Sicilian Tarocchi

We are grateful to Michael Dummett for making the Sicilian game of Tarot known to the world and to Salvatore Bonaccorsi and the members of the Associazione Culturale Gioco Tarocchi Siciliani – Michael Dummett in Catania for their demonstration of the Mineo version of the game at the IPCS Convention in September 2019. Also to Domenico Starna for his research on this game.

Introduction

In Sicily, Tarocchi (Tarot) is played with a special pack of 63 cards, smaller in size than most Tarot cards and with somewhat different designs. This page describes in detail the version that is played in Mineo in the province of Catania. This followed by brief details of versions played in other places in Sicily.

Tarot was introduced into Sicily in the mid 17th century, probably from Rome, in two forms: Gallerini (equivalent to Minchiate) was played with 97 cards and Tarocchi (sometimes known as Piccoli Gallerini) with the usual 78 cards. This is according to the detailed history of Sicilian culture written by the Marchese di Villabianca (1720-1802). By the time that Villabianca was writing, probably in the 1780's, Gallerini had become rare and the 78-card pack was sometimes shortened, presumably to 63 cards, by removing the lowest numeral cards in the suits. The 63-card pack later became standard and so far as we know no Sicilian 78-card or 97-card packs have survived.

Like all classic games played with Tarot cards, Sicilian Tarocchi is a point trick game with trumps. There are versions for three and for four players. The ranking of the cards and the system of point values is common to all the games and will be explained first.

The Cards and their Values

The pack traditionally consists of 63 cards:

  • 21 trumps: twenty of them are numbered, from the 20 (highest) down to 1, and below this comes the unnumbered 'Miseria'.
  • The Fool, known as il Fuggitivo in Italian and lu Fujutu in Sicilian.
  • Four suits: cups (coppe), money/coins (oro), clubs (bastoni or mazze) and swords (spade). In each suit the cards rank from high to low: King (Re), Queen (Regina), Horse (Cavallo), Maid (Donna), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, (4). Only the suit of money has 11 cards including a 4 - the other three suits have just 10 cards and the lowest card is the 5.

As sold today, Sicilian Tarot packs have an additional 64th card, the Ace of money. This was added to the pack in the 19th century purely to carry the tax stamp, which was required by law to be printed on this card. Subsequently, players in some places began to use this Ace as the lowest card of the money/coins suit, either in place of or in addition to the 4.

In North America, Sicilain Tarocchi cards can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

When counting the value of the tricks taken by a player or team, the cards are customarily counted in batches of three. The values of the individual cards are as follows

Trump 20, trump 1, Fool 10 points each
Trumps 19, 18, 17, 16 (arie) 5 points each
Kings 5 points each
Queens 4 points each
Horses 3 points each
Maids 2 points each
All other cards (trumps 2-15,
Miseria, numeral cards in suits)
1 point each

2 points are subtracted from the total of each batch of three cards, so that for example trumps 20, 9 and 6 together are worth 10+1+1-2=10 card points. Queen, Horse and 7 together are worth 4+3+1-2=6. Three 1-point cards together are worth 1+1+1-2=1.

If one or two cards are left over, 1 card point instead of 2 is subtracted from the value of cards in this defective batch, so for example a Maid on her own is worth 1 card point and a Maid with a small card is worth 2.

The last trick counts 5 card points extra for the player or team that wins it. The total number of points in the 63-card pack is always 109.

Some players who are new to the game may find it easier to count 1 point less for each individual card than in the table above. They must then add 1 card point (instead of subtracting 2) for each batch of 3 cards or for a batch of 2 left over at the end and 5 more points for the last trick. Using this method the card values are 9 points each for the 20, 1 and Fool, 4 each for the 19, 18, 17, 16 and Kings, 3 for Queens, 2 for Horses, 1 for Maids and nothing for other cards. This method gives exactly the same result is the customary method, with a total of 109 points in the game. See the page counting points in tarot games for further discussion and comparison of these methods.

With a little practice, the cards are fairly easy to identify. The most valuable cards are trump 20 (Jupiter), trump 1 (the young men) and the Fool, who wears a pointed hat, blows a trumpet and carries a ball.

20
giove
i picciotti
i picciotti
fujutu
fuggitivo

The trump cards from 1 to 20 all have numbers, which for reasons that are unclear to us are inconveniently located at the top right of the card. The next four trumps below the 20 are also valuable. They represent celestial bodies: the world (19), sun (18), moon (17) and star (16). The top five trumps are collectively known as Arie.

