Scenes and stories from a small town in the hills of Italy's Le Marche region

Morra: Simple Game of Strategy

“Fate la morra…non fate la Guerra” (Make morra, not war).

By Jamie Barsana
July 2006

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.

silhouetted hands

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.

multiple men playing morra

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.

men playing morra

The game is played with passion and excitment. It is as fun to watch as it is to play. Watch the action in Patrick Weatherly's short documentary.
See the Experts
(QuickTime movie)

Web Design by Katie Clayton

Go behind the scenes at a famous winery and read about the passion of soccer:

>>While playing Morra, players enjoy the smooth wine made at a local winery

>>Italy's World Cup victory sparked the spirit of soccer fans through out the country. Check out the locals of Camerano and see their passion.

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