The continual spread and growth in popularity of whist during the last few
years has been remarkable in many respects, and the changes that have taken
place in the tactics of the game have amounted almost to a revolution. The
good old days, when such simple maxims as "second hand low, third hand high,"
were sufficient for the average player have passed away, and a person now
requires months of careful training before he can acquit himself decently,
even in a social game.
In 1889 there were only two teachers in this country, and the only paper
that ever referred to the game was the _Boston Herald_. To-day there are
several teachers in every large city and no fewer than forty-two newspapers
have regular whist departments edited by some skilful player or well-known
author. A quiet rubber in the home circle or at the club was then the extent
of the player's ambition, but now teams of experts travel hundreds of miles
just to play a single match of forty-eight deals against a rival club. All
the large cities have annual tournaments to decided the supremacy of the local
clubs; State associations have been formed all over the country and valuable
trophies are played for every week; the American Whist League holds its annual
congress for the discussion of the laws and the play for championship honors.
This organization has upon its lists nearly 20,000 members and publishes an
official organ devoted exclusively to the interests of the game.
The increase and concentration of attention upon any subject naturally
tend to develop it in various ways, and among other things to increase and
complicate its nomenclature. The technical terms in use at the whist table
ten years ago were few and easily understood, but to-day they are so numerous
that none but the expert undestands them all. THE SUN continually receives
letters like the following, asking for an explanation of certain phrases which
are used in connection with the published analyses of illustrative hands:
TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN--_Sir:_ While I have played whist for a number
of years and have become very much interested in "around the Whist Table," as
published in THE RUN, there are many words applied to the game of which I do
not comprehend the meaning, and beg to ask if you will kindly advise me what
is the technical meaning for 'finesse,' 'guerrilla.' 'led his own singleton,'
'ruff,' 'cross-ruff,' 'tenace and minor tenace,' 'potential tenace,' 'force,'
'leading spades to an honor,' 'twice guarded jack,' 'top of nothing,' &c.
"These expressions have a meaning incomprehensible to me, and I
acknowledge my ignorance in the hope that you will be good enough to explain
them, as I am honestly endeavoring to obtain a thorough knowledge of the
fascinating game of whist.
"W. A. R., RAHWAY, N. J."
The foregoing letter gives a long but far from complete list of the terms
which confuse the novice at the whist table. One of the most common
difficulties with the beginner is to grasp the meaning of the terms used in
describing particular combinations of cards. Even experts are not thoroughly
familiar with many of them. It should be observed that whenever a number is
mentioned it embraces all the cards in the suit spoken of, whether any
particulars are added or not. A few of the more common forms of such
expressions are: "Ace fifth in spades." "Ace to five hearts." "King third
in diamonds." "Queen jack to four clubs." In each of these the figure
expresses the total number of cards in the suit. "Ace fifth" means that the
ace was the fifth spade. "Ace to five" does not mean that the player held the
ace and five other hearts, but that the ace belonged to the combination of
five cards in the heart suit. "King third" means that there were three
diamonds, of which the king was the best. There were only four clubs,
including the queen and jack. If a person speaks of having four spades to an
honor, he means that one of his spades was the ace, king, queen or jack, but
that he did not hold two of those cards.
Combinations of high cards, when spoken of without regard to the total
number in the suit, are divided into two classes, sequences and tenaces, and
these again are further distinguished according to their rank. Although,
properly speaking, a sequence must be composed of a series of at least three
things next in value to one another, the word is used in whist for two only,
such as king and queen, because there is no word in any language that
expresses the idea of two things next to each other in rank. A head sequence
is the ace, king, queen, sometimes called the "tierce major." The "quart
major" is the ace, king, queen, jack.
If the sequence is of inferior rank, it is named after the highest card.
"A tierce to the queen" means a series of queen, jack, ten. There are also
"intermediate sequences," such as jack, ten, nine in a suit, which also
contains the ace and deuce. The cards of a sequence are sometimes spoken of
as "indifferent cards," because one is as good as the other for trick taking
purposes. Many persons think when an indifferent card is spoken of it means
one of no value. Cards of equal value, if not actually the highest of the
suit, are never spoken of as tierce majors, but as the three "best" cards. If
the ace of spades has been played and you hold the king, queen, jack, you have
not the tierce major, but the three best spades.
