Game Report: English Ruff and Honours

Class: Cards

Type: Trick-taking

Number of Players: 4, partnered

Reconstructed mainly from primary source

Date redacted: October 1, 1996

Redactor: Justin du Coeur

Sources: Cotton's The Compleat Gamester, 1674. Some comparisons made to Francis Willughby's Volume of Plaies, c1665.


English Ruff and Honours appears to be a close ancestor of Whist; indeed, Cotton explicitly lumps the two together, describing Whist as essentially a slight variant of Ruff and Honours. (However, it should be noted that the Whist he describes is significantly different from what we now think of as "classic Whist".)

This is a very preliminary reconstruction, based on sketchy information. It is solely based on Cotton at this point. I had originally thought to use Willughby's description of Ruffe and Trump as part of this reconstruction, but have concluded that they were separate, albeit related, games. Moreover, Cotton's description is far from clear or detailed. He declares that,

Ruff and Honours (aliasSlamm) and Whist, are Games so commonly known in England in all parts thereof, that every Child almost of Eight years old hath a competent knowledg in that recreation, and therefore I am unwilling to speak any thing more of them than this, that there may be a great deal of art used in Dealing and playing at these Games which differ very little one from the other.

Fortunately, Cotton then proceeds to spend several pages on the games, and we can glean a fair amount from them. Nonetheless, there is a lot of guesswork herein; a more thorough reconstruction demands looking at a number more sources, if possible.

I do make use of Willughby's description of Ruffe and Trump to fill in some gaps here; however, that is of limited use, and necessarily not to be trusted.


A standard French-suited 52-card deck. "Honours" are the Knave, Queen, King, and Ace of Trump.


This is clearly a four-player game, with partners. Presumably, partners should sit opposite one another at the table, as in all partnered games of this sort.

The Dealer deals 12 cards to each player. The remaining four cards, called the "Stock" (corresponding to the "head" in Willughby), are stacked face-down in the middle of the table. The top card of the Stock is flipped face-up to determine trump.


Here we have a curious divergence from Willughby, and from expectations -- what Cotton calls the "Ruff" corresponds exactly to what Willughby calls the "rub"; Cotton makes no mention at all of what one normally thinks of as a "ruff" (that is, adding up the cards in a suit). Since this is also conspicuously missing from his description of French Ruff, I am choosing to assume that this is not an oversight or mistake, but that the terminology was changing at this point.

So -- the player who holds the Ace of Trump "ruffs", taking in the four cards of the Stock and discarding four cards. Since Willughby is explicit that one takes in the cards first, then discards, I choose to believe that this is the case here also.

If the Trump card is an Ace, the dealer ruffs. (Another assumption based on Ruff and Trump.)


Play is presumably as in a standard trick-taking game: follow suit if possible; trumps are optional.


Here, Cotton is particularly ambiguous. I suspect that he is describing something akin to modern Whist. From his confusing description, I guess at the following:

Score one point for each trick in excess of six that the partners have taken between them. In addition, if the partners have three Honours between them, they score two additional points; if they have all four, they score four points. Note that it is not clear from Cotton's description whether Honours are scored before or after play (a potentially significant difference); I suspect that they are scored after play, solely because Cotton talks about ways to covertly signal to your partner how many Honours you hold.

A set is nine points. Cotton mentions that, if you have eight points, and you hold more than two Honours in your hand, you can immediately declare them and win. Similarly, if you have eight points and hold two Honours, you may call "Can-ye", asking your partner if he holds any Honours; if so, you can immediately declare them and win. However, this must all be done before the first trick is played.


The game, as best I can guess it, in brief: