Monday, August 23, 2021

Card Games in Sherlock Holmes Canon & Premium Tobacco Pairings Vol. 2 Ecarte

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Card Games in Sherlock Holmes Canon & Premium Tobacco Pairings Vol. 2 Ecarte

Here I am, back on the 2d of three Mondays where I'll be taking a brief look at specifically-named cardgames that appear in Sherlock Holmes canon. Each installment will include a bit of Sherlockian context, an overview of individual games, and finally, a recommendation as to premium tobacco (cigars & pipes) pairings. We began with Whist (you may read that by clicking here), now is Ecarte, and lastly, comes Poker. There is your orientation; here is your content...


When I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, my dad handed me a small paperback copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles. I stayed up all that night, taking the cover-to-cover journey. It proved to be my gateway into Sherlock Holmes fandom. Just like that, I was hooked. But enough about me. 

The Hound of the Baskervilles [HOUN] is the third of four Sherlock Holmes novels penned by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD). Most notably (perhaps) it was the first re-appearance of Sherlock since his Reichenbach Falls faked death in "The Final Problem." I place parentheses around (perhaps) because another bit of noteworthiness is the lack of actual presence of the consulting detective. It's a palpable feel thru-out HOUN that ACD is reluctant to further succumb to public pleas for a Holmesian return run. But thanks to this book's success, that's precisely what happened. Even though the moor played a much bigger role than did the ever-popular sleuth.

HOUN was originally published in The Strand Magazine via serialized fashion; running from August 1901 to April 1902. It sits in the Holmesian canon in both distinction and oddity. Firstly, it is undeniably one of the better stories ever told and scored a perfect 100 rating among Sherlockian scholars. The oddity is the aforementioned lack of Holmes and the overall feel that those bits of him were plugged into the framework of an almost pre-existent spooky yarn. Also, it teeters quite far-over to the supernatural but only in a teasing red herring manner. I'll bring myself back in--when I grabbed my next dose of Sherlock (Adventures of), I was quite surprised by its differences. Nevertheless, here I am.

Nevertheless, here we are. Back to the cardplaying topic at hand. Ecarte, to be exact. It was mentioned in Chapter X of HOUN thusly: "Mortimer had stayed to dinner, and he and the baronet played ecarte afterwards. The butler brought me my coffee into the library, and I took the chance to ask him a few questions." - HOUN. As for those of you who are Doyleans as well as Sherlockians, you should know that Ecarte also appears quite prominently in ACD's How the Brigadier Held the King, a short story within the collection The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard. It strikes me as a very on-brand Trifle to have called Ecarte by name within such short mention. 

That reminds me... check out Trifles "A weekly show [podcast] about details in the Sherlock Holmes stories." HERE (not a sponsor). 


Ecarte is an old nigh bygone casino game of French origin. It's a rather elegant derivative of the game Triomphe, & designed for two players. It is still (though exceedingly rarely) played today, however, it was all the rage back in the 19th century. A trick-taking game, similar to whist, but with a special and eponymous (the word Ecarte meaning "discarded") addition. This discarding aspect is one that both players must agree to after The Elder (the player opposite the dealer) makes the bid to begin said exchange. The Younger (dealer) has the power to nope the entire offer. Please note: Elder & Younger have no correlation to actual age nor ageism, ableism, racism, or sexism. Also, I do border on Piquet lingo here, & we soon will see why.

The rest of the game is all about discarding in order to improve your hand using new cards from the remaining pack. & speaking of pack, Ecarte is played with a Piquet Deck, meaning that the 2-6 cards are removed, leaving in-play only cards numbered 7-Ace. Prior to playing the initial card, whoever holds the King of Trumps can get a point added to his/her/their tally upon announcing said possession. Play starts w/ Elder leading the initial trick. If possible to follow suit, the other player must do so. Tricks are won by the highest card in the led suit. If trump cards are played--the highest trump wins the trick. If this now begins to sound a bit like Whist, it should. Plus, I already mentioned that.

There are also numerous additional ways to score points beyond simply winning the most tricks or holding the King of Trumps at deal. It honestly is a bit of a list of sometimes seemingly random events w/ points attached, but in no way as absurd as is Cribbage in that fashion. The game is played hand after hand until a player arrives first at a pre-determined amount. For more comprehensive rules and/or instructions, try looking it up on the internet, which you are already on.


More intricate or at least more involved than is Whist but still not difficult to pick up and play, one might wish for somewhat less of a nicotine buzz whilst doing-so. However, a nicely rich-flavored medium/medium-full tobacco experience will warm and perhaps even serve to focus you on your hand. Think of listening to Chillhop whilst studying. Also, it is much less a socially talkative game than others, with the bulk of chat inherent to the game itself. So that enjoying some pipe or cigar complexities will maybe keep your mouth and ears correctly shut and open. 

Think along the lines of these linked below:

... a Habano affair, see.

... a Perique/Oriental affair, see.

Spicy each, spicy all. 
"That's a spicy meat-a-ball!" - Alka Seltzer, 1969


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