- Three-Card Loo
- Five-Card Loo
- Loo as a Dealer's Choice Poker Game
- Other Loo Web Pages and Sources of Information
Loo is a trick-taking game using a standard 52-card pack which originated in England and also became popular in America. Although 'Loo' has become the standard spelling, the name of the game, which began as a short form of 'Lanterlu', is sometimes written as 'Lue' or 'Lou'. The earliest known description dates from the 17th century and Loo is included in most general English and American card game manuals until the end of the 19th century. In Britain it was then superseded by Nap and in America it was said to have been displaced by Poker, though in fact Loo survives there to the present day as an option in some home Poker games.
Loo is played with either three-card or five-card hands. From the literature it seems that five-card Loo was the more popular game in the 18th century, but by the late 19th century three-card Loo was preferred. Players can opt to play with the cards they are dealt, or try to improve their hand by drawing cards or exchanging with a dummy hand, or to drop out to avoid the penalty for taking no tricks. At the end of the play, the contents of the pool are divided between the players in proportion to the number of tricks taken, and any player who stayed in but took no tricks at all is 'looed', meaning that they have to pay an amount to the pool which may be fixed (in 'Limited Loo') or equal to what it contains (in 'Unlimited Loo').
It is clear from the variety of published descriptions that there were numerous variants of Loo, both in the management of the stakes and in the rules for playing the cards. On this page we first describe what seems to have become the standard version of three-card limited Loo by the end of the 19th century and list some of the variations. There follows a description of five-card Loo as played in America in the early 19th century, and then a modern version of five-card Loo played as an option in Dealer's Choice Poker.
Players and Equipment
The game is said to be best for from 5 to 8 players, but it is possible for a smaller or greater number to play by the same rules.
A standard international 52-card pack is used, the cards in each suit ranking from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2.
A supply of chips is needed. Traditionally these are red and while, each red chip being equal in value to three white chips. The value of the chips is agreed in advance. One player is appointed as the banker, who sells chips to the players at the start and during the game as required, and buys them back at the end of the game. It is recommended that each player begins the game by buying the equivalent of 20 red chips.
Deal and play are clockwise and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. The first dealer can be chosen by any convenient random method, for example by dealing single cards face up around the table until a Jack appears.
Deal and Announcements
Before dealing, the dealer must always place three red chips in the pool. If the pool was previously empty, it is now a simple pool containing just three red chips. If it already contained chips from the previous deal, the dealer adds three red chips to it and it is now a double pool. Any player may shuffle the cards, the dealer having the right to shuffle last, after which the player to dealer's right cuts the cards. The deal and play differ slightly depending whether the pool is simple or double.
The dealer deals the cards one at a time until each player has a hand of three cards. When there is a simple pool the trump suit is initially unknown and players have no opportunity to drop out.
The player to dealer's left leads any card to the first trick, and the other players in turn must follow suit if they can, and if possible must beat the highest card so far played to the trick. If everyone follows suit the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and the winner of the trick leads to the next.
If a player is unable to follow suit they may play any card, and after everyone has played to the trick the dealer turns up the top card of the stack of undealt cards. The suit of this turned up card becomes trumps, and if any card of the trump suit was played, the highest trump wins the trick. If no trumps were played the highest card of the suit led wins it.
After a trump card has been turned up, the rules of play change slightly. The winner of the previous trick must lead a trump if possible. Players must still follow suit and subject to this rule must beat the highest card so far played to the trick if they can. If a non-trump is led, a player who is unable to follow suit must play a trump that is high enough to beat any trumps already played to the trick if they can. If they cannot follow suit and have no trump high enough to head the trick they may play any card. As before the trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if none were played the highest card of the suit that was led, and the winner leads to the next trick, leading a trump if possible.
Traditionally the winner of the trick does not gather up the cards as in most other trick-taking games. Players play their cards face up in front of themselves, where they remain until the end of the play.
When all three tricks have been played, players take one third of the pool (one red chip) for each trick they have won. Players who did not win any tricks are 'looed' and must each pay three red chips to the next pool. The next dealer will add three more red chips to these creating a 'double pool'.
As well as a three-card hand for each player, an additional three-card hand, sometimes known as the miss or widow or dumby, is dealt immediately to dealer's left. The cards are dealt one at a time and the second to last card in each round to the miss. When everyone has been dealt a hand, the dealer places the next card of the pack face up on the table to indicate the trump suit. The remainder of the pack is stacked face down and not used until the next deal.
