Hoyle's Games Modernized/Whist

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It is pretty safe to assume that every reader of these pages has some general knowledge of the game of Whist, though comparatively few may be conversant with the minutiæ of Whist practice. Whist is governed by an elaborate and carefully considered code of laws, which is universally accepted by all English players. In this instance, therefore, contrary to our usual course of procedure, we shall begin by stating these laws, which should be carefully studied, as forming the best possible introduction to further instruction in the game.



(Reprinted, by permission, from the Revised Code, 1900.)


1.—Two packs of cards are used, one being used by each side.

2.—A card or cards torn or marked must be either replaced by agreement, or new cards called for at the expense of the table.

3.—Any player, before the pack is cut for the deal, may call for fresh cards on paying for them. He must call for two new packs, of which the dealer takes his choice.

Cutting or Drawing.

4.—The ace is the lowest card in cutting or drawing.

5.—In all cases, every one must cut or draw from the same pack.

6.—Should a player expose or draw more than one card, he must cut or draw again.

Formation of Table.

7.—(a) The candidates first in the room have the preference. When there are more than six candidates, and there is a doubt or question as to the preference of two or more of them, they determine their preference by drawing. Those drawing the lower cards have the preference. The table is complete with six players. On the retirement of any of those six players, the candidates who, in the first draw, drew the lowest cards have the prior right to enter the table.

(b) If there are more than four players they all draw, and the four who draw the lowest cards play first.

(c) When two or more candidates or players draw cards of equal value they draw again, if necessary, to determine their precedence.


8.—The four who play first again draw to decide on partners. The two lowest play against the two highest. The lowest is the dealer and has choice of cards and seats, and, having once made his selection, must abide by it.

9.—Two players drawing cards of equal value, which are not the two highest, draw again. If the equal cards are not the two lowest, the higher in the new draw plays with the highest in the original draw; if the equal cards are the two lowest, the new draw decides who is to deal.[49]

10.—Three players drawing cards of equal value draw again; should the fourth (or remaining) card be the highest in the original draw, the two lowest of the new draw are partners, the lower of those two the dealer; should the fourth card be the lowest, the two highest are partners, the original lowest the dealer.[50]

Cutting Out.

11.—At the end of a rubber, should admission be claimed by any one, or by two candidates, he who has, or they who have, played a greater number of consecutive rubbers than the others is, or are, out; but when two or more have played the same number, they must, when necessary, cut or draw to decide upon the outgoers; the highest are out.

Entry and Re-entry.

12.—A candidate wishing to enter a table must declare such intention prior to any of the players having drawn a card, either for the purpose of commencing a fresh rubber or of cutting out.

12a.—Any candidate may declare into any table that is not complete. If he do so he shall have priority over any candidate who has not previously declared in.

13.—In the formation of fresh tables, those candidates who have not played at any other table have the prior right of entry; the others decide their right of admission by drawing.

14.—Any one quitting a table prior to the conclusion of a rubber may, with consent of the other three players, appoint a substitute in his absence during that rubber.

15.—A player cutting into one table, whilst belonging to another, loses his prior right of re-entry into that latter, and takes his chance of cutting in, as if he were a fresh candidate, and last in the room.

16.—If any one break up a table, the remaining players have the prior right to him of entry into any other, and should there not be sufficient vacancies at such other table to admit all those candidates, they settle their precedence by drawing.


17.—After the selection of cards for the first deal has been made, it is the duty of an adversary to shuffle the pack selected, and of the player who is about to deal, or of his partner, to shuffle the other pack.

18.—The pack must neither be shuffled below the table, nor so that the face of any card be seen.

19.—The pack must not be shuffled during the play of the hand.

20.—A pack, having been played with, must not be shuffled by dealing it into packets.

21.—Each player has a right to shuffle once only, except as provided by Law 24, prior to a deal, after a false cut,[51] or prior to a new deal.[52]

22.—The dealer's partner must collect the cards for the ensuing deal, and has the first right to shuffle that pack.

23.—Each player, after shuffling, must place the cards, properly collected and face downwards, to the left of the player about to deal them.

24.—The dealer has always the right to shuffle last. Should a card or cards be seen during his shuffling or whilst giving the pack to be cut, he may be compelled to re-shuffle.

The Deal.

25.—The deal commences with the player who cut the original lowest card, the next deal falls to the player on his left, and so on until the rubber is finished.

26.—When the pack has been finally shuffled, the player about to deal shall present it to the adversary on his right, who shall cut it, and, in dividing it, must not leave fewer than four cards in either packet; if in cutting, or in replacing one of the two packets on the other, a card be exposed,[53] or if there be any confusion of the cards, or a doubt as to the exact place in which the pack was divided, there must be a fresh cut.

27.—When the player whose duty it is to cut has once separated the pack, he cannot alter his intention; he can neither re-shuffle nor re-cut the cards.

28.—When the pack is cut, should the dealer shuffle the cards, he loses his deal.

29.—There must be a new deal by the same dealer[54]

I. If, during a deal, or during the play of a hand, the pack be proved incorrect or imperfect.
II. If any card, excepting the last, be faced in the pack.
III. If a player takes up another player's hand.

30.—If, whilst dealing, a card be exposed on or below the table by the dealer or his partner, should neither of the adversaries have touched the cards, the latter can claim a new deal; a card exposed by either adversary gives that claim to the dealer, provided that his partner has not touched a card; if a new deal does not take place, the exposed card cannot be called.

31.—If, during dealing, a player touch any of his cards, the adversaries may do the same, without losing their privilege of claiming a new deal, should chance give them such option.

32.—If, in dealing, one of the cards be exposed, and the dealer turn up the trump before there is reasonable time for his adversaries to decide as to a fresh deal, they do not thereby lose their privilege.

33.—If a player, whilst dealing, look at the trump card, his adversaries have a right to see it, and either may exact a new deal.

34.—Any one dealing out of turn, or with the adversary's cards, may be stopped before the trump card is turned up, after which the game must proceed as if no mistake had been made.

35.—A player can neither shuffle, cut, nor deal for his partner, without the permission of his opponents.

36.—If the adversaries interrupt a dealer whilst dealing, either by questioning the score or asserting that it is not his deal, and fail to establish such claim, should a misdeal occur, he may deal again.

A Misdeal.

37.—It is a misdeal[55]

I. Unless the cards are dealt into four packets, one at a time in regular rotation, beginning with the player to the dealer's left.
II. Should the dealer place the last (which is called the trump) card, face downwards, on his own or on any other packet.
III. Should the trump card not come in its regular order to the dealer; but he does not lose his deal if the pack be proved imperfect.
IV. Should a player have fourteen or more cards, and any of the other three less than thirteen;[56] unless the excess has arisen through the act of an adversary, in which case there must be a fresh deal.
V. Should the dealer touch, for the purpose of counting, the cards on the table or the remainder of the pack.
VI. Should the dealer deal two cards at once, or two cards to the same hand, and then deal a third; but if, prior to dealing that third card, the dealer can, by altering the position of one card only, rectify such error, he may do so, except as provided by the second paragraph of this Law.
VII. Should the dealer omit to have the pack cut to him, and his adversaries discover the error, prior to the trump card being turned up, and before looking at their cards, but not after having done so.

38.—Should a player take his partner's deal, and misdeal, the latter is liable to the usual penalty, and the adversary next in rotation to the player who ought to have dealt then deals.

39.—A misdeal loses the deal;[57] unless, during the dealing, either of the adversaries touch the cards prior to the dealer's partner having done so; but should the latter have first interfered with the cards, notwithstanding either or both of the adversaries have subsequently done the same, the deal is lost.

40.—Should three players have their right number of cards—the fourth have less than thirteen, and not discover such deficiency until the first trick has been turned and quitted, the pack shall be assumed to be complete, and the deal stands good; and he will be answerable for any revoke he may have made, in the same way as if the missing card or cards had been in his hand.

41.—If a pack, during or after a rubber, be proved incorrect or imperfect, such proof does not alter any past score, game, or rubber; that hand in which the imperfection was detected is null and void (except in the case of such deficiency as is provided for by Law 40); the dealer deals again.

The Trump Card.

42.—The dealer, when it is his turn to play to the first trick, should take the trump card into his hand; if left on the table after the second trick be turned and quitted, it is liable to be called.[58] His partner may at any time remind him of the liability.

