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Girolamo Zorli

Francesco Berni's Primero

 

Foreward

Francesco Berni

I follow two texts. The Capitolo in lode del gioco della primiera (Chapter in praise of the game of Primero, see my Italian article), a poem datable around 1521, published around 1526. The Comento al capitolo in lode del gioco della primiera, (Comment about the Chapter in praise of the game of Primero, see the link), datable 1526. The second text is a long prose dissertation upon the poem. Both texts do not give an organic description of the game.  The author of them, Francesco Berni (1497-1535), gives us many hints about the Roman way to play the game.
The Roman Primero developed through four moments: after the ante, there were some card change, the opening vie, the three-card and the four-card phases. As in today’s poker, bets were placed all over the game to progressively select the players, until one player’s last bid was not met by the others or two players showed down the cards to determine the winner.
Players were up to five, seldom six players. A full 52-card deck was employed. Suits were Italian: Batons, Coins, Cups, Swords. Distribution and game was anti-clockwise. Game was on four cards. Sevens were valued 21 each, Sixes 18, Aces 16, Fives 15, Fours 14, Threes 13, Deuces 12, Figures and Tens 10, Nines 9, Eights 8. Valuable  combinations  were, in descending order, four-of-a-kind, flush, primero and point. Flush consisted of four cards of the same suit, primero of four cards of different suits. Point was the value of two or three cards of the same suit. Between two or more equal combinations, it won the one with the highest sum of the value of its cards. It is not said what happened when two equal combinations with the same value confronted, for instance whe four Kings confronted four Jacks. In contemporary Lombardy won (see Cardan's Primero) the player closest to the right of the dealer.

Card change

Asso di Bastoni

Dealer forwarded a two-counter ante, called ‘invito’. Everybody received two cards. If everybody passed, the hand was re-done. If somebody ‘kept’ the invitation, he paid the two-counter to keep the hand alive. Invitations did not force the other players to pay it to stay in the game. If everybody passed, the dealer could keep the hand alive without putting an invitation, on the principle that he had already paid it. It was admitted to raise the invitation of one or two counters at a time.
afyer an invitation kept, dealer distributed two cards to everybody. If everybody passed the hand continued with discards and a new card change was supplied to everybody to have them holding four cards. After any distribution, invitations and raises were admitted, but again they were not compulsory : players had not to pay them to stay in the game. It is stated that one or more cards could be discarded, implicating that everybody received in change from the dealer the same amount of new cards. The new card(s) was distributed to everyone, irrespectively whether they had paid previous invitations and raises or not. To receive a card change, they had to discard enough cards to hold no more than three of them. It is not stated if discards laid face down on the table. Contemporary Lombardian Primero wanted them face up.

The vie

Cinque di spade

Non compulsory invitations and card changes could go on indefinitely, until somebody declared “Vada”, vie. The vie was the compulsory two-counter opening bid. It forced everybody to stay or fold. To stay, together with the vie were to be paid all the previous unpaid invitations and raises. It is not stated if the vie had to be bet with the declaration of a point, as it was the case in contemporary Lombardy. I think yes.
It is not said what happened when a four-card combination, for instance a primero, was luckily made during the discard phase. Cardano states that common pact in North-Italian game was that a primero won directly the pot. It is possible that in Roman Primero the vie was frequently bet by a three card point. We will see that in in this game there was the “Who hasn’t it” option that might have allowed an opening vie with a four-card-point. There is no mention to bluffs.
Raises to the vie were admitted. The highest bet was the ‘resto’, all-in, all the money one had visible on the table. As in today’s poker, the all-in could be challenged by an equal amount of money or another lesser all-in. If it was met, the showing-down of the cards occurred and the amount of the lesser all-in was the stake.

Fourth card face down

Sette di bastoni

After a regular three-card vie and possible raises, a new card was distributed face down to every survivor. The new card remained unseen face down on the table in front of each player. At their turn, they could pass, declare “chi non l'ha”, who hasn’t it, or “chi l’ha” who has it, or bid.
“Who hasn’t it” was a dilatory declaration. It had to be accepted by everybody – a single “no” rebuffed it. Under “who hasn’t’ it” rule, players who expected one card to close a four-card combination were given another chance over the fourth card face down in front of them. After seeing the fourth card, card change was not compulsory. If somebody closed a four-card combination, say a Primero, he could possibly bid, but he could not prevent the others to receive the last change guaranteed by “Who hasn’t it”. Biddings and raises were allowed. The “who hasn’t it” declaration took back the table to a new session with the fourth card face down.
“Who has it” could be declared only against a “Who hasn’t it”. The accepted “who has it” forced everyone to discard and receive a new card face down and re-start the fourth card face down session. It had to be accepted by all. Biddings and raises were allowed. Under this agreement, the players who after seeing the fourth card closed a four-card point, for instance a primero, had to discard one card to receive a new one face down.
It seems that the “Who hasn’t it” and “Who has it” declaration could be repeated indefinitely. A “no” would have superseded both dilatory declarations and forced the hand to the next step.

Four card final

Asso di spade

The fourth card was picked up when no “Who hasn’t’it” or “Who has it” declarations were not spoken or were refused.
Players could pass, or declare “Carte e ‘nviti “ cards and bids, or bid and raise. “Cards and bids”, if not superseded by a bid, gave the opportunity of a new discard. It is stated that the table returned to the three-card session. A new “who hasn’t it” phase could then be opened. “Cards and bids” was a dilatory declaration that could be repeated indefinitely until superseded by a bet.
A bet would have opened the final confrontation for the pot. 

To top

Berni's Primero structure

Step 1. : “Vie” with declaration of a point. Biddings, card change with a fourth card face down distributed to every survivor.  Go to step 2.

Step 2. : Three cards in hand and the fourth card face down on the table.
Step 2.a Accepted “Who hasn’t it”. Biddings, fourth card seen and  optional card changes. A fourth card face down was given again to everybody who discarded. Back to step 2.
Step 2.b Accepted “Who has it”. Biddings, fourth card seen and compulsory discards. A fourth card face down was given to everybody. Back to step 2.
Step 2.c Unmentioned or rejected “Who hasn’it” and “Who has it”. Biddings and fourth card seen. Go to step 3.

Step 3. Four cards open in hand.
Step 3.1 Accepted “Cards and bids”. Biddings and optional discards. Back to step 2.
Step 3.2 Unmentioned or rejected “Cards and bids”. Final bids and show down.

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