Now beginning with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise each player picks up their hand, looks at it and announces what they wish to do. (It is illegal to look at your cards before it is your turn to act). There are three options.
- Stand. The player keeps their three cards and plays them.
- Pass. The player throws in their cards and does not take part in the play. A player who passes cannot win any part of the pool on this deal, but does not risk having to pay anything to the pool.
- Take the miss. The player throws in their original hand face down and takes the unseen spare hand in its place. A player who takes the miss cannot drop out - they must play with these cards no matter how good or bad they are.
There are a few special cases.
- If everyone passes except the dealer, then the dealer can simply collect the pool without playing the cards - the dealer wins all three tricks by default. The next player creates a new simple pool of three red chips and deals a new hand.
- If one player other than the dealer stands and all the others pass then the dealer is not allowed to pass but can either stand or take the miss in the normal way. If not wishing to risk either of these the dealer must defend the pool. A dealer who defends the pool plays with the miss (the dealer's original cards are thrown in), but neither collects not loses any chips irrespective of the number of tricks taken. Any payment for tricks won by the dealer remains in the pool.
- If just one player other than the dealer takes the miss and the others all pass, then the dealer can either play with their own cards, or pass and give the whole pool to the player who took the miss. There is no option for the dealer to 'defend the pool' without risk in this case.
The player to dealer's left, or if this player has passed the next player in clockwise order who has not passed leads to the first trick and as usual the winner of each trick leads to the next.
With a double pool the trump suit is known from the start, and in each trick the player who has the lead must lead a trump if they have one. Moreover if they have the Ace of trumps, or if they have the King of trumps when the Ace was turned up, they must lead this top trump. Players must follow suit, and subject to that restriction they must beat the highest card so far played to the trick if they can. That includes playing a trump if they are unable to follow suit, unless the trick has already been trumped and the player has no trump high enough to overtake the highest trump so far played.
At the end of the play, each player takes one third of the contents of the pool for each trick they have won. Any player who played and took no tricks is looed and pays three red chips into the pool for the next deal.
In the case where the dealer 'defends the pool' the other player takes one third of the pool for each trick won, and the rest of the pool remains for the next deal, which will again be double. At this point it is usual to exchage each red chip remaining in the pool for three white chips, so that the new pool can easily be divided into three equal parts. If the dealer defends the pool and takes no tricks, the other player takes the whole pool but the dealer has nothing to pay and the next pool will be a simple pool. If the dealer defends the pool and takes all three tricks, the whole pool remains, the other player is looed and pays three red chips to it, and the next dealer's three red chips are added to that.
Note. The only purpose of the white chips is to enable the pool to be divided into three equal parts, even after a hand in which a player is not entitled to remove chips from the pool for a trick that they won. This can happen when the dealer defends the pool, or as a result of the penalty for a breaking the rules of play (by revoking , playing out of turn, etc.) in which case the offender is looed and cannot win anything from the pool. If such events happen in successive deals it can happen that the amount left in the pool includes one or two odd white chips and the pool for the next hand cannot be exactly divided by three. These odd white chips remain in the pool until a player wins the entire pool.
- Unlimited Loo
- The game described above is known as 'Limited Loo' because the cost of being looed is always to pay just three red chips to the pool. In 'Unlimited Loo' a player who is looed must match the pool - that is, pay into the new pool an amount equal to the whole of the old pool. With this rule the size of the pool can increase rapidly, turning Loo into a dangerous gambling game in which even starting with apparently small stakes the pot can build over a few deals to an unaffordable sum.
- Mixed Loo
- This is a compromise between Limited and Unlimited Loo. A player who is looed matches the pot subject to an a agreed limit - say 30 red chips. When the pool contains more than 30 red chips the cost of being looed is just 30.
- Club Law
- Some played that when a club was turned for trumps in a double pool, the miss was shuffled back into the deck and all players were forced to stand.
- A 'flush' in this game is a hand of three trumps. After all players have declared whether they will play or not, a player who holds a flush declares it and automatically wins the whole pool. Any other players who decided to play are looed (even if they could in principle have won a trick). If two or more players have flushes, the flush that is first in clockwise order beginning at dealer's left wins the pool, irrespective of the ranks of the cards in the flushes. Other flush holders are not looed in this case - they neither pay nor receive any chips. Any players without flushes who chose to play are looed as usual.
- Trump Leads
- Some play that if a player whose turn it is to lead holds more than one trump, they must lead their highest trump.