43.—After the dealer has taken the trump card into his hand, it must not be asked for; a player naming it at any time during the play of that hand, is liable to have his highest or lowest trump called. Such call cannot be repeated. Any player may at any time inquire what the trump suit is.

44.—If the dealer take the trump card into his hand before it is his turn to play, he may be desired to lay it on the table; should he show a wrong card, this card may be called, as also a second, a third, &c., until the trump card be produced.

45.—If the dealer declare himself unable to recollect the trump card, his highest or lowest trump may be called at any time during that hand, and, unless it cause him to revoke, must be played; the call may be repeated, but not changed (i.e. from highest to lowest, or vice versâ) until such card is played.

The Rubber.

46.—The rubber is the best of three games. If the first two games be won by the same players, the third game is not played.


47.—A game consists of five points. Each trick, above six, counts one point.

48.—Honours, i.e. Ace, King, Queen, and Knave of trumps, are thus reckoned:

If a player and his partner, either separately or conjointly, hold—

I. The four honours, they score four points.
II. Any three honours, they score two points.

49.—Those players who, at the commencement of a deal, are at the score of four, cannot score honours.

50.—The penalty for a revoke[59] takes precedence of all other scores. Tricks score next. Honours last.

51.—Honours, unless claimed before the trump card of the following deal is turned up, cannot be scored.

52.—To score honours is not sufficient; they must be claimed at the end of the hand; if so claimed, they may be scored at any time during the game. If the tricks won, added to honours held, suffice to make game, it is sufficient to call game.

53.—The winners gain—

I. A treble, or game of three points, when their adversaries have not scored.
II. A double, or game of two points, when their adversaries have scored one or two.
III. A single, or game of one point, when their adversaries have scored three or four.

54.—The winners of the rubber gain two points (commonly called the rubber points) in addition to the value of their games.

55.—Should the rubber have consisted of three games, the value of the losers' game is deducted from the gross number of points gained by their opponents.

56.—If an erroneous score be proved, such mistake can be corrected prior to the conclusion of the game in which it occurred, and such game is not concluded until the trump card of the following deal has been turned up.

57.—If an erroneous score, affecting the value of the rubber,[60] be proved, such mistake can be rectified at any time during the rubber.

Cards liable to be Called.

58.—The following are exposed cards:—

I. Two or more cards played at once, face upwards.
II. Any card dropped with its face upwards, in any way on or above the table, even though snatched up so quickly that no one can name it.
III. Every card named by the player holding it.

59.—All exposed cards are liable to be called, and must be left or placed face upwards on the table. If two or more cards are played at once, the adversaries have a right to call which they please to the trick in course of play, and afterwards to call the remainder. A card is not an exposed card, under the preceding Law, when dropped on the floor, or elsewhere below the table. An adversary may not require any exposed card to be played before it is the turn of the owner of the card to play; should he do so, he loses his right to exact the penalty for that trick.

60.—If any one play to an imperfect trick the winning card on the table, and then lead without waiting for his partner to play, or lead one which is a winning card as against his adversaries, and then lead again, without waiting for his partner to play, or play several such winning cards, one after the other, without waiting for his partner to play, the latter may be called on to win, if he can, the first or any other of those tricks, and the subsequent cards thus improperly played are exposed cards.

61.—If a player or players (not being all) throw his or their cards on the table face upwards, such cards are exposed, and liable to be called, each player's by the adversary; but no player who retains his hand can be forced to abandon it.

62.—If all four players throw their cards on the table face upwards, the hands are abandoned; and no one can again take up his cards. Should this general exhibition show that the game might have been saved or won by the losers, neither claim can be entertained unless a revoke be established. The revoking players are then liable to the following penalties: they cannot under any circumstances win the game by the result of that hand, and the adversaries may add three to their score, or deduct three from that of the revoking players, for each revoke.

63.—If a card be detached from the rest of the hand, which an adversary at once correctly names, such card becomes an exposed card; but should the adversary name a wrong card, he is liable to have a suit called when he or his partner next have the lead.

64.—If any player lead out of turn, his adversaries may either call the card erroneously led, or may call a suit from him or his partner when it is next the turn of either of them to lead. The penalty of calling a suit must be exacted from whichever of them next first obtains the lead. It follows that if the player who leads out of turn is the partner of the person who ought to have led, and a suit is called, it must be called at once from the right leader. If he is allowed to play as he pleases, the only penalty that remains is to call the card erroneously led. The fact that the card erroneously led has been played without having been called, does not deprive the adversaries of their right to call a suit. If a suit is called, the card erroneously led may be replaced in the owner's hand.

65.—If it is one player's lead, and he and his partner lead simultaneously, the penalty of calling the highest or lowest card of the suit properly led may be exacted from the player in error, or the card simultaneously led may be treated as a card liable to be called.

66.—If any player lead out of turn, and the other three have followed him, the trick is complete, and the error cannot be rectified; but if only the second, or the second and third, have played to the false lead, their cards, on discovery of the mistake, are taken back; there is no penalty against any one, excepting the original offender, whose card may be called—or he, or his partner (whichever of them next first has the lead), may be compelled to play any suit demanded by the adversaries.

67.—In no case can a player be compelled to play a card which would oblige him to revoke.

68.—The call of a card may be repeated at every trick, until such card has been played.

69.—If a player called on to lead a suit have none of it, the penalty is paid.

Irregular Play.

70.—If the third hand play before the second, the fourth hand may play before his partner.

71.—Should the third hand not have played, and the fourth play before his partner, the latter may be called on to win or not to win the trick.

72.—If any one omit playing to a trick, and such error be not discovered until he has played to the next, the adversaries may claim a new deal; should they decide that the deal stand good, the surplus card at the end of the hand is considered to have been played to the imperfect trick, but does not constitute a revoke therein.

73.—If any one play two cards to the same trick, or mix his trump, or other card, with a trick to which it does not properly belong, and the mistake be not discovered until the hand is played out, he is answerable for all consequent revokes he may have made.[61] If, during the play of the hand, the error be detected, the tricks may be counted face downwards, in order to ascertain whether there be among them a card too many; should this be the case they may be searched, and the card restored; the player is, however, liable for all revokes which he may have meanwhile made. If no revoke has been made, the card can be treated as an exposed card.

The Revoke.

74.—It is a revoke when a player, holding one or more cards of the suit led, plays a card of a different suit.

75.—The penalty for a revoke—

I. Is at the option of the adversaries, who, at the end of the hand, may either take three tricks from the revoking player, and add them to their own tricks, or deduct three points from his score, or add three to their own score (the adversaries may consult as to which penalty they will exact);
II. Can be claimed for as many revokes as occur during the hand, and a different penalty may be exacted for each revoke;
III. Is applicable only to the score of the game in which it occurs;
IV. Cannot be divided, i.e. a player cannot add one or two to his own score, and deduct one or two from the revoking player;
V. Takes precedence of every other score—e.g., The claimants two—their opponents nothing—the former add three to their score—and thereby win a treble game, even should the latter have made thirteen tricks, and held four honours.

76.—If a player who has become liable to have the highest or lowest of a suit called, or to win or not to win a trick (when able to do so), fail to play as desired, or if a player, when called on to lead one suit, lead another, having in his hand one or more cards of that suit demanded, he incurs the penalty of a revoke.

77.—A revoke is established, if the trick in which it occur be turned and quitted, i.e., the hand removed from that trick after it has been turned face downwards on the table—or if either the revoking player or his partner, whether in his right turn or otherwise, lead or play to the following trick. Throwing down the hand, or claiming game, constitute acts of play within the meaning of leading or playing to the following trick.

78.—A player may ask his partner whether he has not a card of the suit which he has renounced, or whether he has played as desired or demanded; should the question be asked before the trick is turned and quitted, subsequent turning and quitting by the adversaries does not establish the revoke, and the error may be corrected, unless the question be answered in the negative, or unless the revoking player or his partner have led or played to the following trick; but if the revoking player or his partner has turned the trick before the question is answered, the revoke is established.

79.—At the end of a hand, the claimants of a revoke may search all the tricks.[62]

80.—If a player discover his error in time to save a revoke, the adversaries, whenever they think fit, may call the card thus played in error, or may require him to play his highest or lowest card to that trick in which he has renounced;—any player or players who have played after him may withdraw their cards and substitute others; the cards withdrawn are not liable to be called.

