Stovkahra

This page is based on research by Tomáš Svoboda and is a revised version of an article published by John McLeod in the September/October 1997 issue of The Playing-Card, journal of the International Playing-Card Society.

Introduction

Trappola originated in Venice and was described by Cardano in his Liber de Ludo Aleae, written in 1564. In the following centuries it spread to Central Europe, where it became extremely well known and developed many variations. These continued to be played with a special pack of cards whose designs were derived from the Venetian pattern. These packs had 36 cards, consisting of ace, king, knight, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 2 in the Italian suits of coins, cups, swords and batons. Forms of Trappola were especially popular in the Czech lands and survived there until the twentieth century, but since the second world war the special Trappola cards are no longer made and the game was thought to have died out. The reverse game Coteccio, played in Trieste, was its nearest known living relative. But now, thanks to the researches of Tomáš Svoboda of Prague, we know that Trappola is not dead. The game of Stovkahra, also known as Brčko, which is played to this day in the village of Šumice in Romania, is a genuine Trappola game, perhaps the last of its kind.

Šumice is a village of about 500 inhabitants, situated in the Banát region of Romania, about 40 km north-west of Orsova (which is on the Danube, about 150 km east of Beograd). In the first half of the nineteenth century, this region was on the frontier of the Austro-Hungarian empire and Czechs and other citizens were given government incentives to settle there; they were granted land and freedom from taxes. In 1918 the region became part of Romania and most of the Czech settlers returned to their homeland, but nine Czech villages still exist there; Šumice is one of them. The people speak good archaic Czech and have little contact with their Romanian neighbours. Their isolation was ended in 1989 when contact with the Czech Republic was re-established and travel became possible. Now many of the younger people from these villages are moving to the Czech Republic, and it seems likely that the Czech villages in Romania will not survive for more than 15 years or so.

Tomáš Svoboda visited this region in summer 1997, and enquired about the card games played there. There are local versions of normal Czech games such as Ferbl, 21 and 66, but in Šumice they also play a form of Trappola. The game is called Stovkahra (meaning "hundred-game") by older people but among the younger players it is known as Brčko (which means a matchstick or small piece of wood). It is played exclusively by men, and the whole male population of Sumice seems to know the game; they play fast, enthusiastically and loudly, banging the cards down on the table. Many of the players are farmers; in the winter months when they have little to do, and are sometimes cut off from the outside world for long periods by snow, they play cards every day.

Of course, traditional Trappola cards are no longer generally available. Regular production ceased when the last packs were made in Prague in 1944, and probably they had been unobtainable in Romania long before this. The Romanian Czechs therefore adapted Stovkahra to be played with the German suited 32 card pack, but the point values of the cards and combinations remain unmistakably those of Trappola. Also, the characteristic bonuses of 26, 52 or 10 for winning the last trick, the first trick or an intermediate trick with the lowest card of a suit have been retained. These bonuses have been transferred from the twos of the Trappola pack to the sevens, which are the lowest cards in the German suited pack. Prague pattern cards are used when possible, but since these are also hard to obtain in Romania, the game has recently been played with Tell cards imported from Hungary.

Players, cards and objective.

Stovkahra is a point-trick game, played with a German suited pack of 32 cards. There are 4 players in fixed partnerships, partners facing each other. Deal and play are clockwise. The rank of cards in each suit (from high to low) and their point values are:

ace......6 points
king......5 points
upper knave (svršek)......4 points
lower knave (spodek)......3 points
ten......0 points
nine......0 points
eight......0 points
seven......0 points
The objective is to be the first team to score a total 100 or more points. Points are scored for combinations held in a player's hand, for cards taken in tricks and as bonuses for winning certain tricks. It will usually take several deals to reach 100 points.

Combinations

A player who holds three or four cards of the same rank (other than nines or eights) can declare them before the lead to the first trick. The scores for combinations are:

four aces......40 points
three aces......30 points
four tens or four sevens......20 points
three tens or three sevens......10 points
four kings, upper or lower knaves......12 points
three kings, upper or lower knaves......6 points
It is not compulsory to declare a combination, but only declared combinations are scored. When declaring, the rank and number of cards must be stated, but when declaring three of a kind it is not necessary to say which card is missing. There is no score for carte blanche or carta bianca (hands without picture cards, which scored points in earlier versions of Trappola).

Bonuses

The team which wins the last trick scores an extra 6 points. For winning a trick other than the first or the last with a seven there is a bonus of 10 points. A team which wins the last trick with a seven scores a bonus of 26 points (which includes the normal 6 for winning the last trick). A team which wins the first trick with a seven scores a 52 point bonus.

Dealing, trumps

The cards are shuffled only before the first deal of a game; for subsequent deals the cards are simply gathered together and cut by the player to the dealer's right. After the cut, the bottom card of the pack is shown to everyone and its suit is trumps. The cards are dealt out in packets of three to each player, then two, then three, so that everyone has eight cards. The first three cards are dealt face up to the player to dealer's left; the rest of the cards are dealt face down as usual. Exposing this player's first three cards is meant to compensate for the advantage that the non-dealer's team have in playing first.

Play

After everyone has declared any combinations they wish to, the player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can, and anyone who cannot follow suit must play a trump. Subject to these constraints, players are obliged to beat the highest card so far played to the trick if they can. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or, if it contains no trump, by the highest card played of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

Scoring

The first team to reach 100 points or more wins a game, for which they get one brčko (matchstick) if the losers had 50 or more points, or two brčka if the losers had less than 50 points. It is possible to reach 100 points in the middle of the play. If a player who has just declared a combination or won a trick thinks that his team has 100 or more points, he can announce "dost" (enough) instead of leading to the next trick. This stops the play and the card points are counted. If the team which said dost really do have enough points, they win one or two brčka depending on whether the other team had more or less than 50. If they were mistaken, in that they actually have less than 100 points, the other team win two brčka irrespective of their own points score.

The winners of each game always have the choice of increasing their own brčka by the amount won (one or two) or reducing the other team's brčka by the same amount. The overall winners of the series of games are the first team who collect ten or more brček.

Notes

If a team reaches 100 points but forgets to say dost, they risk letting the other team win by reaching 100 and saying dost; a team which announces dost correctly wins even if the other team actually reached 100 points earlier without noticing.

In practice, the only way to win the first trick with a seven, scoring the bonus of 52, is to trump with the seven of trumps. It is an accepted part of the game that if the player to dealer's right has the seven of trumps and is void in another suit, that player will try to signal to the leader to play this suit, by mouthing the name of the suit when the opponents are not looking.

As a variation, it can be agreed that when a team reach 10 brček, the series of games is continued to see which team is the first to reach 20. If the first team to 10 also reach 20 first, they are the winners of two series of games; if the other team reaches 20 first the result is a draw.