- Irish Loo
- In this variant there is no distinction between single and double pools and no miss, but players can replace some or all of their cards by drawing new ones. The dealer adds three red chips to the pool, deals three cards to each player and turns up a card to indicate the trump suit. Players declare in turn, beginning to dealer's left, whether they will play or drop out. The dealer then asks those who decided to play, in the same order, how many cards they would like to exchange. Each of them in turn may either play with their original cards or discard 1, 2 or all 3 of their cards face down, in which case the dealer gives them an equal number of replacement cards from the deck. Anyone who discards and draws cards must play - it is not possible to drop out after discarding and drawing. The play and payments then continue as described above for a double pool.
- Initial Trump and Miss with Simple Pool
- Some play that the deal when there is a simple pool is the same as with a double pool - an extra hand (the 'miss' or 'dumby') is dealt and a card is turned for trump immediately after the deal. As usual in a simple pool no one is allowed to pass, but in this version the player to dealer's left (and only this player) has the option either to play with the cards they were originally dealt or to exchange them for the miss (dumby) hand. The cards are then played under the same rules as for a double pool.
- Undivided Loo
- The game and variants described above are all versions of what is sometimes called Division Loo, because the pool is divided between the players in proportion to the tricks they win. In Undivided Loo the pool is never divided and is only won by a player who wins all three tricks: otherwise it remains in place, and the payments of players who are looed and of the next dealer are added to it. The cost of a loo in this game is usually set at twice the amount added to the pool by the dealer for each deal.
Players and Equipment
Five-card Loo is a game for 4 to 7 players, said to be best for 5 or 6.
It is played with a standard international 52-card pack, and as in three-card Loo the cards of each suit rank from highest to lowest A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 with one exception. The Jack of clubs, known in this game as Pam, is the highest card in the deck, beating all other cards including trumps.
A supply of chips is needed. One player acts as banker, who sells chips to the players at the start and during the game as required, and buys them back at the end of the game. It is recommended that each player begins the game by buying the equivalent of 50 chips.
Deal and play are clockwise.
Deal, Announcements and Card Exchange
The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random method - for example each player draws a card from the shuffled deck and the lowest deals. The turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.
Before dealing the dealer must always place 5 chips in the pool, adding them to any chips remaining from the previous deal. The dealer then shuffles, the player to dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals a hand of five cards to each player. The cards may be dealt one at a time, or a batch of two each followed by a batch of three each, or by any other fair method the dealer prefers provided that each player in rotation receives the same number of cards in each round of the deal. The dealer then places the next card face up on the table to indicate the trump suit.
Each player in turn starting with the player to dealer's left now announces whether they will stand or pass. A player who stands must take part in the play and is looed unless they take at least one trick. A player who passes throws in their cards face down, takes no part in the play, cannot win any part of the pot and cannot be looed. If only one player stood there is no play and that player takes the whole pool.
If more than one player stood, the dealer asks the players who stood in clockwise order, starting with the nearest to dealer's left, how many cards they wish to exchange. A player who stood may exchange 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 or all 5 of their cards. They discard that number of cards face down and the dealer gives them an equal number of new cards from the top of the undealt part of the pack. The trump indicator card belongs to the dealer. If the dealer stood then at their turn they pick up the trump, discard at least one card, and draw one card fewer than they discarded so as to have a hand of five cards to play.
With 7 or even 6 players it is theoretically possible to run out of replacement cards, though this will not happen unless the players are particularly reckless. If the deck does run out, the dealer shuffles the discards and uses these to replenish the hands of any remaining players. There is no second exchange and no opportunity for a player to drop out after exchanging, however bad the new cards they receive.
A flush is a hand of five cards of the same suit, or four cards of the same suit plus the Pam. After all players who stood have had their opportunity to exchange cards, any player who stood and now holds a flush declares it. If more than one player has a flush, a flush containing Pam is best, followed by a flush of five trumps, followed by a five-card flush in any other suit. The rank of the cards in a trump or suit flush is irrelevant: if two players have a trump flush or two players have a suit flush, the one which is earlier in clockwise order beginning to dealer's left is better.
If anyone has a flush the cards are not played. The player with the best flush takes the whole pool and all players who stood but do not have flushes are looed: they must each pay five chips to the pool. A player whose flush is beaten by a better flush neither wins nor pays anything.
Play of the Cards
If there was no flush, the player to dealer's left, or if this player passed the next player in clockwise order who did not pass, leads to the first trick and must if possible lead a trump. Players must follow suit if they can. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next and may lead any card.
