Snitch'ems

This page is based on a contribution from Robert Reid.

Introduction

Snitch'ems (also known as Snitcham) is an English fishing game described in an anonymous submission to The Sporting Magazine for December 1797 and is recorded as having been played in the Sheffield area. It has similarities to Casino, though the modes of capture are different. The game's objective is simply to win the majority of cards with no other scoring features, which Franco Pratesi considers 'the distinctive character of ancient games of [the fishing] family'.

Players and Cards

The rules in the source are for two players and that is the form described here. However, four could easily play and three could be accommodated by increasing the initial layout (see below) to seven cards.

A standard pack of fifty-two cards is used.

Objective

This, to quote the source, is 'to make either eights, tens, pairs or pair-royals [prials: sets of 3 or 4 equal cards]' by matching a card in hand to those in a layout in order to win the majority of cards. For this purpose cards from 1-10 have their normal numerical value (ace counting as 1, not 11). Face cards have no numerical value.

Deal

Deal three cards face down to your opponent and to yourself, and four face up to form a layout on the table. After you have both played your three cards, deal another hand of three each from the cards remaining in the pack – but no more are dealt to the table after the first deal. When these cards have been played there is another deal, and this continues until all fifty-two cards have been dealt (which takes eight deals). After the last cards have been played the deal passes to your opponent for the next round.

Play

Non-dealer plays first, and the players take alternate turns.

At your turn you must play one card from hand face up on the table. This card may or may not capture one or more cards from the table.

In the case of a capture, when your opponent has had an opportunity to see the capturing card, you pick it up together with the captured card(s) and stores them all face down in a pile. If there is no capture the played card remains face up on the table. Irrespective of whether a capture was made or not, the turn now passes to the other player who repeats the same process.

It may sometimes happen that a player captures all the cards on the table. In this case the player's opponent simply plays a single card to the table and the game proceeds as above.

If you can make a capture on your turn you must do so. Thus if you play a card and leave it on the table it means that you are unable to make a capture with this or any other card you hold. However if you can make more than one capture on your turn (which frequently happens) you are free to choose which (see Choice of capture below).

Capturing

The options for capture are as follows:

1. Capture by pairing
If you hold a card of the same rank as a card (or cards) on the table you can capture it (them). Thus a 4 from hand captures a 4 (or 4s). Any card can be captured by pairing. Face cards (king, queen, jack) can only be captured by pairing. Because of the rule about compulsory capture (see above) you will only find pairs and prials on the table if they were dealt in the initial layout
2. Capture by making eights and tens
If you play a card from your hand which will make either eight or ten when added to a card (or cards) on the table you capture that card (or cards). Thus if there is a 7 on the table, and you have an ace in hand, you play your ace to the table and place both cards on your pile of captured cards (1+7=eight). If instead there were a 3 and 4 on the table and again you played an ace you would capture three cards (1+3+4=eight). The same principle applies to capture by making ten: for instance a 4 from hand with ace, 2 and 3 on the table could capture four cards (4+1+2+3=ten). Since face cards have no numerical value they cannot participate in making eights and tens.
3. Capture by pairing 8s and 10s
In this form of capture you pair an 8 or 10 on the table with the aggregate eight or ten that you have made by playing a card from hand, capturing all the cards involved. Thus if there are a 7 and an 8 on the table, and you have an ace in hand, you can play your ace to make a total of eight (1+7=eight) and this entitles you to lift the 8 along with the 7 and ace. If ace, 5 and 10 were on the table, and you played a 4 from hand, you would make a total of ten (4+1+5=ten) and you would be entitled to lift the 10 along with the other three cards. Another example: if two 10s have been dealt in the initial layout, so that there are 2, 7, 10, 10 on the table, and you play an ace, you will make ten with the 2 and 7 (1+2+7=ten) and can additionally lift both the 10s since they form a prial with the aggregate ten.

Choice of capture

Only one capture can be made in a single turn. For instance if you hold a 2 and there are a 6 and 8 on the table you must choose whether to make eight or ten. In this case if you make ten (2+8) you capture two cards; if you make eight (2+6) you capture three cards because you can also take up the 8. In the above example if there were two 2s on the table as well as 6 and 8, you could capture three cards with your 2 by pairing (2+2+2) or three cards by making ten (2+2+6=ten) or three cards by making eight (2+6=eight plus the 8). You would have to decide which of these would be the most advantageous in terms of reducing your opponent's chances on his/her next turn.

End of the Game

Any cards that are left on the table at the end of the game are taken up by the player who made the last capture.

The player who has captured the majority of cards wins the game.

Uncertainties

It is not completely clear from the Sporting Magazine description whether capturing method 2 is really allowed. Examples are only given of cases where there is an 8 or 10 on the table which is taken along with a set of cards totalling one of these numbers (method 3). However, the text does seem to imply that method 2 is also allowed, where the played card completes a set adding up to 8 or 10 and the set is captured without an actual 8 or 10 being present. Robert Reid has tried the game both ways and reports that without capturing method 2 it loses much of its interest.

Sources

'The Game of Snitch'ems', The Sporting Magazine, December, 1797, pp. 150-2.

'Snitcham', in Sidney Oldall Addy, ed., A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Sheffield, Trubner and Co., London, 1888, p. 236.

'Snitcham', in Joseph Wright, ed., The English Dialect Dictionary, V, Henry Frowde, Oxford, 1904, p. 586.

[Wright's entry is based on Addy's. Both liken the game to Casino. Addy's source is an unpublished glossary by the Sheffield antiquarian Joseph Hunter (1783-1861). The name may derive from the dialect word 'snitch' in the sense of to steal/pilfer (reflecting the game's mode of capture). Wright (p.586) gives a Lancashire usage for this word.]

Franco Pratesi, 'Casino from Nowhere to Vaguely Everywhere', The Playing Card, XXIV, 1, July/August, 1995, pp. 6-11.