Saturday, 30 January 2016

Cards with friends

I've mentioned before that I like playing cards very much. But in fact my heyday for playing was the later 1960s and early 1970s. That said, I often played Cribbage and Piquet with Dad throughout subsequent decades until he died in 2009. After that, though, card-playing was a rare treat indeed, confined to a few games of Euchre once or twice a year with friends from Guernsey.

I did install on my tablet and phone the best games of Cribbage, PiquetÉcarté and Klondike Solitaire that I could find for purchase and download; but missing was the human element. There's no substitute for playing cards in good company. The warmth of social bonding is so important.

But yesterday afternoon, with the rain lashing down outside, four of us got round a tablet in my next-door neighbour Jackie's house to play Rummy, and then Black Maria. Lunch was over - it had been an après-pilates event with Jackie hosting, and Jo, Valerie, Sue and myself as her guests. I'd felt much on the mend after a cold, but hadn't had the energy to make it to the pilates class. I was however up for a cooked lunch (with wine) next door. I'd been unwell and had seen nobody for a week. I was eager to see my girl friends again.

Valerie and Sue had mid-afternoon commitments, and left after a couple of hours. But we needed some custard for the remaining half of the big mince pie, and Jo asked her husband Clive to bring some over. He stayed. Playing a game or two of cards was my suggestion. Everyone thought it a good idea.

So we launched into Rummy.

Now I have to confess at once that I hadn't played any form of Rummy for donkeys years. We had generally played only trick-playing games in our family, such as Whist (which Mum could play). Dad and Uncle Wilf had shown me how to play Solo Whist when I was young, and games like German Whist too. All these involved a standard pack of cards and the winning of tricks. Games in which one tried to make sets and sequences were confined to Piquet and Cribbage. The only game like Rummy I'd tried was two-handed Canasta with my brother Wayne, long ago when we were both teenagers.

Wayne and I were both then fascinated by cards, and we both loved to invent card games, the stranger the better.

Wayne invented (but did not perfect) a card game called Joker, in which every card could potentially be a wild card, any or all of them at the same time, and there was no limit to the number of cards one could play to a trick in order to win it. For some reason, the constant use of an authentic, sophisticated French casino accent was part of the game. So whenever a wild card was played, the person doing so had to say 'Le Jokeur' in his or her best French voice, or forfeit ten points. It was then incumbent on the other player to beat this with a better card, whatever might at that moment qualify as a higher wild card (Wayne's schoolboy rules on that were encyclopaedic), saying at the same time the obligatory 'Mais non, cette carte ci est le Jokeur!!' or else forfeit ten points. Which all sounds full of potential, but Wayne couldn't quite work out how to decide - quickly - which card would ever actually win the trick being played for. The card-ranking rules got so convoluted, so obtuse, so arcane, so very difficult to remember, that all fun was removed from the game, rendering it utterly tedious to play.

Nevertheless, one day I must try to revive and refine Joker into a game worth playing - in Wayne's honour and memory, you understand. Maybe I will try it out on my friends. You have been warned.

Back to our game of Rummy. It was the most straightforward version - dealing out seven cards each, turning up the top card of the stock pile, and each player in turn taking the turned-up card and discarding, or drawing a card unseen from the stock pile and discarding, or (once a set or sequence had already been placed down on the table in front of them) taking up as many cards from the discard pile as possible, placing at least one more set or sequence on the table, and then discarding. All done with the aim of combining all the cards in one's hand (apart from the one finally discarded) into sets and sequences, and scoring for them. Anyone caught with cards still in their hand when the deal was over would have their value counted against them, deducting that from the count for whatever they had managed to put down on the table. It was easily possible to end a deal with a reduced (or even minus) running score.

I got a grip on all this only slowly. But after a while I did rather well. Beginner's luck, of course! These were the cumulative scores after each deal:

Rummy at Jackie’s on 29th January 2016
Jackie Jo Lucy Clive
-10 60 35 70
5 85 65 150
65 90 120 185
90 75 170 170
45 110 205 210
10 260 265 240
55 270 325 330
45 210 360 320
55 260 395 255
105 265 350 425
115 290 430 430

I swore that I wasn't competitive, and careless as to whether I won or lost. But beginner's luck was strong on this occasion! Clive is a very good card player, by the way.

Then we turned to Black Maria. Just a few games of this before we ran out of time. I remembered Black Maria well from the 1970s. This is the game where you try to avoid taking a trick containing a 'penalty card', any of which score against you. The object is to come out with the lowest score after a series of deals. Each heart 'won' in a trick will set you back one point. But the ace of spades will set you back seven points, the king of spades ten points, and the queen of spades (Black Maria herself) a full thirteen points. Each player starts off with thirteen cards, but passes three to the player on their right before looking at what is passed to them. The object of this is to void a suit, or to land the receiver with an unwelcome little gift. Then play proceeds, with no trump suit, each player doing their best not to get hearts or any top spade dumped on them. Obviously there is plenty scope for discarding a penalty card onto another player, done with glee or sincere regret as the case may be.

We had time for three deals, and these were the cumulative scores at the end of each one:

Black Maria at Jackie’s on 29th January 2016
Jackie Jo Lucy Clive
17 14 3 9
34 17 6 29
34 60 6 29

As you can see, Jo got lumbered with all of the penalty cards on the third deal! Poor woman! That smug Lucy won, by coming out with the lowest score, and by some margin. She couldn't plead it was 'beginner's luck' this time. No doubt the others will inflict a hideous revenge on her at a later late! 

Great fun though. I do hope we can convene for cards again soon.

2 comments:

  1. I'm told that I'm lethal at Euchre, though I haven't played a 'real' game competitively for years. These days I just play the Hardwood version online and mostly zap our American cousins. Still very satisfying, you understand.

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