Morra: Simple Game of Strategy
“Fate la morra…non fate
la Guerra” (Make morra, not war).
By Jamie Barsana
CAMERANO, Italy -- The art of morra,
a hand game, involves strategy, tactics and energy. Brought
to Italy in the 16th century from Turkey, this simple hand
game has survived in an electronic age of Nintendo and X BOX.
The Italian love of morra goes hand-in-hand with the Italian
love of wine. This passion is evident in Camerano in the exuberance
and feeling of belonging people get when playing morra.
For 20 years, playing morra was illegal,
the victim of a government crackdown on gambling. Punishment
ranged from direct orders to stop playing by police officers
to fines. The combination of morra and wine also sometimes
led to violence when heated arguments about points and scoring
erupted into fist fights. But playing the game was made legal
again in July 2003.
Morra involves guessing the total sum of
fingers from both people.
photo by Caroline Powers
Mercante enjoys a glass of wine before playing
a game of Morra.
photo by Caroline Powers
Oriano Mercante, president of the Italian Morra Association
in Camerano, is dedicated to rescuing old games as a way to
rediscover Italy’s roots and traditions. Mercante and
his friends, known as the amici della morra (friends of morra),
all wear customized shirts that say, “Fate la morra…non
fate la Guerra” (Make morra, not war).
The sense of community that comes from playing this game
lures his friends to Mercante’s house like moths to
the bug zapper hanging in his patio. Sitting around the table
one July night, four players share a bottle of wine and stories
of the Camerano of yesterday and the Camerano of today. The
oldest, and reigning champ among them, remembers playing morra
as a young man before it became illegal.
There are two styles of play,
Mercante says. Northern Italians play sitting while Central
and Southern Italians play standing. In Camerano, players
stand and use their whole body and extend their arms to flash
their fingers. Players consider morra a peaceful, stylized
fight because there are no weapons.
The point of playing the game is to sharpen the mind while
enjoying the company of friends. It’s a psychological
game that forces a player to watch the competitor and to learn
body language. Mercante says, “The trick is to know
your opponent.” With each competition, the technique
of the other person becomes clearer, and a player learns to
anticipate how many fingers he will throw out.
As the players drink their final sips of wine, they take
their positions to begin the game. Morra is played one-on-one
or in teams of two or three. The first two players from each
team display a certain number of fingers from their right
hands while simultaneously guessing out loud the total number
of fingers that will be presented by both players. If no one
guesses the correct sum or the players guess the same number,
the game continues until there is a clear winner.
The winner is the first to get 16 points. However, if the
teams are within one point from each other, they continue
and the winner is the first to get 21 points. At the end of
the game, the winners can offer the defeated players a second
chance, and the first team to get five points wins.
Morra is popular among older Italian men.
Photo by Caroline Powers
As the sun sets, the players’ voices thunder across Mercante’s
vineyard. Flashes of laughter and clapping filter through their
shouted numbers. Their elongated shadows on the driveway do not
exaggerate their boisterous gestures as they take turns throwing
down numbers and exchanging playful banter.
Returning to the table victorious, the winners pour out the final
glasses to toast the defeated players. More laughter ensues and
fades into night.