81.—If a revoke be claimed, and the accused player or his partner, after such claim has been made, mix the cards before they have been sufficiently examined by the adversaries, the revoke is established. Prior to such claim, the mixing of the cards renders the proof of a revoke difficult, but does not prevent the claim, and possible establishment, of the penalty.

82.—A revoke cannot be claimed after the cards have been duly cut for the following deal.

83.—The revoking player and his partner may under all circumstances, require the hand in which the revoke has been detected to be played out.

84.—If a revoke occur, be claimed and proved, bets on the odd trick, or on amount of score, must be decided by the actual state of the latter, after the penalty is paid.

85.—Should the players on both sides subject themselves to the penalty of one or more revokes, neither can win the game, and the revokes cancel each other.

86.—In whatever way the penalty be enforced, under no circumstances can a player win the game by the result of the hand during which he has revoked; he cannot score more than four.

Exaction of Penalties.

87.—Where a player and his partner have an option of exacting from their adversaries one of two penalties, they must agree who is to make the election, and must not consult with one another which of the two penalties it is advisable to exact; if they do so consult, they lose their right to demand any penalty; and if either of them, with or without consent of his partner, demand a penalty to which he is entitled, such decision is final.

This rule does not apply in exacting the penalties for a revoke; partners have then a right to consult.

88.—Any player demanding a penalty which is not authorised for the offence committed, forfeits all right to exact any penalty for the offence in question.

General Rules.

89.—Any one during the play of a trick, or after the four cards are played, and before, but not after, they are touched for the purpose of gathering them together, may demand that the cards be placed before their respective players.

90.—If any one, prior to his partner playing, should call attention to the trick—either by saying that it is his, or by naming his card, or, without being required so to do, by drawing it towards him—the adversaries may require that opponent's partner to play the highest or lowest of the suit then led, or to win or not to win the trick.

91.—In all cases where a penalty has been incurred, the offender is bound to give reasonable time for the decision of his adversaries.

92.—If a bystander make any remark, before the stakes have been paid, which calls the attention of a player or players to an oversight affecting the score, he is liable to be called on, by the players only, to pay the stakes and all bets on that game or rubber.

93.—A bystander, by agreement among the players, may decide any question.

94.—When a trick has been turned and quitted, it must not again be looked at until the hand has been played out, except as provided by Law 73. A violation of this Law renders the offender, or his partner, liable to have a suit called when it is the next turn of either of them to lead.

The Etiquette of Whist.

The following rules belong to the established Etiquette of Whist. They are not called Laws, as it is difficult, in some cases impossible, to apply any penalty to their infraction.

Any one having the lead should not draw a second card out of his hand until his partner has played to the trick, such act being a distinct intimation that the former has played a winning card.

No intimation whatever, by word or gesture, should be given by a player as to the state of his hand or of the game.

A player who desires the cards to be placed, or who asks what the trump suit is, should do it for his own information only, and not in order to invite the attention of his partner.

No player should object to refer to a bystander, who professes himself uninterested in the game and able to decide, any disputed question of facts; as to who played any particular card, whether honours were claimed, though not scored, or vice versâ, &c. &c.

It is unfair to revoke purposely. Having made a revoke, a player is not justified in making a second in order to conceal the first.

Until the players have made such bets as they wish, bets should not be made with bystanders.

Bystanders should make no remark; neither should they, by word or gesture, give any intimation of the state of the game, nor should they walk round the table to look at the different hands.

No one should look over the hand of a player against whom he is betting.


Is played by three players.

One hand, called Dummy's, lies exposed on the table.

The Laws are the same as those of Whist, with the following exceptions:—

1. Dummy deals at the commencement of each rubber.

2. Dummy is not liable to the penalty for a revoke, as his adversaries see his cards. Should he revoke, and the error not be discovered until the trick is turned and quitted, it stands good. If Dummy's partner revokes, he is liable to the usual penalties.

3. There is no misdeal.

4. Dummy being blind and deaf, his partner is not liable to any penalty for an error whence he can gain no advantage. Thus he may expose some or all of his cards, or declare that he has the game or trick, &c., without incurring any penalty; if, however, he lead from Dummy's hand when he should lead from his own, or vice versâ, a suit may be called from the hand which ought to have led.

Double Dummy

Is played by two players, each having a Dummy or exposed hand for his partner.

The Laws of the game do not differ from those of Dummy Whist.


Whist is a game that has been played during so many years, and has occupied the attention of so many clear-headed men, that certain principles of play have been established from long experience, as those best suited to gain success.

The first step towards becoming a good whist-player is to learn the leads; then what to play second and third in hand. These systems of play ought to be so thoroughly known that there is never a moment's hesitation as to the card to lead, or the card to play second or third in hand.

The leads, &c., are merely what we may term the mechanical portions of the game, and do not require any reasoning on the part of the player. They have already been reasoned out by long and continued investigation. Immediately other cards have been played by the adversaries and the partner, then reason and judgment come in, so as to draw inferences from the cards played by each individual.

The object of a lead is—first, to secure tricks; secondly, to give your partner as much information as is desirable of the cards which you possess in the suit you have led. You may give him a very fair idea of the numerical strength or of the actual strength in high or court cards. It is always correct to assume that a partner, if even a moderately good player, leads from his strongest suit. Then comes the question, Of what does this suit consist? By the card led, an approximate idea is conveyed. By the cards played by the other players compared with those held in one's own hand, a more accurate opinion may be formed. A second round of the same suit often indicates exactly the cards held by the original leader. Such a conclusion, however, could be formed only when the original leader is a whist-player, and is not one of those persons who lead at random, according as their fancy at the time impels them.

In considering the lead, the selection, as a general rule, should be from the strongest suit, and the strongest suit is that consisting of the greatest number of cards. Thus five spades, consisting of knave, nine, eight, four, and two, is a stronger suit than is another consisting of king, queen, and one small card.

What card to lead of the strong suit is the next question, one object being to convey to the partner as much useful information as is possible. Two forms of lead now come under consideration, viz., first, when the cards led are winning cards of the suit; second, when the cards led are not winning cards. Winning cards will first be spoken of.

Suppose a player led the ace of clubs. His partner would at once be justified in concluding that the original leader did not hold the king of that suit; and if this ace were trumped by the fourth player, the partner would place the king in the hand of the original second player. If, however, the king had been led originally, and had been similarly trumped, it would be right to conclude that the ace was in the hand of the original leader.

Again, if the king of a suit were led, and won the trick, and the queen were led, and also won, the ace would be placed in the hand of the original leader. If, however, the king had been led originally, and followed by the ace, then the queen would be placed by the leader's partner in the hand of one of the adversaries.

These simple cases serve to show the general principle on which leads should be made. The first lead gives a preliminary indication; the second lead reveals the whole or nearly the whole secret.

This being the case, it is most remarkable to find that there are certain persons at the present time who claim to be reasonable, and to play scientific Whist, who yet strongly object to any extension of the principles of leads beyond those to which they have been accustomed. These objectors admit that to lead the king, with ace, king, is correct play, as the lead of the king indicates that the leader holds the ace also. They stop, however, at a certain point, and assert that to lead the penultimate from a suit of five, an anti-penultimate from a suit of six, to call for trumps, or to echo to a partner's lead of trumps, is like kicking your partner under the table. Why is it not like kicking your partner under the table to lead the king, with ace, king, instead of leading the ace? The cases are exactly similar, and are based on the same principles of play.

The whist-player who wishes to hold his own with modern players must learn the modern leads. These leads are based on reason, and convey, by each card, intimation to an intelligent partner as regards the number and strength of the suit from which the card was originally led.

As one among many examples of the information conveyed by a lead, the following may be given:—

My partner being a good player, I conclude he leads from his strongest suit. He is original leader, and leads the seven of spades, hearts being trumps.

In my hand there are the ace, queen, five, and two of spades.

The second player plays the three; I play the queen; fourth player plays the six.

What do these cards mean?

My right adversary is not asking for trumps, because asking for trumps is playing an unnecessarily high card (as will be fully explained further on); and the two of spades being in my own hand, the three is the next lowest card. The three may be a single card, but single cards are the exception oftener than the rule.

