According to Hoyle

By M. K. Van Rensselaer.

The ancestor of all our common games of cards is probably L’Ombre, El Hombre, or The Man, sometimes also called La Beste, the origin of which has been traced to the middle of the fourteenth century in Italy, where the original Tarots were used as they are today. A modification of the old game is called Tarroco, the rules for which have been altered during the centuries that have passed since the game was first taken to the hearts of the gamblers, who succeeded the fortune-tellers or the priests of Mercury. The game having now but few interpreters, the cards have nearly ceased to bear the messages of the gods, and the cult of Mercury is forgotten.

L’Ombre was played during the fourteenth century in Spain, and wandered to England, France, Germany, and Austria. It still receives its original title in the first two countries, and is played by country folk, but in France it seems to have been discarded.

Under the name of Skat, and played with the pips of that country, a modified form of the game is known in Germany. In Austria the game is called Tappé Tarok, and the ancient names are assigned to strangely designed cards quite foreign to the original Tarots, although the pack includes twenty-two Atouts and fifty-two pip cards that bear the French, but not the Italian or German, designs. For this game the old rules are largely retained, and it is considered difficult and highly scientific, so this rearranged pack has taken the place of the old Tarots in Austria. Tappé Tarok is a fashionable game in Vienna, where the “Hoyle” of the day calmly announces that it originated in that city with the cards invented for it, totally ignoring the lineage of the true Tarots, of which their Tarok pack is simply an alteration, with the French pips exchanged for Cups, Money, Swords, and Staves. That the new symbols were adopted at the same time that the emblematic figures of the Atouts were cast aside, to be replaced by meaningless pictures, is most probable, and one author declares that the change was made “lately,” but a pack in the writer’s possession proves that such was not the case, for the designs are those of the old Tarots.

After the fortune-telling pack had been adopted for a tête-a-tête game, it spread rapidly from Etruria to other places, and L’Ombre is mentioned in early Italian books of history, romance, and poetry, where the game is frequently called Tarroco or Minchiate. In England the Poet-laureate Waller immortalized “a card torn at L’Ombre by the Queen,” who was Catherine of Braganza, the wife of Charles II. It is Belinda’s game in “The Rape of the Lock,” and in many pictures of that time players are depicted either tête-a-tête, or else three persons are seated at three-sided tables that were particularly fashioned for this game; these are still treasured in old mansions, where they are called Ombre or Preference tables.

The Spanish nickname for L’Ombre is Manilla, which is also that of one of their favourite cards. Some of their towns have had this name given to them, one of which is in the Philippine Islands and one on the African coast. La Manilla is one of the “Matadores,” the name given the four cards that are selected to outrank all the others, and so called because they are “killers” or “slaughterers,” since they kill or take all other cards.

The Ace of Espadas (Swords) is the first Matador, nicknamed Espadilla, or little Sword, after the Harpé of Mercury that is represented on this card, the suit being called after its emblem. In England the card is called Spadille.

The second Matador is the one named Manilla or Malilla, and is the Nine of Money. The third Matador is the Ace of Sticks, called Basto, “he who knocks or beats.” It is the Caduceus, or Rod, and the suit takes its name from it. In certain parts of the game it is played with great effect, as is mentioned in “Cranford,” by Mrs. Gaskell, where is a description of some ladies playing a game that was then called “Preference”; where Miss Barker at the card table was “basting most unmercifully, although she declared that she was too ignorant to know Spadille from Manille.” The fourth Matador is the Ace of Cups, and is called Punto, which means the point or spot.

Players of Skat will readily recognize these terms and the value of the cards. Rules and play vary in different countries, so it would take close study of each game to point out the various rules, names, etc., that connect the games of the day with their five-hundred-year-old ancestor.

In England the eldest descendant of L’Ombre seems to be Primero, Prime, Prima-sta, or Preference, for all are the same game. Some writers claim that when Philip of Spain was wooing Mary of England he taught her the game fashionable at the court of his father, Charles V, but Primero was in vogue among the people from the days of Henry VIII to that of James I, so much so that Piquet, the French game taught to Henry’s mother when the French pips were introduced into England, was greatly neglected except in court circles.

In the Earl of Northumberland’s letters we find a reference to the game, as in one of them is the following sentence: “Jocelyn Percy was playing at Primero on Sunday in Essex House, when his uncle the conspirator called on him.”

In the Sidney Papers, Vol. II (page 83), there is an account of Sir Walter Raleigh, William Ambrose Willoughby, and Mr. Parker “being at Primero in the Presence Chamber, the queen was gone to bed. Lord Southampton, as Squire of the Body, desired him, Willoughby, to give over. Soon after he spoke to them again that if they did not leave he would call in the Guard to pull down the board, which Sir Walter Rawley seeing put up his money and went his ways.” This occurred in 1598.

In Marcus’s “Life at Primero,” many of the terms used in the game are mentioned, such as Prime, Rest, Eldest Hand, Flush, Stop, Pack, etc., all of which have been adopted in one or more modern games. In Minshew’s Spanish Dictionary there is an illustration of players at Primero in the time of Queen Elizabeth.

In “Capitolo del Gioco della Primera,” by Berni, the game is thus mentioned: “To describe what Primera is would be little less than useless, for there can scarcely be any one so ignorant as to be unacquainted with it, although played differently in Florence from Venice, Naples, France, or Spain, but none of these various ways of playing the game are superior to the Rules of Rome, where the game principally flourishes.”

In one of the works of Rabelais, edited by M. le Duchat, two kinds of Primero are described called “the lesser” and “the greater.” In the former only pip cards are required, but in the latter the whole Tarot pack is retained, as in Austria, where Atouts and pip cards belong to Tappé Tarok. The Germans play “the lesser Primero” and call it Skat. This shows how widely the rules of the game have parted from the original laws, which is the reason that it is now almost impossible to harmonize it with the fortune-telling game that it was primarily. In Italy it is called Minchiate, Tarocco, and Tarocconi. These now differ as much from the original as bridge whist does from these games.

The terms of the different games were frequently used in old plays or romances in England, as well as in other places. Shakespeare mentions Primero in “Henry VIII” (v:1): “I left the king at Primero with the Duke of Suffolk.” Again, in “The Merry Wives of Windsor” (iv:5), Falstaff says: “I never prospered since I foreswore myself at Primero.”

Sir Harry Wildair (1701) says: “The Capot at Piquet, the Paroli at Basset, and then Ombre. Who can resist the charms of Matadores?”

Lady Lurewell answers: “Ay, Sir Harry, and the ‘Sept le va, Quinze le va’ [of Basset], ‘the Nine of Diamonds at Comet’ [or Pope Joan], ‘three Fives at Cribbage and Pam,’ the ‘Queen to the Knave of Clubs in Loo.’”

The terms in Primero have been so generally adopted in modern games that they are familiar to all players, although as a collection they are no longer used for one game. Primero is played by dealing four cards, at which the players look, and, if they are unsuitable, they say “Pass.” The Sevens are the highest cards and are worth twenty-one points. The other numbers have values that differ according to the locality where the game is played. Quinola, or the Knave of Hearts, represents the Joker, and the cards left after dealing are not called the Widow or the Stock, as in some games, but the Rest. Punto, or “point,” is not the Ace of Cups, as in Spain, for in England it is the Quinola. Flushes are four cards of the same suit, and Prime is a hand in which there are four cards of the same value, but each one of a different suit.

Card games followed each other, first one and then another becoming the fashion, only to be replaced by a new one or a modification of some old one, and after L’Ombre and Preference came Mawe, Post, Lodam, Noddy, Barkerout (probably Baccarat), and countless others, to the now all-important Bridge or Auction Whist.

Mawe is described in Mr. Singer’s “History of Playing Cards” (page 258) “as a playe at cards grown out of the country from the meanest into credit at court with the greatest.” The game is frequently referred to by name in books or plays written about 1580. The Ace of Hearts is called Rumstitch or Romstecq, the name given to Mawe in the Netherlands. In Germany the game is played with a Piquet pack of thirty-six cards, and any number of persons from two to six may form the party. The Italians call a similar game Romfa.

Noddy is a childish game, but it was fashionable in the seventeenth century, and is frequently referred to by writers of that time.

