August 2012

A Local Vice : The Game of “Cacho”

The game of cacho, played across Bolivia, at first seems as unusual as it does complicated. Walter Sanchez walks us through its history and rules so that you too can enjoy Cochabamba´s favourite game...

By: Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Photo: Walter Sánchez

Cacho is one of the most popular games in the city of Cochabamba. Practiced in bars, chicherías, and restaurants, its popularity has reached such a level that there is even a “national” championship of cacho. The antecedents of cacho are found in card games introduced during colonial times. However, according to CiroBayo, a Spanish man living in Sucre during the end of the nineteenth century, it may have also derived from a Spanish dice game. In his book, Chuquisaca and La Plata Perulera, he explains that games of this type were “imported by Spanish soldiers” who, in their long hours, passed time playing dice and cards. What we do know, from the few known facts, the game of cacho was consolidated between the elite and popular classes in the early twentieth century. It is this same Spanish traveller, CiroBayo, who mentions that in nineteenth century Sucre, there were two dice games highly regarded by the elite: pinta and cacho. Pinta, he says, became “so common here, like gambling, that it has superseded cards. Throughout Bolivia it has become part of the daily agenda from the aristocracy down to the most miserable. In Buenos Aires and Santiago, it is a game of ruffians, like in Europe.” Introduced during the colonial period, pinta was initially a game of cards; in time, it was amended as craps, with similar rules to the card game.

Cacho on the other hand, derived, according to this author, from another card game that was “in vogue” at the time in Sucre. He remarks that “whenever two or three of us friends meet with someone new, we must play cacho, have a round of cocktails, and after… clean his pockets by throwing hearts, spades, aces, and diamonds.” Referring to the popularity of cacho among Sucre’s elite, but more explicitly about pinta, the Spanish traveller says, “There is a lack of free entry to meetings in the city centers. The groups and the casinos have their members, and the coffee shops and hotels operate in the same precarious way because the ruling class is so small. Even in the coffee shops, like in the cafes, they are not accustomed to social gatherings like our own, the lower classes can enter only to have a cocktail, play a game of pool, or enjoy a pint. Thus, between bets and rounds, they [Sucre’s elite] go to eat with hot heads and empty pockets.”

Dice Cup and dice
Photo: Walter Sánchez

In Cochabamba, local elites were also fond of cacho and pinto, including both during sessions of cocktails and beer. In the following decades this was expanded with the accompaniment of food. As in Sucre, the love of dice games was popular among the common people, that is, within the mestizo-cholo areas. This affection for the dice was so great that, in 1861, Jose Manuel Cortez, in his text, Essay on the History of Bolivia (Sucre: Printed by Beeche, 1861) wrote very specifically:

The common people of Cochabamba live in almost a perpetual state of celebration and therefore have all the vices, all the insolence, that drunkenness brings. From Mondays, which continue Sunday’s drunkenness, there has originated a saint by the name of Saint Monday. The saint of drunkenness, he is painted above the doors of chicherías. The face is that of a drunken man; a pitcher of chicha is the body; a violin and guitar are the arms; he doesn’t have feet, no doubt to denote the difficultly drunks have walking; the hat is a mug for serving chicha. In front of him is a table with dice, cards, hooks, and daggers, true symbols of the vices present within chicherías, true places of the white rabbit.

In present times, the game of cacho is played by men and women in fun sessions of eating and drinking alcoholic beverages. Mainly on Fridays of each week, it’s known in common jargon as “Single Friday.” Cacho, just like it was in the nineteenth century, is a game of dice and cup. Each of the numbers on the faces of the dice has a popular name: 1 (bala), 2 (tonto), 3 (trica), 4 (cuadra), 5 (quina) y 6 (sena). In order to keep score in the game, you draw four lines, resembling a tic tac toe frame, on a piece of paper. Underneath, draw a line to record the “grandes” calls, the highest possible, when you roll five dice of the same number. The boxes on the left and right of the frame are used to record the results of the “tiros”, or turns, of 1 to 3 on the left and 4 to 6 on the right. In the central part, the top box is for the “escalera” (also called “escala”, numbers in gradient), this is when the dice read 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 or 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The center box is for “full” (three and two dice the same) and the bottom box is for “poker” (four dice the same). Originally the game of cacho only had one rule: “What you see is what you write.” That is, once you have thrown the five dice, you cannot touch them and you must record whatever is on the table. In this game, you can turn over either one or two dice at the most. For the game you need at least two players. The players alternate throwing all five dice out on the table until all spaces in frame are filled. The winner is the player who has the most points after adding up all of the boxes in the frame.

Photo: Walter Sánchez

There are three variations of the game. The first is “Generala” where the five scrambled dice inside the cup are thrown one time and you can turn over a maximum of two. The second, “Alalay”, is where you throw the dice two times. After you throw them the first time, you can re-enter up to four dice back into the cup for a second chance. In this case, the game is the form, “dos tiros dos volteos” or “two shots two flips” because after the second throw you can flip over two dice. The third variation is called “Tripleta” and is the same rules as “Alalay” except you use three tic tac toe frames instead of one. Therefore the game is to fill all three and then add the total.

A central element of the game of cacho, maintained as tradition, is the association with drinking. During the game players can make bets to be “paid” by drinking sips or even your whole glass. Normally, the player who loses the game must drink a full glass dry (“seco”). However, during the game, every time a player makes a mistake such as dropping or flipping a dice out of turn, they are given a “palo”. One a player accumulates five “palos” they must drink their glass dry, “un seco”. You can also make personal bets (“personales”) between two players. For these, a player can challenge another with the consequence of either drinking half a glass, “medioseco”, or a full glass, “secoentero”. Additionally, the challenged player always has the option to double the bet. Thus, playing in this manner often results in drinking many bottles of beer.

Eating, drinking, and cacho are three central elements to the “uses and traditions” of the Cochabambinos.



Carlos Tinoco
Camilla Morrison

Calendario AGOSTo 2012

> Ciclo de cine “Entre el cielo y la tierra”
1º de agosto
“De dioses y hombres” (Director Xavier Beauvois)
2 de agosto
“Conversaciones con mi jardinero” (Director Jean Becker)
3 de agosto
“Copia certificada” (Director Abbas Kiarostami)

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