Having won with the queen, I return the ace of spades. The second player plays the eight, my partner plays the four, and the fourth player plays the ten.

By these two rounds of spades I have obtained a considerable amount of information. My partner led the seven, and his four dropped to my ace on the second round. He therefore led the penultimate of a five suit; and he holds three more spades which I can name—that is, the king, knave, and nine. Neither of the adversaries holds another spade, because, as there are two more in my hand, three more in my partner's, and eight spades played, the thirteen of the suit are accounted for. To lead another spade, therefore, would be folly, as one adversary would make a small trump, and the other would discard a worthless card of another suit.

My partner also would know that—as the eight was played by one adversary, and the ten by the other, whilst he held king, knave, and nine—the two other spades were in my hand.

When, then, my partner obtained the lead, he would avoid playing his king of spades, unless all the trumps were out, or he wished to force out the best trump.

A bad player distinguishes himself by not noticing such details as those given above, and then, by jumping at erroneous conclusions, comes to utter grief. A bad player would not perceive why a third round of spades was not led by his partner, and would almost to a certainty imagine that it must be because his partner held no more. At the very first opportunity, therefore, he would lead his king of spades, and then discover that the second player trumped with the two, and the fourth player discarded from another suit.

Now, how was this information obtained? It was obtained by the original leader starting from a penultimate, or lowest card but one of a five suit. If this original leader had led the lowest card his partner could not have obtained the information described above.

To lead, therefore, the correct card, according to the number and strength of a suit, is one of the first and most important items connected with Whist.

In the most modern game of Whist the number of conventional leads has been considerably increased; and, although only a few of the more advanced players practise these at the present time, those who do so must be reckoned with. It is, therefore, necessary for a player to ascertain the amount of knowledge of the game possessed and practised by his partner, otherwise he may be giving information as to the cards in his hand which his partner fails to comprehend, but which is at once understood by the adversaries.

If the chance be offered, the game of the players who are playing should be watched, so as to ascertain whether they are modern or old-fashioned players. This fact can be discovered by noting the cards they lead. When joining a rubber with strangers, it is uncertain what style of game they play, and the first hand is played under great disadvantage. After two or three hands have been played, a partner's strength or weakness ought to be correctly estimated.

If you find that your partner does not understand the scientific game, it is worse than useless to attempt to play first-class Whist with him. He fails to perceive the information you give him, or draws erroneous conclusions from such information, and does the very thing he ought not to do. With a bad partner and strong adversaries, it is more likely that success will be gained by playing incorrect cards than by playing those which, with a good partner, would have been played.

Having thus, we hope, established the importance of the lead, we proceed to discuss the subject in detail.


In selecting a card for a first and original lead, this card should be from the longest suit as a rule. Numerical strength is the kind of strength which is most to be considered. Thus a suit of five, though headed by a ten, is a better suit than one containing ace, king, and one small card. When a suit is headed by high court cards, the leads are different from those which should be adopted when the highest card in the suit is a ten or a single court card (not the ace). In the case of a long suit not headed by the ace, and with only one court card, the lead should be the fourth best card of the suit, that is, the fourth card counting from the top downwards.

When the suit from which a lead has to be selected is of three cards only, the highest card of this suit should be led, unless such highest card be ace, king, or queen; then lead the smallest. It frequently happens that the leader holds four small trumps, and an honour, say king or ace, has been turned up to his right. The original leader cannot lead from his numerically strongest suit, which is trumps, up to this honour; he must therefore open a weak suit, and he should select that in which he is strongest.

One of the first principles in leads is to lead through the strong up to the weak. At the first lead it is impossible to tell where the strength and where the weakness may be, except in trumps when an honour is turned up. After the first round of a suit, a fair idea may be formed as to the position of the strength and weakness.

When the original leader possesses two or more honours in a suit, the order in which these are led conveys important information to an intelligent partner. The second lead of the same suit will in some cases indicate the number of cards in the suit, from which the original card was played. For example, original leader plays knave of spades, which wins the trick. He follows with king of spades. The leader's partner now knows (see Table of Leads, post) that the original lead was from king, queen, knave, and at least two small spades; because leading knave, then king, shows five at least in the suit. If the leader held only four spades, he would have commenced with the king.

Another piece of valuable information may be gained by the lead of the knave from king, queen, knave, and two others, which is as follows. The leader's partner, if a good player, and holding the ace and one other spade only, will take his partner's knave with the ace, and will then return the small spade. He plays this ace to "unblock," or get out of the way of his partner. If, however, he does not play his ace on the knave, but does play it on the king, it may be assumed that he holds a third spade, and played his ace to prevent blocking his partner's suit. Only a very feeble player, with ace and one other, would fail to play this ace on the original lead of knave.

The leader will now know whether either adversary holds another spade. If he led from six spades, neither adversary holds a spade. If he led from five, one adversary may hold a spade, unless his partner originally held four; and, from the cards that fell from his partner's hand, he can tell whether three or four were originally held. The partner knows that, as he held, say, three originally, and the original leader showed five, one of the adversaries, after two rounds of the suit, cannot hold a spade. This is one among numerous cases proving the advantage of informing a partner, by the lead, of the number of cards in the suit from which the original lead was made. When the accepted leads are known and practised, a game of Whist proceeds like a well-oiled machine, the intelligence being employed to take advantage of the information given. When the leads are not known, and incorrect cards are played, there are perpetual catastrophes, losses and surprises, which usually culminate in losing a rubber which ought to have been won.

After the Laws of the game have been learnt, the next proceeding is to learn the leads. No man can ever hope to be more than a very indifferent player who does not know the leads; yet, from a long Whist experience, it can be stated that at least one-third of those who have played the game of Whist, probably during twenty or more years, have never become familiar with them.

The following Table gives the original leads now adopted, and the second lead:[63]

Holding, in plain suits— First
Second lead.
Ace, king, queen, knave king knave
Ace, king, queen king queen
Ace, king, and others king ace
Ace, king only ace king
King, queen, knave, with one
  small one
king knave
King, queen, knave, and more
  than one other
knave king, if five; queen,
  if more than five
Ace and four or more small ace fourth best of those
King, queen, and others king if king wins, fourth
  best of those remaining
Ace, queen, knave, with or
  without one small one
ace queen
Ace, queen, knave, with two
  or more
ace knave
King, knave, ten, nine nine king, if ace or queen
King, knave, ten ten
Queen, knave, ten, nine queen nine
Queen, knave and one small queen
Queen, knave, and two or
In trumps.
Ace, king, queen, knave knave queen
Ace, king, queen queen king
Ace, king, and five others king ace
Ace, king, and fewer than
  five small

These leads give the majority of cases that occur; there are many other combinations of the cards, but the general principle will be understood from those which have been given. To deviate from these leads is to court disaster, since random leads tend to puzzle a good partner, and to conceal from him the number and value of the cards in the leader's hand. These leads refer primarily to the first lead of the suit only. When a second lead of that suit is adopted, the card to be played may depend on the cards which fell in the first round.

The first lead of a suit, and the card to lead, belong to the mere elementary routine of Whist. These leads require no skill and no reason. They may be learned as the alphabet is learned, and committed to memory. To know them renders Whist a much more easy game to play than if they are not known. A player whose turn it is to open the game with the lead ought to know at once what card to lead. If he has to consider whether he ought to commence with this, that, or the other card, he too often plays the game from beginning to end in opposition to the well-established principles, which have been proved to be those best adapted for gaining success.

Return Leads.

When returning a partner's lead, the card to return him is the higher of two remaining, the lowest of three or more remaining. Thus, if you held originally ace, knave, and the three, and your partner led this suit, you should play the ace third in hand, and return the knave. If you held ace, knave, four, and three, you win with the ace, and return the three.

It does not follow that you should return your partner's lead immediately. You may wish him to abandon his suit, and to play for one of your own. If so, the correct card of this suit should be led, so that your partner may be informed of the change of policy which you advocate. If he has confidence in you, he will then abandon his own suit and play for yours. To return your partner's lead at once means that you have no better game of your own.