Gleek is described in Cotton’s “Complete Gamester,” where it is called “a noble and delightful game or recreation.” It is also mentioned by Villon, who wrote in 1461, and other contemporary authors. M. le Duchat, the editor of Rabelais, declares that the name is derived from the German word Glück, meaning chance or luck. It is played by three persons only, each of whom is dealt twelve cards, eight being left in the widow, that is called the “stock.” The Deuces and Treys are taken from the pack. If the Four is turned up as trump, it is called “Tiddy,” and each player pays four counters to the dealer. A Mourival is a hand holding all the Kings, Queens, Knaves, or Aces. The players bid for the stock, as is done in Nonsuch Euchre. The eldest hand says, “I’ll vie the Ruff”; the next, “I’ll see it”; the third, “I’ll see it and revie it,” or, “I’ll not meddle with it,” which terms are closely copied in modern games. The Ruff is the highest flush, or else four Aces. The game of Ruff seems to have succeeded Gleek, and many games have been evolved from it, including Bridge, Poker, and Euchre, each one of which has adopted certain rules to the exclusion of others, in this way making such different games that few people can trace them to the originals. To ruff is a term still used by provincials, by which they mean to revoke.

The steps from Ruff to Bridge are called by different names, such as Trump or Triumpo by the Italians and Spaniards. “Ruff and Honours, Alias Slam, was once a favourite in England,” says Cotton in 1680.

In 1737 Richard Seymour published some rules, in which he says: “Whist, or the silent game, vulgarly called Whisk, is said to be very ancient among us, and the foundation of all the English games upon the cards.” Dean Swift declares that in his time “Whisk was a favourite among the clergy.”

“His pride is in Piquet,” says Lord Godolphin in Pope’s “Moral Essays,” showing the position that this game occupied in England in 1733, about three hundred years after its introduction to the English court. It is still played at the clubs to-day, showing what a strong hold it has upon the affections of card players, and its original rules are hardly altered, while the cards remain practically the same as when invented by La Hire, Etienne Chevalier, and Jacques Cœur.

It is supposed that the first reference to Piquet in print is in the works of Rabelais, already quoted from (1533). Probably the earliest book of rules is the one published at Rome in 1647, and translated into English in 1652. The rules were very much the same as those laid down afterwards by Cavendish in 1882. The “point” was called the “ruffe,” or, in French, Ronflé.

In “Les Facheux,” by Molière (1661), there is an interesting Piquet hand described by Alcippe, one of the players. In 1646 a Ballet du Jeu de Piquet was produced, in which the dancers were ranged according to their colours, the blacks opposite to the reds and both sides headed by the court cards. This ballet became a great favourite and was often produced, as it interested the audiences, who appreciated the various movements of the dance that reproduced and corresponded with the play of the game.

English and French plays frequently refer to the card games of their day, and Piquet is often mentioned. In the Epilogue to “Sir Harry Wildair” (1701) is the following:

Vat have you got of grand plasir in dis town?
’Tis said Vidont is come from France, dat vil go down.
Piquet, Basset, your vin, your dress, your dance,
’Tis all you see tout a la mode de France.

John Hall was one of the early writers in England who referred to Piquet, originally called Cent in that country. He says, in 1646, “a man’s fancy (or character) would be summed up at Cribbage; Gleek requires a vigilant memory, Mawe a pregnant agility, Picket a various invention, Primero a dexterous kind of rashness.”

Early Italian Tarots
Pip Cards of the Money Suit


In 1659 a curious pamphlet was published called “Shuffling, Cutting, and Dealing in a Game at Pickquet,” a political squib which used the terms of the game to describe the politicians.

Hamlet says: “How absolute the Knave is. We must speak by the card or equivocation will undo us. By the Lord, Horatio, these three years I have taken notice of it, the age is grown so picked (piqued).”

As the French cards, with the game of Piquet for which they were invented, were introduced into England in the time of Edward IV, it is possible that Hamlet used a familiar term when he declared the age was picked, as this is an expression frequently used in the game.

It is generally supposed that Euchre is a variant of the French game Ecarté, the name of which is taken from one of the rules, meaning “to put away or discard.” In the United States, Euchre was adopted about 1840, appearing first in the Middle West. It was for this game that the Joker was reinstated in the pack, a card that at first was a blank one left imprinted, but its adoption was accomplished very slowly, and it did not change the games or completely dominate the packs until within the last few years.

Others assume that the game had a nautical derivation and was invented by old salts, as the names given to the commanding cards have reference to the forward anchors of a ship.

In the year 1870 the first celebrated and authentic illustrated history of the game of Euchre was published by Bret Harte:

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand;
It was Euchre, and the same
He did not understand;
But he smiled as he sat by the table
With a smile that was childlike and bland.

The verses continue describing the game, in which all cheated, and its disastrous termination, “When we went for that Heathen Chinee,” is too well known to require repetition.

