Edmond Hoyle

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Edmond Hoyle

Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) was an authority on card games and is often referred to as the "Father of Whist." Although he did not invent the game, with the publication of his systematized book of rules and procedures, the game became widely popular, especially among the English aristocracy. He also published rules on backgammon, brag, quadrille, piquet, and chess.

Almost nothing is known of Hoyle's life before 1741. It has been speculated that he was from Yorkshire and later owned land in Dublin, but scholars agree that the historical records are most likely referring to another Edmond Hoyle. It is commonly believed that he was a lawyer. In 1741 he was residing in Queen Square, London, where he earned at least part of his income by giving lessons on the card game whist. In need of a standard book of rules to assist his students, he wrote A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist. When the manuscript handbook was well received by his students, he was encouraged to publish it.

A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist

The book was entered at Stationers' Hall on November 17, 1742, with Hoyle as the sole owner of the copyright. The book sold for one guinea and became a popular success, despite the fact that numerous pirated versions quickly appeared on the market. Reprinted in 14 successive editions along with numerous revised editions published after Hoyle's death, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist ultimately became one of the best selling books of the eighteenth century.

The Game of Whist

Whist, on which the modern card game bridge is based, is played with a full deck of 52 cards by two sets of partners. The object is to take tricks, or earn points, by playing the highest-ranking card in each round. To begin, all cards are dealt out around the table, one card at a time laid face down, with each player ultimately holding 13 cards. The last card, which belongs to the dealer, is dealt face up and determines the trump suit of hearts, diamonds, spades, or clubs for that hand. The player on the dealer's left begins the play by laying a card on the table face up. Other players then must follow suit. If the same suit is not available in one's hand, a player can lay down a card from the trump suit. Any trump card outranks all cards from other suits. For example, in a round in which spades is trump, if an eight of diamonds is led, followed by a ten of diamonds, a king of diamonds, and a two of spades, the trump card, two of spades, wins the round even though it is numerically lower. If more than one player lays down a trump card, the highest trump card takes the trick. Partners earn one point for every trick that they take after the first six. Therefore, with 13 points possible per hand, the highest score per hand is seven. A game is won by being the first partners to earn seven points.

As the first book to offer a scientific approach to whist, or any other card game for that matter, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist provided new insight and strategy on card playing. Along with providing a systematized book of rules for the game, Hoyle introduced laws of probability in determining the correct play. He also was the first to suggest that play can be aided by inferring the remaining cards in a player's hand based on the previously played cards. In other words, with 13 cards in each suit, if for example 10 cards within a suit have already been laid down during a round, a player can make educated predictions regarding where the other three suit cards lie. Including a code of ethics and fair play, Hoyle provided a foundation of ethical play that went almost wholly unchanged for two centuries.

Numerous Editions Printed

The second edition of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, which included several additions, appeared as a pocket-sized book in 1743, selling for two shillings. The third and fourth editions were also published in 1743, with the fourth edition revised to contain the 24 rules of whist that would govern the game until revised once again by Hoyle in his twelfth edition, published in 1760. The fifth, sixth, and seventh editions were published in 1744, 1746, and 1747, respectively. The eighth edition, published in 1748 as Hoyle's Standard Games, offered 13 new cases and included Hoyle's rules for quadrille, piquet, and backgammon. The ninth edition, bearing the title The Accurate Gamester's Companion was also published in 1748. The tenth edition, produced in 1750 and 1755, is identical to the eighth edition. The eleventh edition, published as Mr. Hoyle's Games of Whist, Quadrille, Piquet, Chess, and Backgammon, Complete, is undated. First released in 1760, the twelfth edition was reissued in 1761 with two new cases. Although undated, the thirteenth edition is believed to have been published in 1763, and both the fourteenth and fifteenth editions released in 1770. A French translation, Traite abrege de Jeu de Whist, was first published in 1764. Four years later, a German edition, titled Anweisung zum Whistspiel, was printed.

Every edition of an original A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist bore Hoyle's signature. His rules as laid out in his 1760 edition, slightly amended, governed whist until 1864 when they were replaced by a new set of rules adopted by the Arlington and Portland whist clubs in London. British writer and physician Henry Jones became the leading authority on whist during the nineteenth century. Going through numerous revisions, whist eventually evolved into the game of bridge.

Other Works

Besides the numerous revised editions of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, Hoyle published six other rulebooks. His Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon appeared in three editions (1743, 1745, and 1748). Hoyle's rules and strategies for backgammon remain largely unchanged to this day. His Short Treatise on the Game of Piquet, to which are added some Rules and Observations for playing well at Chess was first published in 1744, with new editions issued in 1746 and 1748. Short Treatise on the Game of Quadrille, to which is added the Laws of the Game was published in 1745. These three titles also appeared in the eighth edition of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist (1748). In 1751 Hoyle published Short Treatise on the Game of Brag, containing the Laws of the Game; also Calculations, shewing the Odds of winning or losing certain Hands dealt. Hoyle explained how to calculate odds in situations found in piquet, all fours, whist, dice, lotteries, and annuities in An Essay Towards making the Doctrines of Chances Easy to those who understand Vulgar Arithmetick only, To which is added, Some Useful Tables on Annuities for Lives, published in 1754 with a new edition appearing in 1764. Finally, An Essay Towards making the Game of Chess Easily learned By those who know the Moves only, without the Assistance of a Master was published in 1761.

"According to Hoyle"

Hoyle's books became so popular that all rulebooks for card, table, and board games became known as "Hoyles." The phrase "According to Hoyle" was used to describe the correct rules or procedures in any activity or game. A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist became such a success that it spawned a play in 1743, The Humours of Whist. The skit provided a comical look at Hoyle and his pupils and the downfall of card sharks whose secrets Hoyle exposed. References to Hoyle can also be found in literature, including Fielding's Tom Jones, Alexander Thomson's poem "Whist, "and Lord Byron's Don Juan.

His name was widely pirated to signify authority of other writers on games, who often used "Hoyle" in the title of their publication. Even after his death, many misconceptions arose regarding what Hoyle actually wrote. According to Albert A. Ostrow in The Complete Card Player (1945), "Many people believe that Edmond Hoyle himself promulgated most of the card rules attributed to him. Even some writers on cards have fallen into the same error and in taking issue with Hoyle have, for example, learnedly discussed 'his' rules on poker. The fact of the matter is this— Edmond Hoyle never heard of poker. " Even to this day, books of rules for card, table, and board games are published under the name of Hoyle. Even though the games were unknown to Hoyle himself, his name continues to represent the ultimate authority on game rules. Hoyle died in London on August 29, 1769; he was 97 years old.


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"Edmond Hoyle," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000,http://encarta.msn.com (December 11, 2000).

"Whist," Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2000,http://encarta.msn.com (December 11, 2000). □

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