WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Lurched

We are game-playing fanatics in my family.

Board, backyard, card – you mention the word “game” and our family is in it to win it. But perhaps that’s too simplistic. We love the strategy, the complexity, and the challenge…and we really enjoy being together with extended family and friends. Sometimes the competition is friendly and sometimes it gets a little more heated, but we always have fun, and always meet again to play another game.

The one game I see pop up the most in all things Regency is whist. It’s a game I’m totally unfamiliar with, so of course I dove into the research head-first. It also helped that whist was mentioned several times in Pride and Prejudice, the most familiar time to me when it vexed Elizabeth no end that Mr. Darcy ignored her to play whist at the behest of her mother, of all people.

When the tea-things were removed, and the card-tables placed, the ladies all rose, and Elizabeth was then hoping to be soon joined by him, when all her views were overthrown by seeing him fall a victim to her mother’s rapacity for whist players, and in a few moments after seated with the rest of the party. She now lost every expectation of pleasure. They were confined for the evening at different tables, and she had nothing to hope, but that his eyes were so often turned towards her side of the room, as to make him play as unsuccessfully as herself.
Pride and Prejudice, chapter 54


Those who lose a game of whist, without scoring five, are said to be lurched.

Edmond Hoyle was and is the expert on cards and games, and his collection of instruction pamphlets were grouped together and published, following his death, under the concise title Mr. Hoyle’s games of whist, quadrille, piquet, chess, and back-gammon, complete, In which are contained, the method of playing and betting at those games, upon equal, or advantageous terms. Including the laws of the several games. The fifteenth edition. To which are added, two new cases at whist; also the new laws of the game at whist, as played at White’s and Saunders’s Chocolate-Houses.

Mr. Hoyle’s Games of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess and Back-Gammon, circa 1770.

Whist is played with a standard 52-card deck, known during the Regency as a French Deck, and four players grouped into two sets of partners. Partners may not comment nor collude about the cards they are dealt. The object of the game is to take “tricks” and thus score the most points (all of which reminds me of pinochle). A trick consists of one turn where each participant plays a card, with the pile going to the winner who plays the “best” card. The best card is not always the highest in rank, as we’ll learn later.

Queen of Hearts from deck of cards, early 1800s, Ackermann’s Repository.

The rank of cards is in order from highest to lowest, beginning with Ace and ending with the deuce. Cards are shuffled by the player to the left of the dealer and cut by the player to the dealer’s right. All 52 cards are dealt facedown save the final card, which is left faceup to determine the trump suit. Each player will have thirteen cards; this yields thirteen tricks.

Trump Suit, from Colonial Games.

Play proceeds clockwise, with the first card thrown by the player on the dealer’s left. The participant may play any card in his hand; remaining players must follow with cards from this leading suit. If no such card is held, a player has the choice to throw a card of any suit – called a discard – or play a card from the trump suit. The player who played the highest card in the lead suit takes the trick unless a trump was played. If multiple trumps fall during a trick, the highest trump takes the trick.

Whist Trick, from Colonial Games. In this trick, the player of the Jack takes the trick.

The winner of the trick collects the four cards and places them in a facedown stack close by. This player then leads the next trick. Once all thirteen tricks have been played, the stacks are then counted. Every six stacks are known as a “book;” one point is scored for that set of partners for every book they collect. The first team to reach five was considered the winner (or seven or nine, if that number was so chosen as the winning score). Those playing a “rubber of whist” played three rounds before the winning partnership was determined.

Christmas Academics Playing a Rubber at Whist, by Thomas Rowlandson, 1 April 1803, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

To keep score, players used tokens. Tokens could be made of any material, from metal to leather to cardboard. Later in the 19th century, tokens were replaced by dial counters and hinged pegs similar to those used in cribbage.

Brass Tokens – Vintage Whist Tokens, courtesy WorthPoint.

Whist is so close to pinochle, one of my favorite card games, that I really feel like my family needs to attempt a rubber soon. Wish everyone luck – I play to win.

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends

WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends

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.

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

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends. Pictured, "Doings In A Hell."


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.

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.

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
  • Ruffs
  • Sequences
  • Sets
  • Tricks

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.

Pope Joan

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, courtesy Ruby Lane Antiques of River Oaks, Houston, TX.

Pope Joan board detail, 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.

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.

Speculation card deck.

Vingt-et-un (also, Vingt-un, Twenty-One, or Pontoon)

Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends. Pictured, Georgian gamblers.

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.

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.


Obstinate Headstrong Girl author Renée Reynolds ¦ WOW ~ Word of the Week ~ Blocked at Both Ends