In early editions of “The American Hoyle,” as the book is called which is the acknowledged authority on card games in this country, the history of Euchre is given tentatively, but the account is rejected by later editions, or, at least, not republished. Although the compilers of these later editions evidently did not value, or perhaps credit, the history given by their predecessors, it may well be quoted, since no other has been advanced. The edition of 1864 says:

“The origin of this fascinating game is somewhat uncertain. From the fact that the word Bauer (a peasant) is pronounced similarly to the names of the leading cards of the game, some have supposed it to be a German invention, yet the game is unknown in Germany except in those parts where it was introduced by wandering Americans.” Nor do the German pips and cards lend themselves to the chief features of the game, particularly since they have no Joker, which is the most important card in Euchre.

In speaking of this game, Hoyle writes as follows: “As it has been traced to the counties of Bucks, Lancaster, and Lehigh, in the State of Pennsylvania, where it first made its appearance about forty years ago, it is not difficult to conjecture how it arose. Some rich farmer’s daughter of those American Teutonic regions had occasion to visit Philadelphia, and carried back to her home a confused memory of Ecarté. From her dim account one of her ingenious rustic beaux created the rudiments of the original game of Euchre, which it is claimed is a corruption of Ecarté, which by alterations and additions grew to what it is. Conjectural as this is, a number of corroborative facts seem to indicate that it is the fact.”

So far “according to Hoyle,” but any one who has studied games and their sequences may also suppose that among the descendants of the Prince of Hesse’s soldiers who were left after the war with England to spend the remainder of their lives in exile, the old games common in their country were remembered, and a game was evolved that suited the cards with the French pips, which were the only ones obtainable in this country, even although they differed from those of the Fatherland. Euchre resembles Gleek or Glück, a game well known in Germany, so the tradition of the farmer’s daughter, although ingenious, is probably without foundation.

Many of the terms used in Euchre and Nonsuch Euchre are probably derived from the dialect spoken by German immigrants and their children. The name Bower is the American-German word signifying “youngster,” which may well describe “the Knave child,” as it was at one time called in England. This word was naturally bestowed by Pennsylvania Germans on the card, for they still speak a patois peculiarly their own and clearly derived from their ancestors. It was probably they who gave this name to the Knave, and it is retained for the aforementioned game, where certain Knaves have a particular value.

The word Euchre seems likely to have been derived from the shout of exultation usual when playing certain games of cards in Germany, although the evil tendencies of the imp who presides over the spelling of English words has altered the original word Juch to the peculiarly unmeaning one of Euchre.

Juch pronounced Yuch, is a cry of exhultation. There is not only a verb to cry out, Juch, but a somewhat unusually constructed noun made from that verb, which is Jucheier; whereas Jucher would be the normally constructed noun made from that verb. Therefore, it seems quite natural to assume that Jucher, describing a player shouting with exultation when winning a point, must have been used unconsciously, whether this word is to be found in the dictionary or not, for it is certainly this exclamation that is used as the player throws down the card winning the third trick in Euchre when the opponent has ordered or taken up the trump card or made the suit. The words Keno or Domino are commonly used to declare winning one of those two games, particularly in foreign countries, and since Euchre is evidently derived from alien games, and was introduced by persons speaking a patois of English and German, the name is probably taken from the verb mentioned. Ch is pronounced in German like K, so Jucher has the sound of Euchre. In Grimm’s “Deutsches Woerterbuch,” we find the following definition:

JUCH (interjection).—A loud burst of joy. As example, “The good man dreamed as if he were still at the card club, shouting, ‘Juch, Juch, Grun (the leaf suit in the German cards) is chosen.’”

JUCHEN (verb).—To shout “Juch.”

In the New English Dictionary, commonly called the Oxford Dictionary (1905), we find the following:

EUCHRE or UKER or YUKER.—Of uncertain origin, supposed to be German. As Bower, one of the terms used in this game, is of German origin, it has often been supposed that the word Euchre is also from the German, but no probable source has been found in that language. Can it be that it is the Spanish Yuca, in the sentence “Ser yuca,” given by Cabillero as an American expression for “cock of the walk,” meaning to “get the best of anything”? In 1847 Euchre was common in Mississippi, and is alluded to in various celebrated lawsuits growing out of disputes over the game.

It would seem that the compilers of the English dictionary had not given enough weight to the localisms of Pennsylvania when they could discover only a Spanish derivation for the terms used in Euchre, a game unknown in Spain. The game that apparently started in the western part of that State seems to have travelled down the Ohio and the Mississippi rivers, for the earliest mention of it comes through the boatmen on those great streams.

