Scopa is an Italian card game, and one of the two major national card games in Italy. It is also popular in Brazil, brought in by Italian immigrants, mostly in the Scopa di Quindici variation. It is played with a standard Italian 40-card deck, mostly between two players or four in two partnerships, but it can also be played by 3, 5, or 6 players. The name is an Italian noun meaning "broom", since taking a scopa means "to sweep" all the cards from the table. Watching a game of scopa can be a highly entertaining activity, since games traditionally involve lively, colorful, and somewhat strong-worded banter in between hands. However, skill and chance are more important to the outcome of the game.
HOW TO PLAY SCOPA
Watch video on how to play Scopa, with Italian cards.
COUNTING THE POINTS
Here are the point values for each card:
Il Asso(The Ace) — 1 point each
Number cards (2-7) — face value
La Donna(the Woman) — 8 points each
Il Cavallo(the Horseman) — 9 points each
Il Re(The King) — 10 points each
The two players who keep the captured cards start counting the score:
The team who has captured more than 20 cards is given 1 point. Should the teams have exactly the same number of cards (20 each), this point is not given.
If three or six players are taking part individually, the one who has the larger number of cards takes this point.
Then the number of Coins cards are counted: the team who has more than five of them is given 1 point. Again, should this be a draw (five Coins for each team), the point is not given. If three or six players are taking part, the one who has the larger number of Coins takes this point.
The team or individual player who has captured the settebello(7 of Coins) is given 1 point.
Each scopa gives 1 point to the team, or to individual players.
Finally, the primiera of the two teams (or individual players) has to be assessed.
The primiera is a sequence of four cards, each of which belonging to a different suit. Each team or individual player must produce it: the best one will receive 1 point.
In order to assess which sequence is the best one, cards are given a special value, and they follow a particular ranking:
a sample primiera, worth 21+16+15+21 = 73
7s (the most valuable cards) are worth 21
6s (second best) are worth 18
1s (aces) are worth 16
5s are worth 15
4s are worth 14
3s are worth 13
2s are worth 12
8s, 9s and 10s (i.e. any court card) are worth 10
Note that these special values are only used to assess which is the best primiera, and have no relation with the final score of the player.
Each team will put together the best possible combination, by using the captured cards. When playing individually, each player has to make his own. All four suits must be represented. The sum of the four values will tell who has the best primiera. Should this too be a draw, the point is not given.
It is easy to understand why 7’s are the most cherished cards; in any version of Scopa, players capture the ones on the table as soon as they can, and use the ones they have in hand very carefully.
In making captures, cards belonging to the Coins suit are preferred to others, when possible. The settebello (7 of Coins) is therefore the most important card of the deck: for example, capturing this card with another 7 of any suit is like scoring 1½ points all together (1 point for the card itself, and half primiera already made), also giving the team (or the individual player) one Coins card.
Experienced players with good memory will remember which cards are played along the game, so they will be able to spare their best ones for a good occasion, and exploit the opponent’s mistakes.
BASIC RULES OF SCOPE GAMES
Scopa, meaning “sweep, broom”, is a family of popular Italian games, played in most regions of the country. It is believed to be at least 400 years old, but probably dates further back in time. Scopa is also known as Scopetta (“small Scopa”) or Three-Card Scopa, and is very easy to learn.
Games start with the deal of a number of covered cards to all players: three at a time in Scopa. Four cards are turned face up from the pile, ready to be captured.
The cards turned face up on the table, either coming from the opening arrangement or, later on, from the players’ discards, are the ones which may be captured in turn by using the cards held in hand.
If a capture cannot be made, one of the player’s cards must be discarded in any case, and placed face up with the others, thus increasing the choice of cards which the following player may capture.
All captures are based on the value of cards. For example:
a 5……may capture another 5
an ace….may capture another ace More cards may be captured at the same time, if their sum is equals to the value of the card played.
a 7……may capture a 5 and a 2
a 10 (king)….may capture a 1 (ace) and a 9 (horse)
The player is free to choose what to capture, if the cards on the table allow him to do so. For example:
a 9 could capture either 4 and 5 or 2 and 7
But if on the table there is a card whose value matches the one played, the player is not free to choose: he must take the single matching card.
