HISTORY OF SCOPA

Scopa is an Italian card game played with a standard Italian 40-card deck. It is most commonly played between two players or two teams of two players each, but can also be played with 3, 4, or 6 individual players. Scopa is a trick-taking game, and the name is the Italian word meaning "broom."

The Cards

A deck of Italian cards consist of 40 cards, divided into four suits:

Coins (Danari),

Cups,
Swords,

Clubs (or batons),

The values on the cards range numerically from one through seven, plus three face cards in each suit: Knave [Fante in Italian] (typically worth a value of 8), Knight [Cavallo in Italian] (worth 9), and King[Re in Italian] (worth 10). A Knave is a lone human figure standing. The Knight is a human figure riding a horse. The King is a human figure wearing a crown. To determine the face value of any numeric card, simply count the number of suit icons on the card.

Playing the Game

Where to Sit

All players arrange themselves around the playing surface. If playing in teams, team members should be opposite each other. One player is chosen to be the dealer.

The First Deal

Beginning with the player on his/her right, and moving counter-clockwise, the dealer deals out three cards to each player, one card at a time. During this deal, the dealer will also place four cards face up on the table. A table card may be dealt before the deal begins, immediately after dealing a card to him/herself but before dealing to the next player, or after dealing all players all three cards.
As it is impossible to sweep in a game where the initial table cards include three or four kings, such a deal is considered invalid. The cards are re-shuffled, and the dealer deals again.

The player to the dealer's right begins play. This player has two options: Either place a card on the table, or play a card to take a trick. A trick is taken by matching a card in the player's hand to a card of the same value on the table, or if that is not possible, by matching a card in the player's hand to the sum of the values of two or more cards on the table. In both cases, both the card from the player's hand and the captured card(s) are removed and placed face down in front of the player. These cards are now out of play until scores are calculated at the end of the round.


Example: The player's hand contains the 2 of coins, 5 of swords, and 7 of clubs (or batons). On the table are the ace of coins, 5 of cups, and 6 of swords. The player's options are:
* Place the 2 of coins on the table
* Take the 5 of cups using the 5 of swords, and placing both cards face down in front of him
* Take the 6 of swords and ace of coins using the 7 of clubs, and placing all three cards face down in front of him.

Note that it is not legal to place a card on the table that has the ability to take a trick. If, for example, a 2 and 4 are on the table, and a player holds a 6, the player must either take that trick, or play a different card from his hand.

In any circumstance in which a played card may capture either a single or multiple cards, the player is forced to capture only the single card. If the table has contains a 1, 3, 4, and 8 (Knave, or Fante in Italian), and the player plays another Knave, the player is not allowed to capture the 1, 3, and 4, even though their total does add up to 8. Instead, the player is only allowed to capture the Knave.

Subsequent Deals

After all players have played all three cards, the dealer deals out three more cards to each player, again beginning with the player to his right. That player then begins play again. No additional cards are dealt to the table. This process is repeated until no cards remain in the deck.
After the dealer has played the final card of the final hand of the round, the player who most recently took a trick is awarded any remaining cards on the table.
After the last card of the round has been played, points are calculated for each player or team (see below). If no team has yet won the game, the deal moves to the right. The new dealer shuffles and deals the cards as described above.

Scoring

Points are awarded at the completion of each deal. If playing in teams, the team members combined all their captured cards before counting to calculate points. One point each is given to the player or team that has captured: the most total cards, the most cards in the suit of coins, the seven of coins ("sette bello"), and the highest "prime" (sometimes erroneously referred to as simply "the most sevens" - see below). If two or more teams or players capture the same number of cards, same number of coin cards, or the same prime value, no point is awarded for that result. (ex, if both Team 1 and Team 2 capture 20 cards total, neither gets a point for the most cards).
The prime for each team is determined by selecting the team's "best" card in each of the four suits, and totalling those four cards' point values. When calculating the prime, a separate point scale is used. The player with the highest number of points using this separate point scale gets one point toward the game score.
The most common version of the separate scale is:

  • Seven = 21 points
  • Six = 18 points
  • Ace = 16 points
  • Five = 15 points
  • Four = 14 points
  • Three = 13 points
  • Two = 12 points
  • King, Knight, and Knave = 10 points each

For example, if one team captures the sevens of cups and coins, the six of clubs and the ace of swords, that team's prime is (21 + 21 + 18 + 16) = 76.

