Scopone and Scopa

Scopone is an Italian game - the principles are fairly simple but to play it well requires skill and a good memory. Scopone is closely related to the popular game Scopa, of which there are several varieties. The related game Cicera (played in Brescia) is described on its own page.

Players and Cards

Scopone is played by four players, two against two in fixed partnerships; you sit opposite your partner. As in most Italian games, play is anticlockwise.

An Italian 40 card pack is used, often the Neapolitan pattern with the Latin suits: swords (spade), clubs (bastoni), cups (coppe) and coins (denari). The cards in each suit are Re, Cavallo, Fante, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A.

In North America, Italian cards in various regional patterns can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair. It is also possible to play with a standard international 52 card pack from which you need to remove the 10s 9s and 8s.

The cards have point values for capturing, and a separate set of point values that are only used in scoring the Prime (primiera)

Card  Capture value   Value in Prime 
Re (King) 10 10
Cavallo (Horse) or Donna (Queen) 9 10
Fante (Jack) 8 10
Seven 7 21
Six 6 18
Five 5 15
Four 4 14
Three 3 13
Two 2 12
Ace 1 16

The Deal

Choose the first dealer at random. Turn to deal passes to the right after each hand. The dealer shuffles and the dealer's left hand opponent cuts.

Deal a packet of three cards face down to each player (anticlockwise, beginning with the player to dealer's right), then two face down to the centre of the table, then three more to each player, two more to the centre, and finally three more to each player. When the deal has been correctly completed the four table cards are turned face up and the players look at their hands.

If three or all four of the table cards are kings, the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal by the same dealer.

The Play

The player to dealer's right plays first, and the turn to play passes anticlockwise, until all the cards have been played.

A turn consists of playing one card face up to the table, which may capture one or more table cards. In the event of a capture, both the played card and the captured card(s) are taken and stored face down in front of one of the members of the team that made the capture, like a trick. If there is no capture the played card remains face up on the table. In either case the turn then passes to the next player.

The capturing rules are as follows:

  1. if the rank (capture value) of the card played matches that of a table card, the table card is captured;
  2. if the card played matches more than one table card, then just one of the matching table cards is captured - the player of the capturing card chooses which;
  3. if the card played does not match any table card, but its capture value is equal to the sum of the capture values of two or more table cards, then that set of table cards is captured - if there are several possible sets which add up to the value of the played card, the player of the capturing card chooses which to take;
  4. if the capture value of the card played does not match any table card or sum of table cards, then there is no capture and the played card remains face up on the table.

Important points to note:

  • there is no obligation to play a card which makes a capture - it is legal (and sometimes better play) simply to add a card to the table;
  • however if the played card does make a capture, the captured cards must be taken, even if the player would prefer to leave them on the table;
  • if a card matches both a single card and a sum of cards on the table, the single card must be captured, not the group.

Example. The table contains 3, 5, 5, Fante. Playing a 5 captures one of the 5s from the table at the player's choice. Playing a Re (king) captures both 5s. Playing a Fante (jack) captures the one on the table - the player is not allowed to take the 5 and the 3 instead.

After all the cards from the players hands have been played, the last player who made a capture also takes any face up cards remaining on the table.

The Scoring

There are four points available to be won on each deal:

  1. The Cards. The point is won by whichever team takes the majority of the cards. If they split 20-20 the point is not awarded.
  2. The Coins. The point is won by whichever team takes more cards of the coins suit (or diamonds if you are using international cards). If they split 5-5 the point is not awarded.
  3. The Seven of Coins. The point is won by whichever team takes the 7 of coins (diamonds), known as the 'sette bello' (beautiful seven).
  4. The Prime (in Italian: 'la primiera'). The point is won by the team with the best prime. In practice this is usually the team with more sevens, but the actual rule is as follows. A prime consists of one card of each suit, and the cards have special point values for this purpose, as shown in the table. The value of the prime is got by adding up the values of its cards and whichever team can construct the more valuable prime wins the point. If both teams' primes are worth the same, the prime point is not awarded. A prime of four suits always beats a prime of three suits, irrespective of the points values, so a team that has no cards at all in one suit will always lose to a team with all four suits: even three jacks and a seven (51 points) will win against three sevens with no card in the fourth suit, even though the sevens are worth more (63). In the rare case where both teams are missing an entire suit, the prime point is won by team with the higher point total using the best card from each of the three suits that they have.

