Mariglia - card game rules

Mariglia

This page is based on research by Zach Smith, who thanks the Sardinian players Nicola Setta, bainjio on Reddit, and Antonio Camardae for their help and patience.

Introduction

Mariglia is a four-player partnership trick-taking game of the Manille group as would be expected from the name, which clearly shares an etymology with Manille, Manillen, Malilla, etc. Each hand of Mariglia consists of ten tricks, and points are scored for taking tricks containing valuable cards. A game of Mariglia consists of a series of hands played until one team reaches an agreed target score. A match between two teams usually consists of the best of three games.

Mariglia is by far at its most popular in the North of the island, especially in and around Sassari and also in Olbia and Nuoro. Because of the considerable scope for strategy and partnership cooperation, it is known, at least according to some of the popular literature, as 'Bridge Sardo' (Sardinian Bridge).

Players and Cards

There are four players in two fixed teams, partners sitting opposite each other. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

The game is normally played with a standard Italian 40-card deck of the French-suited genovesi (Genoese) pattern. The The Seven is the highest and most valuable card of each suit, followed by the Ace, the court cards and then other numerals from 6 down to 2. The cards have point values as follows.

French cards value
each 7 (mariglia) 5 points
each Ace (asso) 4 points
each King (re) 3 points
each Jack (fante) 2 points
each Queen (donna) 1 points
each 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (frillo) 0 points

Note that the Jack is higher than the Queen, which is the lowest court card. The same convention is found in some other parts of Italy, especially in the south, and in Portugal.

The low cards (frilli) are not completely worthless, because each four-card trick is worth one extra point. The total number of card points in the game is therefore 70.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient method. For example, each player may draw a card from the shuffled deck. Whoever draws the lowest card deals first, the player who drew the next lowest card sits to their right, and so on anticlockwise around the table. If two players draw equal cards they draw again to decide which is higher. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

The dealer shuffles the pack and offers it to the player to the left to cut. When cutting each portion of the pack must contain at least five cards. The dealer reassembles the pack and deals anticlockwise in packets of five cards, so that after two rounds all the cards have been dealt and each player has a hand of ten cards.

The bottom card of the pack, which belongs to the dealer since it is in the last packet of five, indicates the trump suit. The dealer places this card (il trionfo) face up on the table for all to see. If it is a scoring card (anything other than a frillo) the dealer's team immediately scores its card point value as game points on the score sheet. This may cause the dealer's team to win the game immediately without further play if the points are enough for them to reach the target score for the game (see below).

The players then pick up their hands of ten cards and look at them.

The Play

The player to the dealer’s right leads any card to the first trick. Each trick consists of four cards, one played by each player in turn, and is won by the highest card of the suit that was led unless it contains trumps, in which case it is won by the highest trump that was played. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

Players must always follow suit if they can. Subject to the requirement to follow suit, if the trick is currently being won by an opponent the player must beat the opponent's card if they can. This implies in particular that if you have no card of the suit led, you must play a trump unless either

  1. the trick is currently being won by your partner, or
  2. you have no trumps, or
  3. there is already a trump in the trick, which you are unable to beat.

On the other hand if your partner is currently winning the trick you are not obliged to beat or trump partner's card - in this case if unable to follow suit you may play any card.

Scoring

The teams maintain a score sheet of two columns, tracking their cumulative scores over the course of the game. There are two opportunities to score game points during each hand:

  • when the dealer reveals the trionfo, if it is not a frillo (see above);
  • when a hand of ten tricks is finished and the values of the cards in the tricks are counted.

Each trick of four cards is kept together as a face down packet, and is worth one extra point in addition to the values of the counting cards in it, which is normally expressed by saying that

  • if a trick contains 1, 2, 3 or 4 frilli, those frilli are worth 1 point in total, which is added to the value of any counting cards in the trick, and
  • if a trick contains no frilli, then the values of all the cards in it are added together, and then 1 more point, called the punto di fase, is added.

The effect is that the total number of card points in the game is 70, made up of 15 card points in each suit (5+4+3+2+1) plus 10 extra card points, one for each trick won.

The team whose total is more than 35 points scores as game points the difference of their card points from 35 and adds this to their total on the score sheet, while the other team scores nothing. The first team to reach or exceed the target score, which must be agreed in advance, wins the game.

It is common to set the target score at 35 game points, which makes it possible though unusual to win the whole game in a single hand. A match is the best of three games. Sometimes a higher target score of 45 is agreed, so that it is impossible to win a game in a single hand. The maximum score achievable in one hand, by turning up the 7 of trumps as indicator and then winning all ten tricks, is 42.

A match may be the best of three games played to 45, or the first two games may be played with a target of 35, followed a deciding game to 45 if each team wins one of the first two games.

Communication

Players are permitted to communicate during the play, to ask questions about their partner's hand, to give information, and to direct their partner as to what card to play. It is clear that there are many different local conventions about what information can be passed and when. All players agree that:

  1. All information and answers to questions must be truthful.
  2. All communication must be clear and comprehensible to all players at the table. The use of secret meanings or codes when communicating is strictly prohibited.

The most straightforward arrangement is that during any trick only the “leading” team - that is, the player who leads to the trick and that player’s partner - may speak. Either member of the team may speak at their turn to play, before they play their card to the trick. The partner of the player who is about to play a card is allowed to speak only to give direct answers to questions.

There generally don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules about what a player is allowed to ask their partner. Some common examples are:

  • asking how many of a certain suit they hold;
  • asking how many of a certain rank they hold;
  • asking about how many points are contained in their hand.

