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LECTURE IV.
DISCARDING, AND ITS DIFFICULTIES.
——
“This the vain purpose of his life to try,
Still to explore what still eludes his eye.”

Discards are of two distinct kinds:—

    (1) Ordinary.
    (2) Forced.

(1) When your partner; (2) When your adversary shows strength.

In the first case, you naturally point out to your partner which is your strong suit by discarding from your weak suits, your object being to win the game, and there is an end of that matter.[19] In the second case it is just the reverse. You have to save the game, and you discard from your best guarded suit, by no means necessarily your strongest, with a view, as far as you can, of blocking every suit, and so preventing the adversary from establishing his long cards.

[33]

These two kinds of discards are, or ought to be, of importance to three very different classes of players:—

(1) The Scientific.

(2) The Commonly Decent.

(3) The Exponents of Bumblepuppy.

(1) The Scientific.—Here, with trumps declared against you, you discard, as already said, from your best guarded suit. Your partner knows this is probable, but he does not know how strong you are in that suit; he also knows it may very possibly be a suit in which you hold three small cards, and a second discard of it only gives him the further information that you had either three or five—he must infer which from his own hand—he assumes you did not originally hold two, for you would not have left yourself entirely bare of the suit. It is not everybody who is in the proud position which I once occupied, when a trump being led by the adversary, I found myself with no trump, the best nine cards of one suit, and two other aces.

Among good players, then, the forced discard amounts to this: that though you are aware your partner is discarding with the best possible motives, and he is aware that you are doing the same, neither can depend upon the other’s discard as showing anything for certain. With trumps declared against you, you must place unknown cards to the best of your ability, and in such an unpleasant conjuncture, if you are exceptionally fortunate, you may sometimes save[34] the game, and the skill displayed in doing so may be a joy for ever:—
“Forsan et h?c olim meminisse juvabit.”

Observe the discretion of the poet in his choice of the word “forsan.”

But when, on the other hand, you look at the improbability of this coming off, when you reflect that your partner has occasionally given you two discards, and that you, in the exercise of that right of private judgment inherent in every Protestant, led one of those very suits, and by so doing lost the game; when you recall what then took place, the epea pteroenta, the mutual—but the subject is too painful; let us leave it, and pass on to Class 2.[20] This class has two divisions, they both see your discards, but—without any reference to their own hands or anything that has been played—one division assumes your discard is invariably from weakness, and at once knocks on the head the very suit you have sedulously been attempting to guard; the other has got hold of the pernicious axiom that the original discard is necessarily your strongest suit, and always leads that.

Here we have again a pretty considerable element of confusion.

[35]

Class 3.—These, with an unerring instinct that might almost be mistaken for genius,[21] will put you in a hole, whatever you do. The safest plan is, under all circumstances, to discard from your weakest suit; you cannot be cut to pieces there, and, whatever happens, you have the letter of the law on your side. When you have not followed suit to the second round of the opponent’s trumps, when, as a rule, your discard (being forced) is not to be depended on and is of no importance to them, this is the only time they ever see it; for having no winning cards in their own hands to attract their attention, they are able to devote a little more time to seeing the cards on the table. The number of times they will have that wretched trick turned, and their anxiety to be quite sure of the suit, are painful to the sensitive mind (especially if that sensitive mind is sitting opposite to them and happens to belong to yourself). Well might Sophocles observe, “Many things are dreadful, but nothing is more dreadful than man.”

That the first discard is from the weakest suit is one of those half-dozen cast-iron rules—three of them wrong, and the remainder invariably misapplied—which[36] make up their stock-in-trade;[22] but if they hold ace, king, queen to five trumps—say clubs—you see them come well up to the table with an air of triumph, and begin to lead. Again you don’t follow suit; what do they care? they drive gaily on, but, as they finish the third round, the idea just begins to dawn upon them—perhaps you have discarded something.[23] A careful inspection of the last trick affords them the pleasing intelligence that somebody has discarded a diamond and somebody else a spade; the light fades from their eye, their jaw drops, and they are such a picture of hopeless misery, that if they were not in the habit of informing you—scores of times a day—that they play whist only for amusement, you might almost doubt the fact.[24]

[37]

After prolonged contemplation of the chandelier and a farewell look at the spade and diamond, they eventually produce a heart—your original discard!—have their remaining trumps drawn, and lose the game.

