Piquet: The Card Game
Card games of the Regency Era are a fascinating study. Most of them have survived in some fashion or other into modern games. Piquet I find particularly interesting, mainly because gentlemen in a club, confidently blowing past safe blood-alcohol levels, would do this level of mental math on the fly!
I mean, I was in the Math and Science Team in high school, so it’s not like I can’t add numbers in my head, but these men were doing it off the cuff, keeping a running total, checking their opponent’s math, and then adding various bonuses at the end of each hand… while drunk. People say our education system is failing kids (which I don’t think is exactly true), but I don’t think my high schoolers could do this.
(Wait, I have the solution! I could motivate math students with high stakes gambling and alcohol… No school board could take issue with that, right? Education for the win!)
Anyway–piquet. I’ve researched various games before, but this was my first deep dive for this game. It’s played with a deck of cards from 7 to aces. Some sources do mention men using a pocket book or scrap of paper to keep the running tally over the (usually 6) deals, but it seems this was not necessarily the norm.
At the beginning, they would score the sets and sequences in their own hand in a series of declarations. Without showing cards, they figured who had the higher points where they overlapped and scored accordingly. Then they would play their hand, taking tricks and getting points for that.
David Parlett describes one part of the scoring this way: “A sequence is three or more cards of the same suit in ranking order. Elder starts by announcing his longest sequence (if any), using the terms tierce for a run of three, quart (pronounced “cart”) for a run of four, quint for five, or sixième, septième, huitième for six, seven or eight. If Younger cannot match or beat Elder’s sequence he replies “Good” and Elder scores for that sequence and any others that he is able to declare. A tierce and quart score 3 and 4 respectively; a quint is 15 and higher sequences 16, 17 and 18 as the case may be. If he can beat it, he says “Not good”, and will eventually score for whatever sequences he holds.”
This is just part of the declarations, and this is done before they even begin playing their cards and getting points for tricks. Also, the score is maintained over six hands (sometimes two more if they are within a close margin), and the cumulative score wins the game.
Other sources describe slightly different modes of declarations (the part where they claim points at the beginning), and it seems some people moved away from the French terms in the original version, though many did not.
Anyway, I can bore you with more details, but if you’d like to play the game, I recommend this video tutorial by GatherTogetherGames.com–it’s very helpful to SEE the game play. And if you don’t desperately want to play it, then enjoy my excerpt of Mr. Wickham trying his luck in Bath while also trying his luck with Mary Elliot. (This is from my Persuasion/Pride and Prejudice crossover series.)
Propriety and Piquet, Chapter 1
Mr. Wickham drummed his fingers on the thick black tablecloth as he examined his piquet hand.
The card room was crowded with gentlemen, as a Monday night dress ball at the Assembly Rooms in Bath drew easily a thousand people.
The green walls were lit by candles and chandeliers, and he was warm with the combined weight of elegantly packed bodies.
Wickham tilted his cards to remove a glare. He rearranged them into suits, counting sequences and sets. He was not the dealer in this round therefore he had the elder hand and could exchange cards first.
He needed to win tonight. He’d left the militia in Hertfordshire and followed Mary Elliot to Bath, as she’d wanted. Indeed, he’d had little choice after she threatened to tell her father he’d compromised her. He still wasn’t sure if she’d meant it as a threat, but it was excessively annoying, as he hadn’t even gotten the pleasure of actually ruining her.
At least Bath was less expensive than London, although after paying his subscription fee to the Assembly Rooms—a necessity—and dispersing eighteen shillings for a middling room on Julian Road—he was in dire need of funds.
Piquet required a great deal of skill and luck, and Wickham was flush in both. He’d just won ten pounds on a roll of dice, and that inspired him to sit down for piquet.
Wickham removed four cards and discarded them, drawing four from the eight cards of the talon in the center.
His opponent then had the opportunity to exchange his own cards, up to as many as were left in the draw pile.
His opponent tonight was a middle-aged man with an unfashionable set of whiskers and teeth yellowed by tobacco. His dress was in the mode however, and a jeweled pin in his cravat had to be worth eighty pounds at the least. He had also a heavy signet ring, which looked as if it would never slide off over his swollen knuckles.
The man discarded three cards and replaced them. Now it was Wickham’s turn to make declarations.
“Point of six,” he said.
“Equal,” the man said. This meant he also had a straight of six of the same suit. That was unfortunate.
Wickham had six hearts, the highest being a queen. It was a high scoring sequence, but was it enough? He added them up. “Fifty-four.”
“Good,” the opponent said. This meant Wickham got the points, as the man’s set of 6 must be worth less. Wickham breathed a little more easily and declared several more—a sequence of five, and a set of three. One went to the other man, but that was all right, there were still the tricks to take and those points to add to his total.
“Double the wager?” Wickham asked.
The man’s yellow-gray beard shifted like a haystack as he examined his cards. “Done.”
Wickham led with an ace, and the man followed with a nine. Wickham’s goal was to find a suit the man had few of, so that he could drain him of cards. If Wickham took the most tricks, he would get 10 extra points, if he took all of them, he would get 40.
These few minutes would determine his future in Bath. Wickham’s pulse quickened, and he felt a light, urgent thrill. This was what drew him back to gambling.
A win would mean nicer rooms in Queen’s Square, a new coat to match his civilian persona in Bath, and the blunt to come back to the card room whenever he wished to earn a few more quid.
A loss would be problematic, as Wickham did not have the money to cover the current bet. He had already played five of the six hands with this man. The haystack had been ahead three of the first four rounds, though the fifth had gone decisively to Wickham. This hand would decide the game.
Wickham’s stomach tightened with excitement as he took trick after trick. His luck was in, he could feel it.
The haystack felt it, too. As Wickham passed six tricks—ensuring he would win the extra ten points for most taken in this hand—the man glowered. Wickham had stuck him with a run of spades, for which the man kept sacrificing higher and higher cards as he could not follow suit.
In the end, the haystack took the last two tricks with a king and queen of clubs, but he lost the round. This was the sixth and final hand.
They scored the final points, and Wickham smiled. “That would be 154 for me.”
“132,” the man said.
Wickham shook his head. “You nearly had me in the fourth hand. A sorry turn of luck for you, sir.”
The haystack removed a wad of bills and tossed a few to Wickham. “Indeed.”
If Wickham had worried about the man’s finances, which he had not, the wad of pound notes would’ve changed that.
Wickham saluted the man and tucked the pounds into the interior pocket of his coat. He threw back the last half-inch of his alcohol.
Now he was sitting pretty. He’d change some of this to coins and he’d have enough for tips for street sweepers and stable boys, and enough to send roses to Mary, as she would expect. He’d have enough for that coat, also, perhaps in Bath superfine wool—a dark green would set off his complexion and thick, curly brown hair. Now that he was no longer in the militia, with its trustworthy and popular red coats, he must needs make a good impression as a civilian.
Wickham—despite a longing look at the game of hazard at the next table—left the card room with all his winnings. How could Darcy possibly accuse him of excess? He was positively a pattern-card of self-control.
Thank you for reading! Look out for my coming novel, Starch and Strategy, the first of this series, coming April 25.