Humbug

Introduction

This 18th century game is about the simplest two-player adaptation of Whist that can be imagined. An account published in London in the September 1793 edition of The Sporting Magazine was drawn to my attention by Ivan Derzhanski - here is the original. Since both players know each other's cards at the outset, the experience is more like a puzzle and a test of memory than a normal card game. Probably that is why card players came to prefer other two-player adaptations such as German Whist in which the players do not begin with complete information.

Players, Cards and Deal

This game is for two players, using a standard Anglo-American 52-card pack. The cards in each suit rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.

The dealer is chosen by drawing cards from the shuffled deck: the player who draws the lower card is the dealer. The dealer shuffles again, the non-dealer cuts, and the dealer deals all the cards one at a time, turning the last card face up. The suit of this card, which belongs to the dealer, is the trump suit for the hand.

The players look at their cards, and since they know that the opponent has all the other cards, there is no harm in laying all one's cards face up on the table, organised into suits, for a better overview.

The Play

The aim is to win tricks. Each trick consists of two cards, one played by each player. The first player plays any card and the second player must play a card of the same suit if possible. In this case the higher card wins the trick. If the second player has no card of that suit, he or she may play any card. When the two cards are of different suits the first player wins unless one of the cards is a trump, in which case the trump wins.

The non-dealer leads (plays the first card) to the first trick. The winner of each trick takes the two cards, stores them face down, and then leads (plays the first card) to the next trick.

Players are not allowed to look at the cards in completed tricks, neither their own nor their opponent's. After the first few tricks players normally pick up their own cards and hold them so that the opponent cannot see them. So in order to know what cards one's opponent still holds, it is necessary to remember which cards have been played.

A revoke occurs if the second player to a trick illegally plays a card of a different suit, even though a card of the same suit was held. The penalty is that the offender must transfer three tricks to the other player.

When all the cards have been played, the player who won more tricks wins in proportion to the difference in tricks between the players - for example 8 units if the winner has 17 tricks and the loser 9. It is clear from the article in The Sporting Magazine that the game was usually played for money, and for quite high stakes, each deal being a separate event. It would of course be possible instead just to keep a score on paper and add up the scores for a series of deals.