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Recently, a handful of brave cast members, as well as the director, stage manager, and dialect coach of The Gaming Table all bellied up to that titular table to learn how to play Basset.

Why Basset, you ask? And why did Susanna Centlivre write a play centered around the game? I was wondering the same thing myself.

Turns out Basset was in its heyday at the beginning of the 18th century when Centlivre was writing our play, and it was quite a controversial pastime.

In fact, in France there was a royal edict against the Common populace playing Basset at more than a 10 penny bank, since loses and gains at this particular game could, and regularly did, ruin entire families. In England, Basset was such a costly and risky game it had a hard time catching on outside of Court circles. After a few years of popularity so many players had bankrupted their families that Parliament enacted a prohibition with severe penalties against its play.

Sounds like makings for a great Friday night, right?

Well, we thoughts so.

So, with poker chips in place of Guineas, and our fearless leader, assistant dramaturg Alex Calvin, showing us the ropes, we learned (and caught on relatively quickly) to this High-Stakes, Highly-Entertaining, and Highly-Addictive card game that is at the heart of our play.

I will now shamelessly steal what I learned and pass it on to you, in case you feel like venturing a Basset game of your own. I highly recommend it.

What you will need:

  • A large (preferably round) table
  • Personal Banks of Gold (or poker chips for those of us of the “Common Populace” ) for each player (a.k.a. punters)
  • A Bank of Gold (again, poker chips will do) for the Talliere (a.k.a. Dealer)
  • 1 primary deck of cards for the Talliere
  • A varying number of additional decks depending on number of punters (a.k.a.players): use 1 deck for 2 to 3 players, 2 decks for 4 to 7 players, 3 decks for 8 to 11 players,  etc.

To begin, the decks are divided into their suits—13 cards in all—and referred to as a “book”:

Bring me a Book of Hearts

Lady Reveller, pg 50, ln 7

A punter may request a particular suit/book. However, the suit of the cards has no actual relevance in play. The Talliere has her own, complete deck.

Each punter then decides which of her own cards she would like to play and places them face up on the table. A bet is made by placing the wager on top of the upturned card. Any and all cards in the book may be bet on in a turn, and the punter can wager any amount on any card.

With me so far? Good. ‘Cause here we go.

Once all bets have been made the Talliere turns over one card, face up, from the bottom of their full deck. The Talliere wins all bets placed on cards that match this card’s rank.

The Talliere then deals two cards off the top of the deck, and we’re off!

First card wins, second card loses.

The punter loses all bets that match the rank of the second card turned. Their wager goes to the Talliere, and that card is taken out of play for the next round.

However, if the punter’s card matches the rank of the first card turned, the Talliere pays out a match of what the punter wagered. At this point, the player has a choice: She may a) keep the wager won and retire the card for the next round or b) leave the card and wager (the original amount only) in play. Kinda like double or nothing—or the bonus round at the end of Cash Cab.

To signify that a winning card and bet is left in play, a corner of the card is turned up. This is referred to as a Peroli or Alpiew—hmmmm… sounds exactly like the name of one of the primary characters in The Gaming Table.

Tip: if you don’t want to bend your cards you can use some other sort of marking device to place on the corner of the card to signify a Peroli—like a bolt or a Goldfish Cracker (which I find preferrable, since then even if you lose a Peroli you can still enjoy a snack).

The Talliere continues to turn two cards each round, with the first losing and second winning. The punter is able to adjust which cards they bet on and the amount wagered between each round. If a card a punter has bet on neither wins nor loses in a round it may be left in play, withdrawn, or she may raise/”mace” her bet.

Now for the really tricky… I mean… fun stuff.

If a card is Perolied and it loses, the dealer gets the original bet on the card (only), and the card is then taken out of play for the next round. But, if a card is Perolied and it wins again, it is paid off at 7 times the original bet. This is called winning a Sept & Leva.

A card that has won a Sept & Leva can be taken out of play or left in play, with the original bet on it. To signify that a Sept & Leva winning card and bet is left in play, two corners of the card are turned up (or two Goldfish Crackers are placed on its corners. And yes. I am sticking to the Goldfish suggestion.).

A punter can Peroli a winning card up to four times (since a playing card has four corners). Each time a winning card is left in play the amount the punter may collect on their initial bet multiplies.

As mentioned, winning on the first Peroli is a Sept & Leva—meaning seven times the initial wager is paid out if won.

The second Peroli is Quinze & Leva—15 times the initial wager.

The third Peroli is Trente & Leva—30 times the initial wager.

The fourth and final Peroli is Soixante & Leva—60 times the initial wager.

If the Perolied card loses at any of these stages, the punter only loses the amount of the initial wager.

The Talliere’s final solo card is “losing” card and, and if a punter’s remaining bet matches the rank on the final card, the wager goes to the Talliere’s bank, thus book ending the game with “losing” cards being paid to the Talliere.

P.S.  Punters can make side bets on if other punter’s card will lose in the next round. That’s where the real dirt comes in.

Got it?

Now, although this seems a bit complicated, once the game gets rolling it’s actually quite simple, a blast, and is very easy to get sucked into!

However, the very nature of the game causes most punters to exceed their bank quickly and it is set up in favor of the Talliere/The Bank.

Thus the royal edicts and ruined families and general bad rap for Basset, causing Sir Richard Plainman to say to his niece Lady Reveller:

…my House shall no longer bear the Scandalous Name of a Basset Table: Husbands shall no more have cause to date their Ruin from my Door, nor cry ‘there, there my Wife Gamed my Estate away’ …

—a cry that may escape from our Mr. Sago’s lips all too soon.

Cheers!