How to Play Primero

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Staff member
May 3, 2008
You might be wondering what Primero is. While it’s fairly unknown now outside of Spain and some Latin American countries where Spain had a heavy influence, it’s one of the many influences
for the modern poker game. The earliest mention of it is from around 1525, during the Renaissance era in Italy. Although there are no written records of rules that have survived, there are detailed
descriptions of individual games. Many of these descriptions involve a number of variants, so it is hard to pin down the “official” rules of the game. Much like poker, it was usually played with four
to six people, involved bluffing, and allowed for some interesting betting strategies. It’s a good game to learn some additional poker tricks, especially regarding how to bluff and choose cards wisely.

The Deck

The game can be played with a 52-card deck but without the eights, nines, and tens so you will only have one through seven. Unlike poker, the cards are scored to avoid ties.
All face cards count as ten points. Cards two through five count as ten plus their value (for example, a four is worth ten plus four, or fourteen). Aces count as sixteen.
Sixes and sevens count as three times their value (eighteen and twenty-one, respectively).

The Hands

There are five different hand types in Primero, unlike the ten different hands in poker (including high card). Those hand types, in order from worst to best, are:
  • Numerus: This is just like the standard three-of-a-kind in poker (three kings, three threes, three fours, etc.)
  • Primero: This is achieved when you have one card of each suit. Unfortunately, in today’s poker games you’d jus have a high card since this hand is impossible to get.
  • Maximus or Supremus: If a player receives an ace, six, and seven of any suit, they have a maximus. This is named as such because it scores the maximum number of points with different cards.
  • Fluxus: A fluxus is when a player has all cards of the same suit. A fluxus is the equivalent to today’s flush.
  • Chorus: A chorus is when a player has four of a kind. The largest possible score is a “chorus 84.”
It should be noted that only the cards relevant to the creation of the hand are scored. For example, a numerus made of two fours, a queen, and a five only equals “numerus 28”.

The Play

As with poker, every game starts with a standard ante, the price for admission. Then the dealer deals one card counter-clockwise to each player until everyone has two cards.
Once every player has two cards the players decide whether they would like to bet, cover, or pass.

A bet is when a player bets and announces the cards and score they have (for example, a “fluxus 56” for two twos and two aces, all of the same suit).
The betting player may also bluff and call out a score or hand lower than they have. For example, that same player can say “maximus 68” or anything else up to a “fluxus 56”.

A player can only cover after another player bets. When this happens, the covering player must first cover the previous bet, and then announce their hands or bluff, then add additional money to the pot.
After a person announces their hand they are no longer allowed to draw cards when passing, so care must be made to get the best hand you can first.

A player can also pass. When a player passes, they do not bet but they must discard and redraw. They are only allowed to discard up to two cards and pick up the same amount of cards that they discarded.

Once this occurs the first time around, while every player has two cards in their hand, then the dealer deals two more cards to each player, just as they did before. In some versions, eight of the
remaining cards are placed out, face down on the table while the remaining are used as a redraw pile. If a player passes then they are allowed to either place their cards in the discard pile or redraw
from the main redraw pile or they are able to replace one or two of the eight cards with their own. Every player takes turns betting, covering, or passing until every player passes. In a four player game,
if a player bets, then two players pass, the fourth player must cover. The advantage to this is that the previously betting player must show their hand to the player who was forced to cover, who may then
bet additional money if they so choose.

The game essentially continues until one person must cover twice or two people must cover once. After this occurs, each player lays down their hands. If only one player has the best hand,
then they automatically win. If two people have the same hands then the scores of the cards are added up. If it is still a tie after that point then the money stays in the pot and the game is played
again until there is a winner. One of the interesting things about the game is that the pot is divided among the three highest hands with the remaining staying in the pot and being used as an ante.
It is unclear how the pot was divided in antiquity.

The game is quite an interesting and fun game, especially if you’re interested in the history of poker or casino games in general. As previously stated, many variants of the game can be found
from differing sources so it’s worth taking a look into how different regions played the game in order to get a fuller grasp on Primero as well as modern day poker.

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