Tarocchi in Piedicavallo

Introduction

This partnership Tarocchi game for four players is played at Piedicavallo, at the top of the Valle Cervo in Piedmont, Italy. It differs from the better-known Piedmontese Tarocchi games Scarto and Mitigati in that it uses only 62 cards from the 78-card Tarocco Piemontese pack, and that partners are allowed to comunicate about their cards and tactics by words an gestures, within certain defined limits. This page is based on the description by Zorio Prachin Gian Vittorio on the Pro Loco Piedicavallo web site, and games played in Piedicavallo during a visit by John McLeod and Sally Prime in May 2011.

We would like to thank the players Paola Zorio, Claudio Peraldo Bracet, Graziella Peraldo Bracet, Armando Ribaldone, Ugo Porrino, Piero Peraldo Morbe and Federico Pianella for their warm hospitality, and Neasa MacErlean for her invaluable help as translator.

Players and Cards

There are four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

A 62-card pack is used, made from a Tarocco Piemontese pack by removing the lowest four cards of each suit: the 1, 2, 3 and 4 of swords and batons and the 10, 9, 8 and 7 of cups and coins. This leaves:

  • 21 trumps (tarocchi), ranking from 21 (il mondo) (highest) down to 1 (il bagatto) (lowest)
  • the suits of cups (coppe) and coins (denari) , ranking from high to low: king(re), queen (donna), horse (cavallo), jack(fante), 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • the suits of swords (spade) and batons (bastoni), ranking from high to low: king(re), queen (donna), horse (cavallo), jack(fante), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5
  • the fool (il matto)

Note that in Piedicavallo the 21 of trumps is highest. This differs from the ranking in most other parts of Piedmont, where for historical reasons the 20 (l'angelo) is higher than the 21 (il mondo).

In the game, the round suits cups and coins are known as rossi (red) and the long suits swords and batons as neri (black). As usual the numeral cards in the round/red suits rank in the opposite order from those in the long/black suits.

The cards have points values as follows:

  • trump 21, trump 1, fool, kings: 5 points each
  • queens: 4 points each
  • horses: 3 points each
  • jacks: 2 points each
  • all other cards (trumps 2-20, numeral cards in the four suits): 1 point each

Therefore the total number of points in the pack is 114.

Deal and play are anticlockwise.

The Deal and Discard

A game consists of four deals, one by each player, the turn to deal passing anticlockwise. The players draw cards from the shuffled pack to decide who will deal first, having agreed beforehand whether the first dealer will be the player who cuts the highest or the lowest card. In case of a tie the tieing players cut again.

The dealer shuffles the cards. (In tournament play the cards are first shuffled by the player to the right of the dealer, and then handed to the dealer, who may shuffle again if he wishes to.) The dealer then offers the pack to the player to his left to cut. The dealer then gives the first 15 cards to the player to his right, the next 15 to his partner, the next 15 to the player to his left and the last 17 to himself. The player to dealer's left may choose not to cut, in which case the cards are dealt from the pack as it is.

The dealer now looks at his hand and selects two cards to discard face down. The point value of these cards will count for dealer's team, provided that they win at least one trick. The 5-point cards - the kings, the trump 21, the trump 1 and the fool - cannot be discarded. Trumps other than the 1 and 21 may be discarded if the dealer has no option (the dealer's hand after discarding containing only trumps and kings), or if after discarding the dealer has no trumps at all. In these cases the dealer must inform the other players how many trumps he has discarded.

In tournament games, the players other than the dealer may not pick up their cards until after the dealer has discarded. In informal games, to save time, the players usually pick up their cards and sort them as soon as they have been dealt.

The Play

When the dealer has discarded and confirms that he is ready, the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick. Any card may be led to a trick, and the other players must follow suit if possible. A player who is unable to follow suit must play a trump if possible. A player who has no cards of the suit led and no trumps may play any card.

A trick that contains one or more trumps is won by the highest trump in it. A trick without trumps is won by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

The fool is an exception to the above rules of play. It may be played to any trick, even if the holder could have followed suit or played a trump. The holder of the fool is never obliged to play it (except of course in the very last trick). The fool can never win a trick, but it is not captured by the winner of the trick. Instead it is added to the trick pile of the team of the person who played it, and they will score for it provided that they win at least one trick. If the fool is led to a trick, the second player may play any card, and this determines the suit to be followed by the other players, as though it had been led.

Communication during the Play

During the play, players are allowed to communicate, within certain limits, about the cards they hold and what cards they partner should play. Formerly this was done mainly by means of gestures, but nowadays, most of the information is spoken. The principles are the same in either case. Numerous examples of gestures and dialect phrases that can be used are given on the Pro Loco Piedicavallo website, but players do not have to stick rigidly to these: other gestures and comments can be used, provided that they are understood by all the players, and provided that they conform to the rules below.

General rules

You may only give information when playing a card to a trick. The type of information you may give is determined by the the card you are actually playing, not by what was led to the trick.

All information given must be true. It is illegal to claim to have a card that you do not in fact hold.

