Durak is one of the most popular card games played in Russia, and very few people outside of Russia and Ukraine know about this game. The point of Durak is not to win, but rather to find the ‘fool.’ Durak means ‘fool’ in Russian and is a game where the loser is teased as the ‘fool’ of the game.
How to Play Durak
Durak is a strategy card game played with 2-5 people in which the aim of the game is for each player to get rid of all the cards in their hand by the time the deck runs out. Durak is played with 36 cards from a standard 52-card deck, with the numerical cards 2-5 removed. The ranking goes high-to-low: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6.
After the 36 remaining cards are shuffled, each player is handed 6 cards, and the bottom card from the remaining deck is placed face up on the table. This card determines the trump suit of the match, and the remaining cards are placed around the face-up card at a 90-degree angle. This forms the draw pile and is called a prikup, or ‘talon,’ and the trump card is the last card drawn at the end of the match.
The player with the lowest trump card that is the lowest card with the same suit as the card face up in the middle of the draw pile is the first to attack. The person to the left of the attacker is always the defender. If the attack fails, the defender becomes the next to attack. If the attack succeeds, the player to the left of the losing defender becomes the next player on the defense.
Remember, the attack always goes to the left. At the end of each turn, even if the attack was unsuccessful, each player draws more cards until they have six, or until they deplete the draw pile. The main attacker always draws first, and draws as many cards as necessary to get to 6, and is followed by the rest of the attackers with the defender as the last to draw from the pile. If the draw pile runs out, the game continues without drawing. Those who run out of cards exit the game. There is no winning, only losing, in Durak. The last player with a card, or cards, in their hands, is the Durak, or ‘fool.’
Since Durak is a turn-based game, seating is relevant to the strategy of this game. Seating can be chosen through a variety of methods, with the most common method of drawing a high card. Once the high card is determined, the dealer shuffles the card and offers it to the player to the right for a cut. After the cut, the dealer distributes cards in a clockwise direction, face down, until each player has 6 cards.
Once the player with the lowest trump card is determined, the attack begins. Durak is played in a series of battles, with the attacker beginning by selecting a card from his/her hand and placing it face up on the table. The defender must place a higher card to beat the attack. Any card with the trump suit beats cards, not of the trump suit. If a trump suit is the original card played, any higher trump suit can defeat that card. If no trump suit is played, each play is determined by the highest ranking card. The defender should place their card on top of the attacker’s original play.
If the defender cannot beat the attacker’s card, he/she accepts defeat and adds the attacker’s card to their hand. In this case, the attacker has won and moves on to the player to the left of the beaten defender. If the defender can beat, or match, the attacking cards the turn moves to the rest of the players in the game. Each player may play on the attacking cards, and the defender must try to beat each attack.
This goes on until the cards in the attacking pile reach the number of cards in the defender’s hand. So if the defending player has 6 cards in their hand, the attack may continue until the attacking pile has 6 cards. If the defender is unable to beat the added cards, they must take all the cards in the pile. If the defender can beat each attacking card, the cards then go to the discard pile and are not used for the rest of the game.
If the attacker wins the round, the turn then goes to the player to the left of the attacker, and they begin a new attack on the player to their left. The last person with cards in their hand loses the game and becomes the Durak, or ‘fool.’ Often they become the next dealer.
Durak – Rules, Tips, and Strategies
Remember, each player draws from the draw pile until they have 6 cards at the end of each turn, even if the defense is successful. In some variants of the game if the last card played is a 6 by the defender, the defender is cheerfully declared the Durak s pogonom, or ‘fool with an epaulet.’ The six is then placed on the loser’s shoulder as a visible sign of their handicap with the low card. Other variants include:
- Without trumps: this version of the game plays without trump suits
- The lowest trump beats Ace: this version allows the lowest trump card (which is often a 6) to beat the trump suit Ace. This is done so there is no longer a super card able to beat every other card in the deck.
- Railway Durak: in this version, the whole deck is handed out to the players, with only one card on the table. This card determines the trump suit.
- Full Durak: this version is played with the entire 52-card deck, generally without the jokers. The ranking falls in descending order, so the lowest card now becomes the 2. If the jokers are included, they become the highest ranking cards in the deck by color, as in the red joker beats all black suits and the black joker beats all red suits.
- Travel document: in this version, players can pass on defending if they have a trump card that matches the denomination of the attacking card they can show their card to the player and become the attacker. The card originally played by the first attacker is still used against the new defender, and he/she will be required to defend against it.
There are multiple strategies that play into Durak. One of them involves taking trump cards early in the game. If you are a defender early in the game and attackers play trump cards against you, it is often advantageous to admit defeat to add trump cards to your hand to use later in the game. Another strategy is to save your trump cards for the end. Remember, the last player with cards in their hand is the loser, and you have to draw more cards until there are none left in the draw pile.
Saving your trump cards could secure your spot in later rounds. There are two parts of the game that are important to remember: the initial play and the endgame. The endgame is when all cards from the draw pile have been depleted, and no new cards are added to a players hand. This is when it is critical to be able to defend, and often when players use their trump cards.
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Players often play low trumps in the initial plays in order to keep their hand light but may play high trump cards in special circumstances. A good strategy is to get rid of low cards in the initial attacks. Unless playing the lowest trump beats ace version, it is recommended to keep the trump ace until the endgame, as this is the best card for defense. It is important to pay attention to what cards are used in the initial plays as it will help you have an idea of what cards are needed to defend once the endgame begins.
Since trump cards are valuable, you should strive to get rid of non-trump cards in the beginning stages of each game. A lot of Durak involves chance, but experienced players quickly learn how to make a bad hand go a long way. It takes a few plays to get the hang of the game but quickly becomes second nature.
Overall, this game is fun and simple once you learn how to play. It is an excellent card game to add to your repertoire. While Durak can be played with 6-8 players, it is generally more intimate and enjoyable with 2-5 players. It is one of the most popular card games in Russia and is slowly branching out to the rest of the world. While it may take a few times to learn, Durak is a great game that will keep you and your friends entertained time and time again!