Post and pair

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Post and pair
The Cheat with the Ace of Hearts de la Tour.JPG
Alternative namesPost-and-pair, post
Skills requiredBluffing, vying
Playing time10 min.
Random chanceMedium
Related games
Primero, poker

Post and pair is a gambling card game that was popular in England in the 16th and 17th centuries — another name of the game was Pink.[1] It is based on the same three-card combinations, namely prial, found in related game of this family.

It is much depended on vying, or betting, requiring repeated staking as well as daring on the part of the players, it is considered a derivative on the game of primero and closely resembles another game, called put,[2] that was as popular as gleek and noddy during the Tudor dynasty.


It is generally agreed by every expert and researcher in the field of playing cards that the game of post and pair clearly derives from the game of primero. Due to its gaming mechanics and resemblance with Primero and its variants, it is easily implied that post and pair evolved into a faster-paced card game with the addition of rules borrowed from neighboring games, like the Tudor game named post, attested by The Oxford English Dictionary from the early 16th to the 17th centuries, which may have survived longer in local versions.[3][page needed]

Charles Cotton, in his 1674 The Complete Gamester, mentions that post and pair was particularly popular in the west of England, as much as all fours was popular in Kent, and fives in Ireland.[4][page needed] And if Francis Willughby's 1816 Book of Games gives no rules for the game,[3] Cotton describes it as a three-stake game[4][page needed] almost identical to three-card brag (or three-stake brag).[5]

Game play[edit]

Three separate stakes are made by each player. After staking at "post" and then at "pair", and getting two cards, the players stake at "seat". A third card is dealt upwards and the best of the cards so dealt entitles the holder to the first stake; the order of priority being as above mentioned.

The second stake becomes the property of the player with the best hand. A pair-royal of aces is the best hand, and next, a pair-royal of any three court (face) cards according to their value: three kings, three queens, three knaves (jacks), etc. If no one has a pair-royal, the highest pair wins, and next to this, the hand that holds the highest cards.[2][clarification needed]

The third stake goes to the player with the best pair or cards totaling, or most approaching,[6] twenty-one points, that is, two tens and an ace, with court cards counting as ten. Any player whose cards fall short of that number is entitled (in due turn) to receive a card or cards from the stock, in the hope of amending the point value of the hand, but if overdrawn, to beyond 21, is out of the game. In this respect, it is closely related to blackjack.

The eldest hand may pass and come in again, if any of the gamesters vye with a bet. If not, the dealer may plead it out, or double it.[7]

Hand rankings[edit]

  • A pair-royal of aces.
  • A pair-royal of any three cards according to their value: three kings, three queens, etc.
  • A pair of aces, then a pair of kings, followed by a pair of queens and so on in ascending order.
  • The highest cards[clarification needed] in one hand.
  • A pair of cards totalling, or approaching 21 points.
  • Court (face) cards value 10 points each, and pip cards their face value.


As Charles Cotton said in The Compleat Gamester:[4][page needed]

The vye is what you please to adventure upon the goodness of your own hand; or if it be bad, and you imagine your adversary's is so likewise, then bid him high courageously, by which means you daunt your antagonist, and so bring him to submission. If all the gamesters keep in till all have done, and by consent shew their cards, the best cards carry the game. Now according to agreement those that keep in till last, may divide the stakes, or shew the best card for it. Observe, where the cards fall in several hands of the same sort, as a pair of pair-royal, and so forth, the eldest hand carries it.[This quote needs a citation]

Post and pair in literature[edit]

Post and pair was first mentioned in a list of games played by Gargantua of Gargantua and Pantagruel, a 1532 novel by François Rabelais.

Shakespeare mentions the vye ("taunt") of the game, named as "pair", in a dialogue between the character Rosaline and the Princess of France in a conversation about the courtier Berowne, in his early play Love's Labour's Lost, written in the mid-1590s.[8]

In Ben Jonson's Masque of Christmas, the card game of post and pair is introduced as one of his children,[9] thus characterizing him as a knave. According to the A Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words, Obsolete Phrases and Ancient Customs of the Fourteenth Century, by James Orchard Halliwell-Phillipps, written in 1868, pur was the term given to the knave or jack in the game of post and pair, it seems to be formed by an abbreviation of pair-royal corrupted into purrial, similar to how pair-royal has since been otherwise corrupted into prial.[10]

The game is mentioned in Canto Six of Walter Scott's epic poem Marmion as a "vulgar" game played at Christmas.[11] Post and pair is also prominently mentioned in A Woman Killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chisholm 1911, p. 196.
  2. ^ a b Dallas, Eneas Sweetland (1863). "Once a Week". X. London: Bradbury & Evans: 364. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b Francis Willughby's Book of Games: A Seventeenth-century Treatise on Sports, Games and Pastimes, Francis Willughby; eds. David Cram, Jeffrey Forgeng, Dorothy Johnston; London, 2003; ISBN 1-85928-460-4; p. 275. Originally published 1816.
  4. ^ a b c Cotton, Charles (1674). The Compleat Gamester. (Often republished with Lucas, Theophilus (1714). Lives of the Gamesters – e.g. in Games and Gamesters of the Restoration. Ramage Press. 2000. ISBN 978-1446501764.)
  5. ^ The Cyclopedia of Cards and Table Games by "Professor Hoffmann", London, 1891, p. 50. It is difficult to find any reliable information as to the game of post, but it is known that the threefold stake is one of its special features, and that the three events whereon the distribution depends, are distinguished by the names of post, pair and seat, it is suggested by Cavendish that these three, but in reverse order, are respectively identical to the three above mentioned.
  6. ^ The Tudor Interludes, "The Interlude of Youth", Ian Lancashire; Manchester University Press, 1980; ISBN 0-7190-1523-5; p. 146.
  7. ^ The Complete Gamester in Three Parts, Richard Seymour; London: J. Hodges, London, 1754; p. 225.
  8. ^ "Love's Labour's Lost", William Shakespeare; ed. H. R. Woudhuysen; London: Arden Shakespeare, 2000 [1998]; p. 240:

    They are worse fools to purchase mocking so.
    That same Berowne I'll torture ere I go.
    So pair-taunt-like would I o'ersway his state,
    That he should be my fool, and I his fate.

  9. ^ The Works of Ben Johnson, ed. William Gifford; Boston: Phillips, Sampson & Co. 1855; p. 717.

    Post and pair, with a pair-royal of oces in his hat,
    his garment all done over with pairs and purs,
    his squire carrying a box, cards, and counters.

  10. ^ A Glossary: Or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names &c., Robert Nares; London: Robert Triphook, 1822; p. 403.
  11. ^ Walter Scott, Marmion, canto six: The lord, underogating, share/The vulgar game of "post and pair."



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