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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