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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Slang term taken from the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue.
- Purchase your very own, original, copy of Mr. Hoyle’s games of whist, quadrille, piquet, chess, and back-gammon… at L’Intersigne Livres Anciens for a mere 300.00 €.
- You can read Mr. Hoyle’s rules online at Stanford’s Eighteenth Century Collections.
- See an entire deck of cards from the 1818 Ackermann’s Repository here.
- Instructions for whist culled from the Jane Austen Centre, Norfolk Town Assembly, Geri Walton, and Bicycle Cards.
- Fun fact: my husband and I were known for (or rather, not known for until we confessed our trickery, all in good fun, mind you) cheating at cards at university. Of all things, because of my dyslexia and the lessons and skills I practiced repeatedly to help live with it, I can count cards. I haven’t read this post yet, but I’ve marked it because of it’s obvious interest to me: How to cheat at Whist in the 18th century.