In 1769 London, a gentleman died at the ripe old age of 97. Although little is known about the gentleman himself, his name has traveled down through the years and is more familiar to us today than to those who might have rubbed elbows with the man back in the eighteenth century. His name was Edmond Hoyle, and although he was a barrister by trade, he is now known for law only as it applies to games of chance. And he is much more recognized by his nickname ‘According to.”
Hoyle laid down the law for the game of Whist in a widely circulated treatise on the subject. He also had a great deal to say about backgammon, quadrille, piquet, and chess. He was, we might surmise, one of those wet blankets who must rain on card-game parades (to jumble metaphors, about which Hoyle had nothing to say) with their whining “but the rules say” or “according to Hoyle.”
But Whist was his long suit. This venerable game provides ample material on which to pontificate, and pontificate Hoyle did. A forerunner of Bridge, Whist is all about taking tricks. Who takes them, and when and how and why gives the game a wide variety of flavors from which to choose. There’s Knockout Whist, a game in which a player who wins no trick is eliminated, sent to stand in a corner; Solo Whist, a game where individuals can bid to win 5, 9 or 13 tricks or to lose every trick; Kleurenwiezen, an elaborate Belgian version of the game, filled with Gallic mischief; Minnesota Whist, played to win tricks or to lose tricks (talk about flexibility); Romanian Whist, a game in which players try to predict the exact number of tricks they will take; German Whist for two very aggressive players who take tricks from Poland without prior warning; Bid Whist in which players bid to determine trump and one player is a dummy who sits out the hand; and Danish Whist, in which the dummy brings pastries to the other players.
But England lays claim to most of the true Whist players. It is easy to imagine a group of eighteenth century British aristocrats at their club. “Shall we have a go at a spot of Whist?” “Capital idea.” “Jolly.” “According to Hoyle . . .”