She and I would often play Yahtzee, and I recall how she'd cup her hand over the plastic tumbler filled with dice and, with a rather devious grin, whisper the numerical combination she hoped for. As crazy as it sounds, I'm convinced her unconventional method worked because I lost an awful lot of games of Yahtzee.
Once when I found an old Chinese checkers set packed away in the closet of a spare room, my grandmother explained that she and my grandfather went through a period where they were absolutely obsessed with the game. Eventually they had to stop playing because my grandmother would dream about the moves in her sleep, complete with visions of brightly-colored marbles hopping to and fro over a tin metal board.
Grandmom taught me simple card games like gin rummy, war, solitaire, and go fish, and we'd spend hours together, laughing and having fun with just a simple deck of cards. She was also a whiz at more complex games such as pinochle, a game I never mastered as a child (or as an adult, for that matter).
I later learned that cardshark grandmas are not unique to the U.S. When I first came to Argentina, Daniel's grandmother Velia told me that on a weekly basis for some 25 years, she and her husband Diego would play cards—either truco or chinchón—with the next-door neighbors, Petty and Juan. The married couples always played against each other, that is, until one night when Petty played rather poorly. Throwing his cards down in frustration, Juan exclaimed, "I'm never playing with you again!" and from then on, Velia was teamed with Juan and Petty with Diego.
Popular card games in Argentina include tute or tute cabrero, mus, canasta, truco, escoba del quince and chinchón. Instead of the familiar playing cards used in the United States, these games are all played with a Spanish deck, which contains fewer cards and different suits. This past weekend, I had an opportunity to learn truco while on a retreat with the members of my chorus.
Truco is a fast-paced card game usually played with four people in two teams. According to the gaming site Pagat, "Each player is dealt three cards, which are played out in tricks, and points are also scored for holding combinations of cards in the same suit. It is possible to bet extra points on who has the best combination or [who] will win the tricks, and the bluffing, talking and joking that go with this are an important part of the game." Truco strategy also includes various signals that you can give to your partner to indicate the cards you have in your hand.
Although rather complicated to learn, I managed to pick up the basic gist of truco, and I was invited to play in a real game. My partner and I actually fared pretty well, losing by just two points to the other team. But best of all, I felt transported to my childhood for a couple of hours—to a time when cards, laughter and fun went hand in hand.
Do you have memories of playing cards or other games with your family? Do you know any Argentine card games?