19
la palla
18
il sole
17
la luna
16
la stella

The lowest trump, which ranks below the 1, depicts a beggar and its name 'Miseria' is shown in a banner at the top.

miseria
miseria

The four Kings all have beards, wear crowns and are seated, with a shield beside the throne.

king of cups king of coins king of clubs king of swords

The Queens are also seated, wearing robes covering their legs and with no shields.

queen of cupsqueen of coinsqueen of clubsqueen of swords

Mounted on the horses are men with feathered hats, carrying their suit signs.

horse of cupshorse of coinshorse of clubshorse

The maids are standing, wearing long dresses, and each carrying a shield.

maid of cupsmaid of coinsmaid of clubsmaid of swords

It is easy to recognise the numeral cards in the suits by counting the symbols, and in addition they have an index in a rectangle at the top containing the number and the first letter of the suit: Coppe=cups, Oro=money, Bastoni=clubs, Spade=swords - for example 7.O is the 7 of money.

The Three-Player Mineo Game

The Mineo version of Sicilian Tarocchi is the most traditional and arguably the most interesting surviving form of the game. Although there are now unfortunately only a few people in Mineo and nearby Palagonia and Grammichele who still play it, it has been taken up and promoted in recent years by the Associazione Culturale Gioco Tarocchi Siciliani – Michael Dummett in Catania under the leadership of Salvatore Bonaccorsi. There are versions for 3 and 4 players. The 3-player game, which will be described first, has more scope for strategy and is preferred by the experienced players in the Mineo area.

In each deal, if it is played out, one of the three players will be the soloist, playing alone against the other two players who form a temporary partnership. Each player is dealt a hand of 20 cards and the three remaining cards form the monte, which can be used by the soloist to improve their hand.

The game is played for stakes known as jochi or jucate (singular jocu) which can represent a sum of money or can be thought of simply as game points or victory points. The soloist aims to take more than half the card points, that is 55 or more, in tricks. This is worth 1 jocu received from each opponent if successful or paid to each if not. There are several other ways to win or lose jochi, for example by winning the last trick, by capturing a counting trump from an opponent, or by winning all four Kings.

Not every deal is played out. The cards are dealt in batches of 5 and after each round of the deal there is an opportunity to abandon the deal by agreement, sometimes with a compensation payment between the players.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random method, for example the players each draw a card and the player who received the highest card deals first. After each hand the turn to deal passes to the right.

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts the cards. Before beginning to deal, the dealer may look at the bottom card of the pack, which will be one of the three cards of the monte, without showing it to the other players.

The cards are dealt anticlockwise in batches of 5 cards at a time, beginning to dealer's right, but after each round of the deal there is a pause in which the players decide whether to continue the deal or abandon it. The players look at the cards they have received so far and then speak in turn, beginning with the player's right and ending with the dealer.

After the first round of the deal, when each player has 5 cards, the possible announcements are:

  • Mischio (shuffle) or passo (pass): the player offers to abandon the deal if all agree
  • Altre cinque (another five): the player insists on continuing with the next round of the deal
  • Vado solo (I play alone): the player requires that the deal be completed and volunteers (having seen only five cards) to play alone against the other two players.

If any player announces 'vado solo' with 5 cards there is nothing more to be said. The remaining cards are dealt without pause so that everyone has 20 cards, the soloist shows the monte, takes it into hand, discards three cards as described below, and the play begins. The incentive for a player to commit to playing alone after seeing only 5 cards is that in this case all scores for the hand are doubled.

If all three players say 'mischio' (or 'passo'), the deal is abandoned and there is no score. The cards are shuffled and the next dealer deals a new hand.

In the most usual case where one player says 'altre cinque' and no one says 'vado solo', the dealer deals the next five cards to each player. After the second round of the deal, when each player has 10 cards, the possible announcements are:

  • Mischio (shuffle) or passo (pass): the player offers to abandon the deal for no score if all agree
  • Pago (I pay): this can be said by the first player, and by the second player if the first player said 'mischio/passo' or 'pago'. The player volunteers to pay one jocu (stake) if the others agree to abandon the deal.
  • Prendo (I take): this can be said by the second or third player if at least one previous player has said 'pago' and no previous player has said 'prendo' or 'altre cinque'. The player agrees to accept the jochi (stakes) offered by the player(s) who said 'pago' and abandon the deal.
  • Altre cinque (another five): the player insists on continuing with the next round of the deal, and any announcements in this round of 'pago' or 'prendo' are thereby cancelled.

If any player says 'altre cinque' there is no more to be said in this round. The dealer continues by dealing a third batch of 5 cards each.

If no one said 'altre cinque' the deal is abandoned. The cards are shuffled and the next dealer deals a new hand. If all said 'mischio' (or 'passo'), there is no score. If one or two said 'pago' and one said 'prendo' the player who said 'prendo' receives one jocu from each player who said 'pago'. A player who said 'passo' neither pays nor receives.

After the third round of the deal, when everyone has 15 cards, the options and their results are exactly the same as after the second round. The possible announcements are again 'mischio'/'passo', 'pago', 'prendo' or 'altre cinque'. If any player says 'altre cinque' with 15 cards, the dealer completes the deal by dealing a final batch of five cards to each player.

