COLONIAL GAMING: How to Play Loo

Call me … Pam

The invaluable David Parlett has helped to codify these rules for modern play based on a variety of sources. If you have even passing interest in the subject, his book, The Penguin Book of Card Games, is a must-have.

For a bit of history, read this post.

The first thing to understand is that 5-card Loo is not 3-card Loo with 2 additional cards. It has a few of its own rules and peculiarities.

An interesting feature of 5-card Loo is “Pam,” which is the game’s name for the Jack of Clubs. “Pam” beats any other card in the deck. Its name is short for Pamphilus (meaning “friend of all”), a rakish character of the middle ages. A popular comic poem about him was published in a slim book called Pamphilus, seu de Amore, thus giving us the word “pamphlet.” Parlett considers “Pam” to be a predecessor of the latter-day Joker cards.

Both games are trick-taking games with a betting element, and have several particulars in common. Some kind of betting pool is formed at the center of the table, and people are dealt cards. After looking at their hands, players can continue or fold. If they continue, they must win at least one trick. The pool is split among the winners, and the losers (people who take no tricks) must form the pot for the next round.

With that out of the way, let’s look at how to play them both.

Loo  (3 card)

Number of Players
Three-card Loo can be played by as few as 4 or as many as 17 players, but the optimal amount is 5-7 players.

Preliminaries

Everyone begins the game with an equal number of chits. Deal rotates each turn to Eldest (the player to the left of the dealer). The dealer stakes the pot with 3 chits, then deals 3 cards to each player and 3 extra cards to the “Miss,” which is an extra hand.

After the deal, one card is turned face up to determine trump.

At this point, players can opt to fold, continue with their hand, or take the “Miss.”

  • If they fold, they incur no loss. 
  • If they continue, they contract to win at least 1 trick. 
  • The first player also has the option of discarding his hand and claiming the “Miss.” If he does so, then he may not drop out. Only one person can claim the Miss. If the first player declines the Miss, then the next player in turn has the option of claiming it.

At this point, if everyone passes, the dealer wins the pool. If everyone passes except the dealer and the person who claimed the Miss, the claimer wins the pool.

Play
Eldest (the person to the left of the dealer) leads the play. If he has the Ace of Trumps, he must lead with it. If not, then he must lead with his highest trump or highest card.

Players follow in turn, and must play a winning card if they have one. In card terminology, this is called to “head” a trick, and it means that if you have a card that can win a trick (either the highest suit or trump), then you must play it.

The trick is taken by the highest card in the suit led, or the highest trump.

The other two tricks are played in the same way.

Winning
Each trick won is worth 1/3rd of the pot. The player or players loo’d (meaning they played out the hand but earned no tricks) has to pay 3 chits, which carry over to the next pot. Since each dealer in turn will also stake the pot, the pot can grow quickly.

Unlimited Loo Variant
The version most commonly played in the 18th century probably was “Unlimited Loo.” In this version, each player who is loo’d must play the amount that was in the pot at the beginning of the hand. If there’s only a single bet in the pot, no one can pass. Thus, if 2 players are loo’d in a 5-handed game, the pot doubles.

Loo (5 card)
Number of Players
Five to ten can play. Everyone should have an equal number of chits.

Preliminaries
Same as 3-card Loo, with the following exceptions. The Jack of Spades is called “Pam,” and beats every card in the deck.

As with the 5-card version, the dealer stakes the pot, only this time with 5 chits instead of 3. Likewise, he deals 5 cards to each player, then turns up a final card to determine trumps.

Play
Play is conducted like 3-card Loo, with a few changes. 

As with 3-card Loo, players decide to pass or play. If they play, they must win at least one trick.

The biggest difference is that a flush takes all tricks automatically. (Pam may be used as a wild card in order to create a flush.) In the case of multiple flushes, the trump flush wins, followed by the flush with the highest card. The owner of the flush wins the pot without any tricks being played. The entire table is thus loo’d, and must pay the stake.

There is no Miss.

Before the first trick is play, players may discard and draw replacements. Play then proceeds to the left.

Players follow in order, and must play a winning card if they have one. If Pam is led, then they must play trumps if they have them. (Players can’t just play their junk when Pam is led: they still have to play their highest appropriate cards, and must play trumps if they can.)

The trick is taken by the highest card in the suit led, the highest trump, or Pam.

The other 4 tricks are played in the same way.