Ordinary discards are simple in the extreme, and might be very useful; unfortunately (as the general public will persist in confining its attention to its own hand, as long as there is anything in it), the only discard usually seen is the last, and this detracts from their utility. Forced discards are always difficult (not to the discarder, but to his partner), and to a duffer, unintelligible, for this reason, they require common-sense—far be it from me to teach it—it is like poetry, “nascitur non fit,” and these remarks have not been made with any such intention, but to endeavour to accentuate that Cavendish in his treatise on Whist, and a letter which I append, has said everything on the subject likely to be of use.

[38]
The Principles of Discarding.

“The old system of discarding, though unscientific, had at least the merit of extreme simplicity. It was just this: when not able to follow suit, let your first discard be from your weakest suit. Your partner in his subsequent leads is thus directed to your strong suit, and will refrain from leading the suit in which, by your original discard, you have told him you are weak.[25]

Several years ago some whist enthusiasts, amongst whom were Mogul and myself, played a number of experimental rubbers, the cards of each hand being recorded as they were played, and the play being fully discussed afterwards.

In the course of the discussion it was observed first, I think, by Mogul, that in several hands the discard from a weak suit, when the adversaries evidently had in their hands the command of trumps,[39] had resulted very disastrously.[26] This caused us to consider whether the weak suit should not be protected under these circumstances, and we finally came to the conclusion that discards should be divided into two classes, viz., ordinary discards and forced discards. These I proceed to distinguish.

The reason a weak suit is chosen for the discard is, that when a strong suit is broken into, the number of long cards which might be brought in, if the suit is ever established, are lessened, and so many potential tricks are thus consequently lost.

But little harm, certainly none of this kind of harm, is done by throwing away from a weak suit, in other words, from a suit that can never be brought in. But when the adversaries have declared great strength in trumps, the chance of bringing in a suit is reduced to a minimum. On the assumption that you can never bring it in, the small cards of your long suit are valueless to you. That suit will protect itself so far as its high cards are concerned, but the weak suits require protection.

Thus, by guarding honours, or by keeping four cards to a ten or nine, a trick is often won, or the establishment of an adverse suit prevented. It was this point, indeed, which first led us to condemn the[40] invariable discard of the weak suit; the remark was frequently made, “I was obliged to deceive you then, partner, and to throw my long suit in order to keep my king guarded in another suit.” This, of course, when the game was in danger.

Honours in weak suits may be freely unguarded by the players who have strong trump hands, but the guards should be religiously preserved by those who are weak. Our discussions resulted in our laying down the following rules for our own guidance, viz., when you see from the fall of the cards that there is no probability of bringing in your own or your partner’s long suit, discard originally from your best protected suit. This I may call the foundation of the modern system of discarding; it has been adopted by all the best players with whom I am acquainted.

For the sake of having a short and easily remembered rule, however, it is the fashion to say, “Discard originally from your strong suit when the adversaries lead trumps.”[27] “No doubt you will be right in your discard in most cases, but this aphorism does not truly express the conditions.” (Query, then why use[41] it?).... “The conclusion I have arrived at is that the modern system of discarding requires so much judgment in its application as to be rather a stumbling-block than an assistance to the ordinary run of players,”—rough on the neophyte!—“This is a pity, as there can be no doubt but that the classing of discards into ordinary and forced is sound in principle, and adds beauty to the game. I have been prompted to write this letter in the hopes of seeing this classification more generally adopted, and its limitations more distinctly observed and acted on.”—Cavendish.

I have met with the same conclusion and the same regret in a metrical form: it is short, and may be useful to any of you troubled with bad memories:
“If seven maids, with seven mops,
Swept it for half-a-year,
Do you suppose,” the walrus said,
“That they could get it clear?”
“I doubt it,” said the carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.
————

[42]
Resumption of Note C, page 36.
——
Playing for Amusement.

If this principle were carried out to its logical result, and everybody played for amusement in the ludicrous sense in which this word is generally understood, it is manifest that—as no one would ever see either a card led or played, or know what suit was trumps—it would be useless continuing to ask each other for information on those abstruse points; and unless, by some alteration in the laws of whist, an intelligence department outside the table were provided to supplement the precarious knowledge acquired by looking at the last trick, the game would shortly collapse from its innate absurdity; unfortunately we seldom arrive at this point; what usually takes place is this:

Four people sit down nominally to play whist, when suddenly one of them announces, to the consternation of his partner, that he is not there with any such intention, but solely for his own amusement; he altogether ignores the possibility of the others wishing to play whist for their amusement, and lays down his stale proposition with such an air of originality that he often deludes the unwary bystander into the belief that he is somehow superhuman, and much superior to the other three, who are consequently[43] looked down upon as mean and sordid individuals; this is not the case. If yelling when he is trodden upon, and crying if he loses, are proofs of humanity, he is essentially human.

Now, no one has the slightest objection to your amusing yourself as long as you do not annoy anybody else. I go further than this, and admit your abstract right to amuse yourself at your partner’s expense, but I protest against your expecting him to rejoice with you in his own discomfiture.

Because eels are accustomed to being skinned, it does not at all follow that they should like it—at any rate, whether they do so or not, it is not expected of them.

Again, the practice of vivisection may be both amusing and instructive to the vivisector, while it may be neither the one nor the other to his victim. Though I have no practical acquaintance with this pursuit, I have often seen large portraits of the vivisectee pasted on hoardings, and judging from the expression of his countenance, and the uncomfortable position in which he is always depicted, I should imagine that the entire proceedings were supremely distasteful to him.

From the time when Cain was short-coated, and tipcats, pea-shooters, catapults, and other instruments of torture appeared on the scene, there have been peculiar ideas of amusement. Fortunately—with the exception of your doting mammas—public opinion[44] has been against you. A gentleman found in the street with a tipcat embedded in his eye is usually conducted to the nearest chemist, and the malefactor given in charge. (The crafty Ulysses, before he performed a very similar operation on Polyphemus, made every preparation to escape from the room as soon as it was over, and took uncommonly good care not to originate the now trite witticism, “there you go with your eye out,” till he was well beyond his reach. He was far too intelligent a man to expect the Cyclops to take it pleasantly.) But if this occurs at Whist, and the victim even hints an objection, he is looked upon as a bear, and sometimes the verdict is “served him right,” while at other times he seems to be expected to “rub it in.” There I draw the line; annoy your partner as much as you like, but don’t expect that! It is contrary to nature; still, while fully and freely admitting your right of annoying, and also your right to throw away your own property if you please, you are not privileged to treat your partner’s in the same way. This borders closely on theft, and before taking such a liberty, in order to be on the safe side, I think you ought first to obtain his consent in writing. It is all very well for Shakespeare to call his purse trash (he knew the contents of it, and his description may have been most accurate), but whether things are trash or not, if they don’t belong to you, you must not make away with them (as the poet himself experienced when he took to deer-stealing), and[45] unless you wish, like him, to fall into the clutches of the criminal law, you had better take Captain Cuttle’s advice, and overhaul your catechism, with special reference to your duty to your neighbour. You will find it a safer guide.

I ought to apologise for the length of this note, but I have suffered myself, and although I never killed an albatross, and am by nature most inoffensive,
“Since then at an uncertain hour
That agony returns,
And till my ghastly tale is told
The heart within me burns.”


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