Historic Card Games by David Parlett
Europe, 1600s - 1800s
Reversis: A kind of Trumpe (played backward, and full of sport) which the Duke of Savoy brought some ten yeares agoe into France.
gapRandle Cotgrave, French-English Dictionary, 1611
Modern Hoyles contain Reversis, but no one ever seems to play it.
gap "Cavendish" (Henry Jones), Card Essays, 1879

Reversis (no relation to the board game Reversi) is one of two probable ancestors of the Hearts family (with Coquimbert or Losing Lodam) and was one of the great games of continental Europe from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It may be called Reversis because the aim of avoiding tricks in general and penalty cards in particular is the reverse of conventional trick games, though the name also denotes an exceptional slam bid which, like "shooting the moon" in Hearts, itself "reverses" the normal practice of the game.

Reversis was long thought to be of Spanish origin because

  1. it is played with a 48-card pack (lacking Tens),
  2. play rotates to the right, and
  3. two of its significant technical terms are "Quinola" (the name of a 17th-century Spanish admiral), and espagnolette.

But these are later additions, and the original game, first mentioned in France under the name Reversin in 1601, was played with the full 52-card pack. It more probably originated in Italy (rovescio means reverse or wrong side), where they still play a negative variety of Tressette called (amongst other names) Rovescino.

A few citations from the Oxford English Dictionary are worth mentioning, if only to demonstrate a variety of spellings:

[Title:] Rules of Reversis, as played in the Fashionable Circles.
gap"By a Gentleman" (1796).
Monsieur Descourtils... is always ready for a hand at boston, whist, or reversi.
gapParis Chit-chat (1816)
When every trick is made by the same person, there is no party, and this is called making the Reversis.
gap"Eidrah Trebor", Hoyle Made Familiar (1830)
These suppers... were followed by tric-trac and reversé.
gapL'Estrange, Life of Miss Mitford (1870)
A game termed Mawe succeeded Primero, then came Gleek, Hombre, Quadrille, Reversis, and Bassett.
gapCatalogue of Cards in the British Museum (1876)

Rules of play differ in detail from source to source, and may have differed from country to country. The following is based on a mixture of sources and owes much to an article by John McLeod in "Rules of Games: Reversis", Journal of the International Playing-Card Society, Volume V, No. 4.

