Inspired by Jules Verne, Kouminkan Students Learn to Play Whist!

Students at Ajina-Dai Community Centre learn to play Whist...

On the last couple of Thursday mornings I talked to my Ajina-dai Kouminkan (Community Centre) class about Jules Verne’s novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. In that novel, the main character, Phileas Fogg, is a keen whist player; Fogg is playing whist when he bets that can travel around the world in eighty days.

After talking about the novel and reading an extract, we looked at the rules of whist and then played a game or two. My first idea was to split the class up into groups of four and have several games on the go, but the class preferred to take turns playing at just one table with everybody else watching and commenting. That turned out to be a much better idea.

Around the World in Eighty Days

Around the World in Eighty Days is an excellent topic for Japanese community centre English conversation classes. The plot of the novel is easy to understand, and as Fogg and his companions travel around the world the descriptions of various places and their adventures in them are full of lively detail, including one episode in which Passepartout, Phileas Fogg’s manservant, finds himself wandering the streets of Yokohama. The description of the women is sure to get a reaction:

The streets were crowded with people. Priests were passing in processions, beating their dreary tambourines; police and custom-house officers with pointed hats encrusted with lac and carrying two sabres hung to their waists; soldiers, clad in blue cotton with white stripes, and bearing guns; the Mikado’s guards, enveloped in silken doubles, hauberks and coats of mail; and numbers of military folk of all ranks–for the military profession is as much respected in Japan as it is despised in China – went hither and thither in groups and pairs. Passepartout saw, too, begging friars, long-robed pilgrims, and simple civilians, with their warped and jet-black hair, big heads, long busts, slender legs, short stature, and complexions varying from copper-colour to a dead white, but never yellow, like the Chinese, from whom the Japanese widely differ. He did not fail to observe the curious equipages – carriages and palanquins, barrows supplied with sails, and litters made of bamboo; nor the women – whom he thought not especially handsome – who took little steps with their little feet, whereon they wore canvas shoes, straw sandals, and clogs of worked wood, and who displayed tight-looking eyes, flat chests, teeth fashionably blackened, and gowns crossed with silken scarfs, tied in an enormous knot behind an ornament which the modern Parisian ladies seem to have borrowed from the dames of Japan. (Ch. 22)


Whist developed into a society game in the mid eighteenth century through the influence of Edmond Hoyle, who became a professional whist tutor to and wrote the first official guide to the game, A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, published in 1742. Such was the authority of his book that the phrase “according to Hoyle” came into popular use.

Whist dominated the London West End clubs and high society gaming in the Victorian age. In the 1870s, just around the time when Phileas Fogg was a keen whist player, Henry Jones published a guide, Cavendish on Whist, which laid down rules of technique and etiquette that turned the game into a complicated social ritual and eventually killed it off. Contract Bridge, a development of whist, took over in the Edwardian age as something fresh and exciting with less rigmarole.

Nowadays, whist can be enjoyed as a social game that is quick and easy to learn to play and which has a lot of tactical play in it to keep you interested over several rubbers.

Rules of Whist

1. Whist is a game for four players, two teams of two.

2. The aim of the game is to win as many tricks as possible. Points are scored on tricks and on trump honours.

3. To begin play, cut the pack to choose partners. Partners sit opposite each other.

2. Dealer deals 13 cards to each player and turns up the last card, dealt to himself, to nominate the trump suit.

3. Player to the dealer’s left leads with a card.

4. Every player plays a card, following suit if possible and the player who played the highest card (aces are high) wins the trick.

5. If a player does not have a card of the same suit as the lead card, he can either (a) ruff (i.e. try to win the trick with a trump card), or (b) discard a card of another suit.

6. The winner of the trick leads the next trick.


There are two parts to scoring: trick scoring and trump honours scoring

1. Tricks: Partners need to win 7 tricks to get a trick score:

  • 7 tricks = 1 point
  • 8 tricks = 2 points
  • 9 tricks = 3 points
  • 10 tricks = 4 points
  • 11 tricks = 5 points
  • 12 tricks = 6 points
  • 13 tricks = 7 points

2. Trump honours

Partners get 1 point for each of the trump honour cards (J, Q, K, A) they possess at the end of a game.

Here’s a flow diagram to help you remember your basic choices when you follow the lead: