A 19th-century Whist marker by the British printing Co. De La Rue.
|Skill(s) required||Tactics, strategy|
|Card rank (highest to lowest)||A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2|
|Playing time||30 min|
|Auction bridge, Contract bridge, Wendellhead, Solo whist, Tarneeb|
Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries.  It derives from the 16th century game of trump or ruff, via Ruff and Honours.  Although the rules are extremely simple, there is enormous scope for scientific play.
Originating in the early 17th century, the now obsolete adjective whist and variant spelling wist (in which the word wistful has its roots), meant quiet, silent, and/or attentive. The adverb wistly is also defined as meaning intently.
In its heyday a large amount of literature about how to play whist was written. Edmond Hoyle wrote an early and definitive textbook, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. It is important to note that this game, called "French ruff" by Charles Cotton, is similar to écarté. English ruff-and-honours, also described by Cotton, is similar to whist. If we admit that ruff and trump are convertible terms, of which there is scarcely a doubt, the game of trump was the precursor of whist. A purely English origin may, therefore, be claimed for trump (not la triomphe). No record is known to exist of the invention of this game, nor of the mode of its growth into ruff-and-honours, and finally into whist.
Early in the 18th century whist was not a fashionable game. The Hon. Daines Harrington (Archaeologia, vol. viii.) says it was the game of the servants' hall. Contemporary writers refer to it in a disparaging way, as being only fit for hunting men and country squires, and not for fine ladies or people of quality. According to Barrington, whist was first played on scientific principles by a party of gentlemen who frequented the Crown Coffee House in Bedford Row, London, about 1728. They laid down the following rules: "Lead from the strong suit; study your partner's hand; and attend to the score." Shortly afterwards, the celebrated Edmond Hoyle published his Short Treatise (1742). It has been conjectured that Hoyle belonged to the Crown Coffee House party. From the time of Hoyle the game continued to increase in public estimation. There is abundant evidence that in the middle of the 18th century whist was regularly played at the coffee houses of London and in fashionable society.
By the late 19th century an elaborate and rigid set of rules detailing the laws of the game, its etiquette and the techniques of play, had been developed that took a large amount of study to master. William Henry Seward, Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, was famous for his enjoyment of whist, often entertaining guests with the game.
Today, whist has largely fallen out of favor in the United States. Whist continues to be played in Britain, often in local tournaments called a "whist drive".
A standard 52 card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Whist is played by four players, who play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. Players cut or draw cards to determine partners, with the two highest playing against the lowest two, who have seating rights. The players then cut for deal. It is strictly against the rules to comment on the cards in any way. One may not comment upon the hand one was dealt nor about one's good fortune or bad fortune. One may not signal to one's partner.
Shuffling and dealing
The cards can be shuffled by any player, though usually the player to dealer's left. The dealer has the right to shuffle last if he wishes. To speed up dealing a second pack can be shuffled by the dealer's partner during the deal and then placed to the right ready for the next hand. The cards are cut by the player on dealer's right before dealing. The dealer deals out all the cards, one at a time, face down, so that each player has thirteen cards. The final card, which belongs to the dealer, is turned face up to indicate which suit is trumps. The turned-up trump remains face up on the table until it is dealer's turn to play to the first trick. The deal advances clockwise.
The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. He may lead any card in his hand. The other players, in clockwise order, each play a card to the trick and must follow suit by playing a card of the suit led if they have one. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card, either discarding or trumping. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump is played, in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of the trick leads the next trick.
Play continues until all thirteen tricks are played, at which point the score is recorded. If no team has enough points to win the game, another hand is played.
Part of the skill involved in the game is one's ability to remember what cards have been played and reason out what cards remain. Therefore, once each trick is played, its cards are turned face down and kept in a stack of four near the player who won the trick. Before the next trick starts, a player may ask to review the cards from the last trick only. Once the lead card is played, however, no previously played cards can be reviewed by anyone.