After the fourth round of the deal everyone has their full hand of 20 cards and the last three cards form the monte. The dealer looks at these three cards without showing them to the other players and then places them face down on the table. In this final round the possible announcements are:

  • Mischio (shuffle) or passo (pass): the player offers to abandon the deal for no score if all agree
  • Pago (I pay): this can be said by the first player, and by the second player if the first player said 'mischio/passo' or 'pago'. The player volunteers to pay one jocu (stake) if the others agree to abandon the deal.
  • Prendo (I take): this can be said by the second or third player if at least one previous player has said 'pago' and no previous player has said 'prendo' or 'vado solo'. The player agrees to accept the jochi (stakes) offered by the player(s) who said 'pago' and abandon the deal.
  • Vado solo (I play alone): the player volunteers to play alone against the other two players. This ends the announcements. Rather than actually saying 'vado solo', the player may simply take the monte cards.

If no one volunteered to play alone the deal is abandoned. The cards are shuffled and the next dealer deals a new hand. If all said 'mischio' (or 'passo'), there is no score. If one or two said 'pago' and one said 'prendo' the player who said 'prendo' receives one jocu from each player who said 'pago'. A player who said 'passo' neither pays nor receives.

If either of the first two players plays alone, they must turn the three cards of the monte face up for all to see before adding them to their hand. If the dealer plays alone, the dealer picks up the monte without showing the cards to the opponents. In either case, after taking the monte, the soloist must discard three of their 23 cards face down under the following restrictions.

It is illegal to discard any trumps, the Fool (fujutu) or any King. Other cards in the suits (Queens, Knights, Maids and numeral cards) may be discarded, and any points in these discarded cards count towards the soloist's tricks. Exceptionally, in the very rare case where after taking the monte the soloist has fewer than three suit cards that are not Kings, it is permitted to discard the least valuable trumps (Miseria and 2-15) but no more trumps than necessary. In this case the discarded trump(s) are not declared or shown, and the soloist's remaining hand must consist entirely of trumps and Kings, possibly with the Fool.

Note. Announcements of 'pago' or 'prendo' are only possible when the players have at least 10 cards. They are cancelled by an announcement of 'altre cinque' or 'solo' in the same round.

Note. An announcement of 'solo' is only possible with 5 cards (for a double stake) or 20 cards (for a single stake), not with 10 or 15 cards.

The Play

After discarding the soloist says 'fatto è' (it's done) when ready for the play to begin. Before the first lead there are two types of announcement that can be made.

  • The soloist can announce Scommessa which is an undertaking to win all three of the most valuable cards - giove (20), i picciotti (1) and fujutu (Fool) in tricks. Since the 20 and Fool cannot be lost, to make this announcement the soloists normally needs to hold these two cards, and either to hold the 1 and expect to bring it home or (more rarely) to be confident of capturing the 1 from the opponents.
  • An opponent of the soloist can announce Rivanto, which doubles the score for winning the last trick. However 'rivanto' can only be said by an opponent who did not themselves have an opportunity to announce a solo in the final round of the deal. For example if in the fourth round of the deal the first player passes, and the second player says 'vado solo', the dealer is allowed to announce 'rivanto' but the first player cannot. So the tactic of passing with a good hand to trap a later player into saying 'solo' so that one can then announce 'rivanto' is not permitted.

The player to the right of the soloist always leads to the first trick, so that the soloist plays last to this first trick.

Any card except the Fool may be led. The other players must follow suit if able to, and if unable to follow suit must play a trump if they have one. There is no obligation to overtake cards played by the previous players.

Each 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 adds the cards to their trick pile and leads to the next one. Tricks are stored face down, except that if the winner of a trick captures a counting trump (1, 16, 17, 18 or 19) from the opposition, the captured trump is kept face up beside the trick pile as a reminder to claim payment for it.

The Fool is an exception to the above rules of following suit. The Fool may be played to any trick as an alternative to following suit or trumping. The holder does not add the Fool to the trick but simply shows it and places it face down in their own trick pile. The trick therefore consists of only two cards, taken by the winner as usual.

If the team of the player of the Fool has not yet taken any tricks, the Fool is stored face up until they have done so. If they never take a trick the Fool is surrendered to the other team. This rule has no practical effect in this game, except in the very rare case where the soloist is able to achieve a Scommessa by winning all the tricks and thereby capturing the Fool from the opponents.

The Fool cannot be led, except to the last trick, when it is the player's only card. If it is led to the last trick, the card played by the second player determines the suit to be followed by the third.

Note. It can be a mistake to keep the Fool for too long. For example if the soloist wins a trick late in the play and still holds the Fool, then in order to win the last trick they will need to lose at least two more tricks before the end: one in which they give the lead to an opponent and another in which they play the Fool. If soloist is unable to give away a trick in time, they will have to lead the Fool to the last trick, losing that trick.