"Tenaces" are a continual stumbling block to the beginner, on account of
their variety. The word has nothing to do with ten and ace, although many
persons imagine so. The "major tenace" is always the best and the third best
of the unplayed cards of a suit; the ace and queen if the suit has not been
touched. The "minor tenace" is the second and fourth best, the king and jack
in an unplayed suit. When we speak of the "double" major tenace, the ace,
queen, and ten are always meant, but the cards composing the simple major and
minor tenaces may vary every time the suit is played. If a suit has been led
once or twice, the queen and seven may become the major tenace, while the
minor tenace may be the nine and four. It is not necessary to state exactly
what the cards were if you are explaining a position at the whist table, the
idea of advantage being distinctly conveyed by the statement that you held the
major tenace over a given player.
"Potential tenaces" are combinations that will become tenaces after a
certain intermediate card falls. The ace and jack form a potential tenace,
because they become the major tenace if either the king or queen falls. The
king and ten form a potential tenace, becoming the minor if the queen or jack
falls; the major if ace-jack or ace-queen fall.
The French players do not use the word tenace, but call all such
combinations _fourchettes_. The word expresses the idea of a fork, the space
between the prongs representing the missing cards of the sequence. English-
speaking players make quite a distinction between tenace and _fourchette_, and
insist that the tenace must always be at the top of the suit, whereas a
_fourchette_ is a combination in one hand of the cards immediately above and
below the one played by the right-hand adversary. If you hold ace-queen and
the player on your right leads a small card, you hold major tenace, but not
_fourchette_. If he leads the king you hold _fourchette_, because the card he
plays fills the space between the prongs of your fork. _Fourchettes_ may be
of any rank. The eight and six are _fourchette_ over the seven at any time,
but they will not be major tenace until all the cards in that suit above the
eight have been played. _Fourchettes_ are sometimes composed of cards widely
separated. The queen and seven, for instance, will be _fourchette_ over the
jack if the eight, nine and ten have been played.
"Imperfect _fourchettes_" are forks with a prong missing. If the player
on your right leads a queen and you hold king-ten you have an "imperfect"
_fourchette_ because the jack is not in your hand. The king and ten would not
be an imperfect _fourchette_ over the jack, however, because the higher card
must be the one immediately above the one led by the player on your right, or
it is not a _fourchette_ at all. Good players always "cover" with
_fourchettes_, whether perfect or not.
"Covering" is putting on a higher card than the one led or played, but
not the best of the suit. If the player on your right leads a ten, and you
hold ace-jack and deuce, you "pass" if you play the deuce; you "cover" if you
play the jack, and you "win" if you play the ace.
Many persons confuse the terms "honors" and "court cards." Honors are
the cards that rank highest in the game being played. In whist there are four
honors--ace, king, queen, and jack; in bridge whist the ten is included. The
court cards are the three in each suit that have pictures--the king, queen,
The ace is almost invariable an honor in card games, but is never a court
card. When players "court honors" at whist they refer to honors in the trump
suit only. The ace is the best card of any suit, but a player may speak of
having the best of the suit without meaning the ace. He refers to the best
card which is still unplayed in that suit. The same is true in speaking of
the second best, for it does not matter whether the card was the king or the
four, the idea conveyed being simply that some player still held a better card
in that suit.
When a person speaks of holding the second best "guarded," he means that
even if the player with the best of the suit were to lead it he could not
catch the second best, because it was accompanied by a smaller card. A
"twice-guarded jack" means that it would take three leads to catch it. A
twice-guarded queen cannot be caught if led up to, because the two guards can
be played to the ace and king, leaving the queen the best of the suit. If one
player has the queen and his partner the jack, and either of those cards is
twice guarded, the other once only, it is impossible for the adversaries to
catch them both, no matter how they play.
The player left with the best card of any suit is said to "command" that
suit, and the French call such cards "masters;" but when the command is
against him he is said to hold a "losing card." If a person tells you he had
two "losing spades," he means that if he got the lead he would lose two spade
tricks. A "losing trump" is the only one remaining unplayed. There are some
special terms applied to the trump suit. "Weak trumps," for instance, mean
that the player has not enough of them to justify him in refusing to trump
"doubtful" tricks. Any trick is doubtful to the second player when the card
led is not the best and he does not know whether his partner or the third hand
will win it. "Strong trumps" are usually four or more, and such strength
usually warrants passing doubtful tricks and greater freedom in finessing.
