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italian card games - calabresella
(more italian card games)

Calabresella (also known as Terziglio) is an Italian game for three players. (It can be played by four with the dealer receiving no cards for the hand.) It is closely realted to the four player game Tressette. It is a point-trick game with bidding, requiring a fair amount of skill. It is notable for the slightly unusual card order (threes high) and the fact that there are never any trumps.

A 40 card pack is used, usually with the Italian suits: swords, batons, cups and coins. In each suit the cards rank as follows: 3 (highest), 2, Ace (Asso), King (Re), Knight (Cavallo), Jack (Fante), 7, 6, 5, 4 (lowest). It is also possible to play with French suited cards: from a 52 card pack you need to remove the 10s 9s and 8s, and the cards rank 3 2 A K Q J 7 6 5 4. The cards have point values and the object is to take tricks containing valuable cards. There is also a score for winning the last trick. The values are as follows:

    Each ace                          1 whole point
    Each 3, 2, re, cavall or fante    1/3 of a point
    Winning the last trick            1 whole point

The deal and the play of the cards rotates counter-clockwise throughout the game. The dealer gives out twelve cards to each player in packets of four. The left-over four cards go face-down in the center of the table to form the monte.

Starting with the player to dealer's right and proceeding counter-clockwise, each player has one chance to bid. The highest bidder will play alone against the other two players in partnership and attempt to take the majority of the points. There are three possible bids; from lowest to highest they are:

  • Chiamo: the bidder calls for a card from the opponents and can exchange some cards with the monte;
  • Solo: the bidder can exchange cards with the monte but does not call a card;
  • Solissimo: the bidder neither calls a card nor exchanges cards.

Each player in turn may either passo or bid. Each bid must be higher than any preceding bid:

  • if someone has already bid Chiamo a subsequent player may only pass or bid Solo or Solissimo;
  • if someone has bid Solo a subsequent player may only pass or bid Solissimo;
  • after a bid of Solissimo, no further bids are possible.

If all three players pass then the deal rotates and a new hand is dealt.

exchanging cards

calling a card
If the bid was Chiamo, the bidder calls for a card, naming its rank and suit. This will normally be a high card which is missing from the bidder's hand, for example a three. If one of the opponents holds the called card, that player passes it, face up, to the bidder.

taking the monte
If the bid was Chiamo or Solo, the bidder now turns the four cards of the monte face up for all to see. They are then added to the bidder's hand, which now contains either 16 or 17 cards. If the bid was Chiamo and the called card was obtained, the bidder now chooses one (unwanted) card and gives it, face up, to the player who originally held the called card. The bidder then discards any four cards face down to form a new monte. The value of these cards will count for the winner of the last trick. All three players should now have 12 cards.

If the bid is Solissimo, the bidder is not allowed to use the monte. In a normal Solissimo, no one sees the monte cards until they are won by the winner of the last trick at the end of the play. However, the bidder of a Solissimo may choose to increase the stake for the game by saying dividete or scegliete. The game then becomes a Solissimo aggravato.

  • Dividete means that the opponents each draw two cards from the monte, without having previously looked at them and without showing them, and then each discard any two of their 14 cards face down.
  • Scegliete means that the opponents turn the monte face up and choose which cards they should each take (they can be distributed in any way - not necessarily two each). Each opponent then discards face down as many cards as they took, so that everyone has 12 cards.

The player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick, unless the bid was Solissimo, in which case the bidder leads. Play to the trick is counter-clockwise and the player playing the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and leads to the next trick. There are no trumps.

After the tricks have all been played, the winner of the last trick claims the monte, and the bidder and opponents total their points. To win the hand, the bidder must have a majority of the points, that is at least 6 whole points. In this case the bidder receives an amount from each opponent depending on the bid. If the bidder fails to take 6 points, the bidder must pay the same amount to each opponent. The amounts won or lost for the different bids are as follows:

    Bid                       Amount
    Chiamo                       1
    Solo                         2
    Solissimo                    4
    Solissimo - dividete         8
    Solissimo - sceliete        16

The following events affect the score:

  • Cappotto: if the bidder wins or loses all the tricks, the amount won or lost is doubled.
  • Stramazzo: if the bidder wins (or loses) all the points without winning (or losing) all the tricks - that is, if the trick(s) won by the losing side contain less than one point (the point for the last trick does not count in this case), the amount won or lost is multiplied by three.

There is a simplified variation of Calabresella which is found in several American card game books. I am not sure whether this is a real game - it may just have arisen as an incomplete description of the Italian game, which was then copied from book to book. I would be grateful for any information as to whether the game is really played this way in the USA (or anywhere). The main differences are as follows:

  • the name of the game is given as Calabrasella (the 7th letter being 'a' rather than 'e'),
  • the game is sometimes said to be played clockwise,
  • the deal is in packets of two, not four,
  • the player may either bid play or pass. Play is equivalent to chiamo in the Italian game. There is no Solo or Solissimo, so the bidding ends when someone calls play,
  • having received the called card from an opponent, the bidder immediately (before exchanging with the monte) gives back one card face-down to that opponent,
  • before seeing the monte (here called the widow), the bidder dicards up to four unwanted cards face down. The bidder then exposes the widow for all to see and chooses an equal number of cards from the widow to replace the discarded cards. The replacement cards are added to the bidder's hand and the unchosen widow cards are added to the discards,
  • the bidder's left-hand opponent leads to the first trick, or in some versions the bidder's right-hand opponent leads,
  • the values of the cards are all multiplied by 3 - so the aces and the last trick are worth 3, and the threes, twos and pictures are worth 1. Obviously this does not affect the game,
  • the bidder needs at least 18 of the 35 available points to win. The amount won or lost is the difference between the points won by the bidder and the total points won by the opponents. If the bidder wins all the tricks, the bidder receives 70 from each opponent; and conversely, a bidder who was unfortunate enough to lose all the tricks, would pay 70 to each opponent.

For rules and information on hundreds of other card games, visit

The card game description on this page is reproduced with permission from the card games web site and is copyright © John McLeod, 1996-2004. No further copying or reproduction of this text in any form is allowed, except with prior permission from the copyright holder.


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