– traditional Ligurian card games

a Ligurian tarot game for 2-4 players

Many thanks to Romano Romani from Genoa and M.T. from La Spezia for having shared the rules of the game. Also thanks to the other players who sent us information about the variants played in their towns.


The standard version of the game is for four players in pairs. At the bottom of the page we also describe the three-handed and two-handed variants.


The four players sit in cross formation. Players facing each other are part of the same team.


This game is played with a 78-card tarot deck, made up of 14 suit cards in 4 suits (hearts , diamonds , clubs ♣ and spades ♠ in French-suited decks; or cups, coins, batons and swords in the Piedmontese deck used traditionally), 21 trumps numbered 1 to 21, and the fool (numbered 0 in some decks). Suit cards rank, from weakest to strongest, 1 (or ace), 2, …, 9, 10, J, C, Q, K.[1] Trumps beat all other cards, and rank amongst themselves according to their number, with higher numbered trumps beating lower ones. The fool is a special card, whose role will be described later.


The game is divided into a number of hands, which are the phases between two subsequent deals. A game consists of four hands.


The dealer for the first hand is chosen at random. For subsequent hands, the deal passes to the other players in a counter-clockwise direction. The dealer shuffles the deck and gives it to the opponent on their left to cut. The dealer then deals 19 cards per player, starting from the one on their left, in packets of five cards per player, three times, and then a packet of four. In the last of dealing, the dealer is left with two extra card, which they take for themselves.


When all the cards have been dealt, the dealer, who has extra cards, discards two to arrive at the same number of cards as the other players. The dealer places them face down to the side without showing them to the other players. These cards are called the discard.

Card play


The hands of the game are made up of a number of tricks, which involve one player playing (leading) a card face up to the middle of the table and the others responding (following) with another card each. The trick is won by the player who played the strongest card, who captures the four cards on the table.

Leading to a trick

The player leading to a trick is free to do so with any card they wish.

At the start of a hand, the dealer’s opponent leads to the first trick. Subsequently, the player who wins a trick then leads to the following trick, and the game continues in this way until players are left with no cards in their hands.

Following suit

Players who respond to a card that’s been led must do so according to these rules:

Winning a trick

The trick is won by the player who played the highest trump. If no trumps were played, the winner is the player who played the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of the trick captures the four cards on the table and places them face down in their capture pile. Usually, every team keeps a single capture pile, in common between the two members of the team.

Trick points

Players score one point every three cards that they have captured in tricks. If the number of cards they have captured is not divisible by three, a remainder of two cards is rounded up and a remainder of one card is rounded down to the nearest integer.

Additionally, the following cards, when captured, are each worth the amount of points shown below.[2]

trumps 1 and 20[3]4
the fool4
other cards0

The total amount of trick points per hand is therefore 78 between the two players.

The fool

The fool is a special card that can be played in response to any card that was led, regardless of suit. The fool may also lead a trick, in which case the player who comes after may play any card, and it will be this card that following players must respond to.

The player who plays the fool to a trick always loses that trick. However, they don’t lose the fool. After the trick, they place it on their team’s capture pile, face up and sticking out sideways. Since the team of the player who played the fool ends up with one extra card (having effectively “rescued” the fool from a trick that they lost), they must go on to give their opponents a card from those captured in subsequent tricks in exchange. Once the exchange has been completed, as a reminder, the fool can be turned face down in the capture pile.

If the team of the player who played the fool for some reason does not manage to give a card in exchange for it (that is, they fail to win any subsequent tricks), at the end of the game they must give the fool over to their opponents.[4]

Bagatto urtimo

If a player plays trump number 1 (the Bagatto) in the last trick, and they win the trick, then their team scores an additional 20 points. If anybody else wins the trick, including their teammate, their team loses 20 points. This bonus is known as Bagatto urtimo.[5]


Hand melds

At the beginning of the hand, as soon as the discard is over, players, starting with the one to the right of the dealer and then counterclockwise, can score additional points by announcing that they are holding certain special combinations of cards (melds) in their hand. The possible melds are:[6]

(15 or more pip cards)
1 per pip card
(10 or more trumps)
1 per trump
(fool plus trumps 1 and 20)
family (famiggia)
(4 court cards of a suit)
(only J, C, Q or K)
(only J, C, Q or K)

Players are never obliged to announce melds, but any melds for which they want to score must be announced, and the corresponding cards must be shown to the opponent.

