– traditional Ligurian card games

a Ligurian game for 2-4 players


Deck and players

A 40-card Genoese deck is used to play, consisting of 1 (or ace), 2, …, 7, jack (J), queen (Q), king (K) in the four suits of hearts , diamonds , clubs ♣ and spades ♠.

Each card has a capture value (capturing is the fundamental mechanic of cirulla) and a prime value:


The game can be played by two, three or four players (in which case the players sitting opposite each other play together).

The game consists of a number of hands, which are the phases of the game that end when the cards in the deck run out. A game consists of a variable number of hands, as many as are necessary to reach the set score limit, which is usually 51.


In the first hand, the dealer is chosen at random. For subsequent hands, the role of dealer passes to the other players in a counter-clockwise direction. The dealer shuffles the cards and hands them to the player on their left to cut them. Then the dealer deals three cards per player and places four cards face up on the table. The cards are dealt to the players one at a time, starting with the player to the dealer’s left and continuing counter-clockwise.[1]

If there are two or more aces in the four cards placed on the table by the dealer, the hand is annulled: the dealer takes all the cards, shuffles them, has them cut, and deals them again.

Once the players have used up the three cards they had in their hands, the dealer deals three more cards per player. When all the cards in the deck have been played, the hand ends and the score is tallied.



The aim of cirulla is to score as many points as possible in order to be the first to reach the set limit score. One at a time, starting with the player to the left of the dealer (the forehand) and then counterclockwise, the players play a card face up on the table. Depending on the card played and the cards that were already on the table, in certain cases that will be described below, players may capture cards. Once players have played all three cards in their hands, the dealer deals three more cards per player and the game continues, again starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Play proceeds in this manner until the deck is depleted.

If, with the card that they decided to play, a player cannot capture any of the cards on the table (or if there are no other cards on the table at all), then this card is left face-up on the table. If, on the other hand, it is possible to make a capture, then a capture must be made.


Cards on the table can be captured in three ways:

Card capture is the basic mechanism for scoring points in cirulla. The cards captured, together with the cards used to capture, are placed face down in a pile next to the player who made the capture (but in the four player 2v2 game, usually one of the two players in the team keeps all the captured cards). At the end of the hand, the pile of cards captured by a player (or team) is used to calculate their points.

At the end of the hand, if any cards remain on the table, they go to the player who made the last capture, as if they had actually captured them.


When a player takes all the cards on the table, they are said to have made a sweep. A sweep is marked by turning the card that made the capture upside down and sideways in the pile of captured cards. At the end of the hand, each sweep is worth one point.

The last played card of the hand cannot achieve a sweep, even if by playing it the player captures all the cards on the table. Similarly, when cards remain on the table at the end of the hand and they are awarded to the player who made the last capture, this does not count as a sweep.


When players hold certain combinations of cards, called bonuses, they have the opportunity to earn additional points by declaring them:

If a player holds one of these bonus combinations in their hand, they must knock on the table to declare it and uncover all three cards before playing their first card of the hand. They then continue to play as usual, but with their hand uncovered.

For the purposes of bonuses, the seven of hearts (called poncin in Ligurian and matta in Italian) can play the role of any other card, but only if by doing so the player who has it can get a bonus. In this case, the player declares the value of the seven of hearts, and it will retain this value for the duration of the hand (but not when counting points, and thus for the prime). For example, if a player has two aces and the seven of hearts in their hand, they can declare that the seven of hearts is an ace, which will allow them to score a ten-point bonus. Then, when playing it, they can use it to get a sweep as if it really were an ace (i.e., they can perform an ace capture with it), but at the end of the hand when the score is being tallied, it reverts to being the seven of hearts.

The second type of bonuses are dealer’s bonuses. They are formed with the four cards that are put on the table at the beginning of the hand by the dealer:

The dealer must announce these bonuses immediately after the first deal of the hand, before forehand has played their first card. For these bonuses too, the seven of hearts can take on any capture value, provided that this value allows the dealer to obtain either of the above bonuses.


At the end of the hand, the points of each player (or, in a four-player game, of each team) are tallied. Points are the sum of: deck points, sweeps, meld points and bonus points.

Deck points

The deck points are:

The prime is a combination of four cards, one of each suit. Each person (or team) forms their own prime by choosing the strongest card of each suit, according to the prime values given in the table at the top of the page. The person (or team) with the highest prime value (calculated by adding up the prime values of the four chosen cards) is awarded the prime point.


Each time a player captures all the cards on the table, they get a sweep, marked by turning a card upside down in the capture pile. When counting points at the end of the hand, each sweep is worth one point.


If a person (or team) is able to capture certain combinations of cards, they get additional points at the end of the hand. The combinations are:


The last way to earn points is via bonuses, both hand bonuses and dealer bonuses, as previously described.


The term “cirulla” is not present in historical dictionaries of Ligurian, but can be found in the 21st century dictionaries and is in use in contemporary Ligurian. Prof. Fiorenzo Toso, author of the etymological dictionary Piccolo dizionario etimologico ligure, has proposed a connection between the Ligurian word “cirulla” (cirolla in Ligurian) and the South American Spanish term chirola, which denotes a coin of little value.[3] It is therefore possible that the name is a reference to gambling stakes, brought back by immigrants returning to Liguria from South America. This hypothesis is supported by the existence, in the regional Spanish of Argentina, of the verb chirolear with the meaning of “to play for low stakes”.[4]

It is not known when people started playing cirulla. The basic rules of cirulla are similar to those of scopa, a game popular throughout Italy, Spain, Argentina, Brazil and many other countries. In addition, cirulla borrows elements from other variants of scopa: from scopa d’assi it takes the possibility of capturing all the cards on the table with an ace, and from scopa a quindici (a variant popular in South America, where it is called escoba de quince[5]) it takes the mechanic of capturing cards whose values add up to 15.

One of the most peculiar elements of cirulla is the bonuses. It is likely that this mechanic was inherited from the ancient Italian card game “bazzica”, that has now disappeared but which was already known in the 17th century and is also mentioned in Goldoni’s plays.[6] Indeed, this game awarded points to players with three cards whose sum was equal to or less than nine (bazzica), or with three equal cards (bazzicotto). These combinations are identical to those called “three-point bonus” and “ten-point bonus” in cirulla. Moreover, it is clear that the Ligurian term barsega, which denotes the three-point bonus, comes from bazzica.