How to Play Calabrasella

Also called Tarziglio, this old Italian trick-taking card game is lots of fun but takes some getting used to: 3s are high in every suit! Here's how to play:

Number of players: Three


Object: To score as many as possible of the 35 points available by trick-taking.

The cards: An Italian card deck, or if you don't have one handy, a 40-card deck made by discarding all 8s, 9s, and 10s from a standard pack.

To play: Deal 12 cards to each player, four at a time, and also four in the center of the table as a widow (or unused hand). Starting with player at dealer's left, each player says "pass" or "play." If all pass, throw the hands in; the deal passes to the left. Whoever says "play" battles alone against the other two, who now unite as a team.

The lone player discards up to four cards from his or her hand and turns up the four widow cards. The player then takes from the widow the same number of cards that he or she discarded. The discards and the unused widow cards are set aside; they will go to the side that wins the last trick of play.

In each suit the 3 is highest, followed by 2, A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4. There's never any trump suit.

Player to dealer's left makes the first lead, and the others follow suit if possible. The winner of each trick leads to the next, until all 12 have been played. The winner of the final trick also wins the widow and discards. Each side then adds up the points taken.

Scoring: Each suit has 8 points. Five cards -- 3s, 2s, Ks, Qs, and Js -- count 1 point each, while aces count 3.

In addition, last trick earns a 3-point bonus, making a total of 35 points for each deal. Whichever side scores more points wins the difference in points between the two scores. Thus, if player scores 21 to opponents' 14, player wins 7 from each opponent.

Variation: Calabrasella can be played to the right, and the deal can be two cards at a time instead of four.

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