Scoring

At the end of the play the players settle up in jochi. The soloist's opponents form a partnership, and pay equal amounts to or receive equal amounts from the soloist. Any achievement such as winning the last trick or capture of a counting trump by one of the soloist's opponents benefits both of them.

There are two payments that always take place.

  • The card points in the tricks taken by each side are counted, as explained above (the three discarded cards count for the soloist). The side that has more card points (55 or more) wins one jocu for Rimatura.
  • Whoever wins the last trick wins one jocu for their side for Vanto.

The following payments depend on events that may happen in the play.

  • For each counting trump (1, 16, 17, 18, 19) captured from the other side, the capturing team wins one jocu for Pigliata.
  • If one side has all four Kings in their tricks, they win one jocu for 4 Re.
  • If one side has the top five trumps in their tricks (20, 19, 18, 17, 16) they win two jochi for 5 Arie.
  • If one side has the 19, 18, 17 and 16 but not the 20 in their tricks they win one jocu for 4 Arie.

The following payments take place if and only if announced before the play.

  • If the soloist announced Scommessa, they win one jocu if they have the 20, 1 and Fool in their tricks, but lose one jocu if they do not have all three of these cards.
  • If an opponent of the soloist announced Rivanto, they side that won the last trick wins an extra jocu (two jochi for the last trick in total).

The players add up the jochi won by each side, and the losing side pays the net amount to the winners. For example if the soloist wins the last trick but the opponents take the majority of card points, and there are no announcements or scoring events, then then each side has won one jocu and there is no payment.

In the unusual case where a player announced a solo after being dealt only 5 cards, all the payments are doubled.

Communication during the Play

The soloist's opponents are allowed to communicate to a limited extent during the play, giving advice to partner, asking for advice or giving information. The permitted expressions are given in the tables below - the left column is the Sicilian phrase and the right hand column explains the meaning.

As in most card games that allow this sort of conversation, it should be used sparingly and only when it gives some definite benefit to the partnership. The soloist is entitled to hear everything that is said, and there is always the risk that the information passed might be of more use to the soloist than to the partnership.

Giving advice when partner is about to lead:

Faglio Lead the soloist's void.
'U stissu jocu Lead the suit of the previous trick.
'N 'auto jocu / jocu novu Lead a different suit from the previous trick.
'U primu jocu Lead the first suit that was led.
'U sicunnu jocu Lead the second suit that was led.
Di unni vuliti vuliti tutti cosi Lead your highest card from the suit of your choice.
Joca unni hai 'u Re Lead a suit in which you have the King.
Joca uno nunn'hai 'u Re Lead a suit in which you don't have the King.
Trunfu Lead a trump. In response the leader can ask "grossu o picciriddu?": large or small?

Asking advice when about to lead:

Pozzu turnari? Should I lead the suit of the previous trick?
‘U pozzu fare u me iocu? Should I lead my suit? [the suit I have been leading]
‘U vostru primu jocu vi piaci? Should I lead your suit? [the suit you have been leading]
L’haj’a fari a ‘rèula? Should I draw trumps? [e.g. to help catch the 1]
'U primu jocu vi piace? Should I lead the first suit that was led?
'U sicunnu jocu vi piace? Should I lead the second suit that was led?

Questions to ask partner during a trick:

Ci putiti? Can you win this trick?
Ci putiti abbivirari? Can you put some points into this trick?
Tutti cosi? Should I play my most valuable card in the suit led?
Lassu ‘a ‘tò? Shall I leave you to win this trick?
L’haj’ a fare ‘u Re? Should I win with the King of this suit?
Quantu ti ‘nni mancanu? How many cards of this suit have you not seen? [played or in your hand]

Giving information during a trick:

Chistu è ’u Re “This is a King.” [meaning that the card I am playing is the highest outstanding card of the suit led]
[Hold cards to your chest] [I have the Queen of the suit led]

Variations

The exact set of statements and questions with which the partners can communicate varies from place to place. In addition to those listed above, here are some others which may be allowed, according to some descriptions of the game.

  • 'Jocu novu novu' is a request to partner to lead the suit of coins (money).
  • 'Cchi hai docu?' / 'U’17?' asks what is partner's highest Aria, or whether partner has the one mentioned.
  • 'Mi fici ‘u re' / 'Mi fici a regina' : I have the King / the Queen of the suit we are discussing / proposing to lead.
  • 'Me lo faccio il xx?': Shall I win this trick with the xx, where 'xx' is a specific Aria (16, 17, 18, etc.)
  • A player who is about to lead may place a card face down and show it privately to partner, asking whether this card should be led.

Some play that it is the soloist, not the player to the soloist's right, who leads to the first trick.

Michael Dummett's description allows either opponent of the soloist to announce 'rivanto', even if the player passed an opportunity to bid a solo after the fourth round of the deal.