Pam (the J) always wins the trick to which it is played. Pam is exempt from the rule of following suit and may be played to any trick, whatever was led irrespective of what other cards the player holds, with one exception. A player who leads the Ace of trumps may announce 'Pam, be civil!' in which case the player who holds Pam must not play it to that trick. If Pam is led, the other players must play trumps if they can.
Note that in five-card Loo (unlike three-card Loo), players are not normally required to lead trumps (other than to the first trick) nor to overtake the highest card in the trick (but see Variations below).
When all five tricks have been played, the pool is shared between the players who have taken at least one trick, each of them taking one fifth of the pool for each trick they won. Any player who stood but won no tricks is looed and must pay five chips into the pool for the next deal.
Note. Descriptions of this game quite often specify that there should be two denominations of chip, each red chip being equivalent to five white chips. In that case the dealer pays 5 red chips to the pool before dealing and a player who is looed pays 5 red chips to the pool. In regular play the number of red chips in the pool will always be divsible by 5. The white chips have no use unless an irregularity occurs in which the offender is not allowed to collect chips from the pool for any tricks that they won. In that case the unclaimed red chips are changed for 5 white each so that the pool can be divided evenly according to tricks won in the next deal.
- Limited, Unlimited or Mixed
- Like three-card Loo, the five-card game can be Limited, Unlimited or Mixed. The above description is of the Limited game in which a player who is looed pays 5 chips to the pool. In the Unlimited game, a player who is looed must pay an amount equal to the whole pool that was being played for, which can cause the pool to grow at an alarming rate if players are looed in several consecutive deals, reaching an unaffordable size even if the initial stakes are small. Therefore it is more prudent to play Mixed Loo in which there is a limit - say 25 chips - on the amount to be paid to the pool. A player who is looed pays the amount of the whole pool or the limit, whichever is smaller.
- Indicator card does not belong to dealer
- Many play that the card turned up to indicate the trump suit does not belong to the dealer. The dealer, like the other players, discards 0-5 cards and draws an equal number of new cards in exchange.
- A blaze is a hand of 5 picture cards (any combination of Kings, Queens and Jacks), which in America was often recognised as a winning hand and treated similarly to a flush. If it includes the J it is a 'Pam blaze' and beats any flush. If not it ranks below a suit flush.
- Lead and play restrictions
- Some played that it was always compulsory to lead a trump is any were held. Some late 19th century descriptions give the same rules of play as in three-card Loo, requiring players always to beat the highest card so far played to the trick when possible, including playing a trump when holding no card of the suit led.
- Rules for playing Pam
- Published descriptions of Loo give a variety of different rules for playing Pam, treating it to a greater or lesser extent as a card of the trump suit. All agree that when Pam is led the other players must play trumps. Some also require Pam to be played on a trump lead if no other trumps are held, even to the extent of disobeying the announcement 'Pam be civil' when Pam is the only trump held. Some imply, even if they do not explicitly state, that Pam cannot be played on a lead of a non-trump suit unless the holder has no card of that suit.
- Pam be Civil
- The use of the 'Pam be Civil' announcement changed over time. In earlier descriptions it is a 'request' and the holder of Pam was 'expected' not to play Pam on the Ace of trumps if asked not to. Later this was hardened to a rule that the holder of Pam, when asked to be civil, was not allowed to play it on the Ace of trumps, often with an exception when no other trumps were held. Towards the end of the 19th century the announcement was dropped altogether as redundant, since it was always made, and the rule was simply that when the Ace of trumps was led Pam could not be played unless it was the player's only trump.
An interesting explanation of the early rule, where Pam is requested to be civil but not obliged to comply, is given in Hoyle's Improved Edition (Borradaile, New York, 1830). In this version the request 'Pam be civil' is only permitted when the player leading the high trump has another certain trick - for example when leading the Ace of trumps and also holding the King, or also later in the game when leading the King of trumps from King-Queen after the Ace has been played. It is part of the tactic of 'playing for the good of the loo', whereby a player who is 'safe' (having a sure trick) should aim to build a large pool for the next deal by looing as many opponents as possible. So the player who leads the Ace from Ace-King of trumps says 'Pam be civil' to inform the holder of Pam that it is not worth winning this trick, since the leader of the Ace of trumps is already safe, and that it would be better to save the Pam to win some other trick, hopefully increasing the chance of looing a third player. The holder of Pam should normally be happy to comply with the request. Note that in this relatively early version of the game the holder of Pam need not play it on a trump lead, even if holding no other trump.
