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Whist is a classic English trick-taking card game which was played widely in the 18th and 19th centuries[1]. It derives from the 16th century game of Trump or Ruff, via Ruff and Honours[2][3]. Although the rules are extremely simple, there is enormous scope for scientific play.[4]



Apparently originating in the early 17th century, the now obsolete adjective whist and variant spelling wist (in which the word wistful has its roots), meant quiet, silent, and/or attentive. The adverb wistly is also defined as meaning intently.[5]

In its heyday a large amount of literature about how to play whist was written. Edmond Hoyle, of "According to Hoyle" fame, wrote an early popular and definitive textbook, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. It is important to note that this game, called "French ruff" by Charles Cotton, is similar to écarté. English ruff-and-honours, also described by Cotton, is similar to whist. If we admit that ruff and trump are convertible terms, of which there is scarcely a doubt, the game of trump was the precursor of whist. A purely English origin may, therefore, be claimed for trump (not la triomphe). No record is known to exist of the invention of this game, nor of the mode of its growth into ruff-and-honours, and finally into whist.

Early in the 18th century whist was not a fashionable game. The Hon. Daines Harrington (Archaeologia, vol. viii.) says it was the game of the servants' hall. Contemporary writers refer to it in a disparaging way, as being only fit for hunting men and country squires, and not for fine ladies or people of quality. According to Barrington, whist was first played on scientific principles by a party of gentlemen who frequented the Crown Coffee House in Bedford Row, London, about 1728. They laid down the following rules: "Lead from the strong suit; study your partner's hand; and attend to the score." Shortly afterwards the celebrated Edmond Hoyle (q.v.) published his Short Treatise (1742). It has been surmised by some that Hoyle belonged to the Crown Coffee House party. This, however, is only a conjecture. There is abundant evidence to show that, in the middle of the 18th century, whist was regularly played at the coffee houses of London and in fashionable society. From the time of Hoyle the game continued to increase in public estimation, until the introduction of bridge, which has to a large extent replaced it, but which has much in common with it.

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