Meld announcements are made by players immediately after the discard, in turn. If a player doe not announce a meld at this time, they miss the opportunity of doing so.

Players may announce multiple melds, including multiple families of different suits, or four- and three-of-a-kinds of different ranks. Players are allowed to use the same cards for multiple melds, i.e. they if holding 10+ trumps, including the 1 and 20, and they also hold the fool, they may announce both taròcchi and gatti.

For the meld of taròcchi, players must show at least 10 trumps, for which they will score one point per trump shown. Players holding more than 10 trumps may choose to withhold some of them from the announcement, in which case they will only score for the trumps shown. Note that the fool is not considered a trump and therefore it cannot be included in this meld.

The meld of frilli involves pip cards, i.e. the 40 number cards of the four suits that are neither court cards, nor trumps or the fool. Analogously to the taròcchi meld, for this meld players will earn one point per pip card, as long as they announce and show at least 15 of them. Here too players may withold some pip cards to hide them from other players.

The four-of-a-kind and three-of-a-kind melds can only be made up of jacks, cavaliers, queens and kings. A player may decide if they wish, for strategic reasons, to announce only a three-of-a-kind despite having all four cards to form the four-of-a-kind, so that one card remains hidden from the opponents.

Captured melds

Besides hand melds, an optional variant of the rules also awards points for captured melds.[7]

According to this variant, if at the end of a hand a team has in its trick pile the cards corresponding to certain melds, they scores additional points. The melds whose capture awards points are: gatti, families, four- and three-of-a-kinds. The capture of frilli and taròcchi does not lead to additional points. The points for capturing these melds are the same as those for hand melds, shown in the table above.


The overall score is made up of trick points (78 points in total), a variable number of meld points (both for hand and captured melds) and, if applicable, 20 points for Bagatto urtimo.

Scores are normally recorded on a piece of paper in a table with two columns, one per team. For each hand, players record in the first row, in their own column, the points they earned for hand melds. In the next row they write down the points for captured melds (if using this rule) as well as optionally a bonus for Bagatto urtimo. In the third row they record their trick points, and they then draw a horizontal line below to mark the completion of the hand. They continue in the same way for the subsequent hands. At the end of the game, the numbers in each column are added up to obtain the final scores for each team.

In the score sheet, next to the meld scores, players might find it useful to write what the scores were for. The example below is for a game consisting of two hands between teams A and B. In the first hand team A had 16 frilli in hand, and team B had no hand melds; team A captured all diamond court cards (family of diamonds, for 10 points) and team B captured gatti (10 points); both teams scored 39 trick points. In the second hand, team A announced three cavaliers in hand for 5 points, and team B announced gatti in hand, for 10 points; team B captured the family of hearts, earning 10 points, and achieved Bagatto urtimo; team A scored 20 points in tricks and team B scored 58.

Team ATeam B
16 F
10 ♦10 G
 5 C10 G
30 ♥B

In this example, the final score for team A is therefore 16+10+39+5+20=90, and for team B it is 10+39+10+30+58=147.


Three-handed Gatti

The three-player variant is almost identical to the four-player version. We report the differences below.

Teams There are no teams: the three players play on their own. A game consists of three hands.

Deal and discard The dealer deals 25 cards per player, five at a time. On the last round of the deal, the dealer takes the three cards that are left over for themselves. The discard will be three cards.

Melds All melds are the same, except for frilli which requires at least 20 pip cards. The value of the meld is still of 1 point per pip card.

Two-handed Gatti

Gatti can also be played two-handed, in which case the rules are the same as for the four-player version, but the two players are seated side-by-side and each controls a virtual partner called the dummy, represented by a hand of cards placed in front of them.

After the discard, the dummy hands are turned face up and sorted by suit and value.