Bisca

Introduction

Bisca is a Portuguese point-trick game, closely related to Italian Briscola and Spanish Brisca. Like them it is played with a 40-card pack, but in Portugal the 10-point card ranking between the Ace and King is the Seven rather than the Three. It is also closely related to Sueca, which can be thought of as 10-card Bisca, and to some African games influenced by Portuguese contact, such as Albastini.

There are several variants. Some of them are identified by numbers, which in some cases represent the number of cards in a player's hand - Bisca de Três (3-card Bisca) and Bisca de Nove (9-card Bisca) are two-player games - and in some cases the number of players - Bisca de Seis is 6-player Bisca and Bisca de Quatro is 4-player Bisca. The information about these games was contributed by Paulo Martins. The section on the Brazilian variant Bisca Capixaba is based on the description in Portuguese Wikipedia.

Before describing the different versions, here are some basic rules common to all these games.

Players, Cards and Values

Bisca is played with a 40-card French suited pack. The cards in each suit in descending order, and their point values are as follows.

Card Value
Ace (Ás) 11 points
7 (Manilha or Bisca) 10 points
King (Rei) 4 points
Jack (Valete or Conde) 3 points
Queen (Dama) 2 points
6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (lowest) 0 points

There are 120 card points altogether and the player or team that takes 61 or more of these points in tricks wins. Sometimes there is an extra score for taking a larger number of points.

There is a trump suit indicated by turning a card face up on the table after the deal. The remaining undealt cards are stacked crosswise face down on top of the trump indicator, leaving its suit and rank visible, and players draw cards from this stock pile to replenish their hands after each trick (this drawing is known as biscar).

When there are more than two players, the deal and play are counter-clockwise.

Play and Scoring

Except where otherwise specified, any card may be led and any card may be played to a trick: there is no requirement to follow suit, to trump, or to beat the cards previously played. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trumps are played by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

When all the cards have been played, each player or team counts the total value of cards in their tricks, and the side with the majority of the 120 card point (i.e. 61 or more) wins the game, or in some variants more than one game if they have a large enough majority.

Often a match is played, won by the best of seven games - in other words the first player or team that wins four or more games wins the match. In this case the turn to deal passes to the next player to the right after each game. The score is normally recorded on a pente (comb) consisting of a horizontal line crossed by four vertical lines. The scorer marks the top half of one line with a blob for each game they win and the bottom half with a blob for each game won by the opponent(s).

pente

Nowadays, combs are often dawn with 10 vertical lines instead of 4, in which case the match is won by the first player or team that wins 10 or more games.

Bisca de Três

This '3-card Bisca' is the basic game for two players. The dealer shuffles, the other player cuts, then the top 3 cards are dealt to the non-dealer, the next 3 to the dealer and the 7th card is placed face up on the table to indicate the trump suit. The rest of the deck is stacked on top of it.

The non-dealer leads to the first trick and as usual there is no restriction on what cards can be played. The winner of each trick draws the top card from the stock (without showing it to the opponent) and the loser draws the next one. When the stock is empty (the trump indicator having been drawn), the final three tricks are played without drawing.

The player who takes 61 or more of the 120 card points in tricks wins one game. If each player has 60, neither wins.

Bisca de Nove

This game '9-card Bisca' is also for two players. Nine cards are dealt to each player in batches of 3 at a time and the next card (the 19th) is turned up as the trump indicator. The play and drawing are the same as in Bisca de Três until the stock is exhausted. When there are no more cards in the stock the rules of play change: if a player leads a trump their opponent must also play a trump, but if a non-trump is led the second player may play any card.

A player who takes from 61 to 81 points in tricks wins a single game, a player who wins 82 or more points but not every trick (the opponent has less than 39) wins 2 games. Theoretically, a player who won every trick would win 4 games (and therefore the match if played for best of 7), but this is almost impossible to achieve and it is doubtful whether it has ever happened.

Bisca de Seis

This is '6-player Bisca', played between two teams of three, each player sitting between two opponents. It is best to use a round table so that each player has a clear view of their two team-mates. The twos are removed from the pack leaving 36 cards to play with.

The cards are shuffled by the player to dealer's right and cut by the player to dealer's left . The dealer deals a batch of 3 cards to each player, turns the next card up to indicate trumps and stacks the remaining cards face down on top of it.

