Scopa

Introduction

Along with Briscola and Tressette, Scopa is one of the best known and most widely played traditional Italian card games. Players take turns to play a card from their hand to capture cards of equal value from the table. Points are scored for taking the most cards in total, for taking the most cards in the suit of coins (or diamonds), for collecting the best primiera (consisting of one card from each suit, Sevens being the most valuable), for taking the settebello (the Seven of coins or diamonds), and for capturing all the cards on the table leaving it empty, which is known as a scopa (sweep).

Scopa is played in all parts of Italy, using a 40-card pack of the local pattern. There are numerous variants, some of which are described on this page after the explanation of the basic game. My thanks to Salvatore Rossi and others who have sent information about these. Closely related games are also played in nearby countries, such as Escoba in Spain, Chkouba in Algeria and Tunisia, and Scopa in Corsica.

Players who prefer a more intellectually demanding game of the same type may prefer Scopone (big Scopa), a game for four players using the same rules of play and scoring, but with all the cards dealt at the start of the game so that players begin with 9 or 10 cards in their hands. Scopone is described on a separate page.

Players and Cards

The basic game of Scopa described on this page is most often played by two people. It is possible, though less satisfactory, for three to play, using the same rules and each playing for themselves. The game can also be played by 4 or 6 people divided into two equal teams with each player sitting between two opponents, but with four players it is more interesting to play Scopone. If there are more than two player's the deal and play are counter-clockwise.

A 40-card pack is used. In parts of Italy where Latin-suited cards are used, the suits are coins (denari), cups (coppe), swords (spade) and batons or clubs (bastoni) and the cards in each suit are King (Re), Horse (Cavallo), Jack (Fante), 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace (Asso). In some north-eastern regions of Italy Scopa is played with a French-suited pack with suits of diamonds (quadri), hearts (cuori), clubs (fiore) and spades (picche) and the cards in each suit are King (Re), Queen (Regina or Donna), Jack (Fante), 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace (Asso).

For the purposes of capturing, the cards have values as follows:

King 10
Horse or Queen 9
Jack 8
7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 face value
Ace 1

Players in North America can obtain Italian cards of various regional patterns from TaroBear's Lair. If no Italian cards are available, it is also possible to play with a standard international 52 card pack from which all the 10s, 9s and 8s have been removed.

Deal

The first dealer can be chosen by any convenient method - for example some players deal the cards around the table one at a time face up until the King of coins (diamonds) appears and the player who receives this card deals first.

The dealer shuffles and the dealer's opponent (the player to dealer's left if there are more than two players) cuts the cards. The dealer then deals the cards one at a time until each player has three cards. The next four cards are placed separately face up on the table - some players like to arrange them in a square or in a row, but the exact layout does not matter. The remaining cards are stacked face down.

If the four face up cards include three or four Kings, all the cards are gathered up, and are shuffled, cut and dealt again by the same dealer. This is because with more than two face up Kings in the layout, sweeps (scope) are not possible.

After all players have played their first three cards, the dealer deals another three cards to each player, but no further face up cards are dealt to the table. This is repeated until all the cards have been dealt and played, after which the hand is scored and the turn to deal passes to the other player (or to the next player to the right).

Play

The non-dealer (the player to dealer's right if there are more than two players) plays first and the turn to play alternated (or passes to the right). A turn consists of playing exactly one card from hand face up to the table. The played card may or may not capture one or more cards from the table.

  • If the played card is equal in value to one of the face up cards on the table, it captures that card. If there are several matching cards the player must choose just one of those cards to capture.
  • If the played card does not match the value of any single face up card, but is equal to the sum of the values of a set of two or more cards, the player captures that set of cards. If there is more than one such set, the player chooses which set to capture.
  • If there is no single card and no set of cards whose value matches the played card, then the played card remains face up on the table alongside any cards that are already there, and is available for capture in subsequent turns.

When a card or cards are captured, the player takes the captured card(s) along with the card that they played and stores them in a face down stack of cards that they have taken. In a partnership game each team stores its captured cards in a single stack.

If the played card captures all the face up cards from the layout, leaving it empty, this is a scopa (sweep). To record this, the played card is placed face up and sideways in the player's capture pile, with the cards it captured face down on top of it. This makes it easy to remember and count the scope when scoring. Since the table is now empty, the next player's card cannot capture anything and remains face up on the table to begin a new layout.

After everyone has played all three of their cards, if there are any cards remaining to be dealt, the dealer deals three new cards to each player, leaving any face up cards on the table in place, and play continues with the player to dealer's right.

