Bestia is an Italian game of the Rams group. Five tricks are played and the winner of each wins one fifth of the pool while anyone who takes no tricks at all must pay into the pool for the next deal. There are many variants of this game. On this page I first describe a version played near Rome, which was explained to me by Paolo Ronzoni. In the variations section I have included some other versions of the game described in various books and web sites.
This is a game for 4 to 6 players, each playing for themselves. Deal, bidding and play are anticlockwise.
This game is usually played for stakes. Before beginning the players should agree the amount of the ante, which each player normally pays to the pool before each deal, and what additional amount (if any) must be paid by players who stay in the game rather than folding. The pool in this game is called “la bestia” (the beast).
An Italian 40-card pack is used, with either Latin or French suits. With latin suits, the rank of the cards from high to low is: Ace, 3, King (Re), Horse (Cavallo), Jack (Fante), 7, 6, 5, 4, 2. If French suited cards are used, the Queen (Donna) replaces the Horse.
The position of the 3 as second highest card between the Ace and King may seem strange to players who are not used to Mediterranean card games. For Italian players, however, it is natural to use this order, which is the same as in the popular Italian game Briscola.
Before the deal, each player pays the agreed stake to the pool.
The dealer is chosen at random for the first deal. Subsequently the turn to deal passes to the right. The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts, and the dealer five cards to each player in a single batch, the player to dealer's right receiving the first five cards. After the five cards dealt to the dealer, the next card is turned face up to indicate the trump suit and the remaining cards are stacked face down on the table.
Having looked at their cards, the players act in anticlockwise order around the table, beginning with the player to dealer's right. The possible actions are as follows:
- Fold. The player places his cards face down on the table. This action means that he does not wish to play. A player who has folded cannot win any part of the pool, but is safe from having to pay to the pool.
- Play. The player says "gioco" (I play) and discards from 0 to 5 cards, placing them face down on the table. The dealer gives the player an equal number of new cards from the undealt part of the deck in exchange. If the deck runs out, the dealer shuffles all the discarded cards to make a new deck, and continues giving replacement cards from this new deck.
- Knock. When a player knocks on the table, no further exchanges are possible and play begins. The knocker (il bussante) does not exchange any cards on that turn. Note that if a player knocks at his first turn, anyone who has not yet had a turn to speak has no chance to fold or exchange: they are forced to play with the cards they were dealt.
- 'Terzo se devo'. This can only be announced at a player's first turn to speak. The player undertakes to be the 'third player if needed'. At this player's next turn to speak, the player must fold if there are already three players in the game. If there are fewer than three players, the 'terzo se devo' player becomes an ordinary player who may fold, play or knock. If a player knocks, then anyone who has said 'terzo se devo' and not had a subsequent turn to speak must fold if there are at least three other players and fold otherwise. If several players said 'terzo se devo', then the earliest in turn after the knocker must play until there are three players, and the remainder must fold.
This process continues around the table for as many circuits as necessary (skipping any players who have folded) until someone knocks. At this point all players who have not folded must pay to the pool the agreed additional stake (if any) for playing the game.
- Playing and exchanging 0 cards is not the same as knocking. If you just exchange 0 cards you allow the other players to continue exchanging.
- The terzo se devo option is used by a player who would be happy to fold if there enough players, but wishes to join in if there are not more than two other players, to prevent these players from sharing the pool between them.
The knocker leads to the first trick. Any card may be led and the other players must always follow suit if they can. Players must also head the trick if they can. This means that if the trick has not been trumped, a player who can follow suit must play a higher card of that suit than any that are in the trick if possible. A player who has no card of the suit led must if possible play a trump that is high enough to beat all trumps that have already been played to the trick. A player who cannot follow suit and has no trumps, or none big enough to beat the highest trump in the trick, may play any card. The player of the highest trump, or if no trumps are played the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick and leads to the next.
The pool is divided between the players according to the number of tricks they win. Each player receives 1/5 of the pool for each trick won.
Players who play and win zero tricks are “andati in bestia” (angry). They receive nothing, and they must each pay a stake equal to whole contents of the pool. These stakes go into the pool for the next deal.
Some special rules apply to the knocker.
- If the knocker wins zero tricks, he must pay a stake equal to one and a half times the contents of the pool towards the pool for the next deal.
- If the knocker wins more tricks and any one other player, the knocker only has to pay half the normal stake to the pool at the start of the next deal.
The game ends when all the players have been dealer, or when a majority of the players want to end it.
To add variety to the game, some deals may be played under different rules. Sometimes the dealer will propose a variant, and if most of the players agree, it is adopted for that deal. It would of course be possible to play a series of deals or a whole session under any of these rules.
