BRISCOLA

Briscola is one of the most famous traditional Italian card games. Here at Biska it is played according to the traditional rules of the game of Briscola.

History of Briscola

In truth, it seems that the idea behind this game was developed in Denmark at around the end of the 15th century. Danish players of Briscola and Tressette have gone down in history, to the point that they are even mentioned in the tales of La Pace. The game went on to become popular in France, finally arriving in Italy too, where it underwent such major changes that it could now be considered a fully Italian game.

Game dynamics and participants

Briscola is played by two or four players. It can also be played by three players, removing the non-trump two card from the deck (for example, removing the two of cups from the deck and dealing the cards until a “briscola” or trump card of a suit other than cups emerges). Briscola can also be played by five players (Declaration Briscola, or Briscola Chiamata in Italian). However, the game logic, teams and numbers of cards dealt out (eight per player) differ from Briscola for two, three and four players. Briscola uses a deck of forty Piacentine, Neapolitan, Sicilian or Bergamasche cards. You can also use a deck of Anglo-American cards, but in this case you need to remove the eight, nine and ten cards. In order of decreasing value, the cards are as follows:
Ace (11)
Three (10)
King (4)
Knight (3)
Jack (2)
7 (0)
6 (0)
5 (0)
4 (0)
2 (0)
The highest card captures the lower card.
Briscola has a trump suit, that is to say the “briscola” suit, which is established at the start of each round.
When playing two cards of the same suit, the hand is won by the player who plays the highest card. When two cards of different suits are played, neither of which belong to the or trump (briscola) suit, the first card played in chronological order wins, independently of the value of the cards.
For example, let’s say the or trump (briscola) suit is swords; the first player leads the seven of cups and the second plays the 10 of clubs. The player who led cups wins. In order to win the hand, the second player would have had to play a higher cup card or a trump (briscola) card. Obviously, if two trump (briscola) cards or two cards of the same suit are played, the hand is won by whoever played the highest card. There are numerous different methods for deciding the trump (briscola) card at the start of each hand. The most common is to choose the dealer and get him or her to shuffle the cards. The deck is then cut by his or her opponent. The cards are dealt to the opponent first, and then to the dealer. A card is placed face-up on the table (it is usually placed under the deck and half uncovered). The suit of this face-up card will be the trump (briscola) suit for the entire round, until the deck has been used up.

After each hand, the winner of the trick draws another card from the deck, then his or her opponent draws a card. The winner of the previous hand plays first.
By doing so, taking a new card each time, the two players always find themselves with three cards in their hands, except at the end, when the deck has run out and the last two cards have been drawn (including the face-up trump (briscola) card).
From this point on, the players will have three cards each, then two, and then just one. Once the round is over, the scores will be added up, bearing in mind that:

The ace is worth 11 points
The three is worth 10 points
The king is worth 4 points
The knight is worth 3 points
The jack is worth 2 points

For scoring purposes, trump (briscola) cards are no longer important. An ace from the trump (briscola) suit is worth exactly the same as an ace from another suit. Each suit has a total of 30 points. A game usually consists of three rounds. The winner of the three rounds (and therefore of the game) is the player who wins two out of three rounds. Obviously, you may decide to play the best of five (three winning rounds out of five played), or to play a knock-out round.
This game can also be played by three players.
In this case, to obtain a number of cards that can be divided by three, you need to remove one card from the pack so that you are left with 39.
Obviously, the lowest possible card is always removed (a two card).
There is a well-known Italian saying “conta come il due di coppe quando regna bastoni” (lit. “he’s worth as much as a two of cups when clubs are trumps”), meaning a completely worthless person.
Briscola with four players is a very interesting game. The players form two teams and sit alternately around the table, so that the players on the same team are facing each other. The rules of the game are the same. The only interesting variation is the possibility for the two partners to swap information and show each other their cards before the last three hands.
The national rules differ from region to region.
There is a generally accepted rule that no talking is permitted during the first hand. However, this is not a fixed rule. A decision as to whether or not talking is allowed is usually made before starting a game of Briscola. Partners may only start talking after the first trick has been won and the first hand has been completed. The possibility for talking should be restricted to an invitation to play a particular card (you can ask your partner to “play a high card”, “play a lower card”, or “play a trump card”).
On more permissive tables, you can even ask for some useful information such as “have you got any high cards?”, “have you got any trumps?”, etc.
The best thing is that the opponents can also listen to the questions and answers and can act in consequence. In order to avoid providing their opponents with important information, some players prefer to gesture at one another without speaking, seeking to do so when their opponents are distracted or not looking. The following gestures are often used:

miming a kiss with your lips to indicate the ace
distorting your mouth to indicate that you have the three
raising your eyes for the king
showing the tip of your tongue for the knight
raising one shoulder slightly for the jack
Partners who play together regularly can obviously make secret agreements before starting the game as regards the meaning of the signals they will make to each other during play.

Many partners change the meanings around so as to disorientate their opponents. Thanks to this characteristic, Briscola with four players is a really fun game.
When the last card has been taken from the deck, the two partners are allowed to swap their cards so that they can see what they both have and then return them. Apart from this, the rules for Briscola with four players are the same as those for Briscola with two players.

Tournaments

A tournament provides an occasion for real competition, allowing the best players and the closest teams to truly emerge. Major tournaments are often organised in the spring and summer in bars on the Italian coast, in bowls clubs and in sports clubs. In the 1960s, the famous ‘Mondo’ bar in Rimini organised tournaments which were watched by hundreds of spectators.

Variants of Briscola

There are some very interesting variants of Briscola too. The first, which is very popular amongst close groups of friends, can be used to organise tables of five players. This is the famous “Declaration Briscola”, also known as “Five-Player Briscola” or even “L’Amico del Giaguaro” (lit. “The Jaguar’s Friend”).

After eight cards have been dealt to each of the five players, each player bids in an auction. There is no trump (briscola) card on the table and the trump suit has not yet been assigned. At this point, using terms that derive from the game of bridge, the players make their declaration or, in more modest terms, bid in an auction. As in the game of pinochle, the winner has the right to decide. Looking at his or her cards, the player may feel able to “win the round” if he or she has strong cards from the same suit, and therefore selects the highest card that he or she is missing from that suit and states loudly: "I declare…”, specifying the value of the card.

The player must only specify the value of the card, without mentioning the suit.
After the first player’s declaration has been made, it is now the turn of the second. This player also has the right to declare, but must indicate a lower card than that indicated by the previous player. This continues around the table, until coming to the last player, with each player having the option to “declare” or “pass”. At the end of the process, when everyone has made their declaration, the first player can finally specify the suit of the card. The declared suit will be the trump (briscola) suit for that round. The person holding the declared card must not tell the other players and, for that round, he or she will partner the player who declared it. The teams are therefore formed of two and three players respectively, without anyone knowing who is playing with whom, except for the holder of the declared card. It can be great fun when the person making the declaration has such good cards that he or she decides to go it totally alone. In this case, the player “declares a card in his or her hand”, that is to say a card that is already in his or her possession.

Another variant of Briscola is “Briscolone”, which does not have a trump (briscola) card! This variation of Briscola is normally played by two players. The game starts with five cards each, drawing other cards turn after turn in the usual way. A trump (briscola) card is not placed face-up on the table. The cards all have the same value and to win the trick you need to play a higher card than your opponent, in the same suit.