How to Play Bronco

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I had so much fun this weekend. So much fun. I love, love, love my family dearly and I wish we all lived closer together. Family gatherings are always full of fun, laughter and a lot of games.

Because the thing about my family is that we absolutely love to play games. Board games and card games especially, but when we used to go camping in the summer we also loved to play outdoor games.

But above all the game that gets playe the most is bronco. So far as we know and can tell, this is a card game invented by my family a long, long time ago. We’ve looked in encyclopedias of card games for it and I just checked at which boasts the biggest list of card games and unless and we have never found it listed anywhere. My grandpa is the bronco expert but most of us know how to play and I myself have been playing since I was young. Sometimes I go a long time without playing it, but give me one hand of the game to warm up and I’m right back into the swing of it. We play this at every family gathering – in fact at one point this weekend there were three different games of bronco going on.

So now that you know the history of bronco, let’s get down to how to play it. I’m going to do my best to explain it (with pictures) but if I leave something out (because I’m so used to playing it) let me know and I will answer your question or update my post to reflect that information. Sometimes it’s hard to explain something you’ve been doing for so long. And if you’re a part of my family and reading this – definitely let me know if I left something out. I would say definitely read all the instructions first so you have the full understanding of it before you try to play. As I was writing this, by the way, I learned that it is extremely hard to write rules for a card game haha. So if you have questions please, please ask because I might have accidentally left something out or written it in a way that was confusing.

What You Need

  • Standard 52 card deck (no jokers needed)
  • A way to keep score (pen and paper is usually the simplest)
  • Four players

Setting Up

The first thing you have to do is deal. At some point in the game, everyone will deal, but pick someone to be the dealer to start. The dealer should shuffle the cards and then deal. Deal three cards to everyone, starting with the person on your left (going clockwise) – this is your hand. Then deal two cards to everyone, starting with yourself – these are your blinds! No one should look at these yet! Then deal three cards to everyone again, starting with the person on your left. Then deal another two cards to the blinds, starting with yourself again, and lastly another three to everyone’s hand, starting with the person on your left. You are now ready to begin the hand. The person on your left will be the dealer for the hand after this one.


Bronco is a team game. There are two teams of two and players should sit alternating. For purposes of this post, I am going to use our fictional friends Nicole, Darius, Herbert and Christina and their fictional game. If Nicole and Herbert are on a team, they should sit Nicole, Darius, Herbert and then Christina so that the partners are not both playing one after the other. Any of the points that your partner wins counts towards your team and your bid, but you are not allowed to table talk at all and tell each other what you have.


The first part of a hand is bidding. Everyone should be looking at their hand (the nine cards you were dealt earlier). In this part of the game, you have two options. You can bid a number between 15 and 32 or you can pass. Bidding will start with the person on the left of the current dealer and proceed clockwise. Like I said, you can pass. You can bid no lower than 15 and if you want to bid and someone else already has, you have to update the bid by a minimum of one point. The dealer is always the last to bid and whoever wins the bid gets to pick what trump is and gets to play the first card. When you bid, you are saying that is how many points you think you can get. So if I bid 15, I think I can get a minimum of 15 points. Let’s use our fictional friends as an example. Let’s say Nicole dealt. Since Darius is on her left, he will have the first bid. Darius looks at his nine cards (his hand) but not his blinds and decides to bid 15. Herbert looks at his hand and passes, as does Christina. Nicole is the last to bid and decides to bid 16. This means she now has won the bid. After a player bids, they are allowed to look at their blinds. Special note: if you bid 32 and make it, as long as you are in the positive range, you automatically win the game. If you have negative points, then you just go back to zero points. But if you bid 32 and fail to make your bid, if you have positive points you go back to zero, but if you have negative points you automatically lose. So you better make sure you know what you are doing if you want to bid 32 haha.


Since when you bid you are deciding how many points you think you can win, it makes most sense that I explain scoring. Let’s assume Nicole has a good hand in clubs and picks that as her trump (the suite that is going to count for points), so for this example, I am showing the cards that are trump when clubs is picked. Points will always add up to 32.

The ace is worth one point.


The right king (also called a Bronc) is worth nine points.

Right Bronc

The left king (the other king of the same color – in this example it is spades and also called a bronc) is also worth nine points.

Left Bronc

The jack is worth one point.


The ten is worth one point.


The five of the trump suite (in this case clubs) is worth five points. It is also called a peat (the right peat).

Right Peat

The left peat (the other five of the same color which is the five of spades in this case) is also worth five points.

Left peat

The two is called the low and is also worth one point. The low is special in that it is the only card where the person who played it automatically gets to keep the point. It is therefore impossible to get 32 points unless you or your partner have the low.


All the rest of the clubs are also considered trump, but are not worth any points.

