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Holidays: after a while, nobody talks to Grandma, nobody seems to relate to the pre-teen in the corner, your uncle is smoking outside, your aunt can’t shut up about her grandchild, it would be inconsiderate to tweet or check your FB page, you need a game that can get all generations involved. 

Sette e mezzo (seven and a half) is an Italian card game similar to blackjack usually played during the Christmas holidays, from December 23rd to the Epiphany, January 6th. It is played with a 40-card Italian deck (with suits of coins, cups, clubs and swords) or with the 52-card deck. Face cards are worth half a point each, while the other cards are worth their nominal value. The goal is reaching the highest possible score without exceeding 7½. 

Easy to play: each of the players is dealt a face down card and he/she may ask for extra cards to improve the total.

The player satisfied with the total says ‘I stay’ (sto, or sto bene) and the turn passes to the next player; or he/she could say ‘card’ (carta), and the dealer deals new cards faced up, one at the time so the player can decide when to stop.

If the total is over seven and a half, the player says ‘busted’ (ho sballato), and must show all the cards. If the total is exactly seven and a half, the lucky player also has to show all the cards. 

After all the players have taken their turns, the dealer exposes his/her card, and may take extra cards. If the dealer makes a total of 8 or more, the dealer loses to all the players who are not busted. If the dealer stays, with a total of 7½ or less, the dealer wins the stakes of all the players who stayed with an equal or lower total, and pays all the other ones. If one player makes a total of 7½ with two cards, he/she wins and becomes the dealer. 

As far as we know, the first playing cards appeared in China in the ninth century and in Europe 500 years later, around 1375, probably from Mamluk Egypt. The Saracens had a game called Naib, and an almost complete Mamluk Egyptian deck of 52 cards has survived from around the same time. The suits were swords, sticks, cups and coins and they had king, governor, second governor, and nominal cards that went ten to one. Around 1430, Italians invented tarot cards but that’s another chapter to explore.