Michael Dummett also reports that in Palagonia, a player is allowed to announce a solo after any round of the deal: if it is announced with fewer than 20 cards all the scores are doubled.

The Four-Player Mineo Game

In the four-player version of the Mineo game, most deals are played two against two in variable partnerships chosen by calling a card. It is also possible for one person to play alone against a team of three opponents. The basics of the game - the card values, the rules of play and the scoring - are the same as with three players

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random method, for example the players each draw a card and the player who received the highest card deals first. After each hand the turn to deal passes to the right. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts the cards.

The cards are dealt anticlockwise in batches of 5 cards at a time, beginning to dealer's right. After the first round of the deal, the dealer pauses and the players look at their 5 cards and speak in turn, beginning with the player to dealer's right. The options are:

  • Vado solo (I play alone). On the basis of the first five cards, the player undertakes to play a solo, playing alone against the other three players. The deal is completed without further announcements.
  • Passo (pass). The player does not wish to commit to playing alone at this stage, and the deal should continue.

After this, two more rounds of 5 cards each are dealt and the last three cards are placed face down on the table, forming the monte. Each player now has 15 cards and if Solo was not bid after the first round of the deal there is a round of bidding, beginning again with the player to dealer's right, in which the possibilities are:

  • Passo (pass). The player does not want to play, even with the help of a partner.
  • Chiamo (I call). The player wishes to play with the help of a partner, and names the highest trump that they do not hold: they must call the 20 if they do not have it: if they have the 20 they must call the 19 if they do not have it; holding 20-19 but not the 18 they call the 18, and so on.
  • Vado solo (I play alone). The player undertakes to play alone against the other three players.

Each player has just one chance to speak. If a player calls a trump, subsequent players must either pass or say 'vado solo', which supersedes the call. If a player says 'vado solo' that ends the bidding. If all four players pass, the cards are thrown in and the next player deals.

Calling and Exchanging the Monte

If the final bid was a call (chiamo), the holder of the called trump becomes the bidder's partner, but is not allowed to reveal their identity until the called trump appears in the course of play. The monte is then turned up for all to see. If the called trump is in the monte, the caller has no partner and has to play alone against the other three players.

In a solo there is of course no calling. The monte is exposed and picked up by the soloist.

The player who picked up the monte must then discard three cards face down under the same restrictions as in the three-player game. Counting trumps, Kings and the Fool can never be discarded. Low value trumps can only be discarded if there is no alternative.

The Play

After discarding the bidder says 'fatto è' (it's done) when ready for the play to begin. As in the 3-player game, before the first lead there are two types of announcement that can be made. The bidder can announce Scommessa, committing the bidder's team to bring home the 20, 1 and Fool in their tricks. An opponent of the bidder who did not have an opportunity to call can announce Rivanto to double the payment for the last trick. Note that in a 'chiamo', the bidder's partner, the holder of the called card, is not permitted to make any announcement. For example if the caller calls the 18 and the holder of the 18 has the 1 and the Fool, the called player knows that the bidder holds the 20 and 19, but is not permitted to announce 'Scommessa' even though it is certain that all three cards can be brought home by the caller's team.

The player to the bidder's right leads to the first trick, so the bidder plays last to this trick. The rules of play are the same as in the three-player game. Any card except the Fool may be led to a trick. The other players must follow suit if able to, and if unable to follow suit must play a trump if they have one, and there is no obligation to overtake cards played by the previous players.

Each 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 adds the cards to their face down trick pile and leads to the next one. Each player must of course keep their tricks separately at least until the partnerships are revealed. Counting trumps captured from a player who is or may be an opponent are kept face up as a reminder for the scoring.

The Fool may be played to any trick as an alternative to following suit or trumping. The holder does not add the Fool to the trick but simply shows it and places it face down in their own trick pile. The trick therefore consists of only three cards, taken by the winner as usual. If the team of the player of the Fool has not yet taken any tricks, the Fool is stored face up until they have done so. If they never take a trick the Fool is surrendered to the other team.

The Fool cannot be led, except to the last trick, when it is the player's only card. If it is led to the last trick, the card played by the second player determines the suit to be followed by the remaining players.

In principle, conversation between partners is allowed as in the three-player game, but in practice there is little or no conversation. It would not in any case be useful until the partnerships are revealed, which is sometimes quite late in the play.

Scoring

After the play each team combines its tricks and counts its card points. The players then settle up in jochi. When there are partners, a payment of one jocu means that each member of the winning side gains one jocu and each member of the losing side loses one. If the bidder is alone, a payment of one jocu results in the bidder winning or losing three jochi while the members of the other team lose or win one jocu each.