Poker seems also to be a game evolved by gamesters of the United States from the old Primero, with its ancient derivations, for so many of the rules and expressions common in the modern game may be traced to the fourteenth century. It is played by four or more persons, who bet on the value of their hands, a pair being the lowest and a straight flush being the highest hand, the names of which were inherited and explain themselves. Jack Pot, Widow, and Kitty are some of the cant words used in the game, the derivations of which are evidently from Primero. The first signifies the Pool under certain circumstances. The Widow (or the forsaken, the discarded one) was originally called the Stock, or the cards unused after dealing. The Kitty is the name for the forfeit paid at the end of each game by its winner to the gambling house, that frequently amounted to a considerable sum of money.

In 1908, a variation of Poker was arranged in England, although one writer thinks that it originated in China, but without giving any authority for the statement. The game is called Poker Patience. It can be played by one or more persons, who are supplied with a board on which are twenty-five squares that, when covered with the cards, according to the rules, will count ten poker hands, five horizontally and the other five vertically.

The first card is placed on square No. 13, directly in the middle of the board, and the next card played must touch the first one on one of its eight adjoining squares. The third card should touch either the first one or the second, and so on until the twenty-five squares are covered. The hands are counted exactly as in Poker, a straight flush being the highest, and counting thirty points, while a pair is rewarded with only one point. The flushes are not of much scoring value, being only five points, but they are not difficult to make. This game is easy and interesting when used as a solitaire, but when two or more players are pitted against each other and bent on preventing the score of the opponent, it will be seen that there is a great deal of “play,” for there are so many cards left in the Widow that the game is uncertain until its finish, as a card that is most desirable may never turn up, and, therefore, there is much chance as well as skill in the baby prodigy.

“According to Hoyle” has become a proverb among card players, most of whom could give no more explanation for the term than they could for the origin of Playing Cards, although it trips so readily from the tips of their tongues. But whenever a play at cards is disputed, the justification is that it is “According to Hoyle,” which leads to the query of how and where the sentence originated that is freighted with so much weight and expression. With this cant phrase goes another, that was once frequently on the lips of card players, which condemned an unlucky player or a careless partner to “go to Halifax.”

These proverbs will be explained by a cursory glance backwards over the life story of Edward Hoyle, born in England, in 1672, near the little town of Halifax, in Yorkshire. He was of a good family and was educated for the law, for which his clear, analytical, and logical mind seemed to be particularly adapted. Living in London, he amused himself in the evenings by meeting some friends at what was the precursor of men’s clubs, the Crown Coffee House, in Bedford Row, to play Whist or Triumph, a title that was about that time shortened to Trump, a name that is retained to designate the highest suit elected by the players at the beginning of each hand, either by turning up the last card of the deal or by electing a suit according to the preference of the players. The French retain the old name of Atout for that purpose, although those picture cards have not been used in that country for centuries.

The first mention of Whist under the revised name is in “The Compleate Gamester,” which was published in 1674, and was intended to supply standard rules for the fashionable games of the time. But Cotton’s laws were confusing, and the game was played in various ways in different parts of England, since this standard was not universally accepted, and it is said that Whist was a favourite only in the servants’ hall, so that these unarbitrary rules led to quarrels and sometimes even to bloodshed.

But when Edward Hoyle became interested in the game of Whist, he had for partners or opponents some of the deepest players and most distinguished men about town, and the gamesters gradually adopted regular rules for their own guidance, which usually originated with Hoyle, so the fame of his decisions about disputed points was noised abroad throughout London. This led to his taking pupils at a guinea a lesson, and finally Hoyle wrote out his rules for their benefit, distributing them first in manuscript, but finally publishing them in “A Short Treatise on Whist,” for which he received one thousand guineas. Hoyle’s rules were adopted by the clubs and players throughout England, so, when any dispute arose, his book was consulted, and, instead of the players saying, “It is the wish (or the voice) of the gods,” as had been the original custom when consulting the oracles of Mercury, and continued by card votaries, it became customary to say, “It is according to Hoyle.”

That gentleman lived until 1769, and his rules remained unaltered for over one hundred years. In 1864, however, the Arlington and Portland Clubs, finding that modifications were needed, revised the rules, after which the “Cavendish rules” became the mode, but books on card rules are still issued under the name of Hoyle’s “Games of Cards,” so “According to Hoyle” is still a fashionable saying among the votaries of the card table.


This is taken from Prophetical, Educational and Playing Cards.





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