After all tricks have been played, the side which won more tricks scores 1 point for each trick won in excess of 6. When all four players are experienced, it is unusual for the score for a single hand to be higher than two. A game is over when one team reaches a score of five. There are so-called "Hotel Rules" variations where other numbers are agreed to be played to in advance such as "American" and "Long", where the games are played to seven and nine respectively. The "Long" version is normally combined with "Honors."
In longer variations of the game, those games where the winning score is not the standard 5 points, honours are points that are claimed at the end of each hand. Honours add nothing to the play of a hand. Honours serve only as an element of luck that speeds up games, and they are often omitted these days. Serious players disdain honours because it greatly increases the element of chance. A team that was dealt the top four cards (A,K,Q,J) in the trump suit collect extra points. A team who holds three of the four honours between them claim 2 points, a team who holds all four honours between them claim 4 points. Tricks are scored before honours. Honours points can never be used for the last point of a game. Consider the following example: A game is being played to 9 points. The score is tied at 6. A hand is played and the winner of that hand took seven tricks and claimed honours. That team would receive 1 point for the 7th trick and only 1 point for honours. The score would then be 8 to 6.
- For the opening lead, it is best to lead your strongest suit, which is usually the longest. A singleton may also be a good lead, aiming at trumping in that suit, as one's partner should normally return the suit led.
- 1st hand: It is usual to lead the king from a sequence of honours that includes it, including AK (the lead of an ace therefore denies the king).
- 2nd hand usually plays low, especially with a single honour. However, it is often correct to split honours (play the lower of two touching honours) and to cover a J or 10 when holding Qx and cover a Q when holding the ace.
- 3rd hand usually plays high, though play the lowest of touching honours. The finesse can be a useful technique, especially in trumps where honours cannot be trumped if they are not cashed.
- Discards are usually low cards of an unwanted suit. However, when the opponents are drawing trumps a suit preference signal is given by throwing a low card of one's strongest suit.
Deal: One card at a time is given to each player by the dealer starting with the player on the dealer’s left and proceeding clockwise until the deck is fully distributed.
Dealer: The player who deals the cards for a hand.
Deck: Standard playing-card deck consisting of 52 cards in four suits.
Dummy: In some variations of whist, a hand is turned face up and is played from by the player seated opposite. This allows for whist to be played by three players.
Finesse: The play of a lower honour even though holding a higher one, hoping that the intermediate honour is held by a player who has already played to the trick. To give an example: you hold the ace and queen of hearts. Your right-hand antagonist leads a heart, from which you infer that he holds the king of the same suit and wishes to draw the ace, in order to make his king. You however play the queen, and win the trick; still retaining your ace, ready to win again when he plays his king.
Game: Reaching a total score agreed beforehand to be the score played up to.
Grand Slam: The winning, by one team, of all thirteen tricks in a hand.
Hand: Thirteen tricks. (52 cards in the deck divided by four players equals thirteen cards per player.)
Honors: In some variations of whist, extra points are assigned after a game to a team if they were dealt the ace, king, queen, and jack (knave) of the trump suit.
Lead: The first card played in a trick.
Pack: See Deck.
Rubber: The best of three games.
Small slam: The winning, by one team, of twelve tricks in a hand.
Tenace: A suit holding containing the highest and third-highest of the suit or (the "minor tenace") second- and fourth-highest.
Trick: Four cards played one each by the players.
Trump: The suit chosen by the last-dealt card that will beat all other suits regardless of rank. When two cards are played from the trump suit, the higher card wins the trick.
List of variations
Nowadays there are many other games called whist - the name has become attached to a wide variety of games based on classic whist, but often with some kind of bidding added, for example:
- Bid whist (a partnership game with bidding, played in the USA)
- Blob (a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take and will be 'blobbed in' if wrong. Can be played with four or five players. Six cards each, total number of tricks bid for in each hand cannot add up to six. Person to left of dealer nominates trumps or no trumps and then becomes dealer for next hand.)
