Americans abroad learning to play popular Italian card game, Scopa
January 2, 2005
They do it in parks, piazzas and pizzerias. They enjoy doing it in public or in private, morning or night.
Old men still like to do it, and little children, well, they’re learning how.
In Italy, they’re playing Scopa, an immensely popular Italian card game that rivals poker in popularity in the United States.
And Americans living in Italy wanna join in.
Watching overweight Italian old guys bellied up to bar tables for hours on hours intrigued Lynn Kimler and her husband, Russ, and they wanted to see what the fuss is all about.
“They always look like they’re having so much fun,” she said.
“And as a couple, we don’t know any of the same card games,” said Lynn, whose husband is a canine handler for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service at Naval Support Activity, Naples. “Funny, we had to come to Italy to learn a common card game.”
And learn they did, or tried at least.
Under the patient tutelage of Giuseppe del Giacco, 52, an intercultural relations specialist for 15 years, a band of five gathered one Tuesday morning for the occasional “Learn to Play Scopa” class held at the Fleet and Family Support Center at the Navy base at Gricignano.
“Let’s get started,” said the buoyant instructor, eager to get a few latecomers settled around the table. He laid out the 40-card “carte Napoletane,” or Neapolitan cards — the type of cards needed to play the game. He’s using the Dal Negro brand, of course, for they are the best, he said.
Del Giacco explained that within each of the four suits — bastoni, danari, spade, coppe — are 10 cards. One through seven are easy enough to figure out, if you already know how to count. However, the three face cards — the woman, the man on a horse, and the king — might not so easy at first, he explained.
“Doesn’t help that the donna doesn’t look like a donna,” said an annoyed Lynn Kimler, using the Italian word for “woman.”
The band of five agreed.
Typically, Italian women, who some say are known for their beauty, don’t tend to look like young peasant boys, as depicted on the cards.
But alas, they’re women.
“You’ll get used to it,” del Giacco said.
And they did.
After little more than two hours of explaining, re-explaining and playing a hand or five, they got used to the rules of the game, too.
When Tricia Hooverson left the States more than six months ago, she was “determined to learn an Italian card game.”
“I’m going to have to teach my 85-year-old grandmother how to play,” she said, brow furrowed as she concentrated on her three-card hand, trying to figure if she could nab a trick from the cards lying on the table.
That’s their thing: card games.
Adrienne Jacoby, visiting her son stationed in Naples from Redding, Calif., learns various card and board games from around the world in an effort to keep away old age, she said.
This summer, for example, while sitting somewhere in China, she’d learned the ancient Chinese tile game mah-jongg.
“This is fun,” said the 68-year-old traveler. “I’m going around the world learning various games. It’s good for you. Uses the mind. Keeps away Alzheimer’s.”
And now, these eager-to-learn Americans can go out and join Italians as they do it in the country’s parks, piazzas and pizzerias, morning or night. Playing Scopa.
Scopa, which means “broom” or “sweep” in Italian, uses a 40-card deck of “carte Napoletane,” or Neapolitan cards. In each deck are four suits: denari (coins), coppe (cups), spade (swords) and bastoni (clubs.) Each suit has 10 cards: those numbered one through seven and the donna (lady), which is the eight card; the cavallo (horse), the nine; and the re (king), the 10.
The game may be played between two or four players. If there are four players, they must form two teams of two.
The score usually goes to 11 or 13 points, unless at some point in the game the score is seven to zero; then it’s an automatic win.
The dealer begins the game by shuffling the cards and has the player to the left cut them. The dealer gives three cards to each player, dealing them counterclockwise, then places four cards, face up, in the center, which is done only at the beginning of each game.
A turn consists of playing one card face up to the table, with the goal of capturing one or more of the four table cards by either matching a number-to-number card, or if the sum of the table cards equals the card being played. For example, a player may capture a six of one suit with a six of another suit, or if there is a four and a two card on the table, the player can “capture” the two cards with the six card to be played.
If a capture is possible, both the played card and the captured card(s) are taken and stored face down in front of one of the players, like a trick. If there is no capture, the played card remains face up on the table. In either case, it’s the next player’s turn.
A scopa is accomplished when a player can clear all the cards from the table. In the event of a scopa, the captured cards are added to the trick pile with one left face up in order to remind the player at the end of the hand that a scopa point must be counted.
After each hand, the dealer, without shuffling, deals three more cards until all cards have been dealt and played.
After all the cards from the players’ hands have been played, the last player who made a capture also takes any face-up cards remaining on the table.
Then the next player counterclockwise from the original dealer assumes the dealer role.
Notes: There is no obligation to play a card that makes a capture — it is permitted, and sometimes a strategically better play (for example, in order to prevent the next player from making a scopa point) to simply add a card to the table. However, if the played card does make a capture, the captured cards must be taken, even if the player would prefer to leave them on the table.
If a card matches both a single card and a sum of cards on the table, the single card must be captured, not the group.
There are four points to be won on each deal:
Carte lunghe — The point goes to whichever player or team takes the majority of the cards. If they split 20-20, the point is not awarded.Carte denari — The point goes to whichever player or team collected the majority of the coins suit. If they split 5-5, the point is not awarded.Sette bello — The point is won by whichever player or team takes the seven of coins.La primiera or settanta — The point is given to the player or team with the best prime, usually the one with more sevens. In the event of a tie, there is a system of calculating points to determine who gets the point. The highest number of points possible is 84 because each of the seven cards is worth 21 points for la primiera. La primiera consists of one card of each suit, with the cards having special values for this purpose alone, as shown in the table.To count the points, each player displays his or her seven cards, followed by the highest-value card of each of the four suits. For example, team A has a seven of clubs and seven of swords and team B has the seven of coins and seven of cups. Team A then displays the highest-value card in their hand from either the coin or cups suit. An example of a winning primiera is if team A has a seven of clubs and seven of swords, followed by the six of coins and six of cups, both worth 18 points, for a total of 78 points. This is assuming team B has only one six card.
If a team has no cards at all of one suit, it automatically loses to a team with a card in all four suits.
Extra points are awarded for each scopa taken during the play.
Winning the game
The first team to have 11 or 13 points (players decide the goal at the beginning of the game) wins.
La primiera or settanta value table
Seven card = 21 points
Six card =18 points
Ace (or one) card = 16 points
Five card = 15 points
Four card = 14 points
Three card = 13 points
Two card = 12 points
Donna/cavallo/re = 10 points