Historic Card Games described by David Parlett



Gargantuan ancestor of Hearts

England, 1580s - 1700

Losing Lodam (variously spelt) is an old English forerunner of the penalty-trick family of card games nowadays represented by Hearts. It is first recorded at the end of the 16th century and must have been current throughout the 17th, though its surprising and unfortunate absence from Cotton's Compleat Gamester suggests that it may have passed its heyday by 1674. Cotton's omission, coupled with the plethora of undetailed passing references to it, would have left the game tantalisingly unrecoverable were it not for the recent discovery and publication of an adequate account in Francis Willughby's Book of Games, c.1670, on which the description below is of necessity entirely based.

Penalty-trick games - which is what I call those in which you aim to avoid winning tricks containing penalty cards - probably go back to the 15th century, though early examples are not clearly identifiable. A reference to Perde o Vinci in the Steele document of 1450-8 recalls modern Italian Perdivinci, a negative variety of Tressette; but its literal meaning "win-or-lose" could denote a betting game as elementary as heads and tails. The nearest Cardano gets to a negative game is a Lowball version of Primiera (Primero). More promising is an entry in Rabelais' list of Gargantuan games for Coquimbert, qui gaigne perd - "the winner loses" - a telling title undoubtedly counterparted by the Spanish Gana Pierde often recorded in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. (Modern French card-game books still include Qui perd gagne as a children's trick-avoidance game without frills or complications.) Another penalty-trick game appearing at about the same time is Reversis, which may have been of Italian origin.

An English contemporary and probable equivalent of Coquimbert is Lodam, or Losing Lodam, mentioned in (for instance) Taylor's Motto of 1621. Its affiliations are apparent both from Cotgrave's French-English dictionary of 1611, where Coquimbert is identified as a card game called "loosing-lodam", and from Urquhart's translation of Rabelais, where it is rendered "at losing, load him". The latter may suggest the practice of throwing penalty cards on a trick being won by somebody else. But then, again, it may not.

References to Lodam cited by the Oxford English Dictionary start with that of 1591 (below). They continue with a line from a satirical tract entitled The True History of Pope Joan and dated to 1599; but according to Taylor, p.306, quoting Samuel Weller Singer's Researches into the History of Playing Cards (1816), the tract was first printed in 1559. Taylor gives this longer extract:

A certain prince of ours did compare them [the Jesuits] unto a game at cardes, in which the gamesters like Loadam playe, and bring them for the last that are of most price, to beat down the adverse party...

Other OED references include the following. (Note the variety of spellings.)

At primero, at trump... and at lodam.    (Florio, 2nd Fruites, 1591)
Which must needs be hindred by their practise, which with Rings and Jewels play at such loosing Loadem with their Lips.    (Bulwer, Anthropometrica, 1650)
After the nature of Load-him, a game at cards where he that wins loseth.    (Urquhart, Jewel Wks, 1652
To converse with Scandal, is to play at Losing Loadum; you must lose a good Name to him, before you can win it for yourself.    (Congreve, Love for L., 1695)
uplink downlink LOSING LODAM
Based on the Willughby manuscript
From three to about ten can play. Play rotates to the left. A 52-card pack is dealt in such a way that everyone gets the same number of cards and there are always a few left over (four, for example, when four or eight play.) As players drop out of the game, the number of cards dealt to those remaining will increase with each deal (Note 1). No card is turned for trump (yet).
Cards rank from high to low A10KQJ98765432 (Note 2) . The top five cards in each suit are "loaders", as they load any trick to which they are played with a certain number of penalty points, namely: Ace 11, Ten 10, King 3, Queen 2, Jack 1. The total number of penalty points in the pack is thus 4 x 27 = 108.
To avoid taking loaders in tricks. Each player starts with three "lives" represented by counters, loses a life upon reaching or exceeding a total of 31 penalty points in tricks, and is evicted from the game upon losing three lives. The winner is the last player left alive.
Eldest leads to the first trick and the winner of each trick leads to the next. Each in turn thereafter must follow suit if possible, otherwise may play any card. So long as everyone can follow suit, the trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led.
As soon as one player has renounced (discarded) after being unable to follow suit, the top card of the stock is turned to reveal a trump suit before the next card (if any) is played. From now on, a trick is supposed to be taken by the highest trump if any are played. However, the trump card is turned down again in the hope that one or more players, forgetting what it is, may accidentally "swallow" a trick by taking it with the highest card of the suit led even though someone else has played a trump. (Sneaky!)
Losing a life
If and when you have taken 31 or more card-points in tricks you must announce that fact, and will lose a life at the end of that hand. If no one does this by the end of the hand, then the player with the highest point count loses a life. When you have lost all three lives you take no further part in the game.
When you have taken 31 penalty-points in tricks and are therefore due to lose a life, you may challenge another player to prove that they have not already reached 31 before you without admitting it. Your tricks are then examined and only the one of you who proves wrong loses a life (Note 3).
You can seek to rid yourself of an unguarded loader by offering a one-card exchange with anyone who may be willing to trade. You offer to trade by announcing either "A coat for a coat?" if you want to get rid of a King, Queen or Jack, or "A card for a card?" if you want to exchange an Ace or a Ten. If anyone is willing, you exchange cards without revealing them to anyone else. The two cards must be of the specified type - that is, a coat card or an Ace-or-Ten - but, if they prove to be of the same suit, the exchange is annulled and each of you must take your card back Note 4).
uplink downlink NOTES
1. As Willughby says, "Alwaies when some are out the rest have more cards dealt them". This means the number dealt to each may increase to 20 or more when only two remain, which seems somewhat inconvenient. (Return 1.)
2. Willughby does not state whether the Ten ranks between Ace and King or between Jack and Nine, but the order in which he specifies their values is Ace, Ten, King, etc., and it makes more sense for the Ten to rank high in view of the trading rule. (Return 2.)
3. Willughby seems to state that even a player who has lost all his lives may challenge, but does not specify how the challenger is penalised if mistaken. (Return 3.)
4. Willughby observes, reasonably enough, that the loader you want to get rid of will be unguarded, but does not make a rule of it. Conceivably, a situation might arise where you might wish to lose a guarded loader. (Return 4.)
Copyright © 2017 by David Parlett
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