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LECTURE V.
THE DISCARD FROM THE STRONGEST SUIT.
——

“Monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.”—Eton Grammar.
Part I.

The last lecture went thoroughly into the forced discard and, after looking at it in every possible light, left it exactly at the point where it was left by Mathews nearly a hundred years ago: “If weak in trumps, keep guard on your adversary’s suits. If strong, throw away from them and discard as much as possible from your partner’s strong suits in either case.”

Here I should gladly have let the matter rest—as the boy said when he saw the wild cat. It is a thorny subject; but the New Man will not permit it.

“The Decline and Fall of Whist” contains a view of him and his game, which is very widely entertained in this country, and though it may or may not be a better game, it is not Whist in the English sense of the word.

Our subject being the Whist or Bumblepuppy of our native land, the invariable lead of the longest suit,[47] fourth-bests, eleven rule, American leads, and all the subsequent proceedings have no more interest for the British school-boy wishing to learn Whist than they had for Abner Dean of Angels on a well-known occasion.

To give the American Whist-players their due, I am bound to admit that, in addition to their having devised a new set of leads, new play of second and third hand, a new mode of scoring, and having done away with the honours—greatly to their credit for common sense and intelligence; their idea of our modern forced discard is: “It is a curious notion that an original discard should always be from the strongest suit” (A Practical Guide to Whist, by Fisher Ames), and also they have compiled a new code of laws which is an enormous improvement upon the singular jumble of laws, definitions, and arbitrary decisions under which we impotently writhe.
“On ashes, husks, and air we feed,
And spend our little all in vain.”—Wesley.

Law 37 of their code runs as follows: “When a trick is turned and quitted it must not be seen again until the hand has been played. A violation of this law subjects the offending side to the same penalty as a lead out of turn.”

They may have been driven to abolish our Law 91 in order to make the intricacies of their game humanly possible, still, “for this relief much thanks.”

Considering the cheapness of freight, and that[48] there is no import duty, why Law 37 has not been introduced into this country is one of the greatest mysteries of the end of the nineteenth century.

We are flooded with all the other American Whist innovations, and the key of the position is conspicuous by its absence.

“Why should English Whist-men retain an antiquated, ill-constructed and ambiguous code, when they have in the code of the American Whist League laws as free from such defects as human ingenuity can devise?”—Whist. And echo answers, Why?

But to return to our muttons. On one point it is incumbent to make a stand. If the New Man had only been satisfied to concentrate his mischievous attentions on his New Game, we might have agreed to differ and gone our several ways in peace and harmony: dis aliter visum. Unfortunately, “in his craze for uniformity,” he has tampered with the forced discard, which is our common grazing ground, and has deluded himself and the whole of Bumblepuppydom into a wild and erroneous belief that the first discard—when unable to follow suit to an adverse trump lead—is always the suit he wants led.
“In all the fabric
You shall not see one stone or a brick,
But all of wood.”

Now, I have dealt myself innumerable hands—it is a favourite amusement of mine when I have a little spare time—and taking the shortest and weakest suit[49] for trumps, have carefully calculated how often I could discard a suit I wanted led; how often I should feel justified in dictating to my partner to make me third player in it. It comes out well under fifty per cent.

Hands of this kind are constantly turning up.

Diamonds (trumps)—9, 7.

Hearts—Kg., Qn., 3.

Spades—Qn., Kn., 9.

Clubs—10, 8, 6, 3, 2.

Here I must discard a club, but I don’t necessarily want it led.

Diamonds (trumps)—Qn. and another.

Hearts—Kn. and three small ones.

Spades—Kn. and three small ones.

Clubs—Three small ones.

As I am not going to unguard either of these knaves, again I discard a club, and again I don’t want to dictate to my partner to lead it, and so ad infinitum.

The simple faith that, whenever the adversary leads trumps, you are bound to hold a strong suit, may be better than Norman blood. If it is, it only tends to prove of how singularly little value that fluid may be.

Therefore, in my own case, this is the way the rule works out: “When we are in a very tight place, and trumps are declared against us, my first discard always shows clearly the suit I want led;” only, in more than half the instances, it does nothing of the kind.

[50]

This is a pretty sort of universal rule. Whatever view you may take of it, it scarcely comes up to my idea of a sheet anchor.
“Lex non cogit ad impossibilia.”

“Kind Fortune, come, my woes assuage,
Bend down and mark a modern moan,
And bear me through the golden age,
Through age of iron, bronze, and stone;
Back, back, before the men with tails,
A million years before the flood;
To where the search of science fails,
And leave me happy in the mud.”

But if I prefer to wallow there, don’t let me thrust my opinions on you—you may object to mud; your cards may be better than mine; judge for yourselves! Deal a few hands, and if you find once in five times, or once in ten times, that the rule won’t work, then you have this formula for your guidance: “We always discard from the suit we want led, except when we have no such suit,” and mind this, the first time you fail, all the fat is in the fire; there is no retreat. When once you cast judgment and common-sense to the four winds of heaven, and submit yourselves body and soul to the rule of thumb—and such a thumb!—you cannot play fast and loose with it; you must take it for “all in all, or not at all.” Like a wife, which you may have some day, you take it for better or worse, till death do you part; and this is all worse; it is an utterly unworkable arrangement,
“That, like a wen, looks big and swells,
Is senseless, and just nothing else.”

[51]

If you are to have an always in this most intricate and difficult affair (which I strongly deprecate), and are unable to sit comfortably at a whist-table without a crutch of some kind to lean upon—and this in such a position seems uncalled for—you will find discarding from your longest suit a safer plan, though this is not always available. Why cannot you leave good old best-guarded alone?

After all I have said, should you still persist in running your heads against “strongest” and “the suit I want led,” these lines of Moore undoubtedly “touch the spot”—
“Behold your Light, your Star—
“Ye would be dupes and victims, and ye are!”
——
Part II.
“Post tenebras lux.”—Pintsch.

There is one mȍ2*].PEȍ2*]. which is often extremely useful; it is simple to a degree and always practicable; it has been in use for some years, and is approved of by all the good whist-players I have ever come across.

If you have a really strong suit to discard from—a suit that you can order your partner to lead you—signal in it, and throw away the highest card you safely dare.

[52]

This was first brought to my notice by Mr. Proctor, and—like Newton’s apple, Columbus’s egg, and many other great discoveries—is almost obtrusively obvious when it is once pointed out.

It is no new invention, for it has been the well-known practice of whist from prim?val times.

Possibly known in the cave of Neanderthal.

Its inhabitants, when they had a really powerful suit, discarded an unnecessarily high card. With a quint major, they discarded the ace; with a quart to a king, they discarded the king, and so forth.

Here is a declaration of absolute strength at the very moment it is required; no uncertainty as to whether it is a protective discard, or mere length; it is also flexible,[28] for you can use your own judgment; give the information; conceal it for a time if you think fit, or withhold it altogether.

Minor details—such as that when only one discard is available, a high card would in all probability indicate strength, while a low one (though it might indicate length) would do nothing of the kind,[53] but rather the opposite; and its use under many circumstances, even when your partner is leading trumps—if not at once obvious to your own unassisted intelligence, are better left to the professional development-mongers.

Having a rooted antipathy to formulating an interminable series of minute regulations for exceptional cases, a practice which has done irreparable injury to whist, far be it from me to trench upon their preserve.

The convention I have shown to be venerable, and I believe it to be perfectly legitimate.

Here I begin to tread upon delicate ground, for though whist is entirely made up of conventions, many different views are held as to what a convention is (see note page 60), and when it is and is not legitimate.

Between the Albert Club and the Bloomsbury back parlour there is a great gulf fixed—
“Virginibus puerisque canto,”

and it would be a life-long regret to me if I seduced them from the paths of rectitude.

Still, for practical purposes, I should imagine that a mode of play which is known, or open to be known by all players, and which contravenes neither the laws nor the etiquette of whist, fulfils all the necessary conditions; at all events, it satisfies my moral sense.

If, in addition, it is conducive to trick making,—as it undoubtedly is—I hail it with effusion.

[54]

With innumerable treatises; treatises on developments, on counting number, on exceptional play; treatises philosophical and treatises mathematical; with exercises in simple addition; with arrangements for exorcising superfluous winning cards as elaborate as if winning cards were enemies of the human race, and a direct emanation from the evil one, the time has arrived, if possible, to import a little common-sense into the game, and to make an effort to win an occasional trick.


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