- Running Pam
- This is a variant in which Pam is the Jack of the suit that is turned for trumps, rather than the Jack of clubs,
Loo as a Dealer's Choice Poker Game
From the card game literature it might appear that Loo died out at the beginning of the 20th century, but it turns out that it survives in some places as one of the games allowed in Dealer's Choice Poker, where it provides an option similar to Bourré (or Booray). As one might expect, the rules have evolved somewhat over the last hundred years. The following description is based on an option in Arthur Budericks' Dealer's Choice Poker rules, where the name is spelled 'Lou' (as in the short form of the given name Louis, Lewis or Louise).
This is a version of 5-card Loo, but with no Pam and no Flush or Blaze. The cards rank from high to low A-K-Q-K-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 in all suits. Standing is a commitment to win at least two tricks - anyone who stands and wins only one trick or none is 'burned' and has to match the pot. When the dealer chooses this game, a series of hands of it is played, the turn to deal passing to the left after each hand, and continues until a player stands and wins the whole pot without play, all the other players having folded. The turn to deal then passes to the next player after the one who named Lou as the game to be played. When choosing this game the dealer should specify whether it will be played with or without card exchange.
Deal and Declarations
For the first deal only, the dealer antes $1, and then all players including the dealer add $5 to the pot. For subsequent deals nothing is added to the pot: it just consists of the amounts paid by the players who were burned in the previous deal. The system of payments in this version ensures that if more than one player stands, at least one player must be burned.
The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's right cuts, and the dealer deals the cards out one at a time until everyone has a hand of 5 cards. The next card is placed face up to indicate the trump suit. (Some players prefer to have the player to dealer's left to cut the undealt portion of the pack before turning up the top card for trumps).
In the first deal everyone is forced to stand (play).
In the second and subsequent deals, all players look at their cards and decide whether to stand (take part in their play) or fold (drop out of the play). According to their decision each playe holds one coin to fold or or two coins to stand in a closed fist. When everyone is ready all decisions are revealed simultaneously. Players who folded throw their cards face down into a discard heap, take no part in the play, and neither win anything from nor pay anything to the pot for this deal.
- If everyone folds the pot remains in play, and the cards are shuffled and redealt by the same dealer.
- If only one player stands and all the others fold the dealer takes the whole pot, ending the game.
- If two or more players stand, these players have the opportunity to exchange some cards (if specified by the dealer when choosing the game) and then the cards are played out in tricks.
Card Exchange and Play
If exchange is allowed each player who stood, in clockwise order from dealer's left, discards 0, 1, 2 or 3 cards face down and is dealt an equal number of replacement cards from the stack of undealt cards. [Note. If there are more than 6 players at the table, then it is quite likely that in the first deal, when it is compulsory to stand, there will not be enough cards left in the deck to deal replacements. Therefore I recommend that when 7 play, players are limited to discarding at most 2 cards in the first deal. If there are 8 players, which is really too many for this game, the first deal should be played with no exchange. JM]
The first player in clockwise order from dealer's left leads any card to the first trick. Players in clockwsie order must follow suit if possible. A player who has no card of the suit that was led may play any card - either a trump or a card of a different non-trump suit. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains to trump by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads any card to the next trick.
In this version of Loo there is no requirement to lead a trump or to overtake cards previously played to the trick.
In all deals, a player who wins three or more tricks takes the whole of the pot.
In all deals a player who stood but wins no tricks or just one trick is burned and has to match the pot - that is pay an amount equal to what was in it at the start of play. These payments form the pot for the next deal. The payment for being burned is subject to a maximum which should be agreed in advance, for example $50. If the pot contains more than $50 then anyone who is burned will just contribute $50 to the next pot.
In the first deal, when standing is compulsory, if no player takes three tricks then the pot is won by the player(s) who won two tricks (shared equally if there are two of them). If one player wins three tricks and another wins two, then the player with two tricks wins nothing fron the pot but is not burned. If five players take one trick each them everyone is burned.
In the second and subsequent deals, when standing is voluntary, if no one wins as many as three tricks the pot remains for the next deal, and the payments of any players who were burned are added to it. A player who wins two tricks wins nothing from the pot but is not burned except in the case where only two players stood. When just two players stand, the player who takes three or more tricks wins the pot and the other player is burned and provides the pot for the next deal (subject to the agreed maximum).
If a player reneges (fails to follow suit when able to do so) they are immediately burned. The cards are thrown in, shuffled and redealt by the same dealer, omitting the offender who must sit out of the hand.
Other Loo Web Pages
David Parlett's Loo page has information on the history of Loo and rules for the British 3-card and 5-card versions.