Although, as a general rule, it is advisable to lead from a numerically strong suit, yet to continue this suit when the partner is found to hold no high card in it is not winning play. For example, a player holds six diamonds, headed by the nine; one trump, the five (clubs); three spades, headed by the queen; three hearts, headed by the knave. He leads the fourth best diamond; his partner, third in hand, plays knave; fourth hand wins with queen. The original leader may now feel confident that both the ace and king of diamonds are against him; if, therefore, he win a trick with the queen of spades, it would be useless to lead another diamond, unless he is anxious to force his partner, which, with one trump only, would not be sound play.

Second in Hand.

After the lead, the card to play second in hand is the most important item in Whist. The card played second hand may be to protect your partner, or to inform him of the remaining cards of the suit in your hand. The play second hand in trumps is different from what is adopted with other suits, for the obvious reason that other suits may be trumped. The following Table shows the cards to be played second hand:—

Holding— Card led. Play, second hand.
Ace, king, queen small queen
Ace, king, knave small king
Ace, king, and others small king
Ace, queen, ten, &c. small queen
Ace, queen, ten, &c. knave ace
In trumps small ten
Ace, queen, and small small small
Ace, knave, ten, &c. small small
In trumps small ten
Ace and small small small
King, queen, knave, &c. small knave
King, queen, &c. small queen
Queen, knave, ten, &c. small ten
Queen, knave, and small small knave
Ace and small queen ace
King and others small queen small
King and one other small small
Queen and one other small small
Queen and one other knave or ten queen

When a card is led by the original leader, the second player ought at once to draw conclusions as to the other cards in the leader's hand. For example, original leader plays the two of clubs, spades being trumps. The first conclusion is, that the two is the lowest of a four suit. If it were a five suit, the lowest card would not have been led. It may be a three suit; if so, the leader probably holds four trumps, but considers he is not strong enough to lead these. If he held a four suit, not trumps, he would have commenced with the lowest of this four suit.

Judging from the lead, as to the value of the suit from which the original lead has been made, is the result first of observation, then of reason.

In order to be able to derive all the advantages from observing the first card led, a player should practise sorting his cards rapidly, so as to have these ready before a card is led. Some players sort each suit separately, and thus "go over" their cards four times, and take more than twice as long to arrange their cards as would be required if the four suits were sorted simultaneously. In consequence of this delay, they are looking at the cards in their hand when they ought to be looking at those on the table; they are so much occupied with the sorting of their cards whilst the game is being played, that they cannot observe and draw conclusions from the cards which fall from each player's hand.

What to play Third Hand.

The play of the third hand is much more simple than is that of the second. The third hand should play his best card, save under one or other of the three following conditions, viz.:—

1. That the second hand plays a card higher than any card held by the third hand; the lowest card is then played.

2. If a sequence be held, such as king, queen, knave; queen, knave; ace, king; &c., then play the lowest or lower card of the sequence.

3. When a finesse is considered desirable.

It is a remarkable fact, but no less a truth, that many persons who have played the game of Whist during several years do not seem to realise what a finesse is.

To finesse is to play a card, not the best in the hand, on the chance that the higher card which might win the trick is on the right of the third player. To take the most simple example, we will assume that the king of spades is turned up to the right of the player A; B, who is A's partner, obtains the lead, and plays a spade. Z, who was the dealer, plays a small spade; A, third player, plays the queen, holding ace and queen of spades. If A did not know that Z held the king, he ought yet to play the queen third in hand, on the chance that Z held the king; this would be finessing the queen. If, however, the king had not been turned to A's right, and A led a small spade, which B, A's partner, won with the knave, then A would know that the king of this suit could not be in the hand of his right adversary; and if his partner returned this suit, A must play his ace, third in hand, not his queen. To play his queen would not be a finesse, but would be playing the queen to be taken by the king; when, perhaps, his ace, if the suit were other than trumps, might be trumped in the third round.

When it is known that a certain high card cannot be in the hand of the right-hand adversary, it is worse than useless to play as though it might be there.

Finesses are of two kinds, speculative and obligatory.

The finesse speculative is as follows:—You hold ace, queen; or ace, queen, knave of a suit, which your partner leads. Third in hand, you play the queen, if you hold ace, queen; or knave if you hold ace, queen, knave. This play is adopted on the chance that the king is to your right, and is therefore a speculation.

The finesse obligatory is as follows:—You hold king, ten, seven, and three of a suit, and you lead the three; your partner plays the queen, and wins the trick, and returns a small card of the suit. From the fact of the queen winning, you know the ace is not held by your right-hand adversary; you also know your partner does not hold the knave. When your partner returns a small card of the suit, you know he does not hold the ace. If both the ace and knave are to your left, it matters not whether you play king or ten third in hand. If, however, the knave be to your right, your ten draws the ace, and you remain with the king, the best card of the suit. Hence you are obliged to play the ten third in hand in order to give yourself one chance—viz., that the knave is to your right; consequently, this is called the finesse obligatory.

Before a speculative finesse is attempted, the state of the score should be considered; if only one trick is required to win the game, and you hold ace, queen of a suit, the ace should be played, unless there is a certainty of this ace being trumped. Also a player should consider whether it is specially desirable that he obtain the lead, when he has the chance of a finesse. If the lead is important, the finesse should not be made; if the lead would be detrimental, it should generally be attempted.

What a finesse really is should now be comprehended. It is not merely playing the queen third in hand when holding ace, queen, but it is playing the queen on the chance that the king may be in the hand of the second player. If the second player hold none of the suit, no finesse can be made; the ace must be played by the third player, if second hand has not trumped. It is curious how often bad players will commit the error of playing queen third hand, holding ace, queen, when the second player has failed to follow suit, and has refused to trump.

The Play of the Fourth Hand.

The fourth player has to win the trick if he can, with the lowest card in his hand. If he cannot win the trick, he plays his most worthless card.

Whist Conventions.

From an examination of the leads, it will be seen that one main object is to convey information to your partner. The king is led before the ace, so that your partner may fairly conclude that, if the king wins the trick, you hold the ace. If, after the king, the queen be led, he obtains an additional piece of information. The science of Whist is in great measure based on this principle of giving information to your partner by means of the cards you play.

Among the conventions now universally adopted, perhaps the most important is—

The Call for Trumps.

If a player be desirous to obtain a lead of trumps from his partner, he can intimate such desire by playing an unnecessarily high card to a trick.

It must be distinctly understood that the play of an unnecessarily high card means a demand on the partner to lead a trump. What, then, is an unnecessarily high card?

If a player, second or fourth in hand, play, say a six, and on the second round of the same suit play a two, three, four, or five, he has played an unnecessarily high card, and has called for trumps. If a player third in hand win with the ace, return the king, and then play a small card, he has intimated, by playing the ace, that he wishes his partner to lead a trump, the ace being an unnecessarily high card.

The play by the second hand of a high, then a low, card may not indicate that an unnecessarily high card had been first played. For example, second hand holds queen, knave, and two of a suit; the three is led, second hand plays knave, and, on the return of the suit, plays the two. Some unreasoning partners would at once jump at the conclusion that this was a call for trumps, because a high, then a low, card was played by their partner. If the second player wished to call for trumps, he would play his queen, not the knave, under the above conditions.

Some partners are so dense in these matters that it is dangerous to play a protecting card second hand for fear they may assume this to be a call for trumps. If one holds knave, ten, and a small card, and the ten, which is the correct card to play second hand, be put on, a bad partner will conclude, when he sees the small card played in the next round, that his partner must have asked for trumps, because a ten, then a small card had been played. This erroneous conclusion is usually arrived at when the partner is only superficially acquainted with the card that ought to be played second hand.

The player who calls for trumps intimates to his partner that he is so strong that if trumps are led to him he is prepared to undertake all responsibility for the consequences. To ignore such a signal is unjustifiable.

It is a serious step to call for trumps, even with five trumps and two honours, if the other suits are very weak. When, however, the player holds one or two queens, with such other cards in those suits as to render it probable that the queen may be trumped in the third round by one of the adversaries, then a "call" may be allowable.

When calling for trumps, the card selected with which to call should, if possible, be a middle card, so that, if necessary, the call may be temporarily concealed. For example, suppose one holds the six, five, and four of diamonds, and five or six trumps (clubs), and one is second player. Original leader starts with the diamond suit; second player, wishing to call, should play the five, not the six; third hand plays queen; partner drops ten. Ace of diamonds is returned; partner drops knave, and thus shows no more diamonds; original caller may now, with advantage, conceal his call by playing the six. When the original caller obtains the lead, he may play his four, thus allowing his partner to make a small trump, and, at the same time, showing that the five which he originally played was a call.