The scores are the same as in the three-player game:

  • Rimatura (one jocu for the side with 55 or more cards points) and Vanto (one jocu for the side that wins the last trick) are always scored.
  • Four Kings (one jocu), Four Arie (one jocu for the 16-17-18-19) and Five Arie (two jochi for the 16-17-18-19-20) are scored if a team has the relevant set of cards in its tricks.
  • Pigliate (capturing the 1, 16, 17, 18 or 19 from an opponent) score one jocu each, but of course there is no score for capturing a trump from a player who turns out to be your partner.
  • Scommessa (if announced): one jocu is won by the bidder's team for having the 20, 1 and Fool in their tricks or lost if they do not have all three of these cards
  • Rivanto (if announced), two jochi instead of one for winning the last trick.

The payments are added and the losing team pays the net result to the winning team. If a player bid solo on the basis of the first 5 cards dealt, all payments are doubled.

Variations

The four-player game is sometimes played with a forced call (chiamante forzato). In this variant, if all four players pass, the player who holds the 20 (giove) is forced to call, but has the advantage of first showing and taking the monte and discarding and then calling the highest missing trump. The risk of playing alone is thus avoided. This version may be favoured by players who dislike the possibility of having to redeal the cards, but others consider it unfair to force a player with the poor hand including the 20 to play in this case.

Michael Dummett, in his description, allows a player who bids 'chiamo' to call any trump from 20 down to 16. It does not have to be highest trump that the bidder does not hold, and it may be a trump that it is in the bidder's own hand, in which case they will play a 'secret solo' in which the other players will not at first realise that the bidder has no partner.

In addition, the variations mentioned for the three-player game may apply with four players as well.

Other Versions of Sicilian Tarocchi

Tortorici

At Tortorici in the province of Messina there is a three-player game and a less popular four-player version. Both games are played with 63 cards, but nowadays the Ace of coins is used as the lowest card of the money suit and the Four is set aside. As usual, the deal bidding and play are anticlockwise.

In the three-player game, known as Vanto, 20 cards are dealt to each player in batches of 5, leaving a three-card monte which is placed face down on the table. There are two possible contracts, chiamo and solo. After the deal, the player to dealer's right speaks first and nearly always says 'chiamo'. Theoretically the first player could pass but there is no advantage in doing so. The first player is allowed to open the bidding with 'solo' instead of 'chiamo' but this would only be profitable with a very strong hand. The bidding continues clockwise. After a bid of 'chiamo', subsequent players can pass by saying 'bene' or overcall by bidding 'solo', and in this case the 'chiamo' bidder responds with either with 'bene' to allow the other player's solo to go ahead or with 'solo io' to claim the right to play their own solo.

The final bidder takes the monte without showing it to the other players and discards three cards under the same restrictions as in Mineo. The rules for playing the cards are the same is in Mineo.

If the bid was chiamo, the player to the bidder's right leads to the first trick and everyone plays for themselves. After the play, each player counts their card points. The bidder scores the difference, positive or negative from 37 and the other two players score the difference of their points from 36, so the scores of the three players add up to zero.

If the bid was solo, the bidder leads to the first trick and the other two players are partners. The bidder scores twice the difference between card points taken and 55 while the other players each score the difference between the card points in their combined tricks and 54, so again the scores of the three players add up to zero.

The four-player game at Tortorici is played with fixed partnerships, partners facing each other across the table. The dealer deals 15 cards to each player in three rounds of 5. In each of the first two rounds of the deal the dealer may choose to expose one of the cards dealt to each player. After each of the first two rounds of the deal, the player to dealer's right may choose to give information about important cards held. If this right is exercised the dealer's partner may also give information to the dealer. When giving information, a player is not allowed to announce possession of more than two Kings, even when holding three or four. If the player to dealer's right gives information, the player to dealer's left responds with either 'mischio' (shuffle) to suggest throwing in the hand or 'tengo' to insist on continuing with the deal. If the response is 'mischio' the dealer chooses whether to throw in the cards or continue the deal.

At the end of the deal, the dealer takes the monte without showing it to the other players, and discards three cards under the usual restrictions. The player to dealer's right leads to the first trick, and the usual rules of play apply. When all the cards have been played the dealer's team scores the difference, positive or negative, of their card point total from 55 and their opponents score their difference from 54.

Michael Dummett managed to obtain from the late Avvocato Gaetano Franchina some details of an earlier form of three-player Vanto, which was played in Tortorici until around 1930. This has common features with the modern three-player games in both Tortorici and Mineo and is perhaps an ancestor of both. It was played with 63 cards using the Four as the lowest card of the money suit rather than the Ace.