    It is worth knowing that the ranking of the cards for the prime is 7 (highest), 6, ace, 5, 4, 3, 2, pictures (lowest) - so if you are tied on sevens, try to capture sixes, then aces, and so on.

The Sweep

In addition to the points mentioned above, you also win a point for each sweep (Italian scopa). You score a sweep when you play a card which captures the all table cards, leaving the table empty. Traditionally, the capturing card is placed face up in the trick-pile of the capturing side, so that the number of sweeps made by each side can easily be seen when the scoring is done at the end of the play.

Taking the last cards from the table at the end of a hand never counts as a sweep, even if the last card played by the dealer does actually capture all the remaining table cards.

Winning the Game

The first team to have 11 or more points at the end of a hand wins. If both sides reach 11 in the same hand the side with more points wins. If both are equal, play further hands until one side has more points at the end of a hand.

Variations

10-card Scopone (Scopone Scientifico)

In 10-card Scopone, sometimes known as "Scientific" Scopone, ten cards are dealt to each player at the start of each hand, and none to the table. In this version, at least according to some players, the dealer's team does score one point for a sweep if the dealer's last card captures all the remaining table cards (either it matches the only remaining card or is equal to the sum of all the cards on the table).

A description (in Italian) of another 10-card Scopone variant is on Sandro Tamanini's pagina sullo scopone. Sandro Tamanini is from Trentino, but I am told that his version is not typical of that region. It has further differences from the basic game of Scopone described above:

  1. The game continues until one of both teams have 21 or more points. Whichever team has more at the end of that deal wins. If both are equal, further deals are played until one team is ahead.
  2. A team which captures the ace, two and three of coins scores a number of points equal to the highest coin card they capture in unbroken sequence with these - for example if they took the A-2-3-4-5-6 of coins they would score 6 points (in addition to the point for coins). This bonus is called Napoli.
  3. A team which captures all ten cards of the coin suit wins the game outright. This is called cappotto.

Re bello

The re bello (beautiful king) is the king of coins. Some players award a point to the team that wins this card (just as the winners of the sette bello get a point). In this version of the game there are 5 points to be scored in each deal (apart from sweeps) rather than four.

Values of picture cards for the Primiera

Gianni Millone reports that in southern Italy it is common to use the values king = 10, horse (queen) = 9, jack = 8 when comparing primes, rather than valuing all pictures at 10. It rarely makes a real difference, because normally the Primiera is decided on 7's, 6's and Aces, but nonetheless it can be a source of endless debate between Scopone fans of different areas.

Scopa

Scopa is the game from which Scopone was developed. The rules of Scopa are the same as for Scopone, except that just 3 cards are dealt to each player and 4 to the table. After everyone has played their 3 cards, another 3 are dealt and played, and then another 3. As long as there are still more cards to be dealt, any cards left on the table when the players run out of cards stay there, and can be captured in the normal way after the next part of the deal. The special rules that cards remaining on the table belong to the last player who made a capture, and that a sweep cannot be scored for the final play, apply only at the end of the final deal when there are no further cards to be dealt.

It is also possible to play Scopa with two players, in which case there are 6 deals of 3 cards in each hand.

Scopa d'Assi is a version of Scopa where in addition to the normal rules of capture, playing an ace takes all the table cards. Within this there are a number of variations:

  • Practice varies as to whether or not taking all the cards with an ace counts as a sweep.
  • Some players play that if there is already an ace on the table, an ace played just takes the ace on the table, not the other cards as well.
  • Some play that if you wish, you can play an ace without capturing any cards, by just showing it and placing it in your tricks.
  • Some play that if one or more aces appear in the face-up cards in the original deal, the cards are thrown in and redealt.

Scopa di Quindici is a version of Scopa with a different rule of capture. The played card no longer captures a card or cards of equal value; instead it captures any one set of cards which, together with the played card, add up to 15. For example if the table cards are A, 3, 4, 7 and you play a 4, it captures either the 4 and the 7 or the A, 3 and 7 at your choice.