When all the cards have been played and there are no more cards to deal, any card remaining in the face up layout are collected by the player or team that last made a capture. Then the hand is scored.

Capturing the last card(s) from the table at the very end of the hand never counts as a scopa. Even if the dealer's final card does actually match the total value of the last card(s) remaining on the table, thus capturing them in the normal way, this is not a scopa.

Notes

  • If a played card captures anything, the player must make the capture. They cannot simply leave the played card in the layout without capturing (even though they might wish to do this to avoid the danger of a scopa by the following player).
  • Each player has a free choice of which of their cards to play. They are allowed to play a card that does not capture anything, even if they could have captured by playing a different card.
  • If the played card matches both a single card and the sum of a set of cards, the single card must be captured, not the set.

Example. The face up cards on the table are A, 3, 4, 5, 7.

  • If the next player plays a 3, it captures the 3 from the table.
  • If the next player plays a Horse (9), it captures the 4 and the 5 from the table.
  • If the next player plays a 6 it captures the Ace and the 5 from the table.
  • If the next player plays a 5 it just captures the 5 from the table - the player is not allowed to take the Ace and the 4.
  • If the next player plays a Jack (8) they have a choice of sets to take: they can capture either 5+3 or 4+3+A or 7+A.

Scoring

At the end of the play, the players or teams score for the cards they have in their capture piles and for sweeps as follows.

Scopa
For each scopa (sweep), indicated by a card stored face up in the capture pile - 1 point.
Cards
The player or team with the most cards in their capture pile scores 1 point for cards. In case of a tie for most cards no one scores this point.
Coins / Diamonds
The player or team with the most cards of the coins (or diamonds) suit scores 1 point. If there is a tie for most coins / diamonds no one scores this point.
Settebello
The player or team with the 7 of coins / diamonds in their pile scores 1 point.
Primiera
The player or team with the best prime (primiera) scores 1 point. A prime consists of four cards, one of each suit - a player or team that does not have at least one card in each suit cannot score for prime. The best prime is found by adding the values of the four cards using the following scale of values:
Seven 21
Six 18
Ace 16
Five 15
Four 14
Three 13
Two 12
King, Horse/Queen, Jack 10

In case of a tie for best prime - for example two opponents have 7-7-6-6, or one has 7-7-6-4 while the the other has A-A-7-7 - no one scores the point.

Note. The ranking and values of the cards in a prime are derived from the old gambling game Primiera in which one of the objects is to make a hand of this type.

The first player or team to achieve a cumulative score of 11 or more points over as many deals as it takes wins the game. If more than one player or team achieves this in the same hand, the highest score wins. In case of a tie for most points another hand is played to break the tie.

Variations

End of the game

Players may agree in advance a different target score, for example 16 or 21 points to win the game. When playing some of the variants below where extra points are available the target may be increased to 31 or 41.

Some allow a player or team to end the play in the middle of a hand by claiming to have enough points to win. This is known as 'chiamarsi fuori'. In a two player game a player needs 21 cards to claim the point for cards and 6 coins/diamonds to claim the point for that suit. The prime can be claimed if the claimer can demonstrate that they will win the prime even if the opponent takes all the cards hat are not yet captured. If the claimer turns out not to have enough points to win, they automatically lose the game.

Deciding the Primiera

In some regions different scales of values are used. For example some count 2-7 as face value, Aces as 5½ and picture cards as ½. In most cases this produces the same result as the normal values.

Asso Pigliatutto (Ace takes all)

In this popular children's game, in addition to the normal rules of capture, playing an Ace takes all the table cards and scores a point for a sweep, provided that there is no Ace on the table.

If there is an Ace in the table layout, then playing an Ace takes only the Ace and leaves the other cards in place. If there is an Ace alone on the table, a played Ace takes it and scores a sweep.

If the table is empty (or "clean"), an Ace played remains on the table (it can’t take itself).

'Asso pigliatutto' has also come to be used as a colloquial expression for a person who is particularly skilled, perhaps the best, in their field.

Scopa d'Assi

This game is similar to Asso Pigliatutto, except that taking all the cards with an Ace does not count as a sweep.

Some play that if an Ace is played to the empty table it 'takes itself'. The played Ace is captured by the player and the table remains empty.

Some play that if one or more Aces appear in the face-up cards in the original deal, the cards are thrown in and redealt.

Often Scopa d'Assi is played with additional points for a Napola - see above.

