- Players and Cards
- Bidding and Calling
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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.
This page is mainly based on contributions from Paolo Ronzoni and Paolo Marino.
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.
|Queen / Horse
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 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.
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.
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.
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 trump suit - usually this will be the highest trump that the bidder does not hold, for example the Ace.
Briscola col Monte (Sicily)
Details of this Sicilian variant for 5-7 players were contributed by Matthew Hester whose family is from Ventimiglia (in the province of Palermo), in response to questions from Ulf Martin, the editor of the German language edition of this page.
Seven cards each are dealt to each player from the 40-card pack and five cards (the monte, or in Sicilian munte) face down on the table. If any player has no counting cards (all their cards are 7 or lower) they may show their hand and demand a new deal by the same dealer.
The rank of the card to be called is not mentioned in the bidding. Each bid is simply a number of points. The minimum bid is usually 61 but Matthew Hester's family play with a minimum bid of 70 . The bidding begins with the player to dealer's right and continues anticlockwise round the table. Each bid must be higher than the last. A player who does not wish to bid passes and takes no further part in the bidding. If all players pass, there is a new deal by the same dealer.
When all players but one have passed, the final and highest bidder calls a card. The suit of this card will be trumps and the holder will be the bidder's partner. The bidder then picks up the five cards of the munte without showing them and discards five cards face down. The five discarded cards will count for the team of the player who wins the last trick.
If the bidder has the called card, either because they deliberately or accidentally called a card that was in their hand, or more likely because they found the called card in the munte, they have two options:
- to say nothing about it and play alone against the other four players (unusual as it is very difficult to win with no partner), or
- to show the called card and play with their right-hand neighbour as their partner.
In this Sicilian game it is the bidder (rather than the player to dealer's right) who leads to the first trick. As usual there are no restrictions on what cards can be played. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or the highest card of the suit led if it contains no trump and the winner leads to the next trick.
The bidder's team wins if they take at least as many card points as were bid. The game is usually played for small stakes, each hand being a separate event. If the bid was 90 or less and the bidder's team wins, each of their opponents pays 1 unit, the bidder wins 2 and the called partner wins 1. Conversely if the bidder's team fails, the bidder pays 2, the partner pays 1 and each opponent collects 1.
If the bid was 91 or more, the payments are doubled: the bidder wins or loses 4 and the other players win or lose 2.
If bidder's team takes all 120 points the payments are doubled: +4 for the bidder, +2 for the partner and -2 for each opponent if the bid was 90 or less, or +8 for the bidder, +4 for the partner and -4 for each opponent if the bid was 91 or more. It is not necessary to win all the tricks to get this double payment: the opponents may have tricks without card points. In the event that the bidder's opponents were to take 120 points these payments would be reversed, but that cannot happen in practice, because the bidder will always either hold or call the ace of trumps.
If the bidder pays alone, the the bidder receives from or pays to each opponent, so the basic payments are ±4 for the bidder and ±1 for each opponent, doubled if the bid was 91 or more and also doubled if the bidder took 120 card points.
Six or seven players. This variant may be played by six active players. The players are dealt 6 cards each and there are 4 cards in the munte. The bidding and play are the same as in the 5-player game. The basic payment for the game is ±2 points each for the bidder and partner and ±1 point for each of the four opponents, doubled for a bid of 91 or more or is a team takes all 120 points. If there are seven players, the dealer sits out and deals cards to the other six.