1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Handicap

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HANDICAP (from the expression hand in cap, referring to drawing lots), a disadvantageous condition imposed upon the superior competitor in sports and games, or an advantage allowed the inferior, in order to equalize the chances of both. The character of the handicap depends upon the nature of the sport. Thus in horse-racing the better horse must carry the heavier weight. In foot races the inferior runners are allowed to start at certain distances in advance of the best (or " scratch ") man, according to their previous records. In distance competitions (weights, fly-casting, jumping, &c.) the inferior contestants add certain distances to their scores. In time contests (yachting, canoe-racing, &c.) the weaker or smaller competitors subtract certain periods of time from that actually made, reckoned by the mile. In stroke contests (e.g. golf) a certain number of strokes are subtracted from or added to the scores, according to the strength of the players. In chess and draughts the stronger competitor may play without one or more pieces. In court games (tennis, lawn-tennis, racquets, &c.) and in billiards certain points, or percentage of points, are accorded the weaker players.

Handicapping was applied to horse-racing as early as 1680, though the word was not used in this connexion much before the middle of the 18th century. A " Post and Handy-Cap Match " is described in Pond's Racing Calendar for 1754. A reference to something similar in Germany and Scandinavia, called Freimarkt, may be found in Germania, vol. xix.

Competitions in which handicaps are given are called handicapevents or handicaps. There are many systems which depend upon the whim of the individual competitors. Thus a tennis player may offer to play against his inferior with a selzer-bottle instead of a racquet; or a golfer to play with only one club; or a chess-player to make his moves without seeing the board.

The name " handicap " was taken from an ancient English same, to which Pepys, in his Diary under the date of the 18th of September 1660, thus refers: " Here some of us fell to handicap, a sport that I never knew before, which was very good." This game, which became obsolete in the 19th century, was described as early as the 14th in Piers the Plowman under the name of " New Faire." It was originally played by three persons, one of whom proposed to " challenge," or exchange, some piece of property belonging to another for something of his own. The challenge being accepted an umpire was chosen, and all three put up a sum of money as a forfeit. The two players then placed their right hands in a cap, or in their pockets, in which there was loose money, while the umpire proceeded to describe the two objects of exchange, and to declare what sum of money the owner of the inferior article should pay as a bonus to the other. This declaration was made as rapidly as possible and ended with the invitation, " Draw, gentlemen! " Each player then withdrew and held out his hand, which he opened. If both hands contained money the exchange was effected according to the conditions laid down by the umpire, who then took the forfeit money for himself. If neither hand contained money the exchange was declined and the umpire took the forfeit money. If only one player signified his acceptance of the exchange by holding money in his hand, he was entitled to the forfeit-money, though the exchange was not made.

Handicap was also the name of an old game at cards, now obsolete. It resembled the game of Loo, and probably derived its name from the ancient sport described above.