Cirulla - card game rules

Cirulla

Introduction

Cirulla is much played in the Italian city of Genoa and throughout Liguria and neighbouring Lower Piedmont. In Ligurian the name of the game is spelled Cirolla. It is a variation of the well known Italian game Scopa featuring additional ways of capturing cards and additional scores for combinations of cards in a player's hand. These extra rules result in a lively, noisy and unpredictable game with many sudden changes of fortune. The contrast with Scopone, a more intellectual Scopa variant requiring silence, concentration, accurate memory and calculation has led to Cirulla being characteristed as a kind of anti-Scopone.

This page is based on information from Andrea Angiolino, Gabriele Boccone, Paolo Ronzoni and Jean Maillard, from Davide Manzi, who organises the weekly Cirulla tournaments at Giardini Luzzati in the city centre in Genoa, and from several books.

Players and Cards

Cirulla is played with a 40-card pack with French suits of hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades, and cards Ace, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Jack, Queen, King in each suit. Traditionally, cards of the Genoese pattern, which have no indices, are used, but it is also possible to use a standard international pack from which the 10's, 9's, 8's and Jokers have been removed.

For the purpose of capturing the Ace counts as 1, the 2-7 face value, Jack as 8, Queen as 9 and King as 10.

Cirulla is normally played by 4 players in partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. It is also possible, for 3 or 2 people to play using the same rules.

Traditonally the deal and play are normally anticlockwise, and this direction of play is assumed in the following description. However, as mentioned under Variations some people nowadays play it clockwise, and if you prefer that version you will need to interchange 'left' and 'right' throughout what follows.

Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random method, and turn to deal passes to the right after each hand is scored.

In each hand the cards are dealt is several stages. At the start the dealer shuffles and offers the cards to the player to the left to cut. The dealer deals the cards one at a time until each player has three cards and then places four cards face up in a row on the table. The remainder of the deck is set aside face down for future use.

If the table cards include two or more Aces, all the cards are gathered up, shuffled and dealt again by the same dealer.

If the capture values of the initial table cards add up to exactly 15 (for example Ace, 2, 4, Jack) or exactly 30 (for example 5, 6, Queen, King), the dealer captures them and scores a bonus (for details see below).

After all players have played their three cards the same dealer deals out another three cards each from the remainder of the deck. No further cards are dealt to the table. After these three new cards have been played there is another deal of 3 each and this is repeated until the deck is exhausted. So with 4 players the cards will be dealt in 3 stages, with 3 players 4 stages, and with 2 players 6 stages.

Play

Players take turns to play in anticlockwise order, beginning with the player to dealer's right. At each turn a player must play one card from hand face up to the table. This card may make a capture, in which case the player takes the played card along with the captured card or cards and stores them (normally face down) in the pile of captured cards belonging to the player or team. If there is no capture the played card remains face up on the table alongside any cards that were already there and can itself be captured in a later turn. The possible methods of capturing are as follows:

  1. If the played card is equal in capture value to a card on the table, the player may capture that table card - for example a 6 can capture a 6 or a King can capture a King.
  2. If there is a set of cards on the table whose capture values add up to the capture value of the played card, the player may capture that set of cards - for example a Queen can capture a 2, a 3 and a 4 together (2+3+4=9).
  3. If there is a card or set of cards on the table whose capture values, together with the capture value of the played card, add up to 15, the player may capture that set of cards - for example a 5 can capture a King (5+10=15) or a 7 and a 3 together (5+7+3=15).
  4. If an Ace is played it can capture all the cards on the table provided that there is no Ace on the table. If there is an Ace on the table, the Ace can only capture using method 1 (capturing the Ace alone) or method 3 (capturing a total of 15). For example if the cards on the table are A, 3, 4, 6, 7. then an Ace could capture 3, 4, 7 (because 1+3+4+7=15) or A, 3, 4, 6 (because 1+1+3+4+6=15) or just the Ace alone (using method 1).