The player to dealer's right leads and there is no requirement to follow suit. The winner of each trick draws the top card of the stock, followed by the other players in counter-clockwise order and then leads to the next trick. When the stock is exhausted the play continues with the same rules but without drawing.

A team with 61-90 card points in tricks wins 1 game, a team with 91 or more card points but not all the tricks wins 2 games, and a team that wins all 6 tricks wins 4 games.

In this game players can communicate with each other by speaking or using visual signs to tell their partners what cards they hold and suggest what to play. For this purpose it is usual for each team to have a captain, with the captains sitting opposite each other. The team members can signal to their captain to indicate cards that they hold, or the captain can signal to a team member to ask whether they have a particular card. The team members also monitor the opponents sitting opposite them and try to intercept any signals sent by these players to their captain. The cards signals are as follows:

Ace of trumps: open eyes wide so that forehead wrinkles
Bisca (7) of trumps: blink one eye
King of trumps: right cheek sign, for example tongue in cheek
Jack of trumps: left cheek sign
Queen of trumps: show tip of tongue briefly
Lower trump: mime a kiss
Non-trump Ace or 7: briefly bite lower lip

Variations

In some groups the dealer shuffles and the player to the right cuts.

Some conservative groups award only one game to the team that has the majority of card points, even if they have more than 90.

Bisca de Quatro

4-player Bisca was played in Portugal in the 20th century. It is played between two teams of two players using the full 40-card pack. The initial deal is three cards to each player, and the rules are the same as for Bisca de Seis. Is is now less common there but is still played in Brazil.

Bisca Capixaba

This is a variant of 4-player Bisca played in the state of Espírito Santo in Brazil, 'capixaba' being an informal name for people born in that state. It is played without speaking or signals between partners, but it is usual for partners to show each other their cards briefly at the start of the play and again just after the last cards have been drawn from the stock.

The dealer shuffles, and the player to the right may either cut or instead knock on the deck, in which case hearts will be trumps. If the cards were cut then before dealing, the dealer draws a card from the deck and places it face up on the table as the trump indicator. The trump indicator cannot be an Ace or Seven so if one of these cards is drawn it must be buried in the deck and a new trump indicator drawn. The then dealer deals a batch of three cards to each player and stacks the remainder of the deck face down, crosswise on top of the trump indicator if any.

If the cards were cut, a player who received the 2 of trumps in the initial deal can exchange it for the trump indicator card before playing to the first trick.

As usual there is no requirement to follow suit and after each trick the players replenish their hands by drawing a card from the top of the stock pile, beginning with the winner of the trick. When all the cards have been played the team (if any) that has 61 or more card points wins at least 1 game point. A match is won by the first team to score a total of 4 or more game points over as many deals as that takes.

In this version of Bisca there are various ways of scoring extra game points, so that the match can sometimes end in the middle of the play. The scoring is as follows.

Game. A team that takes 61 points in tricks (but not more than 89) scores 1 game point if clubs, spades or diamonds are trumps, but 2 game points if hearts are trumps. For this reason, if the dealing team are ahead in game points the opponents will normally knock instead of cutting the deck to make hearts trumps and thereby improve their chance of catching up.

Capote. A team that takes less than 31 card points suffers 'capote' and the winning team with 90 or more card points scores 2 game points, or 3 game points if hearts are trumps.

120. If a team takes all the card points (but not necessarily all the tricks) they score 4 game points thereby winning the match.

Heley (or Rela, pronounced 'rélêi') occurs when the Ace and 7 of trumps fall in the same trick. There are several cases.

  • If the Ace is played directly on the 7 by the next player, the team that played the Ace immediately scores 1 game point, or 2 if hearts were trumps.
  • If the 7 is played after the Ace, buy an opponent of the person who played the Ace, the team that played the Ace immediately scores 2 game points, or 4 if hearts were trumps.
  • Heley de Parceiros. If two partners play the Ace and 7 of trumps to the same trick, their opponents score 2 game points, or 3 if hearts were trumps. However, there is no score for this if it occurs in the very last trick of a deal, when the players have only one card in their hands.
  • Rodar o 7. If a player leads the 7 of trumps to a trick and it is not beaten by the Ace, their team scores 1 game point, or 2 if hearts are not trumps.
  • Heley de Roda. If a player leads the 7 of trumps and the fourth player to the trick beats it with the Ace, the winners of the trick score 2 game points, or 3 if hearts are trumps.
This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2021. Last updated: 30th March 2021

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