This guide refers to Carioca as played in Chile and Argentina. Some also refer to the game as Central American Loba, not to be confused with Loba de Menos. Although these games do share some similarities, they are distinct games.
It’s part of the Rummy family and is considered to be a variation of Contract Rummy in particular. As such, the game follows many of the rules, procedures, and mechanics of its mother game.
How to Play Carioca
Carioca is played using two copies of the Joker Variant Anglo-American 54-card deck, for a total of 108 cards. The game be played with up to 5 Players, though it is most commonly played with 2-4.
Players should determine the Dealer by whatever random means they agree upon. Once the first Dealer has been chosen, 11 cards shall be dealt face down to each participating Player, including the Dealer themselves.
Once each Player has been dealt the requisite 11 cards, the top card of the deck will be milled, placed face-up beside the remaining deck of cards. This top card represents the top of the discard pile, while the remaining deck shall make up the stock for the game.
Important: 11 cards are dealt in the first six rounds and 12 will be dealt in the last round.
The Player to the immediate right of the Dealer shall take the first turn, with all subsequent turns following in a counter-clockwise manner.
- At the start of each turn, the Player must draw a card. They may either draw from the top of the Stock, or from the top-card of the discard pile.
- At the end of each turn, the Player must also discard one card, face-up, into the discard pile.
Players drop cards face-up, in front of themselves, such that all other Players can view their dropped cards.
In order to drop cards, Players must form combinations of cards, or “melds”, which can all be dropped at once. There are two legal melds in Carioca: The Trio, and the Escalera.
A Trio is a meld composed of three or more cards all of the same rank. Suit is irrelevant for a Trio. Examples of possible legal trios may look like Q♣ Q♠ Q♣ or Q♠ Q♣ Q♥.
An Escalera is a meld composed of four or more cards that are sequential in number, and all share the same suit.
For example, 3♦ 4♦ 5♦ 6♦ would be a legal escalera while 8♦ 9♣ 10♠ J♠ would not be a valid escalera.
In order to drop cards, Players must first reach the “Contract” for that particular round. In order to achieve the contract, Players must make their first drop of card a particular sequence of melds.
The required meld for each round is given below, in the “Scoring” section. For now, keep in mind that you must make an opening move with a specific grouping of melds.
Once a Player has opened, by dropping their contracted melds, they are able to drop singular cards if they so wish, onto melds that have already been formed. This is called laying off.
- Suppose Player 1 has a 7♣ in their hand, and they have already opened.
- Player 4 drops an Escalera, composed of 3♣ 4♣ 5♣ 6♣. T
- hen, on Player 1’s turn, after they have drawn their card, they may drop any other legal meld in their hand, as well as the individual 7♣, placing it on the end of the Escalera placed by Player 4.
Play continues in this fashion, with each Player drawing, dropping any cards they can, and then discarding, until one Player empties their hand of cards.
Once a Player’s hand is empty, they are said to have “Closed.” Once a Player has closed the round, all Play immediately stops.
- Players with cards remaining must tally their deadwood penalty score together, and assign themselves that score.
- The Player that closed the round will receive a penalty of 0, as they have no deadwood in their hand.
Once each Player’s score is tallied, a new round, with new contractual requirements for opening, begins. The overall winner of the game is the Player with the lowest score at the end of 7 rounds.
There are some specific rules for Carioca, which you can find below:
- Players do not need to meld in order to lay down singular cards, they simply must have opened by reaching the contracted melds for that round.
- The Jokers are full wildcards, but a Player may not use more than one Joker per individual meld.
- Trios are composed of three or more cards that are the same rank, suit is irrelevant. Escaleras are composed of a sequence of cards, all the same suit.
- A Player must drop the contractually obligated meld for the round first, before any other cards may be dropped.
As Carioca is a Contract Rummy game, Players are not scored by the number of cards they lay on the table, or “Drop”, but rather by the number of cards remaining in their hand at the end of a round.
These remaining cards are referred to as “deadwood”, and each deadwood has an associated penalty that will be applied to a Player at the end of the round:
|Numbered Cards (1-10)
|Same as Numerical Value (1-10)
|15 or 20 Points
|25 or 50 Points
Players add up their score at the end of a round, with scores kept and updated between rounds.
Keep in mind that each round, Players’ first meld in the round must be in accordance with the round’s contractual obligation. Each of the seven rounds of Carioca requires a different opening meld, which have been given below:
|One Escalera, One Trio
|Two Trios, One Escalera
|Two Escaleras, One Trio
As in most Contract Rummy games, each subsequent round represents an additional necessary card for the Player to open. So, in Round 1 needs only 6 cards (Two three-card Trios), while Round 2 needs 7 cards to open (one four-card Escalera, and one three-card Trio).
Suppose that you have the following cards in a game of Carioca:
9♥ 3♠ 8♦ 8♥ Q♦ Joker J♥ Q♥ 4♦ 5♦ 8♣
Assuming that this is round 1, you already have enough cards to open on your first turn. At the start of your turn, simply discard your draw, or discard the J♥, as it does not fit in any possible melds and is a high-value (11 points) card.
Then, on your turn, lay down the Joker, Q♦ and Q♥ as one Trio, and the 8♣ 8♦ 8♥ as the other Trio. You have successfully opened, and managed to meld six cards from a single turn!
Strategy and Tips
Try to play Jokers as quickly as possible
While it is true that holding on to a Joker could help meld, and as such remove more cards quickly from your hand, the risk of another Player closing is simply too great to let Jokers remain in your hand for too long.
Holding a Joker on the first turn or two in a round might be acceptable, but holding them any longer than that is opening a 25-point risk over your head.
By the mid-game, if you have not drawn into any melds that can have the Joker attached, simply drop the Joker as an individual card on your turn or discard it.
Double-check the board
It is possible to drop cards after you have melded. Make sure to look at the board carefully before officially ending your turn.
You may add onto opponents’ melds as well. Don’t throw away the opportunity to drop an additional card, simply because you were overeager to end your turn!