Scopa d'Assi is often played by four players in partnerships who are dealt 9 or 10 cards each rather than just three, as in Scopone.

Scopa di Quindici

This is a version of Scopa with a different rule of capture. The played card no longer captures a card or cards of equal value; instead it captures any one set of cards which, together with the played card, add up to 15. For example if the table cards are A, 3, 4, 7 and you play a 4, it captures either the 4 and the 7 or the A, 3 and 7 at your choice. The deal and scoring are the same as in basic Scopa. This game is very similar to the Spanish game Escoba.

Re Bello

Some award an extra point to the player or team that wins the King of coins/diamonds.

Napola

Some award additional points for a sequence of at least three consecutive coins/diamonds beginning with the Ace. One point is scored for each card in the sequence, so the smallest Napola A-2-3 scores 3 points. Some play that the maximum Napola is A-2-3-4-5-6 for 6 points. Others allow longer sequences, up to 9 points for a sequence of 9 up to the Queen/Horse, and in this case a sequence of 10 (the whole suit) is a Napoleone (or Napolone) which wins the game outright. When playing with these extra points the target to win the game is usually set at 21, 31 or 41 rather than 11.

Scopa con le Scalette

This game (Scopa with sequences) is played as normal Scopa or as Scopa d'Assi but with extra points for sequences in coins/diamonds. A Scaletta bassa (low sequence) is equivalent to a Napola (A-2-3 of coins/diamonds) and it scores 3 points. A Scaletta bassa can be extended upwards, scoring an extra point for each additional card, as far as the Horse/Queen (for 9 points). Players can also score for a Scaletta alta (high sequence) of King-Horse/Queen-Jack of coins/diamonds, which is worth 5 points. It can be extended downwards scoring an extra point for each additional card as far as the 2 (for 11 points). A player who takes all the coins/diamonds has a Scala (somplete sequence) and wins the whole game.

Scopa Bazzica

This is Scopa for two players in which extra points can be scored by declaring certain three-card combinations. The possible declarations are:

  • Bazzica: any three cards which add up to 9 or less, counting 2 to 7 as face value, Ace as 1 and pictures as 10. Scores 3 points.
  • Bazzicotto: three cards of the same rank. Scores 10 points.

In order to score, a bazzica or a bazzicotto must be declared immediately after a three-card deal, before the next card is played, and the cards must be shown. If both players declare a bazzica or bazzicotto only the better one scores. For this purpose:

  • Any bazzicotto beats any bazzica
  • If both players have a bazzica, the one with the lower total card value is better. The best is 2+A+A (value 4). If they are equal in value (for example A+2+6 against 2+3+4) then neither player scores.
  • If both players have a bazzicotto the one with the lower cards is better (A+A+A is best, K+K+K is worst).

A game is 21 or 31 points.

The page web.tiscali.it/male24/scopa.html describes a variant Sbarazzina, which is popular in Emilia.

  • As in Scopa d'Assi an Ace takes all the cards on the table but this does not count as a sweep.
  • The player or team that takes the Re Bello (King of coins/diamonds) scores an extra point.
  • A bazzica scores 2 points if the three cards are all of different ranks, or 3 points if they include a pair. Three of a kind of any rank scores 7 points.
  • The game is played to 41 points.

Scopa Corse

In Corsica, Scopa is often played with 36 cards, each suit consisting of Ace, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Jack, Queen, King. The removal of the Twos is said to add spice to the game, since without them it is less easy to form sets of cards that add up to 7. A set of rules is published with EREDI brand cards.

There can be two players or four players in fixed partnerships. The initial deal is 3 cards to each player and 4 cards to the table. With two players the second, third and fourth deals of the hand are 3 cards each, and the last two deals 4 cards each. With four players the second deal is 3 cards each and the third deal just 2 cards each.

The play and scoring are the same as in basic Scopa except that capturing is not compulsory. It is legal to play a card and leave it on the table without capturing even if its value matches a card or set of cards already on the table.

Games are usually played to 21 points, but the target may be set at 16 or 11 instead if all agree.

Other pages and software

The Italian Wikipedia page on Scopa includes a number of variants.

The Italian site Tretre provided rules of Scopa, Scopone and several variants.

The Scopa program at the Solitari con le Carte site can now be played in any web browser.

You can download a freeware Scopa program from Thanos Card Games.

Sylvain Labbe's Free Card Games includes Net.Scopa, an online Scopa program for play against live opponents. It can be used both on desktop computers and on mobile devices of several types.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2020. Last updated: 12th January 2020

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