  • The possible bids were 'solo' and 'chiamo' with the same meanings as in the modern Tortorici game, but solo could only be bid with 5, 10 or 15 cards. Otherwise with 20 cards the player to dealer's right would bid 'chiamo'. In either case the bidder took the monte, discarded and led to the first trick. For a solo da quindici (bid with 15 cards) each opponent paid to the soloist the number of card points the soloist took above 55, or received the deficit if the soloist took less than 55 points. For a solo da dieci (with 10 cards) these payments were doubled and for a solo da cinque (5 cards) they were tripled.
  • A player who had bid 'solo' could announce 'scommessa' in the same or a later round of the deal, but not with more than 15 cards. As in Mineo this was an undertaking to take the three decine (10-point cards) - the 20, 1 and Fool - in tricks. Scommessa announced with 15 cards was worth 5 points to or from each opponent, scommessa announced with 10 cards was worth 10 and scommessa announced with 5 cards was worth 15.
  • There was a pool to which everyone contributed 10 points at the start of the game and whenever it was empty. A player who had bid 'solo' could announce 'vanto' before the first lead, undertaking to win the last trick, and winning the pool if successful or doubling it if not.
  • If a cinquina (a 5-point card - i.e. a King or the 16, 17, 18 or 19) was captured from an opponent there was a payment of 5 points, between the soloist and each opponent in a solo, but only between the player of the captured card and the one who took it in a chiamo.
  • There was a payment of 10 points for a player or team who had all four Kings or all four of the arie 16-19 in their tricks.
  • A speciality of this game was that a player holding the sequence 13-14-15 of trumps, known as ternone, in their hand could declare it when playing the first of these cards for a payment of 5 game points from each other player (even from partner if playing against a solo).

Barcellona di Pozzo

Tarocchi is said to have been introduced to Barcellona in the province of Messina in the early 20th century by players from Palermo, where Tarocchi is no longer played. There are versions for three and four players.

The three-player game is played with as 63-card pack, using the Ace as the lowest card of money/coins and setting aside the Four. 20 cards are dealt to each player in batches of 5, leaving a monte of three cards face down on the table. The player to dealer's right may bid solo or pass. If this player passes the player to dealer's left has the same options. If either of these players bids solo the bidding is over: the soloist takes the monte, showing it to their opponents, adds it to their hand, and discards three cards under the usual restrictions. If the first two players pass, the dealer may also pass, in which case the cards are thrown in and the next player deals. Alternatively the dealer may pick up the monte, showing it to the opponents, and having discarded, either play a solo or declare that each player will play for themselves.

The player to the right of the bidder leads to the first trick and the rules of play are as usual. In a solo, an opponent of the soloist who holds the giove (20) together with the 19 or 18 may declare this when leading to a trick by saying "Batto". Holding the 20 but neither the 19 nor the 18 the player may instead declare "Ho il 20" when leading. A player who does not have the 20 may indicate this by saying "Non batto" when leading.

In a solo the bidder's target is 55 card points. For taking more than 55 the soloist is paid 4 times the difference (twice the difference from each opponent). With less than 55 points the soloist pays twice the difference to each opponent. With exactly 55 these is no payment. When playing for themselves the dealer has a target of 37 card points and the other two players 36 each. Players with more card points than the target receive the difference and those with less pay the difference.

There are several variants: some do not allow the dealer to play a solo, some halve the payment for a solo, some allow additional announcements of top trumps, some do not require the bidder to show the monte, and some play that the bidder leads to the first trick.

The four-player game at Barcellona uses all 64 cards of the pack as currently sold, so the money/coins suit has 12 cards. All the cards are dealt out in packets of four so that each player has 16 cards and there is no monte. There is no bidding, and the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick. The game may be played with fixed partners, partners facing each other, in which case the winning side receives the difference in card points between the two teams, or with everyone playing for themselves, in which case each player pays or receives according to the difference of their card points from 27.

Calatafimi

Michael Dummett learned these variants from the members of the Circolo 15 maggio in Calatafimi in the province of Trapani in the early 1970's. Not having access to traditional Sicilian tarocchi cards at the time, they adapted the 78-card Piedmontese pack by throwing out the lowest cards of the suits. The trumps in Piedmontese packs are numbered from 1 to 21, so the players used the 21 as the giove and the 2 as the picciotti, each worth 10 points. The trump labelled 20 was the second highest, known as the palla, and the 1 was the lowest trump, known as the miseria. The printed titles and designs of the trump cards were ignored. The lowest court card of each suit in the Piedmontese pack is a Jack (fante) which of course took the place of the Sicilian Maid (donna). It is straightforward to play the same game with standard Sicilian Tarocchi cards if available.

The preferred form of the game is for four players. Having looked at the bottom card of the pack, the dealer deals 10 cards to each player in packets of 5. In no particular order, any player who has poor cards may offer any number of points (typically less than 10) to abandon the deal. A player who wants to abandon the deal for no payment says 'mescolate' (shuffle). A player who is willing to accept a payment to abandon the deal may say 'prendo' to take all the payments offered or 'prendo x' if willing to accept a smaller amount x, leaving the remainder to a player who has not yet spoken. At any stage, any player may say 'tengo', rejecting all offers and insisting that the deal should continue. If any player says tengo the deal is completed by giving a third batch of 5 cards to each player and placing the last three cards as a monte face down on the table.