Every other card in the deck that is not trump for the suite you pick is considered fail.


All right, so in our fictional game, Nicole picked clubs. Now that she picked a suite, everyone has to discard all but six of their cards. However, there is one exception. You have to keep all of the trump for whatever suite was picked so if you have more than six trump, you have to keep all of your trump and bury some. I’ll explain what burying trump means in a second. If you don’t have six trump then you have to keep some cards that are fail, so you keep all your trump and also however many fail cards it takes to get you to six. No one should discard any cards that are trump.

After everyone is down to six cards, Nicole gets to go first, since she won the bid. Everyone’s goal is to get as many points as they can, but Nicole and her partner have to get a minimum of the number of points they bid – in this case 16 – or they will receiving negative points in the same amount of whatever they bid – also 16 in this case. Christina and Darius also want to get as many as they can in hopes of setting Nicole and Herbert, which is what it’s called when you fail to get enough points to make your bid.

So everyone will play a card, starting with Nicole. Whoever plays the highest card will keep all four cards (the low being the only exception ever) and get all the points from those four cards. The hierarchy of cards is mostly logical – the only thing to know is that rights are higher than lefts. So the right king beats the left king and the right five beats the left five. Whoever has the highest card will also get to play first next. You can start with trump or with fail, but if the first person starts with trump, everyone else has to play trump or fold if they have no trump, which means they are out until the next hand. Otherwise if it’s started with fail, you can lay anything fail or trump. In this scenario, the highest (or only) trump would still take the cards (and the points) otherwise, the highest fail of whatever suit was led will take the cards. Here’s a picture of all the cards that are considered trump for our example of clubs from highest to lowest when read right to left top to bottom. So the ace is highest and will take everything the right king is next and can take everything as long as the ace isn’t played.


Let’s show a few examples from our players. Let’s say Nicole starts with the ace of clubs, Darius plays the three of clubs, Herbert plays the five of clubs, and Christina plays the jack of clubs. Nicole’s ace is the highest and so she takes all those cards and gets seven points. She also gets to start again. This time she lays the ten of clubs. Darius then plays the queen of clubs. Herbert plays the two of clubs (the low for which he automatically gets one point) and Christina plays the six of clubs. Darius played the highest trump, so he gets those cards and also one point (from the ten). He also gets to start. So Darius decides to lead with the four of diamonds – which is fail. Herbert also plays a fail card, but Christina decides to play the seven of clubs, which is trump. This move is also referred to as a peat stopper, since it would catch a peat if Nicole decided to play one to try and sneak through the points for her team. In this scenario, however, Nicole also decides to play fail so Christina gets the cards and then will also start the next round. This continues until everyone is out of cards or until trump is played and everyone else has to fold.

I said I would explain burying trump so here it is. Say for example Nicole had seven trump cards, she would keep them all and on her very first turn she would bury one. This means she would play two cards and the second one would be buried. The buried card has to be lower than the other card and it also has to be worth no points. So in our example if Christina had had seven trump, she would have played the ace of clubs and buried the four of clubs since it’s lower than the ace and worth no points.

So every hand ends one if two ways. Either they make their bet or they get set. For example, since they bet 16 if they get 16 points or more, they make their bet and keep their points. Let’s say Nicole and Herbert get 16 points and Christina and Darius get 16 points. Since Herbert and Nicole got 16 points, they made their bid, so 16 points are added to their score. Christina and Darius also get the 16 points they got.

The other possibility is getting set. Let’s say Nicole and Herbert didn’t do so hot and those eight points are all they got. This means they got set, since they didn’t get their bid of 16. 16 would be subtracted from their score, even going negative if necessary (For example, if this was the first hand of the game and they were both starting at zero, Nicole and Herbert’s team would have -16 points). If Nicole and Herbert only got 8 points total, it means that Christina and Darius would have gotten the other 24 points, so that would also be added to their score. So in this case the score would be Nicole and Herbert -16, Christina and Darius 24. If you are in the negative point range and you get set three times, you lose the game.


You need 104 points to win (also called going out) so you keep playing hands until someone gets there. However, don’t think you can get by without ever bidding because to win you have to get the bid. For example, if your score is 94 and the other team has the bid, but you still get ten points, you don’t win, you sit at 103 until you have a hand where you get the bid and make the bid.


Well there you have it – that’s how you play bronco. I hope I’ve explained it well enough but feel free to leave questions here or on my Facebook page if you want or need an answer quicker. 🙂 It’s a lot of fun and if you know me in real life, I’m always up for teaching you in person.

12/2/13 Updated to fix a typo! Whoops!

12/2/13 Updated because my sister reminded me of a few minor rules I forgot. Thanks Elizabeth!

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