In Cirulla, unlike Scopa, if several different captures are available with the played card, the player is free to choose which one to make. For example with Queen, 6, 5, 4, 3 on the table, the player of a Queen can choose to capture either the Queen alone or the 5+4 or the 6+3 or the 6 alone (making 15) but only one of these options.

A player is free to play a card that does not capture anything, even if they could have made a capture by playing a different card. However, if the player chooses to play a card that can capture, they should take the capture. If they fail to do so (perhaps because they fail to notice a type 3 capture with a total of 15), then any other player who notices that the capture is possible can insist that is is made. If a possible capture is missed and this is not pointed out before the next player plays, then it is too late to capture: the played card that should have captured remains on the table with the other cards that are there.

If a player captures all the cards from the table by any of the four methods above, leaving it empty, this is called a 'scopa' and the team gains 1 extra point for this. To remember the scopa so that it can be scored at the end of the hand, one of the cards taken, usually the one that made the capture, is placed face up in the player or team's pile of captured cards, protruding from the pile. Apart from cards stored face up to record bonus points like this, all captured cards are stored face down and cannot be looked at by anyone until the end of the hand.

Immediately after a scopa, the next player will have to play a card to the empty table and will therefore be unable to make a capture, but the following player may be able to score another scopa by matching this card or making a total of 15 or playing an Ace.

When all players have played all 3 of their cards (the dealer having played the last card), if any cards remain undealt the dealer deals a new hand of 3 cards to each player from the undealt part of the deck while any cards that were face up on the table remain in place. Play then continues with the player to dealer's right.

When all the cards have been played and none remain to be dealt, the hand ends. Any cards remaining face up on the table are taken by the last player or team that made a capture. Taking the last cards from the table at the very end of a hand never counts as a scopa. Even if the dealer's last card is in fact able to capture all the table cards by one of the methods 1-4 above, no scopa is scored for this.

Bonuses

Bonuses can be scored by the dealer for the four cards dealt to the table at the start of a hand, or by any player for the three cards they are dealt at the start of any stage of the hand. For the purpose of scoring a bonus, the seven of hearts is wild, (known in Ligurian as poncin and in Italian as matta) and in order to make a bonus combination a player can nominate it as having any capture value from 1 to 10.

Dealer bonuses

If the capture values of the four cards dealt to the table at the start of a hand add up to exactly 15 the dealer captures the four cards and scores a bonus of one scopa, marked as usual by placing one of the cards face up and protruding from the capture pile.

If capture values the four table cards add up to exactly 30, the dealer captures them for a bonus of two scope, marked by placing two of the cards face up in the capture pile.

Examples

  • club4, heart7, club3, diamond6 on the table at the start can be captured by the dealer for a bonus of one scopa (using the wild heart7 as a 2 to make 15).
  • spade6, spadeQ, diamondK, club5 on the table at the start can be captured by the dealer for 2 scope (6+9+10+5=30).

If the dealer scores a bonus, capturing the four cards empties the table, so the first player, to dealer's right, has nothing to capture and must simply play a card to the empty table.

Hand bonuses

If the three cards dealt to a player at any stage of the hand have a total capture value of 9 or less, the player can claim a bonus of three scope, known in Ligurian as barsega or boña da trei.

If a player is dealt three equal cards at any stage of the hand, the player can claim a bonus of ten scope, known in Ligurian as barsegon or boña da dexe.

If a player's hand satisfies both criteria - three equal cards with a total of 9 or less, for example 2-2-2 - only the 10 scope bonus is awarded: it is not possible to score both types of bonus at once with the same cards.

A player claims a hand bonus at their turn to play by knocking on the table (bussare) and placing their three cards face up in front them for all to see. The cards remain exposed during the play and are played normally from that position. The heart7 can be used as a wild card, and in this case the player must choose and announce its capture value when exposing it. The heart7 keeps that capture value during the play. For example if it is named as an Ace it can be played to capture all the cards from the table if they do not include another Ace, or if it is named as a 2 and played to the table, it retains its value of 2 for the purpose of capture.