The Echo to the Call.

If partner has called for trumps, and you are able to lead trumps to him, lead the highest of three, the lowest of four, unless the ace be one of the four, when lead the ace, then the lowest. If your partner lead winning trumps, and you hold four, play to his leads, first, the lowest but one, then the lowest. This shows four trumps at least. Also if, before either you or your partner obtain the lead, you have the chance of playing an unnecessarily high card which does not damage your hand, do so, if you hold four or more trumps and your partner has called. If the adversaries either "call" or lead trumps, then, conceal the fact that you hold four. It is even sometimes advisable, if you know your partner is weak in trumps, and the adversaries are leading trumps, and you hold only three, to play these as though you held four; the strong hand may then draw his partner's last trump, under the impression that you hold it. Such "false-carding," however, should not be attempted until one has acquired proficiency in the game.


It is a most important matter to know what to discard, when you hold none of the suit led, and either cannot or do not think it desirable to trump. The discard may be grouped under three heads:—

1. When trumps have not been led, nor have been called for by either adversary. Then discard the lowest of the weakest suit.

2. When your partner has led trumps, and you have to discard on a winning card of his, throw away the lowest card of your weakest suit.

3. If the adversaries have either led trumps or have called for trumps, throw away the lowest card of the strongest suit.

Simple as this system of discarding really is, and sound as it is, some players never seem to comprehend it. They will too often do the very opposite, and will throw away from their strong suit when their partner has led trumps, and from their weak suit when the adversaries have led trumps.

When a player has had the original lead, and has shown strength in one suit, it is unnecessary that he tell his partner that he is strong in that suit by discarding from it when the adversaries have led trumps; he may then discard from a weak suit, unless he has to keep it guarded.

Towards the end of a hand, and when only four or five cards remain, the discard is often of vital importance, and should be carefully attended to by a partner.

Attention may be called to the occasional advisability of discarding falsely, when one has mastered the principles of the game. Such false discard may be understood by the following example. Suppose you hold ace, queen, and two small clubs and two small spades. The adversaries have led trumps, and your left-hand player has drawn the last trump from your partner. According to rule, you ought to discard a club, to show your partner your strong suit. As, however, your left adversary has the lead, he would at once lead a spade up to your indicated weak suit. You may therefore discard a spade, in the hope that he may lead a club up to your ace, queen.

The Use and Abuse of Trumps.

The suit that is trumps is the most powerful suit of all. A two of trumps will beat the ace of another suit. Consequently, it is of the utmost importance that trumps be treated with the greatest respect. As a general rule, the original leader with a strong numerical hand of trumps should lead them, six or even five trumps being numerical strength, even though no honour is held. If the original leader hold six trumps, there are only seven others against him; and if these be divided as they most generally will be, viz. two each in two hands and three in one other, three rounds of trumps will extract all the trumps except the three remaining in the leader's hand; in which case three certain tricks are held by the leader. If one player hold six trumps, it is probable that his partner holds a long suit (not trumps); and if trumps be extracted, his partner may make several tricks in this long suit. There is no fear of the adversaries doing so, as the long suit would be trumped by the leader who held originally five or six trumps. If, on the contrary, partner has no good cards, a valuable score can hardly be made by any method of play. Therefore, to lead trumps, if strong in them, is almost imperative, although the leader may hold no winning card in any other suit. If the partner only hold one trump, which will be discovered in the second round, it is advisable to continue leading a trump in order to draw two of the adversaries' trumps together, and thus to prevent them from making these separately.

One of the great difficulties which players only partially acquainted with the game experience, is when to trump or not to trump a doubtful card.

It has been laid down as a law not to trump a doubtful card if strong in trumps, and many players will never trump a doubtful card if they hold only four small trumps, as they seem to consider such a hand is strong.

It must be remembered that refusing to trump a doubtful card is in reality declining to make certain of a trick, in exchange for a possibility that one's partner may hold the winning card of the suit. If the adversary hold the winning card, then a trick has been actually lost by declining to trump. How, then, can the loss of this trick be recovered? It may be recovered if the player who refused to trump is able to extract the adversaries' trumps, and bring in one or more cards of a long suit, a proceeding which he would have been unable to accomplish had he trumped the doubtful card. Also, the player who refused to trump may get rid of a worthless card of some other suit, which he may then be able to trump should the winning card of that suit be against him.

When, however, no card that is worthless can be thrown away, and when strength in trumps has been indicated against him, a player can with advantage trump a doubtful card, even though he hold four trumps, one of which is an honour.

Another important item in connection with trumping a doubtful card is whether one desires the lead, or does not wish for it. If the lead would be disadvantageous, then the doubtful card should not be trumped, and vice versâ.

When one's partner has either led or has called for trumps, then the doubtful card should be trumped without hesitation, and the best trump led to the partner's call or lead of trumps.

One very common and oft-repeated error of the bad player is to refuse to trump a winning card merely because he holds four trumps with one honour. He will refuse to trump more than once, and imagines he is playing a strong winning game by discarding one or more worthless cards of a short suit, which he believes he will be able to trump when this suit is led.

With a hand of trumps not sufficiently strong to make certain of extracting all the trumps and remaining with the lead, it is advisable to consider how many tricks are likely to be won by the trumps in one's own hand. For example, the trumps held are queen, nine, four, and two. It is not likely that more than one trump will make a trick, and possibly not one. We have the chance of trumping a doubtful card, and we refuse to make even one of our trumps, and throw away a certain trick if our partner does not hold the winning card of that suit. If our partner does hold the winning card of the suit, he may not be obliged to play it on our trump; and it is no severe loss to make one trump out of four, even if the partner does hold the winning card.

It cannot be too strongly impressed on the young player that the great object of Whist is to win tricks, and to refuse to win a trick when you can do so is to accept a dangerous responsibility.


One of the worst forms of bad play is to repeatedly change the suit, and thus, by continuing to make your partner third player, to incur the risk of sacrificing the best cards of each suit that are in his hand. Instead, therefore, of leading a fresh suit in which you may be very weak, it is frequently safer to return the adversaries' lead, especially if it is evident that you can lead through the strong hand up to the weak.

In order to take full advantage of this lead, what is termed "underplay" may be attempted. As an example of underplay, the following is given. A, original leader, leads the two of spades, thus indicating most probably a four suit; A, it is evident by this lead, does not hold king, queen of the suit. Y, the second player, plays the three of spades; B, third player, plays the nine; and Z, fourth player, holding ace, ten, and four of spades, wins the trick with the ten.

Z, having no court card in the three remaining suits, fears to lead any one of these. Z knows that he possesses the ace of spades, but this fact is not known to A. Z then underplays by leading back the four of spades. A, who holds king, knave, eight, plays knave second hand; Y wins with queen, and now knows that his partner holds the ace, for had A held the ace he would have played it second in hand. Y, now having the lead, can show his strong suit, and may fairly assume that his partner has no good suit, because, had he been strong in any suit, he would have led a card of it, instead of at once resorting to underplay.

False Cards.

False cards are played either in consequence of ignorance, or for the purpose of deception. A player who has never troubled himself to learn the leads is perpetually playing false cards, and deceiving his partner. Thus, with a suit of five headed by one honour (not the ace), a player who leads the lowest of this suit, instead of the fourth best, has led a false card, and has, according to Whist rules, told his partner a falsehood, viz. that he holds only four instead of five cards in this suit.

A player who holds ace, king, and queen of a suit, and leads king then ace, also tells his partner a falsehood, inasmuch as he makes the cards say: "I don't hold the queen of this suit."

False cards, played deliberately, are those which a player knows he ought not to play according to rule; such, for example, as winning a trick with the ace when it could have been won with the king, or playing the queen of a suit on an adversary's king when the knave was held.

The cases in which false cards can be played with advantage are rare, but sometimes, especially in trumps, success may follow the play of a false card. The following is an example:—A holds ace, king, ten, and eight of diamonds (trumps). When Y, the left-hand adversary, obtains the lead, he plays a small diamond; Z, the right-hand adversary, plays queen third in hand. A may now win with ace, thus stating, in effect, that he does not hold the king.

