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Whist marker.jpg
A 19th-century whist marker by the British printing Co. De La Rue.
Origin England
Type Trick-taking
SkillsTactics, strategy
Deck French
Rank (high→low)A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Playing time30 min
Related games

Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was widely played in the 18th and 19th centuries. [1] [2] Although the rules are simple, there is scope for strategic play. [3]



Drawing by Marguerite Martyn for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of a session of the Women's Whist Club Congress, April 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri Drawing by Marguerite Martyn of Women's Whist Club Congress, 1906, St. Louis.jpg
Drawing by Marguerite Martyn for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of a session of the Women's Whist Club Congress, April 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri

Whist is a descendant of the 16th-century game of trump or ruff. Whist replaced the popular variant of trump known as ruff and honours. [4] [5] The game takes its name from the 17th-century word whist (or wist) meaning quiet, silent, attentive, which is the root of the modern wistful. [6]

Whist was first played on scientific principles by a party of gentlemen who frequented the Crown Coffee House in Bedford Row, London, around 1728, according to Daines Barrington. [7] Edmond Hoyle, suspected to be a member of this group, began to tutor wealthy young gentlemen in the game and published A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist in 1742. It became the standard text and rules for the game for the next hundred years.

In 1862, Henry Jones, writing under the pseudonym "Cavendish", published The Principles of Whist Stated and Explained, and Its Practice Illustrated on an Original System, by Means of Hands Played Completely Through, which became the standard text. [7] In his book, Jones outlined a comprehensive history of Whist, and suggested that its ancestors could include a game called Trionf, mentioned by a sixteenth century Italian poet named Berni, and a game called Trump (or Triumph), mentioned in Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. [8] Many subsequent editions and enlargements of Jones's book were published using the simpler title Cavendish On Whist. Whist by now was governed by elaborate and rigid rules covering the laws of the game, etiquette and play which took time to study and master.

In the 1890s, a variant known as bridge whist became popular which eventually evolved into contract bridge. The traditional game of whist survives at social events called whist drives. [9] There are many modern variants of whist played for fun.


A standard 52-card pack is used. The cards in each suit rank from highest to lowest: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. Whist is played by four players, who play in two partnerships with the partners sitting opposite each other. Players draw cards to determine dealer and partners, with the two highest playing against the lowest two, who have seating rights. To comment on the cards in any way is strictly against the rules. One may not comment upon the hand one was dealt nor about one's good fortune or bad fortune. One may not signal to one's partner.

Shuffling and dealing

The cards can be shuffled by any player, though usually the player to dealer's left. The dealer has the right to shuffle last if they wish. To speed up dealing, a second pack can be shuffled by the dealer's partner during the deal and then placed to the right ready for the next hand. The cards are cut by the player on dealer's right before dealing. The dealer deals out the cards, one at a time, face down, so that each player has thirteen cards. The final card, which belongs to the dealer, is turned face up to indicate which suit is trumps. The turned-up trump card remains face up on the table until it is the dealer's turn to play to the first trick, at which point the dealer may pick up the card and place it in his/her hand. The deal advances clockwise.


The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick with any card in the hand. The other players, in clockwise order, each play a card to the trick and must follow suit by playing a card of the suit led if held. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card, either discarding or trumping. The trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump is played, in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of the trick leads the next trick.

Play continues until all thirteen tricks are played, at which point the score is recorded. If no team has enough points to win the game, another hand is played.

Part of the skill involved in the game is one's ability to remember what cards have been played and reason out what cards remain. Therefore, once each trick is played, its cards are turned face down and kept in a stack of four near the player who won the trick. Before the next trick starts, a player may ask to review the cards from the last trick only. Once the lead card is played, however, no previously played cards can be reviewed by anyone.


19th-century whist scoring counter, depicting the departure of Cumberland Jack from Britain. Tohanovertoken.png
19th-century whist scoring counter, depicting the departure of Cumberland Jack from Britain.

After all tricks have been played, the side that won more tricks scores one point for each trick won in excess of six. When all four players are experienced, it is unusual for the score for a single hand to be higher than two. A game is over when one team reaches a score of five. There are so-called "Hotel Rules" variations in which the teams agree to play to a higher score, such as "American" and "Long" (seven and nine, respectively).

Longer variations of the game, in which the winning score is set higher than five, can be played with "honours" rules in effect. Honours have no effect on the play of a hand, but serve as bonus points that speed up the games as an element of luck. If the partners on a single team are dealt the top four cards (ace, king, queen, jack) in the trump suit, they collect four additional points at the end of the hand; if they are dealt three of these cards, they score two points. Tricks are scored before honours, and the latter cannot be used to score the winning point.

For example, a game is being played to nine points and the score is tied 6-6. A hand is played, and the winning team takes seven tricks and claims honours for three of the four highest trump cards. They score one point for their tricks, but only one point for their honours since the second point would take them up to nine and win the game. The score after the hand is thus 8-6.

