hist-games: Re: Gambling games for Tavern

Michael and Susan McKay seaan at concentric.net
Fri Oct 6 00:03:42 PDT 2000

Sorry for the slow response...

>> 1) Try playing "21" with dice (the black-jack card game).

> I am really looking for Medieval games; is this likely to be one?  I have
> had some trouble finding rules for dice games before.

I have not seen a solid reference on the dice version, but I have seen this
quoted as "common knowledge".  David Parlett proposes that most card games
that ignore the suit (such as "21" are derived from dice games).  This
"feels right", but I have not found a reference.  Even the usually reliable
"The Game of Tarot" has nothing about dice in the index.  If no one else on
the list has a reference, I'll ask around at the International Playing Card
Society conference next week.

According to Parlett's "The Oxford Guide to Card Games" (which was also
published in an inexpensive paperback edition), "31" was mentioned in a 1464
translation of a sermon preached by Bernadine in 1440.  We don't know how it
was played.

> ...[Gluckhaus] ... we found that one "pocket" got lots of
> coins put into it, but never paid out.

Must be a typo.  Rolling a 12 (the emperor) sweeps the board, including the
marriage (7).

> ... [Landsknecht] Might be interesting.  Can you tell me where I can find
the rules?

According to Parlett.  The game is first mentioned in Rabelais's Gargantua
in 1542.  It is a banker game, where players bet against the bank.  All
players place a bet, and the dealer/banker deals two cards.  If the cards
are of the same suit, the banker wins.  Otherwise the banker deals cards to
the middle until it matches the starting left or right card.  The banker
wins if the left card matches.  The banker looses if the right card matches,
and the bank passes to the next in turn (optionally bidding to determine the

Since I had the book open, I glanced through the "Betting and Banking"
chapter.  There was a mention of a swindle that sounds much like today's
three-card Monty (the con has three cards, and invites the mark to chose one
of three cards that have been mixed up; the mark noticed the card was
slightly different, and agrees to play, amazingly enough when he chooses the
different card it is not the same}.  This might be fun to recreate, if you
have someone skilled at this (playing with fake money I would hope).
Thierry Depaulis (a hist-games subscriber) found a mention of this swindle
in Parisian court appeals records from 1408.

Basset is an Italian game referenced from the mid-15th century on.  Poch is
a fun gambling German game, but requires a tray (making a Poch board has
been a low priority project of mine for quite some time), earliest recorded
is at Strasburg in 1441.  I've seen Poch rules on the web, but I am not sure
about Basset.  Let me know if you are interested.

Michael McKay (known in the SCA as Seaan McAy)

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