There are two phases of bidding. In the first phase the dealer asks each player in turn, beginning to dealer's right, whether they wish to play solo, i.e. to play alone against the other three players in partnership. If anyone does, that ends the bidding. The soloist picks up the monte which must be shown to the other players unless the dealer is the soloist, and discards three cards.

If no one wants to play solo, the dealer picks up the monte without showing it and discards three cards. There is then another round of bidding, again beginning to dealer's right, in which players may bid either '20' or 'zero'. In order to bid 20 a player must hold 5-point and 10-point cards with a total value of at least 20. If all four players bid 'zero' the cards are thrown in and the next player deals. If a player bids 20, then the other players, beginning to this players right may bid 15 if they have exactly 15 points worth of 10-point and 5-point cards and must bid zero otherwise. As soon as a player bids 15 the bidding ends and the 20 and 15 players are partners against the other two. Note that in this second phase of bidding no player is compelled to bid 20 or 15 if they meet the criteria - it is always legal to bid zero.

If after a bid of 20 the other three players all bid zero the 20 player chooses a partner by calling a King that the 20 player does not hold (or a Queen if holding all four Kings). The suit of the King to be called is governed by the following constraints:

  • the shortest suit with at least one card
  • between equally short suits, the suit with the highest court card, if equal then the highest accompanying court cards (e.g. Queen and Horse in preference to Queen and Maid/Jack
  • between equally short suits with equal court cards, the suit of coins is preferred
  • if all non-void suits contain the King, call a void suit, preferably coins if there is a choice of these
  • holding four Kings, the Queen of the shortest suit containing at least two cards without the Queen
  • and so on using similar principles, for example a suit of King-Maid/Jack-6 is preferred to King-9-8 because of the Maid/Jack.

The player to the soloist's right or the 20-player's right leads to the first trick. If a King (or Queen) was called, the holder must not say anything to reveal their identity, but when they first obtain the lead they must lead the called suit, though not necessarily the called card. Any player leading to a trick who holds the giove or palla is allowed to declare it. Alternatively a player leading to a trick can say 'batto' to indicate that they hold one of the top two trumps, or if those have both been played, that they hold the highest trump that has not yet been played.

The soloist or the team of the 20-player has a target of 55 points and the opposing team has a target of 54. In a solo, each member of the team receives or pays the amount by which the points in their combined tricks are above or below their target, and the soloist plays or receives three times the difference. In a game between teams of two, each player receives or pays the amount by which the points in their team's combined tricks are above or below their target. Thus the scores of the four players always add up to zero.

The three-player game is much more straightforward. The deal in batches of 5. When everyone has 15 cards there is a pause during which players can bargain to abandon the deal, possibly for a compensation payment. This works the same way as in the 4-player game above. If any player says 'tengo' the deal is completed so that each player has 20 cards. The dealer also takes the last three cards and discards three under the usual constraints. The player to dealer's right leads to the first trick. In the play there are some special rules.

  • A player who holds a King must play it to the first trick in that suit.
  • A player who has just two cards of a suit - the Horse and a numeral card - must play the Horse to the first trick in that suit.
  • A player who has the Maid/Jack of a suit must play it in a trick of that suit to which the King has already been played.

The dealer's target is 37 card points and the other two have a target of 36 each. Each player receives or pays the amount by which the card points in their tricks exceed or fall short of their target.

There is also a very simple two-player game, which may be useful for teaching the cards and values to children. This is played with a 62-card pack without the 4 of coins. Each player is dealt 15 cards in batches of 5 and the remaining 15 are stacked face down to form a stock. The non-dealer leads to the first trick. After each trick the winner draws the top card of the stock and the loser draws the next card. The drawn cards are shown to the opponent before being added to the player's hand. Then the winner of the trick leads to the next. When the stock is exhausted the play continues without drawing. At the end of the play each player counts the card points in their tricks and the player with more wins the difference.

Ragusa

Salvatore Bonaccorsi reports that in Ragusa some people play a three-player game that is similar to the game in Mineo except that card points are ignored and the only score is for winning the last trick.

Sources of Information: Books and Websites

Salvatore Bonaccorsi: I Tarocchi Siciliani di Mineo (4th ed., Associazione Culturale Gioco Tarocchi Siciliani, Catania, 2018) - a manual on Mineo Tarocchi introducing the history of the cards and game, the rules and suggestions on strategy (in Italian).

Michael Dummett: I Tarocchi Siciliani (2nd ed. il melangolo, Genova, 2002). History and rules of Tarocchi in Sicily (in Italian).

Michael Dummett and John McLeod: A History of Games Played with the Tarot Pack - volume 1 (Edwin Mellen Press 2004) has history and rules of Sicilian Tarocchi in English in Chapter 14.

The website of the Associazione Culturale Gioco Tarocchi Siciliani – Michael Dummett has an introduction to the games and information on the activities of the Association.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2019. Last updated: 26th October 2019

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