If there are three cards on the table – a 4, 5 and a 9, a 9 can only capture the other 9 and NOT the 4 and 5
During the game, a variable number of cards may be on the table, from a minimum of one to four, five, or sometimes even more.
Players are not forced to capture, if they don’t want to do so, but it is not allowed to discard a card which would make a capture and leave it on the table.
If a player who is capturing “sweeps” the table, leaving it without cards, he scores a scopa, worth 1 point.
Other points are scored:
by capturing more cards than other opponents;
by capturing more Coins cards than other opponents;
by capturing the 7 of Coins, known as settebello(“the nice seven”)
by building the best primiera, a special combination of four cards, one for each suit, which will be discussed in detail further on.
Obviously, players count their points when all the cards of the deck have been played. The winner is the player (or the team) who first reaches a given total of points, usually 11 or 21. This can require a variable number of games.
THE COMPOSITION OF THE ITALIAN DECK
This game is played with an Italian deck, which has 40 cards, divided into four suits, called Coins, Cups, Swords and Clubs.
Each suit has values from 1 (ace) to 7; the three court cards are the knave, the cavalier (or “horse”) and the king, which are worth respectively 8, 9 and 10.
Although several patterns of Italian cards exist, the one more commonly used for playing Scopa is the Piacentine deck, which the illustrations in this page refer to, adopted by most areas of central Italy.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS
Scopa is best enjoyed by four players, but it can be played by two, three or even six players. When four people take part, couples (or teams) are usually formed by the players sitting in across from each other. In any other case, the game is played individually.
THE OPENING DEAL
The first dealer is chosen randomly, either picking a card from the deck or in any other way. The dealer shuffles the cards, and asks the player on his left to cut the pack. He then deals three cards to each player, starting from the one on his right, and ending with himself. Finally, the dealer turns face up four cards, placing them in the middle of the table. The remaining pile is kept close to the dealer.
At the end of each game, the new dealer will be the next player in anti-clockwise direction (i.e. the one to the right of the previous dealer).
Note that in Scopa, as well as in most other Italian card games, turns are taken in anti-clockwise direction.
THE GAME IN PROGRESS
The player to the right of the dealer is the first one who plays: according to the cards he holds in hand, he tries to capture one or more cards on the table. If he succeeds in doing so, he takes the cards and places them in front of himself (or in front of his partner), face down. Instead, if he cannot make a capture, he will simply discard one of his cards.
The player on his right (the dealer’s partner) will take his turn, and so on, until each player has no cards left in hand. At this point, the dealer will give another three cards to each player, and the game continues until all cards have been played.
The captured cards are usually kept by players in front of them, face down, and should not be handled or browsed during the game. In 4-player Scopa, only two players keep the captured cards (one for each team), so when the other player makes a capture, he hands the cards to his partner.
Partners are not allowed to let the other player know which cards they hold in hand. If the players are experienced, they might symbolically communicate, for example by making specific discards in particular situations, but they should never openly advice their partner, or suggest which card should be played, or make similar comments concerning the game.
When a player by making a capture takes all cards on the table (i.e. “sweeps” the table), he scores a scopa. The card which obtained this point is placed face up crossing the pile of captured ones, as a visible reminder.After a scopa has been made, the next player (i.e. B in this example) has no opportunity to make a capture, and has to discard: this will prove a very favorable circumstance for the same team (i.e. player C) to score another scopa straight away.
The very last card of the game, always played by the dealer, is not allowed to score a scopa, so in the case his card succeeds in “sweeping” the table, this capture is always considered as an ordinary one.
THE END OF THE GAME
Unless the dealer “sweeps” the table with his last card (although this does not score a scopa, as previously said), at the end of the game one or more cards will remain face up, uncaptured. They are taken by the player (or team) who has made the last capture, as a bonus. This gives the dealer a little advantage, because it is sufficient for him to make any capture with his last card to take all of them. Should the dealer not be able to make a capture, the last player who did so will take all the uncaptured ones.