In addition to these terms there are quite a number which refer chiefly
to the strategy of the game, such as "finessing," "ruffing," "forcing,"
"underplay," &c. "Finessing" is trying to win a trick without giving up the
best card you hold in the suit. If your partner leads a small card and you
hold ace-queen and others, you "finesse" when you play the queen, and the card
you finesse against is the king, which you hope is not on your left. When a
person finesses "deeply" he is finessing against more than one card. To play
the ten with the ace in your hand would be a deep finesse, as there are three
cards which will win the trick, any one of which may be on your left.
Finesses are usually made by the third hand, sometimes by the second. If
the leader tries to win a trick with a card which is not the best of the suit
it is called "underplay," if he holds the best card himself. If you have the
king, jack, and ten of a suit of which the ace has been played, and have
reason to believe that the queen is on your left, it is an underplay if you
lead the ten in the hope that the second hand will not put on his queen.
"Forcing" is compelling a player to do something that he does not want to
do, usually making him trump a suit when he is very anxious to keep his trumps
for leading. If he will not trump it is called "refusing the force." Common
usage has extended the term to cases in which you lead a suit for your partner
to "ruff," not with any intention of forcing him against his will, but in
order to gain tricks. Some players call this "ruffing your partner," as
distinguished from "forcing" him when he does not want to be forced. When two
partners alternately trump different suits it is a "cross-ruff," or "saw."
Some persons deliberately play for a ruff by leading "singletons," or
"sneaks." These are suits containing one card only, which is led for the
special purpose of ruffing the second round. Persons who habitually lead such
cards are called "guerrillas," because it is not considered legitimate warfare
to make a practice of leading sneaks, although some persons prefer such an
opening to leading away from single honors, or opening suits in which they
hold a tenace.
If a player leads a suit which is very weak, but is not a singleton, it
is called the "top of nothing," because the suit contains no possible trick
and the lead is intended to warn the partner to keep that suit quiet. In the
old days these were called "forced leads," because players did not like to
make them; but modern investigation has completely dispelled that prejudice,
and one never hears of forced leads now. If these weak leads are cards as
high as the jack, ten or nine, they are called "strengthening cards," because
although they are of no practical trick-taking value to the leader, they may
be useful in giving the partner a good finesse. When the partner refuses to
play his best card on such leads it is called "ducking." If you lead a ten,
second hand plays queen, and your partner will not put on his ace, he is said
to "duck the trick." His object is to win the second round and then force
There are quite a number of other technical terms used in whist, most of
which refer to special plays. The "Bath coup," for instance, is holding up
the ace and jack of a suit in which the adversary leads the king, so that you
may remain with the major instead of with the minor tenace. "Unblocking" is
giving up high cards in a suit in which you have reason to believe that your
partner has more cards than you have. The object is to get out of his way and
let his small cards win tricks. The "Blue Peter" is the call for trumps:
playing a higher card before a lower when no attempt is made to win the trick.
"Establishing" a suit is getting all the higher cards out of the way of
smaller ones, which so become the best. "Bringing in" an established suit is
getting into the lead and making the small cards of a suit after the adverse
trumps have been exhausted: this is usually accomplished by means of "re-entry
cards," which are the master cards in other suits, or the "long" trumps.
"Echoing" is holding up the smallest card of a suit until the second
round, so that your partner may know you have four. This is usually confined
to the trump suit. "Bumblepuppy" is playing whist without any knowledge of
its fundamental principles of in defiance of them.
Those who play bumblepuppy are usually spoken of as "duffers." A "coup"
is a brilliant stroke or play; something out of the ordinary run of whist
tactics. The "grand coup" is trumping a trick already won by your partner.
"False cards" are those played with a view to deceive the adversary as to the
location of the command of a suit. "Piano hands," or "aeolians," are those in
which there is no opportunity for brilliant play and out of which players of
widely different ability would make the same number of tricks. "Post mortems"
at whist, sometimes called "If-you-hads," consist chiefly in pointing out to
the partner what he might have done if he could have seen through the backs of