing:
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- the numbers 1 to 7 have their face values
- the Sota (jack) counts as 8
- the Caballo (horse) counts as 9
- the Rey (king) counts as 10
In North America, Spanish cards can be obtained from TaroBear’s Lair.
This can be extremely confusing for new players, because the picture cards of a Spanish deck normally have numbers printed on them that are different from their values in this game.
- The Sota is labelled 10, though it is worth only 8.
- The Caballo is labelled 11, though it is worth only 9.
- The Rey is labelled 12, though it is worth only 10.
The first dealer is chosen by some random method, such as cutting the cards. The player designated as the dealer continues to deal until all the cards of the pack have been dealt and played; then the turn to deal passes to the right.
The dealer shuffles and the dealer’s left hand opponent cuts.
Three cards are dealt face down to each player (counterclockwise, beginning with the player to dealer’s right), and after everyone has their three cards, four additional cards are dealt face-up on the table. For the sake of clarity we will call this procedure the opening deal. The remaining cards are placed in a face down stack by the dealer ready to be dealt later.
The player to dealer’s right plays first, and the turn to play passes anticlockwise, until all the cards have been played.
A turn consists of playing one card face up to the table, which may capture one or more table cards. In the event of a capture, both the played card and the captured card(s) are taken and stored face down in front of one of the members of the team that made the capture, like a trick. If there is no capture the played card remains face up on the table. In either case the turn then passes to the next player.
Once all the players have played all three of their cards, the dealer deals three new cards to each player (but none to the table) and the play continues. This procedure is repeated until the pack is exhausted. When everyone has played their last three cards (after 6 deals if there are two players, or after three deals if there are four), any cards remaining face up on the table are taken by the last player or team that made a capture. This does not count as an escoba – see below. The points scored by both sides are then totalled and the pack is reshuffled and passed to the next dealer for a new round of play, beginning as before with the opening deal.
The capturing rules are as follows:
- The card played captures any one set of cards which, together with the played card, add up to 15. For example if the table cards are A, 3, 4, 7 and you play a 4, it captures either the 4 and the 7 or the Ace, 3 and 7 at your choice.
- There is no obligation to play a card which makes a capture – it is legal (and sometimes better play) simply to add a card to the table; however if the played card does make a capture, the captured cards must be taken even if the player would prefer to leave them on the table.
An escoba occurs when you play a card which captures all the table cards, leaving the table empty. This is worth an extra point to the team that makes the capture. Traditionally, the capturing card is placed face up in the trick-pile of the capturing side, so that the number of escobas made by each side can easily be seen when the scoring is done at the end of the play.
If the values of the four cards that were dealt face-up on the table in the opening deal add up to exactly 15, the dealer inmmediately captures these four cards before any cards are played. This counts as an escoba, and the player to dealer’s right then plays the first card to an empty table. If the cards in the initial four card layout add up to 30, the lucky dealer takes them and scores two escobas.
There are four fixed points available to be won on each deal:
- Cartas (the Cards). The point is won by whichever player or team takes the majority of the cards. If the cards split 20-20 the point is not awarded.
- Oros (the Coins). The point is won by whichever player or team takes more cards of the coins suit. If they split 5-5 the point is not awarded.
- Siete de Velo or Guindis (the Seven of Coins). The point is won by whichever player or team takes the 7 of coins.
- La Setenta (the Prime). The point is won by the player or team with the best prime. In practice this is usually the player or team with more sevens, but the actual rule is as follows. A prime consists of one card of each suit, ranking as follows:
Sevens (highest), 6s, As, 5s, 4s, 3s, 2s, pictures (lowest).
Whichever team can construct the better prime wins the point. If each team has two sevens, the highest cards held by each team in the other suits are compared. For example a teams’ prime of 7,7,6,5 beats the opponents’ 7,7,A,A prime, because 6 is better than ace. 7,7,6,A beats 7,7,6,5 because the best three cards are equal and the ace beats the five. If both teams’ primes are equal – for example each team has 7,7,6,6 – then the prime point is not awarded.
In addition to the points mentioned above, you or your team also wins a point for each escoba, as indicated by the cards stored face up in the piles of captured cards.
Winning the game
The first team to have 21 or more points at the end of a hand wins. If both sides reach 21 in the same hand the side with more points wins. If both are equal, further hands are played until one side has more points at the end of a hand.
Some play that
- a player or team that captures more than 30 cards, the opponent(s) having fewer than 10, scores 2 points for cards instead of 1
- a player or team that captures all 10 cards of the coin suit scores 2 points for coins instead of 1
- a player or team that captures all four sevens scores 3 points instead of just 2 for setanta and 7 of coins
When making a capture you should consider the following:
- You should avoid playing a card of value five or higher when the table is empty, as this risks giving away an escoba to the opponent. An exception be when you know that your opponent cannot hold the complementary card – for example if three sixes have already been played and you hold the fourth, it is safe to play a caballo to the empty table.
- You should aim to win the 7 of coins if at all possible since it is worth a point by itself and contributes to all the other three points.
- The next priority is to capture other sevens (for the prime), and also sixes, which come in useful if sevens are split.
- Coins are good to collect as well.
- Finally it does no harm to have the greater bulk of cards.
The values of all the cards in the pack add up to 220, 10 more than a multiple of 15 (210), so at the end of the play there will be 10, 25, 40 or 55 points left on the table. Knowing this can be very helpful in working out what cards the other players have left in the last deal.
Other Escoba pages, Software, Online Games, etc
You can play Escoba online for money at MoneyGaming.com.