Y may now conclude that his partner probably holds the king, and, on again obtaining the lead, may play another diamond up to king, ten, eight, when A is certain to make both king and ten.

How to play Whist.

When a player has learnt the leads, and what to play second and third in hand, he can play a fairly intelligent game. In the present day, when there are so many ably written books on Whist, there is no excuse for an habitual whist-player remaining ignorant of such elementary matters as the leads. The skill and general principles of the game may then be studied. The following suggestions should at this stage be attended to:—

Sort your hand as quickly as possible, so as to be able to form some idea of the style of game you ought to play before a single card is led. Remember that an average hand contains four court cards, of honours, one in each suit. If these four court cards be four knaves, the hand is below the average; if four kings, or two kings, two queens, and a knave, it is about the average.

When the hand has been sorted, and the adversary's score his been examined, a player can estimate his chances (or the certainty) of saving the game. If the adversaries have nothing scored towards the game, and you hold ace, king, queen of trumps, you know that you must win three tricks, and nothing but a revoke can lose you the game. A bolder game may then be attempted than would be advisable if you had not the saving of the game in your own hand. It is always desirable to make certain of saving the game before you attempt to win it. We frequently hear rash players remark, "I never dreamed it possible that we could lose the game; if I had thought so I could have easily saved it." The safer plan is to always think it possible to lose the game, unless you have the saving of it in your own hand.

Although it is correct play to lead from the longest numerical suit, especially when strong in trumps, it is most detrimental to continue to do so when very weak in trumps, and when you have found, by the card your partner has played third in hand, that he has no winning or protecting card in that suit. It frequently happens, if this lead be repeated, that one adversary holds the winning cards of the suit; the other falls short, and is consequently able to get rid of worthless cards on his partner's winning cards.

As we have already had occasion to remark, and the fact should be persistently borne in mind, the great object at Whist is to win tricks. Many inexperienced players, who have superficially learnt certain rules, seem to imagine that it is better to refuse to win tricks in order to convey information to a partner, or to deceive one or both of the adversaries. This proceeding is most commonly adopted when the unskilled player holds four small trumps, and is not provided with a long suit, and believes it to be good play to decline to trump a doubtful card second in hand. With four small trumps, it is more than probable that not one of these will win a trick except by trumping. To refuse to trump a doubtful card indicates strength in trumps, and this strength ought not to be less than five trumps, with or without an honour or honours, or four trumps with two honours.


One of the most important results of the modern system of leading is that a player may know when to unblock his partner's suit; that is, to avoid being left with the winning card of a suit of which his partner holds the remainder. The disasters that may result from not unblocking are of frequent occurrence with those players who either do not know the leads, or are incompetent to grasp the situation. The following is a simple example:—

Y holds the ace, knave, 3 of clubs, and four losing cards in spades and hearts. Z (Y's partner) has extracted all the trumps (diamonds), and leads the king of clubs; A follows suit with the 2, Y plays the 3, B plays the 5.

Z then leads the 4 of clubs; A plays the 9. Z, knowing from his partner's lead that the latter has the queen of clubs, ought to perceive at once that, as regards winning the trick, his ace and knave are equal cards; but that the former may obstruct Y's other clubs, whereas the latter cannot. If Z mechanically plays his lower card (perhaps being even deluded by the belief that he is "finessing"!), he has successfully blocked his partner's suit; because, when he has played out his ace, he must lead another suit, and his partner, who had king, queen, 10, 8, 4 of clubs, and two small hearts, can never get in again to make his two remaining clubs. If Y had won the second round of clubs with his ace, and returned the knave, Z would have taken the knave with his queen, and would then have won tricks with his ten and four. Consequently, Y and Z would have won five tricks in clubs, instead of only three; Y therefore, by not unblocking his partner's suit, lost two tricks in that one hand.

Another form of not unblocking is the following:—Y leads the knave of spades, which wins; he then leads the king of the same suit. Z, his partner, held originally ace, three, and two of that suit. When Y leads the king after the knave, Z ought to know that his partner led originally from five spades headed by king, queen, knave. It is therefore Z's duty to play his ace on his partner's king, and thus unblock his partner's suit. Z now knows that, as his partner led originally from five spades, and he held originally three, making eight, a third round of spades must be trumped by one of the adversaries. Y, if he knows his partner to be a sound player, will feel certain that his partner holds one more spade; because, had his partner held ace and only one other spade, he would have played the ace on the knave, in order to unblock his partner's suit.

To be able to thus aid a partner, the leads must be thoroughly known, so that from a partner's original lead it may be fairly estimated what other cards of the suit he holds in his hand, and when, consequently, it is desirable to unblock his suit.

On Placing the Lead.

The player who has to play last has an advantage over the other players. If this last player hold the king and one other card of a suit, he is certain to make a trick with the king, unless it be trumped. If this last player hold ace, queen of a suit, he is certain to make them both, unless one or the other is trumped. Towards the end of a hand, and when a fairly correct estimate may be formed of where certain cards are located, it is of the utmost importance to place the lead either to the right or left, according as you wish your partner or yourself to be led up to as last player. Some simple examples such as the following will illustrate these cases.

A player, Y, holds the king and one other trump (spades), and one trick is required to win the game; he holds also a winning heart. His partner Z plays a thirteenth diamond, which is not trumped by the second player, who discards a heart. The ace and queen of spades are in hand somewhere, and may both be held by an adversary. Y must therefore play his winning heart on the thirteenth diamond, when the left adversary, after trumping, must lead up to the king of spades guarded, when consequently the king must win a trick, and the game. Simple at this proceeding is, bad players will frequently fail to grasp the situation, and will indulge in vain imaginations, such as that their partner has played this thirteenth card in order to ask for the best trump to be played on it. Or that the partner holds the ace of trumps, and fears to play it out, lest he might catch his partner's king, not perceiving that, if that is so, the game is a certainty in any case. Such singular ideas are by no means uncommon with the bad player.

Each time a player leads a fresh suit in which he is weak, he is playing a dangerous game, inasmuch as he is giving an adversary the advantage of being last player. It is a common error of the bad player to change the suit at random, when he finds his partner possesses little strength in the one originally led by him. He thus continues to sacrifice his partner, and loses trick after trick. The following is an example from actual play. A held queen, eight, five, and two of spades, ten, eight, and three of diamonds (trumps), knave, eight, five, and two of clubs, the six and four of hearts.

B, his partner, held king, and two small spades, king, and two small diamonds (trumps), king, and three small clubs, king, and two small hearts.

A led two of spades, B played king third in hand, which was captured by ace in the fourth (Z's) hand.

Z returned a spade, which A won with the queen.

A now led two of clubs, B played king, which was also captured by Z with ace. Z returned a small club, which Y, his partner, won with queen.

Y then led a small heart, which Z won with queen, and returned ace, then a small heart. A trumped the small heart, and B's king fell. A, after due consideration, now led one of his two remaining trumps. B's king was captured by the ace; and thus, by his partner's changes of suit and trumping, B, with four kings, did not win a trick with any one of them.

It is an old and well-known maxim, that a player should be cautious how he changes suits. If the adversaries hold the best cards of a suit, they must make these, and it is far better to let them do so by playing a third round of that suit, and thus placing the lead in the hand of one of the adversaries, than to open another suit in which no high card is held.

The following examples of placing the lead are useful, and should be remembered, because either exactly such cases or others which are very similar are perpetually recurring towards the end of a hand.

You hold the losing trump—one other in against you and to your left (trumps being spades)—the ace, queen of clubs, the ace, queen of hearts.

The king of clubs and the king of hearts are somewhere in the other three hands. Three tricks are required to win or save the game. The diamonds are all out. To make a certainty of winning three tricks, play the losing trump; you must then be led up to either in clubs, or hearts, and must win three tricks out of your own hand.

It is sometimes advisable to throw away what would be the best card in your hand in order to place the lead, or at least to attempt to place it. The following is an example of such a case.

You hold four cards, the ace, queen of spades (trumps), the king and one other heart. The king of spades was turned up to your right, and you know another trump guards the king; no trumps are in the other hands.