A free online version of Scopa is at ScopaCards.net.

Popular Simplified Prime Calculation: Just Count The Sevens

Other versions of the prime's point scale exist. Most use the same ranking of cards but have variant scores (e.g. 0 points for face cards instead of 10). A variant that is popular in America but disliked by purists is to award the prime to the person with the most sevens, or the person with the most sixes if there is a tie (then aces, and so on down the prime's rank order).

Obviously, the seven of coins is the most valuable card in the deck, as it alone contributes to all the four points. It should be noted, however, that a player or team can win the "prime" even with only one seven but other useful cards. For example, if one player has three sevens (3x21) and no cards of the fourth suit (sum=63), his opponent can win the "prime" with one seven (21) and three aces (3x16), for his sum would be 69. Therefore, it is a common tactic, while playing the game, to capture aces and sixes whenever possible. For example, if a player is holding a four and there are two twos, one ace and one three on the table, he should chose the three plus the ace, unless of course he has already taken the seven or the six of the suit of the ace and unless one of the twos is a two of coins and he hasn't made the point of coins yet.
In addition to the four standard points, teams are awarded additional points for every "scopa" they took during game play. A scopa is awarded when a team manages to sweep the table of all cards. For example, if the table contains only a 2 and a 4, and Player A plays a 6, Player A is awarded a scopa. Clearing the table on the last play of the last hand of a round does not count as a scopa.

The game is played until one team has at least 11 points and has a greater total than any other team. It is important to note that no points, including scopa points, are awarded mid-round; they are all calculated upon completion of the round. For that reason, if the current score is 10 to 9, and the team with 10 points captures the seven of coins or a scopa, the team cannot immediately claim victory. It is still possible that the opposing team could end up with a tied or higher score once all points are calculated.

Cappotto Variant - Score of 7 to 0 Ends The Game

In some Italian cities before the game the players can agree to play with the "cappotto" variant, in that scenario if a player is winning 7 points to 0, the game can be considered over and the player does not have to reach the total of 11 points.
It is also possible to agree on a different score, usually with increments of ten (for example, 21 or 31 points).

Idioms

Traditionally, one card from a sweep is turned face up in the captured cards, to remind players while calculating points that a scopa was won, and to taunt them.
Many players deal the initial table cards in a 2x2 square.

Alternate Variations

Playing with American (French) Cards

When playing with standard American cards, 12 cards need to be removed from the deck. Easiest for most new players is to remove the face cards, and therefore play with cards ranging numerically from one through ten. More traditional is to remove the eights, nines, and tens from the deck. Under this style, the Queen is 8, the Jack is 9, and the King is 10 (although the Jack and the Queen are sometimes swapped to avoid confusing those who expect the Jack to have a lesser value than the Queen). Regardless of which cards are removed, the diamonds suit are used for the Italian coin suit, making capturing the most diamonds and the seven of diamonds each worth a point.

Scopone

The game of Scopone is based on Scopa. In this game, which must be played in 2 teams of 2, players are dealt all nine of their cards at the start of each round. Play proceeds around the table until all players have played all of their cards.
In another form of the game, the scopone scientifico, the players are dealt ten cards each and none are put on the table. This makes things tricky for the player who opens the game, for the following player can immediately score a scopa if he owns a card of the same value. The opening player will choose a value of which he has two or three cards, to reduce the probability of his opponent having one too. Of course, it is perfectly safe to open if the player is lucky enough to have four cards of the same kind. This is quite a rare event, though.

Trentino Scopone

In this variation of Scopone, the game is played until one team has 21 points, rather than 11. Also, a team capturing the ace, two, and three of coins is awarded additional points equal to the highest consecutive coin they obtain (if a team captures the ace, two, three, four, and five, and eight of coins, that team is awarded 5 additional points. If a team manages to capture all 10 coins in a single round, that team wins the game immediately.

Scopa d'Assi

In this variation of the game, playing an Ace captures all cards currently on the table. Play varies as to whether or not this counts as a scopa. Usually, if there happens to be an ace already on the table, the player who draws an ace will not take all the cards, but only the ace that is there. This event, that every player will try to avoid, is called burning an ace.
Since there are no formal rules regulating the scopa d'assi, it is good manners to agree with the other players on the rules that are to be used before starting a game.

