Playing Cards The Italian Way – Scopa and Briscola

Playing Cards, Rome, 2008Playing Cards, Rome, 2008

Looking back through my travel journals I realized that one of the most often enjoyed activities were the many card games played with our family and friends.  The two most popular games being Scopa and Briscola.  Joe’s father Richard taught me how to play both games which he learned from his father who grew up in Sicily.

While Scopa and Briscola have different rules they both utilize the same deck of 40 cards, beautifully illustrated, which are divided into four suits. As all things in Italy there is variation of the four suits depending on the area of the country.  The southern cards: Neapolitan, Piacentine, Triestine, and Sicilian are divided into Coppe (Cups), Ori or Denari (Golds or Coins), Spade (Swords) and Bastoni (Clubs), while  the northern cards: Piemontesi, Milanesi and Toscane use the French suits, Cuori (Hearts), Quadri (Diamonds, literally “Squares”), Fiori (Flowers) and Picche (Spades, literally “Pikes”).  The designs have evolved over the centuries and one of my favorite books which illustrates this evolution is Passione collezionismo Carte Do Gioco by Frederique Crestin-Billet.  Throughout my travels I would look for antique, unusual, or highly decorated decks of cards.  This can quickly become an obsession.

While we often played cards late in the afternoon before dinner, in our apartment or hotel, we sometimes played cards at one of the local cafes.   If I could suggest one tip for getting to know locals this would be it – break out a deck of cards.

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