Winning
Each trick won is worth 1/5th of the pot.The player or players loo’d (meaning they played out the hand but earned no tricks) has to play 5 chits to stake the next pot.
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COLONIAL GAMING: Loo and the Upper Classes

Loo fish: the Poker chip of Colonial America

Young George Washington’s losses for an evening of Loo in 1749 totaled five shillings—an average expenditure from a sum that he periodically devoted to cards, theater tickets, and other amusements.
      Jane Carson, Colonial Virginians at Play

While Put was the favored gambling game of the lower classes, the Colonial gentry preferred to lose their money at Loo. Although George Washington’s later account books only tally his losses “at Cards,” his early account books actually mention Loo by name. For the years 1772-1774, as Revolution was brewing, he recorded £78.5 lost and £72.2.6 won at the card table, and we can assume these totals were probably from playing Loo. (This was a large amount of money, by the way: several years salary for some at the time.)

Loo is a tricky game to write about because there are two fairly distinct versions, and myriad variants and alternate descriptions. It emerged on the scene in England around the time of the Restoration (late 17th century), and had its origin in France.

From England, it followed the Colonists to the New World, and took hold among the upper classes in colonies where the Anglican English influence was dominant. (Card games didn’t take root in Puritan English colonies, and Dutch, French, Spanish, and German regions had their own games.)

By the middle of the 18th century, the game was so popular that special tables were designed. These tables were round and often included small depressions or grooves for holding the betting chits, which were made of ivory or mother-of-pearl. These chits were often shaped like fish, and thus the depressions came to be known as “fish ponds.” They were the precursor of the poker table, and no decent home would be without one. Some types of early card tables are still called “loo tables,” even if they don’t include the indentations.

When it comes to trying to convey a set of rules, Loo is a moving target. Fiddly details rapidly pile on and confuse the issue. This is made more difficult by the infinitely multiplying variants and additional rules that cling to this game like lampreys.

There are two main versions, a 3-card and a 5-card, and I will describe them both. It’s hard to say which of the two was dominant in Colonial America, but given the size of monetary losses recorded in association with Loo, they probably played 3-card Unlimited Loo, which is a more uncompromising gambling game.

Both games are trick-taking games with a betting element, and have several particulars in common. Some kind of betting pool is formed at the center of the table, and people are dealt cards. After looking at their hands, players can continue or fold. If they continue, they must win at least one trick. The pool is split among the winners, and the losers (people who take no tricks) must form the pot for the next round.

A looser is said to be “loo’d,” which is short for Lanterloo, the actual name of the game. “Lanterloo” is a kind of baby gibberish/lullaby sung to small children, akin to the “lully, lullay” refrain from “The Coventry Carol.” Most likely, it was meant derisively in the context of the game, particularly since a person who was repeatedly loo’d could find himself deep in the hole after only a few hands.

How to play Loo.

Sources: Parlett, David: Oxford Guide to Card Games. Carson, Jane, Colonial Virginians at Play.

App O’ The Mornin’: Monoply Review

I wasn’t sure about reviewing the Monopoly app, since Monopoly itself is pretty much review-proof. You either love or hate the original board game. Perhaps you merely tolerate it. But everyone has some history with it.

I’d managed to avoid playing actual Monopoly for years. Let’s face it: most game hobbyists faced with choice of playing Monopoly or nothing will usually choose nothing. A vigorous session of sock matching is usually higher on my list of things to do of an evening.

So imagine my surprise when I sat down with the app and found myself unable to put it down until I’d completed a full game, about an hour later: four hours less than an average Monopoly session.

It’s a remarkably sprightly adaptation, with unobtrusive animations that actually add to the flavor of the experience rather than just taking up time. All of those niggling little banking bits that usually drag on Monopoly like an anchor caught in the mud are handily automated for your convenience and protection. This has the pleasant side effect of speeding play and keeping the focus on the interesting bits.

The problem with Monopoly is not the game, per se, but the way most people play it (ie: all wrong). They keep finding new ways to flush money into the system by placing fines on Free Parking, and almost always forget to play the bidding element that gives the game a large jolt of energy.

Did you realize that when someone lands on an unowned property and declines the purchase, that property goes up for auction? Well, for years I didn’t. Like most people, I’d never read the rules: I’d just kind of absorbed them osmotically. (Please note: this is a metaphor: no osmosis actually took place.)

The Monopoly app models all these rules handily. Or not: it’s your choice. There are plenty of house rule options, which serve to either slow down a session, or speed it up. So, if you want to play the game all wrong, you can.

The game can handle up to four players, via AI (with three levels of difficulty) or pass-and-play. There are even four five different backgrounds, including a nerd-tastic faux-Enterprise bridge.

Look, this is Monopoly. If you already like the game, you should know that the app is an excellent version. If you don’t like the game, you should try it anyway. As with Life and Yahtzee, I found myself enjoying the app version more than the original game. Maybe I just needed to see it from a free perspective.