Briscola Chiamata

This page is mainly based on contributions from Paolo Ronzoni and Paolo Marino.

Introduction

This popular five-player version of the Italian game Briscola differs from the parent game in that all 40 cards are dealt at the start, and that the partnerships vary from deal to deal and are initially unknown. There is an auction after which the highest bidder chooses a partner by calling a card (briscola chiamata = "called briscola"). The holder of this card is the bidder's partner and the other three players form the opposing team. There are many regional variants, the differences being mainly in the bidding process, and the game also goes by several other names including Briscola Bastarda, Briscolone, Briscola Assassina and Briscola Pazza.

A basic form of the game will be described first, followed by a number of variants.

Players and Cards

The game is basically for five players, but it is possible for six to take part, in which case the players take turns to sit out, dealing cards to the other five players and taking no further part until the next deal.

A standard Italian 40-card pack is used. This can have either Italian suits (swords, batons, cups and coins) or French suits (spades, clubs, hearts and diamonds). The Horse in the Italian suited pack corresponds to the Queen in the French suited pack. The cards have point values, and the rank of the cards in each suit from high to low and their values are as follows.

Ace 11 points
Three 10 points
King 4 points
Queen / Horse 3 points
Jack 2 points
Seven 0 points
Six 0 points
Five 0 points
Four 0 points
Two 0 points

The total number of points in the pack is 120.

In North America, Italian cards in various regional patterns can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair. Alternatively the game could be played with an international 52-card pack by removing all 10's, 9's and 8's.

Deal and play are counter-clockwise.

The Deal

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts. The dealer then deals out the whole pack to the five players, in batches of four cards at a time, so that each receives a hand of eight cards. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

Bidding and Calling

Players bid for the right to choose the trump suit (briscola) and to call a partner, who will be the player who holds the trump card called by the bidder. These two players form one team and undertake to win more than half of the card points - i.e. at least 61 - in their tricks. The other three players form the opposing team and try to prevent them doing this by taking at least 60 points.

In the bidding, players initially state only the rank of the card they wish to call. No suit is mentioned. The lower the rank, the higher the bid. The player to dealer's right speaks first and the bidding continues counter-clockwise. Each player in turn must either pass or bid a lower rank than the previous bidder. A player who has passed is out of the bidding, which continues for as many circuits as necessary until only one bidder remains, the other four having passed. So the bidding is won by whoever is prepared to call the lowest card.

The final bidder now names the suit of the briscola (trump) and the holder of the card of the bid rank in this suit is the bidder's partner, but must not say anything to reveal his or her identity. It will only become apparent during the play of the cards who is on which team.

If a player bids "two", the bidding can continue, and in this case subsequent bidders must also bid two but contract to win a greater number of points (i.e. a target of more than 61). The bid now states the number of points and each bid must be higher than the previous one.

A player is allowed to call a card that they hold themselves, and in this case the bidder will be playing alone against a team of four, though the other players will not initially realise that this is the case.

Alternatively, a player who bids "two" but holds the two of the desired trump suit is allowed to call the lowest trump that he or she does not hold. For example a player who won the bidding at "two" and named a trump suit holding the 2 and 4 but not the 5 could call the 2 (to play alone) or the 5 (to select a partner) but not any other card of the suit.

Play

The player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, and as in other forms of Briscola each player in turn is free to play any card they wish. There is absolutely no requirement to follow suit or to try to beat any of the other cards.

The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trumps, by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Unlike some other forms of Briscola, in this game there are no signals and players are not allowed to inform each other what cards they hold or advise their partners what to play. This does not necessarily mean that the game is played in stony silence. In fact it is often quite a noisy game during which which players trade jokes, insults and speculation. However, none of this conversation should give away any genuine information about cards held, and especially should not reveal who is or is not the bidder's partner.

Scoring

At the end of the play the bidder and the holder of the called card combine their tricks and count the number of points in them. If they are successful, taking at least 61 points or at least the amount of the bid if more than 61 was bid, then the bidder scores +2 points, the called partner scores +1 point and the other three players score -1 point each. If the bidding team fails these scores are reversed: the bidder scores -2, the called partner -1 and their opponents +1 each.

If the bid was for 71 or more points the scores are higher:

  • 71-80: ±4 for the bidder and ±2 for the other players
  • 81-90: ±6 for the bidder and ±3 for the other players
  • 91-100: ±8 for the bidder and ±4 for the other players
  • 101+: ±10 for the bidder and ±5 for the other players

If the called card is in the bidder's hand the bidder counts only his or her own tricks and scores +4 points if successful while the team of four score -1 each. If unsuccessful the bidder score -4 and the others +1 each. For a bid of 71-80 playing alone the bidder scores ±8 and the others ±2, for 81-90 ±12 / ±3, for 91-100 ±16 / ±4 and for 101+ ±20 / ±5.

If one team wins all eight tricks, the scores are doubled.

At the start of the game, the players should agree how long they will play: the number of deals or the time to end. Since the scores of the players always add up to zero, the result can be converted to money, chocolates or whatever stakes are being played for. Alternatively the game could go on until some target score is reached by the highest scoring player, with agreed prizes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place, etc. In this case the players would also need to agree how to deal with ties.

Variations

Briscola Chiamata Subito al Due

"Called Briscola, straight to the Two". This is the same as the above game except that the bidding is for the number of points to be taken (the lowest bid being 61) and the bidder must always call a two. If the bidder names a trump suit in which he or she holds the two, the bidder must play alone - there is no possibility to call a card other than a two.

In this game it may sometimes happen that all five players pass. In this case the dealer asks each player in turn whether there should be a new deal or whether they will reopen the bidding for 61 points calling a 2. If any player reopens, the bidding resumes, starting with this player and continuing anticlockwise, and everyone is allowed to take part. If no one wants to reopen the bidding but all agree to a redeal, the cards are thrown in, shuffled, cut and dealt again by the same dealer.

Prima Mano al Buio

"First Trick in the Dark". In this variant of Subito al Due the trump suit and the called card are announced by the bidder after the first trick has been played. The first trick is won as usual by the player of the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played.

In the first trick no one is allowed to play a two, with just one exception. If the bidder is the last person to play to the first trick, in that case the bidder is allowed to play a two to the trick. This rule prevents the bidder from selecting a partner on the basis of seeing who won the first trick.

Bidding for Points Only

Some play that the players bid the number of points that they will take with the help of a partner. The lowest bid is 61. The highest bidder names trumps and is allowed to call any card of the trumps suit - usually this will be the highest trump that the bidder does not hold, for example the Ace.

Briscola col Monte

In this Sicilian variant only seven cards each are dealt to each player and there are five cards (the monte) face down on the table. The rank of the card to be called is not mentioned in the bidding. Each bid is simply a number of points, 61 or more. The highest bidder then names the trump suit, takes the five cards of the monte without showing them and discards five cards face down. The bidder then states the rank of the trump card whose holder will be his or her partner. Normally this will be the highest trump that the bidder does not hold.

The five discarded cards count for the team of the player who wins the last of the seven tricks.

Other Pages, Software and Online Games

Some information in Italian on other variants can be found on the Briscola Chiamata website and also on the Briscola Variants Wikipedia page.

At Davide Gullo's GDM community site you can play Briscola Chiamata on line.