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Based on various sources

Reversis is played by four. Not only are there no partnerships, but each pair of players sitting opposite each other are in some respects even more adverse to each other than to the other two opponents. All play rotates to the right (counter-clockwise as viewed from above).
Forty-eight, ranking AKQJ98765432 in each suit. There are no Tens.
Fish and chips
Each player needs the equivalent of at least 100 chips or counters. A full set of Reversis equipment comprised -
36 units called fish (French fiches)
24 counters worth 6 fish each, and
6 "contracts" worth 8 counters (48 fish) each
making a total equivalent to 468 fish.
The pool
Before play begins a pool is formed by the contribution of five fish from each player. At each deal the dealer (only) adds another five fish to the pool, bringing it to 25 at the start of the first deal.
Deal eleven cards to each player in batches of 4-3-4, followed by a twelfth card to the dealer only, and finish by dealing one card face down in front of each other player. Having examined their hands, the dealer discards any unwanted card face down to reduce his hand to eleven, and everybody else may then either -
  • make one discard and then take the card in front of him as a replacement, sight unseen, or
  • keep the cards he was dealt, but look at his undealt card to see what it is.
This leaves eleven cards in each hand and four on the table. These four constitute the talon, and are to be left face down.
The main object is to avoid taking tricks containing penalty cards. For this purpose each Ace counts 4 against, King 3, Queen 2, and Jack 1, making a total of 10 in each suit and 40 in the whole pack. The player who takes fewest is said to "win the party". Secondary objects are:
  • to discard the heartJ, called "Quinola", to the lead of a suit other than hearts, and
  • whenever legally possible, to discard an Ace to the lead of a different suit.
An alternative object, given a suitable hand, is either
  • to win every trick (the reversis), or
  • to lose every trick (the espagnolette).
Dealer's right-hand opponent leads to the first trick. You must follow suit if you can but may play any card if you can't. The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led, and the winner of each trick leads to the next. There are no trumps.
Payments in play
Payments independent of the final outcome become payable during the course of play whenever an Ace or 'Quinola' (heartJ) is played. What happens depends on whether the Ace or Jack is -
  • dumped (= discarded to the lead of a different suit), or
  • forced (= played to the lead of its own suit)
  • led to a trick.
Who pays whom?
  • Anyone who dumps an Ace, or Quinola, is paid by the winner of the trick.
  • Anyone who is forced to play an Ace to the lead of its own suit pays the leader of the trick.
  • If the holder of Quinola is forced to play it to a heart lead, the leader to that trick is paid by all three opponents.
  • If anyone leads an Ace or Quinola (a rare event), the eventual winner of the hand may claim, in addition to his other winnings, the appropriate payment from the person who led it. (But this must be claimed before the next deal, otherwise it is annulled.)
And how much?
The relevant payments are as follows. (Note that the Ace of diamonds, if dumped, forced, or led, attracts twice the penalty of any other Ace.)
Event A diamond A heart J
Dumped: trick-winner pays holder 1 2 5
Forced: holder pays leader 1 2 10
and  others pay leader 0 0 5
Led: holder pays leader 1 2 10
and  others pay winner 0 0 5
These amounts are doubled as between players sitting opposite each other, and doubled as between everyone if occurring in either of the last two tricks. Thus a player who leads a heart to the last trick, and is lucky enough to draw the Jack from the player sitting opposite, will receive 40 fish from the Quinola player and 10 from each neighbour.
Quinola and the pool
Whoever plays Quinola to a trick not only wins or loses the side-payments detailed above but also either wins or enlarges the pool.
If Quinola is forced, or is led to a trick, its player pays a supplement (remise). This is an amount equivalent to the latest pool - that is, the one most recently formed. The first supplement that occurs is used to double the only pool there is. The second and all additional supplements go to form new pools, which are kept separate from one another. The dealer always adds his statutory five to the latest pool, which is therefore also the largest.
The latest pool is won by the Quinola holder when he succeeds in dumping it on the lead of another suit. If then no pools remain, a new one is formed by the contribution of five from each player, and ten from the dealer, as at the start of the session.
Optional rule. Once a supplement has been paid, everyone is obliged to discard and draw before the first trick is played, and it is illegal to discard Quinola. This rule (if agreed) applies until all pools have been won and a new one started, when it is held in abeyance until a supplement is paid.
Winning the party
The "party" is normally won by the player who took fewest card-points, and lost by the player who took most. A tie, in either case, favours the player who won fewest tricks. If still tied, preference goes to the dealer first, and passes to each succeeding player to his left.
    The value of the party - that is, the amount paid by the loser to the winner - is 4 plus the card-point value of any counters in the talon. For example, if the talon contains a King and a Queen, the payment is 4 + 3 + 2 = 9 fish. (By some accounts, diamondA counts 5 in the talon, and heartJ counts 3.) If the loser is sitting opposite the winner, he pays double.
    These payments are, however, annulled in the case of two special bids that may be undertaken on suitable hands, namely the Reversis and Espagnolette.
The reversis
This is a bid to win all eleven tricks. You don't have to bid in advance, but you are obliged to undertake it if you win the first nine, leaving only two cards in your hand.
    No further payments may be made for Aces or Quinola, and all payments between the players, or between any player and the pool, which may have been made during the first nine tricks are returned. The only payments that apply relate to what happens in the last two tricks, as follows.
  • If successful, you receive 16 fish from each neighbour and 32 from the player opposite. If you played Quinola during the first nine tricks, you also win the Quinola pool.
  • If unsuccessful, you pay 64 fish to the player who broke the reversis by first taking a trick against you, and if you played Quinola during the first nine tricks, you also pay a supplement.
  • If the reversis is broken, and the breaking trick is taken by Quinola, you pay your 64 as above, but receive the appropriate side payment for forcing Quinola, though nothing is paid either to or from the Quinola pool.
This later addition to the game is a sort of misère contract. You may only announce this undertaking if you hold all four Aces, or Quinola and at least three Aces. It entitles you to revoke as often as you like during the first nine tricks. Having done so, you have automatically contracted to lose every trick even if you didn't announce it, and you are obliged, if possible, to follow suit in the tenth. (If you did not announce espagnolette and did in fact follow suit throughout, you will not be held to have undertaken it.)
gapIf you undertake the espagnolette, and win it, you do so even if one other player also loses every trick (but not if two others do so - see below). Besides winning the party, you also gain the appropriate amounts for the Aces you dumped, and, if you held and therefore dumped Quinola, the amount for that and the pool as well.
gap If you lose by taking a trick, you must return, doubled, all the side payments you received for dumping the Aces, and, if you dumped Quinola, for that too, together with double the pool you won. You also lose the party, in place of the player who took most card-points, and pay the player who took fewest in the usual way.
gap If you lose because another player makes the reversis (this being an occupational hazard of undertaking the espagnolette) you pay the reversis winner 64 fish and the others pay nothing.
gap If, however, you yourself break the reversis by winning either of the last two tricks, you are absolved from all payment. This is because the reversis attempt cancels all side payments to or from the pool, and there is no payment as between winner and loser.