Your left adversary leads the ace of hearts; when he leads another heart you must win with the king and must lead up to the king of trumps, when you win only two tricks. If you throw your king of hearts on the ace, you avoid obtaining the lead, and your partner may hold the queen, and your ace, queen of trumps will then both win tricks. Should your partner not hold the queen, you lose nothing by this play, as you must make your ace, queen of trumps if you have not the lead, and if you retained the king of hearts you could not by any possibility win more than two tricks.

Sometimes one holds what is called a trump too many; such a case is the following. You hold ace, queen, and one small trump (spades), and a losing diamond; your partner holds the best diamond. The king of spades is on your right and is guarded, and this adversary has but two trumps. Your partner has no trump, and leads the ace of hearts. If you discard your diamond on this ace of hearts, you must trump the best diamond, and must then lead up to the king of trumps, when you win only three tricks out of the four. If, however, you trump your partner's ace of hearts, and lead the diamond, you again transfer the lead to your partner, and you make all four tricks, as the king of trumps cannot win.

In order to thoroughly master these simple problems, it is advisable to place the cards on the table before you, and examine such cases. They frequently occur, and are, more frequently than not, quite overlooked by bad players, who would think it quite absurd to trump a partner's ace, and who omit to notice the importance of placing the lead.

It is by the manner in which the last four or five cards in a hand are played that skill in Whist is shown; two and sometimes three or four tricks are lost by bad play, when only five or six cards remain in each hand.

The Play of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Cards.

The play of a twelfth or a thirteenth card is one requiring careful consideration. A player may hold the twelfth card, and he may know that his partner does not hold the thirteenth. He may know, and ought to know, whether his card is the higher or lower of the two remaining. He ought also to know, from the leads and return leads, whether the right or left adversary holds the other card of the suit. A player who does not note such details would be better employed in a game of Beggar-my-neighbour than at Whist, the former game being more suited to his intellectual capacity.

The least dangerous form in which the twelfth card can be played is when it is the better of the two, and when the thirteenth is in the hand of the adversary on the right. The most dangerous, except when placing the lead for a specific purpose, is when the twelfth card is the lower of the two, and the best is held by the left-hand adversary. When the right adversary holds the better card, to play the losing card affords the left-hand adversary the opportunity of discarding a worthless card. A trick is frequently lost by the eagerness of an inexperienced player to play his losing twelfth card in order to allow his partner to make a trump. Before playing this twelfth card, winning cards should be played in order to prevent the second player getting rid of a loser and then trumping the winning card. For example, two rounds of hearts have been played, ace and king being out. A holds the queen of hearts and a losing twelfth card. Left-hand adversary holds small heart and small trump. When the losing twelfth card is played, he discards his heart, and is thus enabled to trump the queen. If the queen of hearts had been played first, an extra trick would have been won.

The play of a thirteenth card means one of two things. It is either a demand on your partner to trump with his best trump, or it is an attempt to place the lead. It is for the partner to use his judgment as to which of these proceedings should be adopted. To lead a thirteenth card merely because, as some persons assert, they "did not know what else to do," is an exhibition of feebleness of intelligence.


Those persons who desire to become whist-players, and not mere players at Whist, should bear in mind that Whist is a combination of well-established rules, which should be obeyed; of observation, which is usually misnamed memory, and of reason, which is one of the most essential items towards becoming a whist-player. In order to put as little strain as possible on the reasoning powers, it is advisable to become acquainted with certain maxims which can be committed to memory like proverbs, and can then be acted on during the game. The following will be found useful:—

1. Note whether you hold a sufficient number of winning cards in your hand to make certain of saving the game. If you do, you may run risks in order to win it.

2. Be very careful that you do not make a mistake and imagine that the game cannot be lost, when, by some unusual combination of cards, it may be lost.

3. Immediately your partner leads a card, examine the cards of the suit in your own hand, and form a preliminary opinion of the strength of the suit from which he led. For example, your partner leads the six of spades; you hold ace, queen, and five. The second hand plays the two, you play the queen, fourth hand plays the seven. You thus find the three and four have not been played. Where are they? If the fourth player hold either, he is calling for trumps. You return the ace of spades, the then second player plays the ten, your partner plays the three, and the last player plays the eight. You ought now to know just as well as if you had seen it, that your partner led from king, knave, nine, six, four, and three, and started with the fourth best card. To take a third round of this suit would be childish, as one adversary would make a small trump, the other get rid of a worthless card, and thus show his partner his weak suit.

4. If very strong in two suits, and your partner lead from the third suit, in which you are weak, lead him a trump immediately you gain the lead, although you hold only one or two small trumps.

5. Never hesitate to give your partner the chance of a ruff, unless he has led trumps, or has "called." To refuse to give him this chance merely because you are weak in trumps, is to play a losing game.

6. At the end of a hand, consider the importance of placing the lead. For example, you hold the losing, your partner the winning, trump (clubs), and you hold ace, queen, ten of diamonds. Right-hand adversary leads a small diamond, you play your ten, and it wins the trick; there are other diamonds in your partner's hand, the value of which you do not know. Lead your losing trump, and your partner wins this and returns a diamond, and you win all four tricks. If the king of diamonds be to your right, you would lose a trick by playing ace then queen of diamonds. Feeble players, however, would be certain to lead the ace of diamonds, hoping that their partner would trump the queen, and that thus the trumps would make separately. They give up a certainty for a chance, and consider it safe play to do so.

7. Do your best to help your partner, not to play in opposition to him. Thus, if your partner call for trumps, lead him your best if you have less than four, your lowest if you hold four, and your fourth best if you hold more than four—the exception being when you hold the ace, which always lead to your partner's call. Do not refuse to lead a trump to your partner's call merely because there is a chance of your ruffing a suit. This is selfish play, and usually results in a loss, the suit you wish to trump not unusually being your partner's strong suit.

When your partner, by his discard (or otherwise), has declared strength in one suit and weakness in another, lead the best card of the suit in which he has declared strength. It is a criminal act to lead his weak suit, unless you hold all the winning cards of that suit.

It is towards the end of a hand that bad players display the greatest ingenuity in selecting cards, which, when led or played, can alone lose the game. Also revokes are more commonly committed by a player who holds only two or three cards, than they are when he has in his hand seven or eight cards. Never dash out a card, after you have won a trick, without examining the card that both you and your partner have just previously played.

When you have the game in your hand, play as calmly as though you had a difficult hand to play. Time is rarely, if ever, saved by throwing down your cards. The adversaries examine these deliberately as their only chance, and too often it is found that, had the player played in the usual manner, he must have won the game, but, in consequence of his cards being called, he has just missed winning it.

Books on Whist.

If the reader is ambitious to become a genuine whist-player, the following should be studied—not glanced at and forgotten, but thoroughly mastered—and their principles systematically practised:

A Treatise on Short Whist. By James Clay.
Cavendish on Whist.
The Art of Practical Whist. By Major-General Drayson.
The Philosophy of Whist. By Dr. W. Pole.
Whist: (The Club Series). By Dr. W. Pole.
The Principles and Practice of Whist. By
Ernest Bergholt and Leonard Leigh (Philadelphia).

49 ^  Example. A three, two sixes, and a knave are drawn. The two sixes draw again, and the lower plays with the three. Suppose, at the second draw, the two sixes draw a king and a queen, the queen plays with the three.
If at the second draw, a lower card than the three is drawn, the three still retains its privileges as original low, and has the deal and choice of cards and seats.
50 ^  Example. Three aces and a two are drawn. The three aces draw again. The two is the original high, and plays with the highest of the next draw.
Suppose, at the second draw, two more twos and a king are drawn. The king plays with the original two, and the other pair of twos draw again for deal.
Suppose, instead, the second draw to consist of an ace and two knaves. The two knaves draw again, and the higher plays with the two.
51 ^  Vide Law 26.
52 ^  Vide Law 29.
53 ^  After the two packets have been re-united, Law 30 comes into operation.
54 ^  Vide also Laws 36 and 41.
55 ^  Vide also Law 28.
56 ^  The pack being perfect. Vide Law 41.
57 ^  Except as provided in Law 36.
58 ^  It is not usual to call the trump card if left on the table.
59 ^  Vide Law 75.
60 ^  E.g., If a single is scored by mistake for a double or treble, or vice versâ.
61 ^  Vide also Law 40.
62 ^  Vide Law 81.
63 ^  The more complicated forms of the so-called "American" leads are not set out, as they never gained general acceptance.