Advice on playing Scopone

The most important card is the 7 of coins - it is worth a point by itself and contributes to all the other three points. You should aim to win the 7 of coins if at all possible.

You should avoid giving away sweeps, and put your side in a position to win sweeps. Winning a sweep is just one point initially, but because it leaves the table empty, the next player has to put down a card. If your partner can match the card played by the opponent you then get another sweep. This can go on for several plays. It is the simplest form of what is called a whirlwind.

One obvious way to avoid giving away a sweep is to leave a total of at least 11 on the table. For this reason you may want to avoid capturing cards which would leave a total of 10 or less. If you leave exactly 11, your right-hand opponent (RHO) may wish not to capture for fear of giving your partner a sweep. So RHO plays a card to the table. If your partner can capture it this leaves 11 again, and your LHO may play a card that you can capture. This is another kind of whirlwind, though a rather weak one.

Better than leaving 11 is to leave a smaller number which you know your RHO cannot match. Suppose that two 3's have gone, you hold the third 3 and the fourth is on the table. It will then be good for you to capture all the other cards on the table and leave this 3 as an anchor for your team. Your RHO must now play a card. Your partner should trust you to have the last 3 and capture the RHO's card, leaving 3 again. Then you may be able to capture LHO's card, and so on. This is a rather more effective whirlwind, and the opponents also have the problem that if they play too small a card (7 or less) there is a possibility that you or your partner may make a sweep.

Clearly it is good to establish an anchor, and to have cards on the table of ranks which your side controls. For this reason you should lead, or leave on the table, cards which you hold two or more of in your hand. Also if your partner plays (say) a 5 and your LHO takes it, you should also play a 5 if you have one, because it is likely that partner holds the fourth 5.

Apart from the 7 of coins and sweeps, the next priority is to capture other sevens (for the prime), and also sixes, which come in useful if sevens are split. Coins are good to collect as well, and finally it does no harm to have the greater bulk of cards.

It is important to keep track of paired and unpaired cards. If all the captures were of single cards of equal rank, so that all the tricks consisted of pairs, then at the end the dealer's last card would match the last card on the table. If for example the dealer has a 7, it could be saved by keeping it until last and catching a 7 with it.

As soon as someone captures more than one card at a time, this pattern is disrupted. If someone plays a king to capture a 7 and a 3, 3s, 7s and kings are now unpaired. If the rest of the game consists of single captures only, dealer will end up playing the final 7 to a table containing the unpaired 3 and king, and the three cards go to the last player who made a capture. Remembering which cards are unpaired is especially important for the dealer, who may then be able to arrange to make a capture with the last card.

There is a certain amount of strategy around pairing and unpairing sevens. For example if the players have one seven each, then the dealer's side wants to keep them paired, so that by waiting until the end they can win all four in the last round. The non-dealer's side will want to unpair the sevens by using one of their sevens to capture a combination of cards, such as 5 + 2. Obviously in these circumstances the dealer's side will try to avoid leaving such combinations.

There is much more that could be said about the strategy of Scopone. Perhaps some readers may like to comment on or add to the above notes.

Other Scopa and Scopone pages and software

Sandro Tamanini's Italian language pagina sullo scopone describes a version of Scopone played in Trentino. It includes an Italian translation of a well-known set of rules that appeared in 1937 and were attributed to Chitarrella, the probably fictional author of a 19th century book on Tressette and Mediatore. Mario Frasca has provided further details on the Wikipedia page Codice di Chitarrella.

The Italian Wikipedia page on Scopa includes a number of variants. The section on (10-card) Scopone gives the rule that a sweep can be scored with the last card.

The freeware and PRO versions of Gianfranco Marzano's Scopone computer program are available from his Home Page dei giochi di carte italiani.

The Italian site Tretre provides rules of Scopa, Scopone and several variants and you can play Scopa online against live opponents. At this site you can also find the Biblioteca del tre with online copies of early Italian rule books for various games including Scopone.

With Orfeo Bernardo's Scopa Mano a Mano you can play against the computer or against a live opponent.

The Scopa program at the Solitari con le Carte site can now be played in any web browser.

You can download a freeware Scopa and Scopone programs from Thanos Card Games.

Dave Bernazzani has also written a free Scopa program.

You can play Scopone online at the Italian language site ludopoli.it.