Put

Introduction

Put was played in England from the sixteenth to the nineteenth century, but probably died out in the twentieth. It is closely related to the group of games game known as Truc (also Tru, Trut, Truque, etc.) that are still much played in parts of Southern France and Spain and more distantly to the popular South American game Truco.

The description of the 17th century game below is based on information in The Compleat Gamester, by Charles Cotton (London, 1674) and in Francis Willughby's Book of Games (1660-72). The section on the 19th century game was contributed by Robert Reid, relying on two 19th century sources.

Put in the seventeenth century

This was a game for two players using a full 52 card pack ranking from high to low 3, 2, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4. Suits are irrelevant in this game. The dealer dealt three cards to each player one at a time.

Three tricks were then played. The non-dealer led first, and the dealer responded by playing any card. The higher card won the trick, the winner of the first trick led to the second, and the winner of the second trick led to the third. If the two players played equal cards to a trick, that trick was tied and the player who played first to the tied trick led again. The player who took two tricks, or one trick when both the others were tied, won the hand, and scored one point. If the players won one trick each and the other trick was tied, the hand was a draw and no points were scored - this was called "trick and tie". The hand was also tied without score if all three tricks were tied. The game was won by the first player to reach five points.

The only form of betting was the put. If a player said "I put", the opponent had the choice of throwing in the cards, in which case the putter scored a point, or "seeing", in which case the hand was played out and the winner would win the whole game.

Cotton's brief description only mentions that the non-dealer was allowed to put before leading to the first trick, but it is clear from Willughby that either player may put before leading or playing to any trick.

Put could be played by three or more people, though this was uncommon. Willughby says that in this case they must each be dealt one more card than there are players, to ensure that at least one player will win two tricks (provided that no tricks are tied). If any player puts, the others must decide in turn whether to "see" or throw in their cards. If all throw in the putter wins one point, but if anyone sees, the hand is played out between the putter and the players who see, and the winner is paid only by those who played, the ones who threw in their cards paying nothing. If there is a tie for winner, presumably that deal is cancelled and there is a new deal, all players keeping their current scores.

Put was an extremely disreputable game in the 17th century. Cotton calls it "the ordinary rooking game of every place" and devotes much of his chapter on it to describing various common methods of cheating by marking the cards, introducing cards from another pack, and so on. He also explains "The High Game", in which the cards were stacked so as to deal the victim a three and two twos while the dealer dealt himself a two and two threes. The non-dealer would put, and perhaps agree some extra wager on the game, which the dealer would then see and win. Cotton remarks that you cannot get away with this more than once against the same player!

Put in the nineteenth century

Put survived into the nineteenth century and in contemporary sources the rules allowed the first trick to be played without obligation to play out the rest. The following is a synthesis of rules from Hoyle’s Games Improved (London, 1800, pp. 306-7) and Enquire within about Everything, Houlston and Sons (London, 1894, first published 1856, sections 101-4).

The play

Three stages of bidding are possible after the cards have been dealt:

  1. Non-dealer has three options: a) to throw in his hand, letting the dealer score one; b) to ‘put’ to the dealer, who can either except the challenge, in which case all the cards are played out, or resign, in which case the non-dealer scores one; c) to play a card.
  2. If the non-dealer has played a card, the dealer now has the same three options: s/he can either a) resign for one point; b) put to the non-dealer, who can either accept or decline, or c) play a card, thus completing the first trick.
  3. If the dealer has played a card, the non-dealer now has the final say, irrespective of whether s/he has won, lost or drawn the trick. However this time the non-dealer has only two options: s/he can either a) resign and let the dealer score one point or b) put to the dealer who, in turn, can either accept and play out the hand or resign and concede one point to the non-dealer. If a put is accepted at this stage, the winner of the first trick will lead to the second. In the case of a drawn first trick, the non-dealer leads (I’m assuming this by analogy with related games: sources don’t make it explicit).

Unless one of them has put, there is obviously no compulsion on either player to concede at stages one and two in preference to simply playing a card and staying in the game (in fact only Hoyle mentions the possibility of conceding voluntarily). Nevertheless conceding in this way can have subtle tactical advantages in a game in which subterfuge and bluff play so large a part. For instance if, as non-dealer, you have a very weak hand and don’t feel like bluffing, it may be preferable to concede before the first trick rather than to lead to it, lose it and then have to throw in anyway. If you occasionally fold early you may lead your opponent to think that you only play on stronger hands, which gives you a bluffing advantage.

Scoring

The scoring system is the same as in Cotton’s version described above: game is five points. A player scores a point each time his opponent folds but, if all the cards are played out in response to a put, the winner scores however many points s/he needs to bring his or her total to five. If the result is a draw play continues from the existing point position. In practice all games are ultimately won by playing the cards out: if A, as non-dealer, stands at two points and B at four, A will have no option but to put, since, if he folds, he will give B the game anyway. Likewise, if A were the dealer, he would have to play out if B challenged him. If both stand at four points the next deal is bound to be a play-out since neither player is in a position to concede a point. This illustrates the importance of getting a points lead on your opponent who will then be increasingly squeezed as the game approaches five.

Four-handed Put

Both sources describe four-handed Put, Enquire Within providing the fuller description:

Each party has a partner, and when three cards are dealt to each, one of the players of the non-dealing team gives his partner his best card, and throws the other two face downwards on the table. At the same time the dealer may give his partner one card, or vice versa. The two players who have received their partners' cards each discard one card and then play the game as at two-handed Put.

Software

Richard Vale has written a Javascript Put game, in which you play 17th century Put against a computer opponent.