Methods of keeping score include whist marker devices, or a set of four metal counters which can be arranged in different formations for the score values 1 through 9. [11]

Basic tactics


One card at a time is given to each player by the dealer starting with the player on the dealer's left and proceeding clockwise until the deck is fully distributed.
The player who deals the cards for a hand.
The pack of cards used for playing comprising 52 cards in four suits.
In some variations, a hand is turned face up and is played from by the player seated opposite. This allows the game to be played by three players.
The play of a lower honour even though holding a higher one, hoping that the intermediate honour is held by a player who has already played to the trick. To give an example: you hold the ace and queen of hearts. Your right-hand antagonist leads a heart, from which you infer that he holds the king of the same suit and wishes to draw the ace, in order to make his king. You however play the queen, and win the trick; still retaining your ace, ready to win again when he plays his king. [12] [7]
Reaching a total score agreed beforehand to be the score played up to.
Grand Slam
The winning, by one team, of all thirteen tricks in a hand.
Thirteen tricks. (52 cards in the deck divided by four players equals thirteen cards per player.)
In some variations, extra points are assigned after a game to a team if they were dealt the ace, king, queen, and jack (knave) of the trump suit. [13]
The first card played in a trick.
Rare or obsolete. To prevent one's adversary from scoring a treble [OED] or in the phrase 'save one's lurch' to just escape losing the game [Hoyle, Britannica 1911]. [7]
See Deck.
Three games. [7]
Small slam
The winning, by one team, of twelve tricks in a hand.
A suit holding containing the highest and third-highest of the suit or (the "minor tenace") second- and fourth-highest.
Four cards played one each by the players.
The suit chosen by the last-dealt card that will beat all other suits regardless of rank. If two or more trump cards are played in a single trick, the highest-ranking trump wins it.


The name has become attached to a wide variety of games, most based on Classic Whist. McLeod classifies this family into a number of sub-groups: the auction whist, Boston, classic whist and exact bidding groups, and games played by numbers of players other than four. The following is a selection within each sub-group.

Auction whist group

The auction whist group is a family of games with the characteristics of whist – an auction for the right to choose trumps won by the highest contract or largest number of tricks – and fixed partnerships. [14]

Boston group

Classic whist group

Exact bidding group

Whists for other numbers of players

Other games called 'whist'

Whist drive

A whist drive is a social event at which progressive games of whist are played across a number of tables which are numbered or ordered into a sequence.

In it, the winning (or sometimes losing, dependent on the local custom) pair of a hand "progress" around the room, i.e. one person moves up the table sequence and one person moves down. On arriving at the new table, the next hand is played.

By convention the pair who sits has shuffled and deals after the arriving pair has cut the pack.

A progressive whist drive is normally 24 hands, with each hand being a different trump. Trumps normally follow the sequence: hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades.

Sometimes a break for refreshments is taken after 12 hands. [9]

Literary references

"[...] Whist has long been noted for its influence upon what is termed the calculating power; and men of the highest order of intellect have been known to take an apparently unaccountable delight in it, [...]"

"[...] His only pastime was reading the papers and playing whist. He frequently won at this quiet game, so very appropriate to his nature;[...]"

The rubber was conducted with all that gravity of deportment and sedateness of demeanour which befit the pursuit entitled “whist”—a solemn observance, to which, as it appears to us, the title of “game” has been very irreverently and ignominiously applied

In media

See also

Related Research Articles

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Oh hell or contract whist is a trick-taking card game of British origin in which the object is to take exactly the number of tricks bid. It was first described by B. C. Westall around 1930 and originally called oh! well. It was said to have been introduced into America via the New York clubs in 1931. Phillips and Westall describe it as "one of the best round games."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Trick-taking game</span> Type of card game

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  1. Waddingtons Family Card Games, Robert Harbin, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1972
  2. Courtney, William Prideaux (1894). English Whist and English Whist players. London: Richard Bentley & Son.
  3. The Pan Book of Card Games, Hubert Phillips, Pan Books Ltd, London, 1960
  4. Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, p. 340, David Parlett ISBN   0-19-869173-4
  5. Pole, William (1895). The Evolution of Whist. Longmans, Green, and Co. (New York, London), 269 pages.
  6. "Wistful - Define Wistful at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.com. Retrieved 20 January 2015.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 "Whist"  . Encyclopædia Britannica . Vol. 28 (11th ed.). 1911.
  8. "History of Whist" in Roya, Will (2021). Card Night: Classic Games, Classic Decks, and the History Behind Them. Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers. p. 167. ISBN   9780762473519.
  9. 1 2 Cambridge Dictionaries Online Whist drive
  10. Notes and Queries, p.  26.
  11. "Hoyle's scoring method » The Whist Markers Museum". www.thewhistmarkersmuseum.com. Retrieved 11 September 2021.
  12. Notes and queries, p. 328 – Bell & Daldy 1863
  13. Official Rules of Card Games, United States Playing Card Company, 59th ed., 1973
  14. Auction Whist Group at pagat.com. Retrieved 21 August 2023.
  15. Bid Whist at pagat.com. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  16. Parlett 2008, p. 24.
  17. Parlett 2008, p. 49.
  18. "Double Sir or Sar" in Court Piece/Rang at pagat.com. Retrieved 13 February 2021.
  19. Parlett (2008), pp. 87–88.
  20. Parlett (2008), pp. 86–87.
  21. 1 2 Parlett 2008, p. 38.
  22. Parlett 2008, p. 247.
  23. Whist at pagat.com. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  24. Ladder Whist at gambiter.com. Retrieved 30 April 2022.
  25. Progressive Whist Cards at wopc.co.uk. Retrieved 30 April 2022.