The three or ten scope are recorded as usual by turning the appropriate number of cards face up in the player or team's capture pile. If they have not yet captured enough cards to do this, they still score them but they must remember them in some other way, for example by marking them on a piece of paper.

Examples

  • A hand of heart7, club3, diamond4 scores 3 scope, declaring the heart7 as either a 2 or an Ace. (It would be declared as a 2 if the table cards were for example Ace, 5, 7, so as to capture all three cards by making 15).
  • A hand of spadeQ, diamondQ, clubQ scores 10 scope, and spadeQ, diamondQ, heart7 would score the same, declaring the heart7 as a Queen (capture value 9).

Note that the heart7 is only wild if used as part of a bonus combination. If it is not used to claim a bonus it is just an ordinary card with a capture value of 7.

Scoring

At the end of the play, each player or team counts the number of points they have scored according to the cards in their capture pile. For this purpose the heart7 is no longer wild - however it was used it just counts as the seven of hearts.

The possible scores are:

Each scopa 1 point For clearing the table and for bonuses.
Most cards 1 point In case of a tie no one gets the point.
Most diamonds 1 point In case of a tie no one gets the point.
7 of diamonds 1 point Known as sette bello - beautiful 7.
Primiera 1 point See below
La piccola 3+ points diamondA+diamond2+diamond3+... See below.
La grande 5 points diamondK+diamondQ+diamondJ. See below.

Primiera

One point is scored by the player or team that has the best Primiera. A Primiera is a combination of four cards, one from each suit. The following special values are used to compare primieras:

card value
7 21
6 18
A 16
5 15
4 14
3 13
2 12
K,Q,J 10

In practice the primiera point usually goes to the team with the majority of sevens, or if they have two each normally to the team with the majority of sixes. The exact values are only needed to decide difficult cases, such as when 7-7-6-Q (68) loses to 7-7-5-2 (69). Note that a player or team that has captured no cards at all of one suit cannot win the primiera point even if they have the other three sevens. In case of a tie, no one scores the primiera point.

La Grande / La Piccola

A player or team that has all three diamond pictures (diamondK+diamondQ+diamondJ) scores 5 points for la grande or in Ligurian: l'erta.

A player or team that has a sequence of at least 3 diamonds counting upwards from the Ace counts 1 point for each card in the sequence, up to a maximum of 6. For example a sequence of diamondA+diamond2+diamond3+diamond4 scores 4 points. This is known as la piccola or in Ligurian: a bassa.

A player or team that captures the entire diamond suit (la piccola of 6 cards plus la grande plus the sette bello) wins the whole game immediately: this is known as a cappotto.

End of Game

A cumulative score is kept for each player or team. The game ends when a player or team either wins by taking all the diamonds or achieves a score of 51 or more points over however many hands that takes. When a score of 51 or higher is reached, the player or team with the highest score then wins the game. If there is a tie for highest score, another hand is played to determine the winner.

Note that in this game it is not possible to halt the play in the middle of a hand if someone thinks they have scored enough points to reach the target score. The hand must be played to the end and scored to determine the result.

Often a match between two players or teams is played as the best of three games. After the first game, a second 'revenge' game is played. If the same team wins the second game they win the match, but if the other team wins a third game is played as a decider.

Variations

There are many different house rules, and it is advisable to check the local rules before starting a game.

As already mentioned, quite a few people play the whole game clockwise rather than anticlockwise.

Some players use different methods of dealing the first stage of the game, for example the first card to the table, then one card each, then another to the table, another card each, a third card to the table, a third card each and finally a fourth card to the table. Some play that the player to dealer's left may refuse to cut the cards, in which case the dealer can choose any fair method of dealing.