Re Bello

In the Re Bello ("Beautiful King") version, the King of Coins also counts as a point, just as does the Seven of coins.

Scopa di Quindici

In this variation, the played card does not take a card or set of cards that sum to the value of the card played. Rather, it takes any set of cards including itself that add to 15. For example, if the table is A, 3, 5, 7, playing a 2 would take itself plus the A, 5 and 7 (A + 2 + 5 + 7 = 15).

Other Variations

  • Napoli: The "napoli" is awarded if a team manages to capture the ace, the two and the three of coins, plus one additional point for each card in the coin sequence above the three. For example, if a team captures the ace, the two and the three of coins they are awarded one point; if, however, they capture also the four and the five of coins, they are awarded a total of three points from the "napoli". It should be noted, though, that in most games the "napoli" is not awarded at all (i.e.: the ace, two and three of coins are captured by different teams).
  • Calabrese: in some regions of Calabria (especially near Cosenza), a point is awarded for the seven of cups in addition to the seven of coins.
  • Scoring the prime: A number of variant point systems are used for calculating the prime, most of which produce the same order of hands. One notable variant that does not produce the same order is to count 0 points for each face card.
  • Final score: Some play to 16 or 21 points, however scopa is usually played to 11 points. Others play to an arbitrary score agreed to at the beginning of the game.

Strategies for Playing Scopa

The most important card is the 7 of coins - it is worth a point by itself and contributes to all the other three points. You should aim to win the 7 of coins if at all possible.
You should avoid giving away sweeps, and put your side in a position to win sweeps. Winning a sweep is just one point initially, but because it leaves the table empty, the next player has to put down a card. If your partner can match the card played by the opponent you then get another sweep. This can go on for several plays. It is the simplest form of what is called a whirlwind.

One obvious way to avoid giving away a sweep is to leave a total of at least 11 on the table. For this reason you may want to avoid capturing cards which would leave a total of 10 or less. If you leave exactly 11, your right-hand opponent (RHO) may wish not to capture for fear of giving your partner a sweep. So RHO plays a card to the table. If your partner can capture it this leaves 11 again, and your LHO may play a card that you can capture. This is another kind of whirlwind, though a rather weak one.

Better than leaving 11 is to leave a smaller number which you know your RHO cannot match. Suppose that two 3's have gone, you hold the third 3 and the fourth is on the table. It will then be good for you to capture all the other cards on the table and leave this 3 as an anchor for your team. Your RHO must now play a card. Your partner should trust you to have the last 3 and capture the RHO's card, leaving 3 again. Then you may be able to capture LHO's card, and so on. This is a rather more effective whirlwind, and the opponents also have the problem that if they play too small a card (7 or less) there is a possibility that you or your partner may make a sweep.
Clearly it is good to establish an anchor, and to have cards on the table of ranks which your side controls. For this reason you should lead, or leave on the table, cards which you hold two or more of in your hand. Also if your partner plays (say) a 5 and your LHO takes it, you should also play a 5 if you have one, because it is likely that partner holds the fourth 5.
Apart from the 7 of coins and sweeps, the next priority is to capture other sevens (for the prime), and also sixes, which come in useful if sevens are split. Coins are good to collect as well, and finally it does no harm to have the greater bulk of cards.

It is important to keep track of paired and unpaired cards. If all the captures were of single cards of equal rank, so that all the tricks consisted of pairs, then at the end the dealer's last card would match the last card on the table. If for example the dealer has a 7, it could be saved by keeping it until last and catching a 7 with it.
As soon as someone captures more than one card at a time, this pattern is disrupted. If someone plays a king to capture a 7 and a 3, 3s, 7s and kings are now unpaired. If the rest of the game consists of single captures only, dealer will end up playing the final 7 to a table containing the unpaired 3 and king, and the three cards go to the last player who made a capture. Remembering which cards are unpaired is especially important for the dealer, who may then be able to arrange to make a capture with the last card.

There is a certain amount of strategy around pairing and unpairing sevens. For example if the players have one seven each, then the dealer's side wants to keep them paired, so that by waiting until the end they can win all four in the last round. The non-dealer's side will want to unpair the sevens by using one of their sevens to capture a combination of cards, such as 5 + 2. Obviously in these circumstances the dealer's side will try to avoid leaving such combinations.
There is much more that could be said about the strategy of Scopone. Perhaps some readers may like to comment on or add to the above notes.

Play Scopa Now!