- Boston (played in 19th century Europe, favored by Count Rostov in Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace)
- Call-ace whist (in which the bidder chooses his partner by calling an ace; it is the national game of Denmark)
- Catch the Ten (also known as Scotch whist) (uses only half the deck. The 10 is most valuable.)
- Colour whist or kleurwiezen (a Belgian game similar to solo whist, but more elaborate)
- Court piece, also known as Rang, Hokm or Troefcall (an originally South Asian game)
- Diminishing contract whist (a British variant, combining elements of solo whist, bid whist and knock-out whist, players compete individually, not in pairs, and after each hand has been dealt must name the number of tricks to take, scoring one point per trick and a bonus 10 for matching their contract. All 52 cards are dealt for the first hand, 48 for the second, 44 the next and so until a 13th round with just one trick. Trumps are pre-defined for each hand in sequence as: hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades, no trumps, lose all with no trumps - where you lose 10 points per trick taken and some players invariably end up in negative points - hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds. The total number of tricks bid each round cannot match the number of tricks available, so the dealer each hand must bid with this constraint in mind - sometimes this constraint is waived for the final round if players agree in advance. The winner is the player who has accumulated the most points at the end of the final round.)
- Double Sar (also played in south Asia, a variation to Court Piece in which tricks are only captured when the same player wins two tricks in succession. The player then captures all the unclaimed tricks up to that point.)
- Dummy whist (a three-player variant of bid whist)
- German whist (a British two-player adaptation of whist without bidding)
- Hearts (Play of a trick follows whist rules, but the object is not to take tricks. Hearts is included in Windows as Hearts (Windows))
- Israeli whist (another game somewhat related to Oh, Hell, in which one tries to bid the exact number of tricks one will take)
- Jass (pronounced Yass) (a Swiss four-player card game, partners alternatively declare trump)
- Knock-out whist, trumps (UK) or diminishing whist (a game in which a player who wins no trick is eliminated)
- Minnesota whist (in which there are no trumps, and hands can be played to win tricks or to lose tricks - also the very similar game of Norwegian whist)
- Oh, hell (players bid on exactly how many tricks they will take; going too high or too low is penalized)
- Rikiki (a version of Oh, hell played in Hungary)
- Romanian whist (a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take - similar to Oh, Hell)
- Russian whist is a Russian card-game, similar to both bridge and whist also referred to as Vint
- Serbian whist (a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take, and each round players are dealt one card less.)
- Siberian Vint a redecessor and more primitive form of Vint,
- Skruuvi is a Finnish variant of Vint, which became common in Finland while it was a part of Russia
- Solo whist (played in Britain; a game where individuals can bid to win five, nine or thirteen tricks or to lose every trick)
- Spades (A contract-type game similar to bid whist; the game's name comes from the fact that spades is always the trump suit).
- Tarneeb (played in the Arab world, a game in which the person who wins the bid picks the trump)
- Three-handed "widow" whist (or three-handed whist, an extra hand that is dealt just to the left of the dealer)
- Vint is a Russian card-game, similar to both bridge and whist and it is sometimes referred to as Russian whist
- Trinidadian Whist (a whist game variation with some bridge aspects played in Trinidad and Tobago; the teams are determined by whatever card the winning bidder calls for to be his partner for that round, there is no dummy and the first card played by the winning bidder is trump)
- Ninja Whist is a whist variation that follows the typical diminishing whist formula but includes the right and left bowers (Emperor and Samurai respectively) and a single joker (Shogun) from the deck.
- Who's Your Bobby? is a variation in which the Jack of Diamonds (the "Bobby") is trump, though whoever takes the trick with it instantly wins.
A whist drive is a social event at which progressive games of whist are played.
||This article is in a list format that may be better presented using prose. (February 2011)|
||This article contains embedded lists that may be poorly defined, unverified or indiscriminate. (February 2011)|
- Barbey d'Aurevilly, in a story from Les diaboliques, The Underside of the Cards of a Game of Whist, traces the secret affair between a lady and an expert whist player, leading to an horrific act.
