This page is based on a contribution from Virgilio Ferrari.
The Italian name of the game is Cucco; in the dialect of Bergamo, it is called Cöch. The version described here was played at the end of 1970s near lake Iseo.
Cöch is a partnership trick-taking game for four players, with partners sitting opposite. Like most Italian games it is played anticlockwise. Adaptations for two and three players, and the five player variation Zifuli are described at the end.
Cöch is played with the special Cucco deck, now manufactured only by Masenghini of Bergamo. The deck consists of 20 pairs of identical cards - 40 cards altogether.
For the purposes of this game, the cards are divided into two suits of 20 cards. The first suit consists of the so-called Figure (pictures), which are identified by Roman numbers from I to X (two of each card).
The second suit consists of Matte (Jokers) which are, in ascending order of rank: Matto (Fool), Mascherone (Great mask), Secchia (Bucket), Nulla (Zero), XI Osteria (Inn), XII Gatto (Cat), XIII Cavallo (Horse), XIIII Bragon, XV Cucco (cuckoo), Brescia (a Lion, here known as Brescia because this city is called the Lioness of Italy).
The cards have point values and the object is to take tricks containing valuable cards. The point values are as follows:
Figure V, VI, VII, VIII, VIIII 1/2 of a point each Figura X 1 whole point Matte XI, XII, XIII, XIIII, XV, Brescia 1 whole point Other cards no valueThus there is a total of 19 points in the game.
The dealer deals (anticlockwise) 10 cards to each player, in packets of five. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.
There are no trumps. The player to dealer's right leads first. Any card may be led, and the other players must play a card of the suit (Figure or Matte) led if they have one. A player with no card of the suit led must play a card of the other suit. The highest card of the suit led wins the trick; if two equal cards are played to the same trick, the first played beats the second. The winner of the trick leads to the next.
When all the tricks have been played each side scores the value of cards it has won in tricks. The total points available amount to 19 points and so the team which has 10 or more points wins.
If both sides have nine and a half points, the cards are recounted in a different way to break the tie. The values of the cards for the recount are as follows:
V, X no points I, VI, XI 1 points each II, VII, XII 2 points each III, VIII, XIII 3 points each IIII, VIIII, XIIII 4 points each XV (Cucco) 5 points each Brescia 6 points each
So by this method of counting there are 82 points in the pack the team which has 42 or more points wins. If the recount results in a second tie, both sides having 41 points, there is no winner.
If there are only two or three players the cards are dealt as for 4 players, but the cards for the absent players are dealt face up, and are played by the partners of the missing players.
This version for five players was described by Anthony Smith in The Playing-Card Vol XX No 1 (1991) p27.
The rank and values of the cards is the same as in Cucco, except that the Matto ranks between the Zero and the Inn, instead of lowest. Eight cards are dealt to each player, in batches of four.
Before the play there is bidding to determine the partnerships. Beginning with the player on dealer's right and continuing clockwise, each player passes or bids. The bidding continues for several rounds if necessary, but a player who has passed cannot re-enter the bidding.
A bid is made by naming a card of which the bidder holds at least one copy. If the bid is successful then the owner of the other copy of the card is the bidder's partner, but the partnerships do not become known until the card is played. It is possible to call a card holding both copies of it; in this case the bidder will play alone, but this will not be clear to the other players until the second copy of the called card is played.
A bid can only be overcalled by calling a lower card of the same suit as the original bid.
If the bidder's side wins, each of the opponents pays one stake; the bidder receives two of these stakes and the bidder's partner receives one. If the bidder's side loses these payments are reversed.
A bidder who plays alone receives eight stakes, two from each opponent, if successful, and pays two stakes to each opponent if not.