eKasi Casino

eKasi Cassino

by Alex J. Coyne © 2017 Gifts for Card Players

The sky is overcast and the sun has just started setting over one of South Africa’s many townships. It’s a busy night. Illuminated by the moon and I walk through the maze of tin shacks – the first right, then straight, a short left and another right, following the music to one of the drinking haunts.

“Ke batla Black.”  Setswana for “I want a Black (Label).”

My Setswana is limited, but it’s more than enough. Then, “Ke a leboga.”  Thanks.

I pay – more or less one dollar US – and step closer to the gathering crowd in the middle. Someone passes me a cigarette.

The dealer takes hold of a battered deck of cards – red-backed, a knockoff of Bicycle. The cards are shuffled with superhuman speed and dealt. (Later, I try to copy his Hindu shuffle at home and realize his hands have seen at least a decade more practice.) The game isn’t something I immediately recognize.

“What are they playing?” I ask a passerby.


What is Cassino?

Cassino (sometimes spelt with only one s) is a basic card-fishing game with several variations with (mostly) the same rules. Among them, Royal Cassino, where face cards are allocated a higher value (i.e. Jacks have a value of 11, Queens are 12, Kings are 13, the same seems to be true for Swazi Cassino), Draw Cassino, where players are allowed to draw from the deck when making a play, Spade Cassino (where the Jack of Spades counts for 2, and 1 point for each spade at the end) and Swazi Cassino – the version seen in areas like Swaziland and South Africa, where players are allowed to ‘capture’ from their opponent’s pile.

The origin of cassino is usually noted as being Italian, though this claim seems to be commonly disputed, while the game might have evolved from the Italian fishing game of Scopa. Early mentions of Cassino go as far back as a 1797 edition of Hoyle’s according to the Encyclopaedia of Play in Today’s Society (Vol. 1); other subsequent mentions of the game appear in German texts.

How do I play Cassino?

  • Four cards are placed face-up on the table; each player receives four face-down cards of their own.
  • The object of cassino is to capture enough cards from the table to reach the game’s total – usually 21 – and win the game.
  • There are five main plays:
    • Trailing: Players can place a card in their hand on the table if they have no other possible plays.
    • Taking; If a player has a card matching the suit of a card on the table in their hand, they can play said card or take cards of the same point value. Two or more cards can also be picked up to equal said card (for example, if a four is played, a player can take any other four’s on the table as well as cards that add up to it). Jacks, Queens and Kings are sometimes valued at 11, 12 and 13).
    • Building: Players are allowed to build upon those on the table, but only providing they have the new rank they are building in their hand (for example, a two and four to make a five is only valid if you already have a five)
    • Build Augmenting: Builds – packs already on the table – are allowed to be augmented by a player, but once a build has been augmented, it cannot be further built upon. 
    • Build Increasing: Players are allowed to increase their (or an opponent’s) build. (An opponent can again take this pile should he have a card equivalent to the point ranking in his hand.)
    • The play is finally scored as such:
      • The player who has taken the most cards, 3 points.
      • The player who ended up with the most spades, 1 point.
      • The player ending up with the ten of diamonds, known as “big cassino”, 2 points.
      • The player ending up with the two of spades, known as “little cassino”, 1 point.
      • For each ace in the player’s hand, 1 point.

Rules of cassino can be found on the very excellent Pagat.com website where you’ll find the rules for pretty much all card games.

Can I play Cassino online?

Want to try your hand at casino? Check out Cassino Card Game or G4All Casino for Android or Cassino! By Michael Dokken on the App Store.

by Alex J. Coyne © 2017 Gifts for Card Players

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