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Whist

A 19th-century whist marker by the British printing Co. De La Rue.
Origin England
Type Trick-taking
Players 4
Skills required Tactics, strategy
Cards 52
Deck French
Play Clockwise
Card rank (highest to lowest) A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Playing time 30 min
Random chance Medium
Related games
Auction bridge, Contract bridge, Wendellhead, Solo whist, Tarneeb

Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was widely played in the 18th and 19th centuries. Although the rules are extremely simple, there is enormous scope for scientific play.

History

Whist is a descendant of the 16th century game of trump or ruff. Whist replaced the popular variant of trump known as Ruff and Honours. The game takes its name from the 17th Century whist (or wist) meaning quiet, silent, attentive, which is the root of the modern wistful.

According to Barrington, Whist was first played on scientific principles by a party of gentlemen who frequented the Crown Coffee House in Bedford Row, London, around 1728. Edmond Hoyle, suspected to be a member of this group, began to tutor wealthy young gentlemen in the game and published A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742. It became the standard text and rules for the game for the next hundred years and led to the game becoming fashionable.

In 1862 Henry Jones, writing under the pseudonym "Cavendish", published The Principles of Whist Stated and Explained, and its Practice Illustrated on an Original System, by Means of Hands Played Completely Through, which became the standard text. Many subsequent editions and enlargements of this work were published using the simpler title Cavendish On Whist. By this time Whist was governed by elaborate and rigid rules covering the laws of the game, etiquette and play which took time to study and master.

In 1873 Jules Verne depicted Phileas Fogg, the protagonist of "Around the World in Eighty Days", as an enthusiastic Whist player.

In the 1890s, a variant known as Bridge Whist became popular which eventually evolved into Contract Bridge. The traditional game of Whist survives at social events called whist drives. There are many modern variants of Whist played for fun.

Rules

A standard 52-card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Whist is played by four players, who play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. Players cut or draw cards to determine partners, with the two highest playing against the lowest two, who have seating rights. The players then cut for deal. It is strictly against the rules to comment on the cards in any way. One may not comment upon the hand one was dealt nor about one's good fortune or bad fortune. One may not signal to one's partner.

Shuffling and dealing

The cards can be shuffled by any player, though usually the player to dealer's left. The dealer has the right to shuffle last if he wishes. To speed up dealing a second pack can be shuffled by the dealer's partner during the deal and then placed to the right ready for the next hand. The cards are cut by the player on dealer's right before dealing. The dealer deals out all the cards, one at a time, face down, so that each player has thirteen cards. The final card, which belongs to the dealer, is turned face up to indicate which suit is trumps. The turned-up trump card remains face up on the table until it is the dealer's turn to play to the first trick. The deal advances clockwise.

Play

The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. He may lead any card in his hand. The other players, in clockwise order, each play a card to the trick and must follow suit by playing a card of the suit led if they have one. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card, either discarding or trumping. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump is played, in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of the trick leads the next trick.

Play continues until all thirteen tricks are played, at which point the score is recorded. If no team has enough points to win the game, another hand is played.

Part of the skill involved in the game is one's ability to remember what cards have been played and reason out what cards remain. Therefore, once each trick is played, its cards are turned face down and kept in a stack of four near the player who won the trick. Before the next trick starts, a player may ask to review the cards from the last trick only. Once the lead card is played, however, no previously played cards can be reviewed by anyone.

Scoring

After all tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks scores 1 point for each trick won in excess of 6. When all four players are experienced, it is unusual for the score for a single hand to be higher than two. A game is over when one team reaches a score of five. There are so-called "Hotel Rules" variations where other numbers are agreed to be played to in advance such as "American" and "Long", where the games are played to seven and nine respectively. The "Long" version is normally combined with "Honours."

In longer variations of the game, those games where the winning score is not the standard 5 points, honours are points that are claimed at the end of each hand. Honours add nothing to the play of a hand. Honours serve only as an element of luck that speeds up games, and they are often omitted these days. Serious players disdain honours because it greatly increases the element of chance. A team that was dealt the top four cards (A,K,Q,J) in the trump suit collect extra points. A team who holds three of the four honours between them claim 2 points, a team who holds all four honours between them claim 4 points. Tricks are scored before honours. Honours points can never be used for the last point of a game. Consider the following example: A game is being played to 9 points. The score is tied at 6. A hand is played and the winner of that hand took seven tricks and claimed honours. That team would receive 1 point for the 7th trick and only 1 point for honours. The score would then be 8 to 6.

Basic technique

Terminology

Deal: One card at a time is given to each player by the dealer starting with the player on the dealer’s left and proceeding clockwise until the deck is fully distributed.
Dealer: The player who deals the cards for a hand.
Deck: Standard playing-card deck consisting of 52 cards in four suits.
Dummy: In some variations of whist, a hand is turned face up and is played from by the player seated opposite. This allows for whist to be played by three players.
Finesse: The play of a lower honour even though holding a higher one, hoping that the intermediate honour is held by a player who has already played to the trick. To give an example: you hold the ace and queen of hearts. Your right-hand antagonist leads a heart, from which you infer that he holds the king of the same suit and wishes to draw the ace, in order to make his king. You however play the queen, and win the trick; still retaining your ace, ready to win again when he plays his king.
Game: Reaching a total score agreed beforehand to be the score played up to.
Grand Slam: The winning, by one team, of all thirteen tricks in a hand.
Hand: Thirteen tricks. (52 cards in the deck divided by four players equals thirteen cards per player.)
Honours: In some variations of whist, extra points are assigned after a game to a team if they were dealt the ace, king, queen, and jack (knave) of the trump suit.
Lead: The first card played in a trick.
Pack: See Deck.
Rubber: The best of three games.
Small slam: The winning, by one team, of twelve tricks in a hand.
Tenace: A suit holding containing the highest and third-highest of the suit or (the "minor tenace") second- and fourth-highest.
Trick: Four cards played one each by the players.
Trump: The suit chosen by the last-dealt card that will beat all other suits regardless of rank. When two cards are played from the trump suit, the higher card wins the trick.

List of variations

The name "whist" has become attached to a wide variety of games based on classic whist, but often with some kind of bidding added, for example:

Whist drive

A whist drive is a social event at which progressive games of whist are played.

Literary references

"[...] Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, [...]"

"[...] His only pastime was reading the papers and playing whist. He frequently won at this quiet game, so very appropriate to his nature;[...]"

References in music

"[...] By an eerie green storm lantern
Three ghouls were playing whist [...]"

"[...] Bob liked to play his poker, pinochle, whist, and euchre.[...]"

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