The dictionary would probably tell you that Truco is a two against two card game, the teams sit at opposite sides of the table, just like in dominoes, and everyone gets three cards at every round. I won’t explain the whole game, the thing is super complicated anyways, sometimes people even get into fights over certain game-defining rules. Someone should write those down once and for all.
Truco requires a lot of bluffing, but unlike poker, where everyone is quiet and serious, you need to talk, a lot. To raise the stakes you say ¡truco!, if you want to intimidate you can even scream the thing at your opponents ¡TRUCO A TI NOJODA!
Say you want to raise the stakes even more, the answer is ¡RETRUCO! (at this point everyone is screaming, I totally love this part.)
There are all kinds of chants meaning different things like “a ley o sin ley juego y envido”. That means you MAY have flor (the equivalent in poker would be flush, all cards of the same suit), but you are allowed to say it if you have absolutely nothing just to confuse. I’m telling you, the thing is a mess of rules, you have no idea.
Truco is about the institutionalization of mind games. You need to be constantly coordinating with your partner across from you while trying to figure out what your opponents are up to. You also need to gain social control of the table, so if you are not a screamer you still need to show some attitude in your chanting, maybe throw some ven a mi que tengo flor in there. Even if you are playing with complete strangers or are an introvert like me, you end up talking a lot.
Eso sí, you absolutely have to be a good sport, some light insults are bound to appear, people gather confidence quick, but it’s ok, that’s our tropical way. I think that’s why truco is even fun to watch (ESPN get a clue, ditch those poker guys, this is so much better).
Sadly, the game doesn’t have the greatest appeal to outsiders. My mom thinks it’s a game for malandros and borrachitos. Who can blame her? the cards look like santería equipment and are sold only in liquor stores. Some rebranding could go a long way.
Truco gets no respect at all. I love it though, and I sure hope that changes. Someday when you hear Venezuela you’ll think about arepas, joropo and truco venezolano.