- Edgar Allan Poe briefly mentioned whist in his tale "The Murders in the Rue Morgue", alluding to the analytical mind needed to play:
"[...] Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, [...]"
"[...] His only pastime was reading the papers and playing whist. He frequently won at this quiet game, so very appropriate to his nature;[...]"
- Whist also figures extensively in C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series. Hornblower is featured as living off his winnings from playing whist while a half-pay Lieutenant, and famously playing whist with subordinate officers before a battle.
- The same is true in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell and was used mainly to portray gambling much the same way poker is today.
- Whist is often enjoyed by Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin whilst at sea in the Aubrey–Maturin series of novels by Patrick O'Brian.
- In Scarlett, the sequel to Gone with the Wind, Alexandra Ripley mentions several times that Scarlett O'Hara is an extremely skillful whist player.
- Miss. Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Wickham discuss Mr. Darcy during a whist party in chapter 16 of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. The game is also mentioned in her books Mansfield Park, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility.
- In Nikolai Gogol's play The Inspector General, a character Hlestakov lies about playing whist with a group of influential ambassadors to look important. It is also prominent in Nikolai Gogol's poema, "Dead Souls".
- In the opening chapter of Leo Tolstoy's novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich the characters contrast the solemnity of the funeral ceremony with the desire to escape and play whist.
- In Middlemarch by George Eliot, the game is referenced numerous times as an aristocratic pursuit played frequently at the Vincy residence. In particular, the clergyman Mr. Farebrother supplements his income by playing for money, a pursuit looked down upon by many of his parishioners.
- In his autobiography, Groucho and Me, Groucho Marx talks about playing whist with an ex-girlfriend during a chapter on her husbands insomnia.
- In The Fiery Cross, Diana Gabaldon describes a high-stakes whist game between Jamie Fraser, "who was indeed an excellent card player. He also knew most of the possible ways of cheating at cards. However, whist was difficult, if not impossible to cheat at.", and Phylip Wylie, who had angered Fraser by making advances to his wife.
- In Life of Henry Clay, Carl Schurz notes that “his fondness for card-playing, which, although in his early years he had given up games of chance, still led him to squander but too much time upon whist.”
- In DC Comics' Starman series it is revealed that The Shade is a whist player, and enjoyed playing with Brian Savage (it was also noted that The Shade would regularly win at whist, while Savage would regularly win at poker).
- In The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, members of the Falconeri family and the priest play the game, much to the joy of a Piedmontese guest, reassured of their civilized ways.
- In his autobiography, Harold Bauer - His Book, pianist Harold Bauer laments his inability to play well under pressure. "I suffered similarly whenever I played chess or whist, which excited me so terribly that I always had nightmares from the thought of how I might have played."
References in music
- English musician Robyn Hitchcock mentions whist in "Eerie Green Storm Lantern" on his 1998 live double album Storefront Hitchcock:
"[...] By an eerie green storm lantern
Three ghouls were playing whist [...]"
- Soggy Bottom Boys' "In The Jailhouse Now" mentions whist:
"[...] Bob liked to play his poker, pinochle, whist, and euchre.[...]"
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article whist.|
- Waddingtons Family Card Games, Robert Harbin, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1972
- Courtney, William Prideaux (1894). English whist and English whist players. London: Richard Bentley & Son.
- Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, p. 340, David Parlett ISBN 0-19-869173-4
- Pole, William (1895). The Evolution of Whist. Longmans, Green, and Co. (New York, London), 269 pages.
- The Pan Book of Card Games, Hubert Phillips, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1960
- "Whist" word origin
- Cambridge Dictionaries Online Whist drive
- Notes and queries, p. 328 - Bell & Daldy 1863
- Official Rules of Card Games, United States Playing Card Company, 59th ed., 1973
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
|Look up whist in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Whist.|
- Rules of Card Games: Whist
- Whist Counters, Whist Markers
- Whist on the Internet Archive (includes a number of 19th century manuals)
- A short treatise on the game of whist by Edmond Hoyle (1743)