Just like last week, we’re once again in the realm of gaming; specifically, cards. This post is a bit longer than my usual WOWs, but that’s because it will need to tide you over until 2017. The next two weeks will find me tucked away with my family making all things merry! I wish you warm cocoa, warm fires, and warm hearts this holiday season!
Blocked at Both Ends
Finished. The game is blocked at both ends; the game is ended.
There is an aphorism that I consider half-right: it is how you play the game . . . but it’s also fine to say winning is usually the hoped-for outcome. To wit: if you want to win at Regency parlor games, you’ve got to know how to play.
I first read about Regency card games in Georgette Heyer’s Faro’s Daughter. I knew nothing about the game, yet Heyer’s deft and focused touch kept the details interesting and understandable. I was never lost by the maneuvers and machinations.
So in case you need a new game to play whilst stuck indoors with too much food (and perhaps too much family) this holiday season, let’s learn the basics of play for some Regency parlor games.
Cassino (also, Casino; there is actually controversy about the spelling, according to Pagat)
Cassino made its first documented appearance in London at the end of the eighteenth century. The main objective of the game is to capture cards from a layout of face up cards on the table. A card is captured by playing a matching card from the player’s hand. It is also possible to capture several cards at once if their values add up to the value of the card played. Captured cards are held by the winner and scored at the end of the play. Two to four players make up each game.
Italian deck of cards for Cassino.
Commerce (also, Thirty-One, Whisky Poker, and Bastard Brag)
I grew up playing this game (we played for M&Ms and Skittles and thought we were So. Cool.) so I’ll simply explain it like I play it. A game can have three to ten players; one deck of cards is used and Aces are high. Players contribute equal stakes to the pool, then receive three cards from the dealer. Three cards are then dealt face up on the table to form the “widow.” The dealer can swap out 1-2 of his cards with the widow to “make his hand.” Once the dealer is satisfied with his hand, players may look at their cards. There are usually as many rounds as there are players, and a fresh card is added to the “widow” at the beginning of each round. Once a player is satisfied with his cards, he knocks on the table; play stops once two players have knocked. Players then show their cards and the holder of the best combination receives the stakes deposited in the pool; the player with the worst hand puts in one counter called “Going Up.”
- Tricon – three of a kind
- Sequence – three cards of the same suit, in order
- Flush – three cards of the same suit (the highest wins)
- Pair – two similar cards (highest pair wins)
Point – cards added up by their face value (Ace 11, Kings 10, etc.)
They all spent the evening together at Thorpe’s. Catherine was disturbed and out of spirits; but Isabella seemed to find a pool of commerce, in the fate of which she shared, by private partnership with Morland, a very good equivalent for the quiet and country air of an inn at Clifton.
Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey, Chapter 11
This is the game your mother warned you about. It ruined smarter, better, and wealthier people than you. What began as the politest of card games in Italy and France under the name Basset became quite different when its ancestor was outlawed. Faro was the overwhelmingly tempting open secret of gaming halls and private card parties alike. A suit of cards was glued face-up, Ace to King, on an oval of green baize known as the board. The dealer was called theBbanker, and players were known as Punters. Punters laid stakes on one of the 13 cards on the board. Just to complicate the issue, Punters could also place side bets on multiple cards by laying their wagers between or on card edges. Bets ranged from one to one hundred guineas (or more) upon a single card. There are myriad rules on payout and further play that I will explain via the Seinfeld example: yada-yada-yada, the bank wins big and the gamblers lose.
Fun fact: after migrating to the United States in the mid-1800s, it swept that country with the speed of western expansion and the zeal of the gold rush. Criminal cases concerning faro were even argued all the way to the Supreme Court (United States v. Simms, 1803 and Ex parte Milburn, 1835). Mark Twain declared:
A dollar picked up in the road is more satisfaction to us than the 99 which we had to work for, and the money won at Faro or in the stock market snuggles into our hearts in the same way.
Faro’s Daughters, or the Kenyonian blow up to Gamblers by Isaac Cruikshank, 16 May 1796, Digital Collections, Yale University Library. Ha! I see what you did their, Georgette Heyer.
Loo (also, Lanterloo)
A minimum of five players use all 52 cards. Each is dealt 3-5 cards (gamers choice) and after looking at their hand, they can drop out without charge or elect to stay in, paying to play. Committing to play requires the player to win at least one trick (thereby winning one-third or one-fifth of the total pool). Fail this, and pay a penalty amount equal to the whole pot – you’ve been “looed.” The pot carries forward and increases with each hand: great for the winner, potentially ruinous for the loser.
Loo in the Kitchin or High Life below Stairs by Isaac Cruikshank, published by Rudolph Ackermann 25 June 1799, Digital Collections, Yale University Library.
Here’s the card game I’m determined to play this holiday. It seems so terribly refined yet cutthroat at the same time. I love that the English pronounce it “Picket” rather than the French “P.K.” Two players, 36 cards (Aces to Sixes), with each hand divided into five parts:
- Blanks and Discards
The dealer is called the Younger while the player is called the Elder. Each player is dealt twelve cards, in groups of 2-4, depending on the part, with the remaining twelve cards lying in a stack between the opponents. The first player to score 100 is the winner. The rules on scoring for each part are lengthy but actually seem relatively straightforward. You can find a thorough explanation of them, with illustrations, at Historic Card Games.
