What is Durak?
Durak is a Russian card game in the shedding and trick-taking family, whose origins arise around Napoleon’s invasion of Russia. Originally a game for soldiers during the defense against the French, the game became much more popular in Russia following the establishment of the Soviet Union.
Today, Durak is the most popular card game in Russia. The name “Durak” is the Russian word for fool. The game also goes by the names “Attack”, “Russian War”, and “Perevodnoy Durak” which means “transferable fool.” This name refers to the fact that the loser of each game becomes the “durak” and must then deal out the cards for the next round.
How to Play Durak?
Durak is played using a specially modified deck, utilizing only 36 of the 52 cards in the standard Anglo-American pattern. A “Durak deck” uses all cards from 6 and up. The 5s and below of each suit (♥♦♣♠) are then removed from the deck and set until the end of the game.
To begin, the modified deck is created and then shuffled, and each Player will be dealt out 6 cards from the Dealer. The first Dealer will be chosen randomly, and in subsequent games, the previous loser or “durak” will become the dealer of the next round. Cards are ranked Ace-6 from highest to lowest.
Traditionally, Durak is a 4-player game, and this guide will reflect that fact. However, the game could potentially be played with more or fewer Players if desired.
Once each Player has been dealt their 6 requisite cards, the deck of remaining cards will be set aside. This deck of remaining cards, sometimes called the stock in other shedding games, is here referred to as the “prikup” or the “talon.”
The top card from the talon will be turned face-up. The rest of the Prikup will then be placed perpendicularly on top of this face-up card, such that the suit of the face-up can still be seen beneath the deck. This face-up that is now beneath the deck represents the Trump suit of the hand.
A card that is in Trump will always beat a card that is not Trump, even if they are not the same rank. For example, a 6 of ♦beats a K♣, when ♦ is the trump suit.
The Player with the lowest Trump card in their hand is granted the right of first attack. An “Attack” in Durak is simply playing a card into the central play area.
The first attacker in a game may play whatever card they wish to attack. This “attack” is always directed at the player clockwise to the Attacking Player, known as the Defender.
The Defender must play a card of the same or higher rank (Ace, K, Q, J, 10-6) or a Trump card if the attacking card is not a Trump. If it is a trump, then a higher-value Trump card must be played instead.
For example, Player 1 attacks Player 2 with a 9 of Trump. Therefore, Player 2 defends from the attack with a 10 of Trump.
If a Player has successfully defended against an attack, then the attacker may attack again. However, the attacker’s subsequent attacks must use a card that was played in the previous attack and defense. For example:
- Trump is ♣
- Player 1 attacks Player 2 with a J♦
- Player 2 defends the attack with a K♥
- Player 1 attacks again, using a K♠
- Player 2 defends, using an A♥
Notice that Player 2 is not restricted to using the same cards as were in the previous hand, only the attacker must do this, and only on subsequent attacks against the same Player.
If a Player successfully defends against all attacks from another Player, then the Defender becomes an attacker and may begin attacking the Player to their clockwise.
This process repeats the same procedure as before, with the first attack being a card of the Attacker’s choosing, and subsequent attacks mirroring previously played cards during that Player’s attack.
The attacks continue until a Player is unsuccessfully able to defend, at which point they must take all of the cards on the table that were used for both attacking and defending.
At the end of the attacking phase, if there are still cards in the deck, each Player with less than six cards in their hand must draw until they have exactly six cards in their hand. Players with more than six cards do not draw, and if the deck is empty Players do not draw.
Players draw in order, so if there are 3 cards in the deck, and Player 1 has 4 cards and Player 2 has 4 cards, Player 1 must draw 2 cards and Player 2 the remaining card, leaving Player 2 with only 5 cards.
Gameplay continues until all but one Player has emptied their cards from their hand. This last Player with cards is the loser, and becomes the “Durak”, and must deal out the cards for the next game.
The essential rules of Durak can be summarized as follows:
- If a Player runs out of cards during the attack phase, and there are still cards in the deck, then they can be considered unable to defend and must absorb the attacking and defending cards into their hand.
- If there are no cards left in the deck, and a Player is out of cards during the attacking phase, that Player automatically goes out and is immune from becoming the Durak.
- Players must defend all of an opponent’s attacks before it is their turn to attack. If a Player fails to defend against all attacks, their opportunity to attack is skipped.
- While there are cards in the deck, rules state Players must have at least 6 cards in their hand.
Durak may be played for fun as a time-waster, or it may be played as a gambling card game for money or tokens. When played as a gambling game, money will serve as each Player’s “score”, with the amount of money won correlating to an overall positive or negative performance in successive games.
In games that are played for money, the Durak must pay out the ante to each Player. If the ante is 5 dollars, and Player 3 is the Durak, Player 3 must pay 5 dollars each to Players 1, 2, and 4.
When Playing for fun, the score does not need to be kept, a simple tally of who was the Durak in each round will suffice.
As the game reaches the decided end of rounds, the Player who was Durak most times is the loser. If there is a tie, then one more game will be Played. The first player of those two tying players to go out will win, and the other Player immediately becomes the loser.
The following is a possible hand to be dealt at the start of a game of Durak:
6♠, 10♣, Q♦, K♦, 8♣, 9♦
The above hand could be particularly strong if diamonds are the Trump suit for the hand. It would be mildly strong if clubs are the Trump suit.
However, even if the Trump suit is spades or hearts, this hand is not completely worthless. The King and Queen are both highly ranked, making it possible to defend against non-Trump attacks.
Strategy & Tips
- It is a good strategy to save your Trumps until the round nears its end, at least until the deck is empty. Remember, failed defenses are forced to take all of the played cards on the table. This includes the Trump cards on the table. Every Trump you play is a Trump that winds up in someone else’s hands.
- Having pairs, three, or even four of a kind in your hand allows for multiple attacks to be levied against the same Player at the same time. Even if they are able to defend against them, some Player at the table will be forced to take them…
- …and that Player could be you as unlikely as it is, so try not to press too many attacks if you do not have cards suitable for an adequate defense as well!
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards do you start with in Durak?
At the start of each round, each Player is dealt 6 cards, 1 at a time.
Is Durak a game of skill?
Yes and no. Like all card games, Durak is a game that combines skill and chance. Any card game where the deck is shuffled and cards are dealt out from that shuffled deck will have an element of chance.
However, Durak is not simply a game of chance and there is definitely skill involved. Knowing when to play what card is a valuable skill.
The game is mildly reminiscent of War, not unlike chess, and the loser is known as fool. These hints alone tell you that there is some intelligence to the game, as otherwise losing would not be foolish, simply unlucky.
Can you play Durak with three Players?
Yes. The Durak card game could potentially be played with three players, without any alterations to the rules. However, this means that each game becomes a 1-on-1 the moment a Player goes out for the first time.
Is there a tie in Durak?
No. As the game is played taking turns, there will always be one Player that goes out before the others. Players are not allowed to play cards when they are not being attacked or attacking another Player. This means there will always be someone who “goes out” before someone else.