Some sources allow a third type of bonus for the dealer, when the four cards dealt initially have a total capture value of 9 or less. In this case the dealer captures the four cards and scores three scope. Jean Maillard asked several groups of players and none of them had heard of this rule, but it appears in some reputable books such as 'I Giochi di Carte' by Fantini and Santelia (Rizzoli, 1985, 1997) and on the former romacivica website.

In the Giardini Luzzati tournaments there are other sets of initial table cards that have special effects:

  • If the dealer deals four cards of the same rank to the table, or three cards of the same rank plus the seven of hearts, the dealer's team wins the whole game ('cappotto').
  • If the dealer deals either two aces to the table (as in the standard game above) or three cards of the same rank (with the fourth card not being the seven of hearts) then it's a misdeal, and the same dealer deals again. If there are three misdeals in a row, the opponents (i.e. not the dealer's team) win the game ('cappotto'). Note that the seven of hearts does not count as a wild card for the purpose of determining a misdeal: for example club4-spade4-heart7-spadeA dealt to the table is not a misdeal, but can be captured by the dealer for one scopa, using the wild heart7 as a 6 to make 15.

According to Davide Manzi these cappotto and misdeal rules are standard, but in practice few players know or use them.

It is possible, though not traditional, to play Cirulla with a Latin suited deck, for example Neapolitan, but these cards are not typical of Liguria and the north-east of Italy. If using Latin cards, the wild card is the 7 of cups, and the suit of the sette bello and the sequence bonuses is coins.

There are various different house rules regarding when to knock and claim a bonus:

  1. (most widespread) The player knocks and reveals the cards at the start of their turn.
  2. (less usual) A player may knock and show their cards any time between the deal and when it is that player's first turn to play, but anyone who has played a card before the knock is allowed to retract and change their play after seeing the revealed cards.
  3. (unusual) The player knocks and reveals their cards immediately after the deal, before the first player has played a card.

Some groups use a different card, such as the Queen of hearts rather than the 7, as the wild card for bonuses.

Some allow the two types of hand bonus to be scored together, so that for example 3-3-3 would score 13 scope, made up of 10 scope for 9 or less plus 3 scope for three of a kind.

Some allow up to 7 cards in the la piccola, in which case the sequence Ace to 7 of diamonds would in fact score 8 points: 7 for the sequence plus one more for the sette bello itself.

In some tournaments, capturing all the diamonds does not win the game outright but just scores 10 points (6 for la piccola plus 3 for la grande plus 1 for sette bello).

In some tournaments there is no 10-point bonus for three equal cards in a hand.

Some sources use the term scala piccola (small ladder) or cirulla piccola for the low sequence in diamonds and scala grande (large ladder) or cirulla grande for the high sequence.

The book Giochi di Carte Italiani by Giampaolo Dossena (Mondadori, 1984) and the version reported by Paolo Ronzoni as played by friend of his father from La Spezia have different bonus scores and sequence scores as follows (as usual the 7 of hearts is wild):

  • If the four initial table cards have a total value of 9 or less the dealer scores 1 scopa.
  • If the four initial table cards add up to exactly 30 the dealer scores 2 scope.
  • A three-card hand with a total capture value of 9 or less scores 1 scopa.
  • A hand of three equal cards scores 2 scope.
  • A hand of three equal cards with a total capture value of less than 9 (3 aces or 3 twos or 3 threes) scores 3 scope.
  • A scaletta bassa is a sequence of 3, 4 or 5 low diamonds from the ace upwards, scoring 3 scope for A23, 4 scope for A234, or 5 scope for A2345.
  • A scaletta alta is a sequence of 3, 4, or 5 high diamonds starting from the king downwards, scoring 5 scope for KQJ, 6 scope for KQJ7 or 7 scope for KQJ76.

Some allow a player to play a card and just leave it on the table, even if it could have made a capture. A player might wish to do this to hinder the next player from scoring a scopa.