- Briscola rubata (stolen trump):
- After the deal but before looking at his cards, the dealer can take the turned up trump card and add it to his hand. He then discards a card of his choice face down. In this case the dealer is not allowed to fold and cannot exchange any other cards. The other players have the opportunity to exchange cards or fold as usual. If none of them knocks, they will each get at least one opportunity to exchange, because the dealer is the last to speak and cannot knock until it is his turn.
- Mano a fidarsi (trust hand):
- The trump card is not revealed until the end of the exchange phase. Some players don’t permit any cards to be exchanged in this variant - if you don't wish to play with the cards you are dealt your only option is to fold.
- A perdere (negative)
- The determination of trumps and the card exchange process work as usual, but the player who takes the fewest tricks wins the pool. Often it is agreed that this game should be played for only a part of the pool. If two or more players tie for fewest tricks they split (the agreed portion of) the pool equally between them. The knocker fails if he takes more tricks than any other player. In this case he must pay the agreed amount into the pool, replacing the total amount taken out of the pool by the player(s) with fewest tricks, as well as paying 1.5 times the normal stake for the next deal.
- Giro a tre carte (three card hand)
- Instead of five cards, only 3 cards are dealt to each player. The exchanging, knocking, play and payments work the same way as in the five-card game.
- Three-card hands without folding
- When there are five or six players, this variant may be played for a few deals at the start of the session, to build up the pool more quickly. Everyone pays an equal stake to the pool. Three cards each are dealt, and the trump is turned as usual. There is no exchanging, folding or knocking. The player to the right of the dealer leads and the cards are played. If anyone takes two tricks, they retrieve their stake for that deal from the pool. No one else takes anything from the pool, and the stakes for the next deal are added to it.
- Terzo obligatorio
- In this variant there must be at least three players in each deal, so when only three players remain folding is no longer an option.
Single round of knocking
Bestia is often played in such a way that each player has just one opportunity to play or fold and one opportunity to exchange cards. It is convenient if there are five players, because then the amount in the pool is guaranteed always to be divisible by five whatever the basic stake, but there is nothing to prevent 4 or 6 people playing by the same rules if the basic stake is divisible by 5.
After each player has paid a stake to the pool, the dealer deals one card face up to determine the trump suit, then a batch of five cards to each of the other players, and four cards to himself. These four cards together with the turned up trump make up the dealer's hand.
Beginning with the player to dealer's right and going round the table anticlockwise, ending with the dealer, each player decides whether to play (which may be indicated by knocking on the table) or fold (which may be indicated by throwing away one's cards). A player who chooses to play may immediately discard up to four cards (but not all five) and is dealt an equal number of replacement cards from the pack. If the pack runs out of cards, the cards discarded by previous players are shuffled to make a new pack. After the exchange it is the next player's turn to decide whether to play or fold.
If all players but one fold, that player simply takes the pool. If more than one player plays, the active player nearest to dealer's right leads to the first trick. At the end of the play the players divide the pool between them, taking one fifth of the pool for each trick won.
Any player who plays but takes no tricks must pay an amount equal to the whole pool (this is called "andare in bestia"). These payments plus the new stakes added by the players form the pool for the next deal.
Further restrictions in the play
Some play that if the player leading to the first trick holds the ace of trumps, he must lead it. Some extend this to require that if at any stage the player whose turn it is to lead holds the highest remaining trump, that trump must be led to the trick.
Many play that a player who is unable to follow suit is always obliged to play a trump, even if the trick has already been trumped and the player has no trump high enough to beat the card that is currently winning the trick.
Some require that when playing a trump, you must announce out lout the card that you are playing.
One player wins the whole pool
Some play that pool is not divided. Instead, the player who wins most tricks collects the whole pool. So to win the pool you need 3 tricks, or 2 tricks if no other player takes more than one. If there is a tie for most trick (two players take 2 tricks each or no one takes more than one trick), no one wins the pool and it remains in play for the next deal.
Bestia col Buco
This variant for four or more players is played with three-card hands. It is said to be best for six players. After the players have paid their stakes, the dealer deals one card face up on the table to determine the trump suit, and on top of it at right angles places a packet of three cards face down. These are known as the buco. The dealer then deals a batch of three cards to each player, including himself. Beginning to the dealer's right, each player has the option to fold ("passare"), to knock ("bussare") indicating that he will play with the three cards he was dealt, or to play "col buco", meaning that he will discard all the cards he was dealt and play with the three cards of the buco instead. A player who looks at the buco is obliged to play - he is not allowed to fold however poor the cards in the buco may be.
The play is as usual, the nearest player to dealer's right who has not folded leading to the first trick. Players win a third of the pool for each trick they take. Anyone who plays and takes no tricks must pay an amount equal to the whole pool.