Something about the name of this game makes me feel like I’d be getting away with something sacrilegious if I were to play it. Or that I’m making light of something that could lead to my eternal damnation. Hmm.
Pope Joan is considered a Victorian card game because of its widespread popularity during that time, but we know it was played as early as 1732, courtesy the Oxford English Dictionary. Dickens even referred to it as an “old fashioned card party” in Chaper 6 of The Pickwick Papers.
Up to eight players may play, using a standard 52-card deck, but also a circular playing board resembling that of Roly-Poly or E-O. The board is divided into eight compartments: Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Pope 9, Game, Intrigue (trump Queen + Jack), and Matrimony (trump King + Queen). Each player “dresses” each compartment with two counters, which could be anything from farthings to guineas. The object is to win counters by playing out cards corresponding to the labelled compartments on the board, and to be the first to run out of cards. The rules are again lengthy but manageable, and expertly explained by Dave Parlett at Historic Card Games.
Pope Joan board, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX.
Pope Joan board detail, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX
All of the card game rule sites state “several” may play Speculation, so that could possibly mean as many as your table will seat. Honestly, play for this game is the simplest of all I’ve study so far. Each player begins the game with the same number of markers – fish – from which to ante at the beginning of each hand.
Fish markers for the game of Speculation. They are also called chips. I swear this is not my attempt at a bad pun.
Players are each dealt three cards, face down; after all have cards, the dealer turns the next one face up to determine the trump suit. This card belongs to the dealer (if he turns over an Ace, he’s won, and play ends before it began). If it is a high enough trump, players may offer to buy it. Players then turn over their cards, one at a time in progression around the table from the dealer’s left. If a higher trump card is revealed, the possessor may sell or keep it, and any player may make him an offer. Players may also offer to buy or trade for any face-down cards, sight unseen, at any time.
All trading and auctioning is done in pursuit of acquiring the highest trump card. Cards rank from Ace high to 2 low. The game ends when all cards have been revealed or when somebody turns the Ace; the owner of the highest trump wins the pot.
Jane Austen wrote of Speculation in Mansfield Park:
In the evening it was found, according to the predetermination of Mrs. Grant and her sister, that after making up the whist-table there would remain sufficient for a round game, and everybody being as perfectly complying and without a choice as on such occasions they always are, speculation was decided on almost as soon as whist; and Lady Bertram soon found herself in the critical situation of being applied to for her own choice between the games, and being required either to draw a card for whist or not. She hesitated.
Jane Austen, Mansfield Park, Chapter 25
Speculation card deck.
Vingt-et-un (also, Vingt-un, Twenty-One, or Pontoon)
Any number of people may play; a standard 52-card deck is used, although with six or more players, two decks would be combined. Money or markers are used for wagering. The value of the cards is the same as their pip, with face cards worth ten; the Ace can be worth one or eleven, player’s choice. The dealer gives each player two cards, and the player may hold with these or add as many as he wishes. The object of the game is to form a hand whose total value is at or near twenty-one, without going over.
Whist arose from the game Ruff and Honours – how great a name is that?! – as reported by Charles Cotton in The Compleat Gamester, 1674. It is a plain-trick game without bidding, with four players in fixed partnerships of two and seated across the table from each other; it is strictly forbidden for partners to “talk across the table” or remark on their cards or play in any way. Cards rank from Ace highest to Two lowest, with trumps determined by the final card laid down by the dealer after having dispensed the rest of the cards. He placed the trump card in the middle of the table and play then began to the dealer’s left. The first player may lead any card in his hand, with play proceeding clockwise order, following suit of the card led. A player with no card of that suit may discard (play a card of another suit) or play a trump. The trick is won by the highest card of the lead suit or by trump. The winner of the trick leads the next round, and play continues until all thirteen tricks are played. When finished, the score is recorded. Think Spades or Pinochle today.
Two-Penny Whist by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey 11 January 1796, National Portrait Gallery.
In conclusion, for your further reading pleasure – and to get a glimpse into contemporaneous gambling – trek over to Susanna Ives‘s internet home to read a Sad Tale of Gambling Woe from 1804.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Play Loo, Piquet, Pope Joan, and Speculation like a pro with the information from David Parlett’s excellent resource, Historic Card Games.
- Find out more about Cassino, Commerce, and Whist at Pagat. JaneAusten.co.uk also explains more about Commerce, if you’re a society member.
- Delve into the illicit game of E-O (not a card game, but an antecedent of Pope Joan) at The Online Guide to Traditional Games.
- If you’re feeling especially wicked, try Faro at your next party: Wikipedia will tell you how. To learn the ins and outs of its ancestor, Basset, head over to The Folger Spotlight.
- Finally, check out Charles Cotton’s exhaustive reporting and amusing anecdotes in the wonderfully named The Complete Gamester: Or, Full and Easy Instructions For Playing at above Twenty Several Games upon the Cards With Variety of Diverting Fancies and Tricks upon the same.