The target score can be varied. For example for a short game the target can be reduced to 26 points or more, or for a long game it can be 101 or more.

Other descriptions of Cirulla are available on Wikipedia in English and Italian.

Cirullone

As the name suggests, this game is a mix of Cirulla and Scopone: it goes some way towards allowing the extra strategic possibilities of Scopone by increasing the hand size. Jean Maillard has spoken to members of a club in Rivarolo ("Sampclub Certosa") who confirmed that Cirullone is played by them and throughout Liguria, and Davide Manzi confirmed that it's also played in Giardini Luzzati.

The game is almost identical to 4-player partnership Cirulla except for the hand size. There are two main versions.

  • In the more 'lighthearted' version, in the first stage six cards are dealt to each player and in the second stage three cards each. Alternatively some players, including those in Rivarolo, do the opposite to this, dealing three cards each in the first stage and six in the second.
  • A more 'strategic' version exists where each player is dealt nine cards at the start, just like in Scopone.

In all cases, four cards are dealt face up to the table in the first stage of the deal as usual, and all bonuses are as in Cirulla. Hand bonuses can still be declared for specific sets of three cards, and only those declared cards have to be revealed. When a bonus is declared and the three relevant cards are placed on the table face up, the player who declared the bonus must play from those cards first. Once the revealed cards have all been played, the player is free to play any other cards they might still have in the hand.

In a 6-card or 9-card hand it is clearly possible to have two or even three separate sets of three cards qualifying for a bonus. In this case the player knocks, exposes three cards and claims one bonus, then having played these three cards knocks again at their next turn, exposes three more cards for a second bonus and plays those cards, and so on.

Some groups (for example the players at Rivarolo) do not required the bonus cards to be played first. In this case a player who has two sets of bonus cards in their hand knocks and exposes and scores both these bonuses at their first turn to play after the deal, and can then play their cards in any order.

The game is typically played up to a higher target score than Cirulla. The target to win a game of Cirullone is often 101, but sometimes 75.

Notes on Language and Etymology

The following notes were supplied by Jean Maillard.

Diamonds/hearts/clubs/spades in Ligurian (Genoese) are traditionally called respectively dinæ (meaning "money'), coppe (meaning "cups"), scioî (meaning "flowers") and spoæ or spâ (meaning "swords"). These names are still in use by many even though the local deck is French-suited. The traditional names of the court cards are sbiro (originally an armed guard, nowadays the term is used to denote policemen and carabinieri) for the Jack, dònna ("woman") for the Queen and òmmo ("man") for the King.

Prof. Fiorenzo Toso, author of the Piccolo dizionario etimologico ligure (published in 2015 by editrice Zona in Lavagna, Genoa) hypothesises that the name of the game comes from the Latin American Spanish word chirola, which denotes a coin of little value. There are several Genoese communities in Southern America, especially in Argentina, so it seems likely that the word could have been brought back by returning migrants. There is further support for this idea in María Delia Gatica de Montiveros's Diccionario de regionalismos de la provincia de San Luis (Fondo Editorial Sanluiseño, 1995, San Luis, Argentina), which defines chirolear as "Jugar por poco dinero", to play for little money.

One further interesting fact is that the two bonuses for cards held in the hand are exactly the same as those in the ancient italian game of Bazzica. When people nowadays say bazzica in Italy they usually mean Bezique rather than the older game called Bazzica and which has almost died out. You can find a description of the original Bazzica on this Sicilian website as well as in this dictionary from 1704. It is also notably mentioned in one of Carlo Goldoni's comedies. In Bazzica, the name of the bonus you get for holding three cards which sum to less than 10 is bazzica, just like the name of the game. Tellingly, the Ligurian name for this bonus in Cirulla is barsega, which is perfectly consistent with how one would expect bazzica to change according to Ligurian phonotactics.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2022. Last updated: 8th March 2022

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