Signalling cards that are held

When playing a trump or the fool, you can give information about the trumps that you hold, and the fool, as follows:

  • Specific trumps from the 21 down to the 15 can be declared.
  • You may say how many other trumps you hold, but not which ones.
  • You may indicate that you hold the highest trump that has not yet been played by banging the table with your fist or by saying "batto" (I hit), or indicate the highest two outstanding trumps by hitting twice of saying "batto, batto", etc.
  • If you have the trump 1 (il bagatto) and it is in danger of being captured (accompanied by no more than 2 or 3 trumps), you may say so, or signal it by with your index finger pointed downwards, touching the table and wobbling.
  • If you have the fool, you may say so, or signal it by holding your hand vertically with the thumb upwards and waving it from side to side.
  • You may indicate that you have no more trumps.

For example, when playing a trump, you may say "I have the 20, the 18 and four others".

When playing a trump, you cannot say anything about cards in the four suits.

When playing a card of one of the four suits, you can give information about the cards you hold in that suit.

  • The king, queen, horse and jack may be declared specifically if held.
  • You may also say how many numeral cards (cartine) you have in the suit, but not which ones.
  • You can just say how many cards you have in the suit in total.
  • You can indicate that you have the highest outstanding card of the suit by saying "batto" (I hit), or indicating it with your fist.
  • You can indicate that you have no more cards in the suit. The signal is to draw a line with your finger on the table.

For example, when leading a card you can say "altro quattro", meaning "I have four more cards in this suit".

You may also give similar information about suits of the opposite colour to the one you are currently playing, but without specifying which. The term for the opposite colour suit is "alto" or "girare". Examples:

  • When playing a coin, if you have the king of batons, you can say "alto batto" to indicate that you have either the king of batons or the king of swords, but you cannot tell your partner which it is.
  • If you had no cards in cups, then while playing a sword you could draw a line on the table with your finger, saying "alto", indicating that you were void in either coins or cups.
  • If you have the kings of both batons and swords, you can show this unambiguously while playing a cup by saying "alto batto, alto batto".
  • When playing a baton, you can say something like "I have the king, horse and two more cards in one red suit and the queen with one more card in the other", indicating your holdings in cups and coins, but you must not say which is which.

When playing a suit card, you cannot say anything about the other suit of the same colour as the suit you are playing, nor about trumps.

If you are the dealer, you can also give information about cards that are "sleeping", i.e. that are in the two cards that you discarded before the play, by placing your hand flat with the palm downwards on your discard. However, the principle above apply: you can only give information about sleeping cards in the suit you are currently playing, or a suit of the other colour without specifying which. You can mention the queen, horse or jack specifically (kings cannot be in the discard) or number cards without specifying which.

Signalling what partner should play

In general, when playing a card, you can make any suggestion you wish about how your partner should play to the current trick, or what you would like your partner to lead to a future trick, but there are restrictions on mentioning trumps or specific suits, similar to those that apply when signalling cards held.

  • trumps can only be mentioned when playing a trump or the fool;
  • when playing a suit card, you may refer specifically to the suit you are playing;
  • when playing a suit card, you may refer to a suit of the opposite "colour", but you must not specify which of those two suits is meant.

If your partner has not yet played to the current trick you may ask him to win the trick, perhaps with a high card that he has already indicated. One expression for this is "farlo!" ("Do it!"). Alternatively you may ask him to play low, or to put as many points as possible into the trick, or as few points a possible, or to play a specific card (provided of course that you are playing a card of the same suit). Another possibility, when leading to a trick, is to ask partner just to cover the second player's card (to beat it with as low a card as possible). This can be shown by describing an anticlockwise semicircle above the table, starting near yourself and ending near your partner.

It is also possible to indicate what your partner should lead in future. A trump lead can only be requested if you are currently playing a trump. When playing a suit card you can only request a lead of that same suit or of an unspecified suit of the opposite colour. When requesting a lead of a suit or trumps you can further ask partner to lead a high card, a low card, a valuable card, or a specific card that you know that he has.

Players are not obliged to honour their partners' requests. You always have the right to play a different card from the one your partner asked for, if you see an advantage in doing so.

Scoring

The teams count the value of the cards in the tricks they have won, and the team that wins more points in total over the four deals wins the game.

In practice, the score is kept by remembering how many points the team that is ahead has more than the average. So in the first deal, the team that takes more than 57 points (57 being half the total) notes how many points they have more than 57. In the next deal, this losing team begins by counting cards up to the number by which the winning team was ahead. They then need 57 more to draw level: the amount they have more or less than this shows which team is now ahead and by how much.

Example:

  • First deal: North-South 65; East-West 49. Result N-S are 8 points ahead of the average.
  • Second deal: North-South 59; East-West 55. After counting their 8-point deficit, E-W have 47 points left, so N-S now have +10.
  • Third deal: North-South 36; East-West 78. E-W need 10 points to cancel the previous score, after which they have 68 points left, which is enough to put them 11 points ahead of the average.
  • Fourth deal: North-South 67; East-West 47. N-S count their 11-point defecit, after which they have only 56 left, so East-West are still +1 point and win the game.

If the result is a tie, two more deals are played to decide the result.

If one team wins all the tricks (vola) they get all the cards for 114 points (increasing their lead by 57). A team that takes no tricks has to surrender the fool (if they played it) and the two discarded cards (if they are the dealing team) to the opponents. Note that if at the end of the third deal one team has a lead of more than 57 points, they are certain to win the game even if the other team makes a vola (wins every trick) on the fourth deal. Therefore in this case the game ends after three deals and the leading team are the winners.