Tactically it is sensible to pass only the minimum amount of information needed to carry out an effective game plan: giving out more information than necessary simply helps the opponents. To achieve this it is sensible for one partner, usually the partner with the stronger hand, to take control. This player will not give information about their own cards but will ask the weaker partner questions and direct the play.

Variations

Cards

The Sardinian regional playing-card pattern, a 40-card pack, which has Latin suits of coins, cups, barons and swords, is said to be used mostly in the south of the island. Mariglia is played mainly in the North and players use French-suited Genoese cards but it is possible that Sardinian cards are used in a few places. When using Latin cards, the card ranking should be Seven - Ace - King - Horse (cavallo) - Jack (fante) - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2, counting 2 card points for the Horse and 1 for the Jack. Note that for the closely related mainland game Maniglia described below, Latin-suited cards of the Neapolitan pattern are used, in which the lowest court card is a female donna (Maid), not a male fante. If Mariglia is derived from the same tradition, it accounts for the custom that lowest court card is the female Queen (donna) when playing with French-suited cards.

Some writers mention that in some places the order of the Jack and Queen when using French cards is reversed, so that the Queen is worth 2 card points and beats the Jack (1 card point).

Exposure of Cards when Dealing

Some play that before starting to deal, the dealer shows everyone the bottom card of the pack, which is the trump suit indicator (il trionfo). The dealer may then expose the top card of the packets dealt to each of the first two players. If either player's exposed card is a trump, the dealer then exposes further cards from that player's packet until a non-trump is reached or all five cards have been seen. In the same way the dealer may expose cards from the last two packets dealt in a round - the one dealt to the dealer's left-hand opponent and to the dealer.

When this variant is played, the dealer can freely decide when to deal face-up to an opponent, provided that the first card dealt to the immediately following member of dealer's team is also exposed. This may only be done once per player per deal. The dealer doesn't need to decide ahead of time whether to expose cards; they may even want to use the value of the trionfo to inform their decision.

At the end of the deal all players pick up their cards, including any exposed cards, and play continues in the usual way.

It seems that serious players prefer to deal without exposing cards, and the tournament rules explicitly forbid the exposure of cards during the deal.

Communication

As indicated above, there are many local variations on the forms of communication that are allowed.

One common variant is that the team that is currently winning the trick acquires the right to communicate. Suppose for example that it is North's lead.

  • Before leading a card, North may give information and ask questions about South's hand.
  • West is not allowed to say anything before playing since North is currently winning, having played the only card so far.
  • If West beats North's card, East-West acquire the right to communicate. They cannot say anything yet because after West plays it is South's turn. South is not allowed to speak because North-South are no longer winning the trick. But if South does not beat West's card, East will be allowed to speak before playing the fourth card to the trick.
  • If West does not beat North's card, South is allowed to speak before playing, and East is not allowed to speak.
  • If West beats North and South beats West, then neither South nor East can speak, since in each case the trick is being headed by the opposing team before they play their card. However if East wins the trick, East will be then able to speak before leading to the next trick.

Some tournament rules require all questions to be formulated in such a way that partner can answer 'yes' or 'no' or with a number 0, 1, 2, 3 etc.

As an exception to the rule that all communication must be truthful, some allow a player to conceal the fact that they hold the mariglia of trumps. For example, if asked how many mariglie they have, and they hold the 7 of trumps along with one other 7, they may legally respond “one”.

Target Score and Match Format

Various different targets can be used, as agreed by the players. Some just play a single game with a target score of as many as 70 or 71 points.

Maniglia

Enzo Albeni reports that Maniglia, which is a very similar game to Mariglia, used to be played near Gaeta on the mainland of Italy. This area is now in the southern part of Latium, though in the early 20th century when this game was played there it was in the province of Caserta. We do not know whether Maniglia is still played in that region.

Both Caserta and Sardinia were parts of the Spanish empire between 1559 and 1713, and this may possibly explain the connection between Mariglia, Maniglia and the similar Spanish game Manilla or Malilla.

Maniglia is played by with Latin suited cards of the Neapolitan pattern. The cards or each suit rank from high to low: 7 (maniglia) -  Ace - King (re) - Horse (cavallo) - Maid (donna) - 6 - 5 - 4 - 3 - 2. The values are the same as in Mariglia: 5 points for each Seven, 4 for each Ace, 3 for each King, 2 for each Horse, 1 for each Jack and 1 point for each trick. Deal and play are anticlockwise.

The 4-player partnership game is played to 35 points. The dealer's team score points for the turned up trump card only if their current score is 29 points or less, so it is not possible to win the game before the play begins with the points from this card.

There is no system of verbal communication between partners, and the variant in which some cards are dealt face up not used - all cards are dealt face down except for the dealer's final trump indicator card.

Maniglia can also be played without fixed partnerships by 3, 4 or 5 players. If there are 3 players the Twos are discarded from the pack and each player is dealt 12 cards, 4 players are dealt 10 cards each as usual and 5 players receive 8 cards each. No card is turned up for trumps. The game begins with an auction: the player to dealer's right speaks first and may pass or bid a number of points. Subsequent players can pass or bid higher. The highest bidder names the trump suit and plays alone against the other players in partnership, aiming to take in tricks at least the number of card points that was bid. So far as we know, it is always the player to dealer's right who leads to the first trick. The bidder wins a fixed amount fron each other player is successful and pays the same amount if not. The lowest bid allowed is 20. The highest possible bid varies according to the number of players because of the different numbers of tricks: 72 if there are three players, 70 if there are four and 68 if there are five.

Sources of Information

You can read a fuller account of Zach Smith's research on his blog. This includes a link to a list of Internet references consulted.

There is one book on Mariglia that we know of: La mariglia sarda, by Nino Accardo, (Sassari, 1994).

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2020. Last updated: 7th October 2020

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