Whist in the Georgian and Regency Eras

Whist was a tactical and strategic card game that involved taking tricks. It was played during the eighteenth and nineteenth century with a French deck, which is the standard 52-card deck. Everyone loved whist, and, in fact, according to George Hempl, who wrote a book about the game in the 19th century:

“Whist was a favorite game with Josephine and Marie Louise, and it is on record that Napoleon used to play whist in Würtemberg, but not for money, and that he played ill and inattentively.”[1]

A real rubber! At whist. Courtesy of British Museum.

Two partners sat opposite one another and the game was played with four players. The object of the game was to take the most tricks and to accomplish that, players followed simple rules. Changes to the game of whist occurred around the 1840s, but prior to this time, Edward Hoyle was considered the expert on the game of whist. So, Hoyle provided whist rules for Georgian and Regency Era people. Based on Hoyle’s book, I have provided the most frequent whist terms, dealing and shuffling rules, playing rules, and winning and scoring rules.

Edmond Hoyle, the “Father of Whist.” Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Whist Terms:
ELDER HAND—the person on the dealer’s left-hand is called the elder hand, and plays first and then whoever wins the trick becomes the elder hand and plays again.
FINESSING—endeavoring to gain an advantage so that if you had the best and third best card of the suit that led, you played the third best, hoping that your adversary did not have the second best so you could win the trick.
FORCING—playing the suit which either your partner or adversary did not have so that the trick would have to be trumped to be acquired.
GAME—players agree upon a point total to constitute a game.
HONORS—ace, king, queen, and knave of the trump suit.
LEAD—the first card played in a trick.
LONG TRUMP—possessing all the remaining trump cards in your hand.
LOOSE CARD—a card of no value that is essentially thrown away.
POINTS—gained by honors or tricks, with ten constituting a game.
QUART—four successive cards in suit.
QUART MAJOR—ace, king, queen, and knave of the same suit.
QUINT—similar to a quart, but formed with five cards instead of four.
REVOKE—trumping by mistake when you could follow suit.
SEE-SAW—when each partner trumped a suit and were played for that purpose.
SCORE—the number of points achieved by each party.
SLAM—when one party wins every trick.
TENACE—holding the highest and third-highest card of a suit.
TERCE—similar to a quart, but consisting of three cards of the same suit instead of four.
TRICK—one card played by each of the four participants, so that there are 13 tricks possible going once through the 52-card deck.
TRUMP—the suit that beats all of cards, with the cards of the trump suit ranking as they normally do against each other: ace beats king, king beats queen, queen beats knave, etc.

Shuffling and Dealing Rules:

  • Partners are determined by cutting the cards and the two highest cards drawn become partners and play against the two lowest cards drawn.
  • The lowest card drawn is the person that deals first.
  • Each person shuffles the cards before the deal, with the “elder hand” (the person left of the dealer) shuffling last before the cards are dealt.
  • The pack is cut by the right-hand adversary.
  • Cards are distributed face down one at a time, beginning with the left hand adversary of the dealer.
  • Cards are dealt clockwise.
  • You are not supposed to look at the cards when they are dealt.
  • When dealing, if a card is accidentally turned up, an adversary can call a new deal, unless one of the adversaries is the cause, then the dealer has the option of dealing a new hand.
  • If a dealer places the trump card upon the rest of the cards, the dealer loses the deal.
  • Players are supposed to check to ensure they have 13 cards before play begins, otherwise it is a fair game, with anyone having 12 cards being punished.
  • No revoke can be called after the cards are cut for a new deal.

Playing Rules:

  • Play occurs clockwise and continues until all thirteen tricks have been played.
  • Players are told to be cautious of changing suits.
  • Players are to remember what cards are played and how many cards in each suit have been played.
  • Cards are ranked from highest to lowest beginning with the ace being the highest, the king the next highest, the queen the third highest, and so forth to the deuce, which is the lowest card.
  • The last card is turned face up and is the trump card. It is left on the table until the first trick is played.
  • After the trump card is mixed in with the other cards, players cannot ask which trump card was turned up, although they can ask to know the trump suit.
  • No talking or hinting to your partner, except if a person does not follow suit or trumps a suit, then “the partner is indulged to make inquiry of him, whether he is sure he has none of that suit in his hand.”
  • Tricks won are collected by the respective partner and placed face down near in a stack near the collector with one point scored for each trick taken.
  • The ace, king, queen, and knave of the trump suit are called honors and if one partner or both partners together have three honors, they count two points towards the game, but if they have four honors, they count as four points.
  • If a person plays out of turn, it is the adversaries call to determine whether the card was played or not, as long as it does not cause a revoke.
  • If a revoke happens, adversaries may add three to their score or take three tricks from the revoking party.

Winning and Scoring:

  • Each team determines how many of the thirteen tricks they took, and the team having collected the most tricks, scores 1 point.
  • The object is to win 5, 7, or 9 points (this is predetermined by the players ahead of time) in order to win a game.
  • Tokens or chips were used to keep score, as shown by the illustration at the top.
  • Partners often try to achieve RUBBER, which means a team wins three games.


  • [1] Hempl, George, Whist Scores and Card-table Talk, 1887, p. 109.

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