1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Boston (game)

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BOSTON, a game of cards invented during the last quarter of the 18th century. It is said to have originated in Boston, Massachusetts, during the siege by the British. It seems to have been invented by the officers of the French fleet which lay for a time off the town of Marblehead, and the name of the two small islands in Marblehead harbour which have, from the period of the American Revolution, been called Great and Little Misery, correspond with expressions used in the game. William Tudor, in his Letters on the Eastern States, published in 1821, states somewhat differently that “A game of cards was invented in Versailles and called in honour of the town, Boston; the points of the game are allusive, 'great independence,' 'little independence,' 'great misery,' 'little misery,' &c. It is composed partly of whist and partly of quadrille, though partaking mostly of the former.” The game enjoyed an extraordinary vogue in high French society, where it was the fashion at that time to admire all things American. “The ladies... filled my pockets with bon-bons, and ... called me ‘le pétit Bostonien.’ It was indeed by the name of Bostonian that all Americans were known in France then. The war having broken out in Boston and the first great battle fought in its neighbourhood, gave to that name universal celebrity. A game invented at that time, played with cards, was called ‘Boston’, and is to this day (1830) exceedingly fashionable at Paris by that appellation” (Recollections of Samuel Breck, Philadelphia, 1877). There was a tradition that Dr Franklin was fond of the game and even that he had a hand in its invention. At the middle of the 19th century it was still popular in Europe, and to a less degree in America, but its favour has steadily declined since then.

The rules of Boston recognized in English-speaking countries differ

somewhat from those in vogue in France. According to the former, two packs of 52 cards are used, which rank as in whist, both for cutting and dealing. Four players take part, and there are usually no partners. Counters are used, generally of three colours and values, and each hand is settled for as soon as finished. The entire first pack is dealt out by fours and fives, and the second pack is cut for the trump, the suit of the card turned being “first preference,” the other suit of the same colour “second preference” or “colour,” while the two remaining suits are “plain suits.” The eldest hand then announces that he will make a certain number of tricks provided he may name the trump, or lose a certain number without trumps. The different bids are called by various names, but the usual ones are as follows:—To win five tricks, “Boston.” (To win) “six tricks.” (To win) “seven tricks.” To lose twelve tricks, after discarding one card that is not shown, “little misère.” (To win) “eight tricks.” (To win) “nine tricks.” To lose every trick, “grand misère.” (To win) “ten tricks.” (To win) “eleven tricks.” To lose twelve tricks, after discarding one card that is not shown, the remaining twelve cards being exposed on the table but not liable to be called, “little spread.” (To win) “twelve tricks.” To lose every trick with exposed cards, “grand spread.” To win thirteen tricks, “grand slam.” If a player does not care to bid he may pass, and the next player bids. Succeeding players may “overcall,” i.e. overbid, previous bidders. Players passing may thereafter bid only “misères.” If a player bids seven but makes ten he is paid for the three extra tricks, but on a lower scale than if he had bid ten. If no bid should be made, a “misère partout” (general poverty) is often played, the trump being turned down and each player striving to take as few tricks as possible. Payments are made by each loser according to the value of the winner's bid and the overtricks he has scored. There are regular tables of payments. In America overtricks are not usually paid for. In French Boston the knave of diamonds arbitrarily wins over all other cards, even trumps. The names of the different bids remind one of the period of the American Revolution, including “Independence,” “Philadelphia,” “Souveraine,”

“Concordia,” &c. Other variations of the game are Boston de Fontainebleau and Russian Boston.