Fistful of Whist

This ain't your grandma's card game (but she can play if she wants)

The Bid Whist Tournament

Missouri History Museum (Lindell Boulevard at DeBaliviere Avenue)

Begins at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, September 6. Admission is $10 per person. Call 314-361-9017 to reserve team space, or 314-746-4599 for general information about the event.

Long before bridge came to dominate the world of card mavens, a game known as bid whist had established itself as the unofficial card game of the African-American community. Transmitted from the Turks to the British in the early twentieth century, the game was later popularized by Pullman porters, who picked up the game from British train travelers.

Since then, "Bid whist has become a universal language among African-American baby boomers," notes Donn Johnson, the Missouri Historical Society's director of communication. Learning the game is even something of a rite of passage for African-American college students.

To commemorate the historical import of bid whist, the MHS has organized a tournament, which will welcome some of the region's best players. The three-year-old tournament -- the brainchild of MHS community-programs manager Marsha Jordan, herself an accomplished player -- will also offer workshops, so that novices can learn the basics from more experienced players.

Bid whist can be considered a more informal (and entertaining) cousin to bridge. The game is played by four people -- two tandems square off against one another -- and players make bids announcing how many four-card tricks they expect to win. But unlike bridge, bid whist does not require an ornate bidding system. The game also has a distinct lingo, thanks to the Pullman porters. When one team takes all the tricks, for example, it is called "running a Boston" to commemorate the trip from California to Boston.

Just as important, bid whist also tends to foster a spirit of celebration. It's not uncommon to hear players teasing one another or bragging about their own abilities, often hilariously, whereas bridge players frown on such levity. Which is to say, whether or not you know the game, you are not likely to be bored watching it.

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