For the love of an armadillo

"I'm quite a good liar," says Stephen Fry, "and I think that helps enormously." The cerebral star refers not to credit-card fraud or even temporary disappearance, but to his skill at Perudo, a dice game requiring poker-style bluff and deception. Long fashionable among the clubs and bars of Soho, Perudo has moved out of the shadows this year with a new distribution deal and its first National Championships, which take place next week.

While the basic precepts of the game appear to be tossing a set of dice and fibbing about your score, an unwritten rule of Perudo is that players enjoy a modicum of public recognition. Simon Callow, Keith Allen and Mariella Frostrup all practice the ancient Peruvian pursuit, with Sting the unlikely champion of untruth. On Wednesday, in the salubrious surroundings of the Cafe Royal, such gaming glitterati will chance their arm against talented nobodies garnered from a number of regional heats.

Famous or not, those who play Perudo get to employ a repertoire of satisfyingly exotic expletives and indulge in some dubious South American mythology. Suspected frauds are upbraided with the cry of "dudo" - Spanish for "I doubt" - and those with a dog's chance of winning are branded "Palafico", or "Paleface". Dirty cheats have their souls interred for 10,000 years in the bottomless depths of Lake Titicaca and can achieve salvation only "through the true love of an armadillo".

Fry, who will compere the tournament, calls Perudo "a great social game", since you can "talk and have fun while you're playing it and you don't need to concentrate terribly hard". One of his most memorable contests was spent in the company of the late Peter Cook, a known armadillo fancier, who he describes as "quite an eccentric player. He would sometimes go the whole round without even looking at his dice."

He laughs at the idea of "Celebritudo", arguing that the game is simply "bloody good fun". Whatever else, the first national tournament promises a great deal more excitement than the micturition wrangles of this year's Scrabble contest.

LIESE SPENCER

The Dubarry Suite, The Cafe Royal, 68 Regent St, London W1, 7.15pm Wed 6 Dec

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