Card games in pre-revolutionary Russia

Card games appeared in Russia in the 17th century. Since then, their popularity has steadily grown, despite all sorts of prohibitions from the authorities. They were in demand during balls, ordinary dinners and in military service among both the nobles and the common people. An excursion into the past will introduce the history of the appearance of cards on the territory of Russia, the attitude of the nobility towards them and the most popular games.

The appearance of the first maps in Russia

One of the first mentions of maps in Rus' can be found in the Cathedral Code of 1649. Article 15 of Chapter 21: “And those thieves in Moscow and in the cities steal, play cards and grains, and steal when they lose, walking the streets, slaughtering people and robbing…”.

According to various sources, cards have become brought to Russia at the beginning of the 17th century.

They spread largely thanks to visiting Germans, Ukrainian Cossacks and Poles. From the Council Code it becomes clear that the cards gained wide popularity among the common people, who often committed various kinds of crimes after losing.

Игральные карты
They tried to make the cards bright and colorful

Gambling received an ambiguous reputation. On the one hand, cards have become an integral part of the leisure of the nobility and the military. On the other hand, individual kings issued decrees to ban gambling, as they contributed to the development of negative relations in society and an increase in crime.

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Regulation of gambling in the 18th-19th century

The first attempt to stop the game for money undertook in 1717 during the reign of Peter I. On December 17, a corresponding decree was issued. It says the following: "So that no one plays for money, under a triple penalty of the money they have acquired." It is easy to justify the actions of Peter I - the tsar himself was never interested in cards.

In the 1730s-1740s, after the change of power, the situation only worsened, dividing society into 2 camps. Empress and Autocrat of the All-Russian Anna Ioannovna continued the policy of Peter I regarding gambling, but at the same time she herself was fond of cards. The game at the table was so important that it was a regular part of her schedule. Often the stakes reached 20,000 rubles. Commoners, on the other hand, risked getting a fine, and part of it was due to the applicant. However, the cards themselves managed to firmly gain a foothold in society and become an element of leisure. Sometimes the ability to play was equated with belonging to a noble family.

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The thaw occurred during the reign of Elizabeth Petrovna. Close to the crown, in particular, Roman Illarionovich Vorontsov, brother of Chancellor M. I. Vorontsov, organized an underground gambling house. Among its regular visitors was Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov. He was known as a gambler who could not stop in time. I.I. Shuvalov often gambled on credit, which RI Vorontsov used.

In his account book, the owner of the gambling house noted that the total winnings for one evening amounted to 7668 rubles, with 4660 inherited from Shuvalov. And Vorontsov lost only 3270. The net winnings reached 4398 rubles. Then the cost of one peasant was from 10 to 30 rubles, so Vorontsov could afford to buy up to 439 people with this money.

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Елизавета Петровна пыталась остановить распространение карт. Игра на деньги стала серьезной проблемой, поскольку участники начали ставить крестьян и целые поместья. Вместе с этим распространялось шулерство. Причем к мастерам подтасовывать карты относились лояльно — участники брали на себя риск получить заведомо более слабую руку.

Thus, in 1743 and 1747, Elizaveta Petrovna tried to toughen the penalties for playing for money. Gambling lovers, instead of quitting, changed the approach to the organization. They began to put bills, so it was possible to sit down at the table without a penny in your pocket, the main thing is that this option allowed you to avoid retribution.

Catherine II continued to toughen punishments for gambling.

With her During the reign, fines were received not only by commoners, but also by representatives of the nobility. Although the latter still had the legal right to bet small amounts in gambling.

In 1782, the first concessions were made. The fine was reduced to 12 kopecks - even for relatively poor people, this was a small amount. Moreover, the Charter states that if a player bets for fun and does not use cards for profit, then his activity is considered legal. This gave impetus to the opening of clubs. The statutes specifically used language that allowed participants to avoid fines. So, in the rules of the first domestic English club it is written: “Only commercial games are allowed in the cards, gambling is completely prohibited.” Over time, similar formulations began to be used by other Russian institutions, whose members bet money.

Английский клуб
The famous English club won millions and lost fortunes

The change in attitude towards gambling at the legislative level allowed the empress to gain economic benefits. She obligated everyone to use branded decks. Then, up to 13,000 dozen sets were brought to Russia every year, and about 10,000 dozen were produced in the country. In order to replenish the state treasury, Catherine II banned the use of unstamped cards. The rule was relevant even if the game was played without stakes.

The increase in the duty on imported cards and the need to put a stamp gave impetus to the development of domestic manufacturers. Initially, Russian decks were of poor quality, so players more often preferred foreign ones, but due to an increase in cost, demand for them fell noticeably.

However, it was not until 1819 that the Alexandrovskaya manufactory appeared, which produced products of an acceptable level. It later became a monopoly and the only legitimate manufacturer of playing cards. Improving the quality of products allowed Alexander I to completely ban the import of foreign decks.

Poker, blackjack, baccarat are impossible without a deck kart. They were played by monarchs and clergy, merchants, artisans, aristocrats and ordinary people. The history of the appearance of cards, their evolution, periodic bans on gambling by the state and the church only strengthened the interest in this type of entertainment. Who, when and how invented…Read more
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Popular card games

Because with their appearance many bans in the 18th and 19th centuries, in order to avoid punishment, the organizers had to come up with new variations of games. Some of them became cult due to the description in fiction or the image in the paintings. Among these games:

  • Pharaoh.
  • Fly.
  • Wist.


Pharaoh - that's what they called French game. Among the Russian participants, it was called a bank. The game featured simple rules, but in return, people had to rely only on their luck.

One of the participants draws a card from the deck and immediately reveals it. After that, any bet amount is placed on top. If the opponent accepts it, he begins to open one top card from the other deck. 2 piles are formed alternately - the player and the dealer. Whoever gets the same card first wins.

A new deck was opened for each game of Pharaoh. However, the cards were not thrown away, but sold for use in other games.

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Мушка — старинная карточная игра, которая появилась во Франции в 17 веке. В России она обрела большую популярность в 18 столетии. Ее преимущество, в отличие от фараона, заключалось в гибкости — за одним столом могли играть от 3 до 7 участников. Размер колоды зависел от их количества:

  • 32 cards - 3 participants.
  • 36 - 4 players.
  • 52 - 5 or more participants.

First, the dealer is determined - the right goes to the participant who draws the lowest card. The distribution begins strictly with the player sitting on the left hand. One card is dealt until everyone has 5 cards. At the end, a trump card is taken out of the deck and placed in the middle of the table.

After the deal, the buying begins. During this stage, all participants have the following options:

  • Discard some cards and draw new ones from the deck.
  • Keep all.
  • Pass - you can discard cards and replace the hand.

The cards are played next. To win, you need to write off 25 points. The player to the left of the dealer goes first. He can throw any card. Further, the other participants, in order of priority, must first put the highest of the same suit. In the absence of such cards, a trump card is laid down, and if there is none, you can discard any. The next move goes to the player who took the bribe. The ace of spades has a special privilege - it can beat the ace of trumps, but not other trumps.

As soon as a player reaches zero points, he must immediately declare his victory. Otherwise, 25 points are recorded again. The calculation is as follows:

  • One trick - minus 1 point.
  • Zero tricks per hand - a remise is announced, and the player adds 5 points to himself.
  • Ace of Spades minus 5 points. However, when a player with this card does not take any tricks, he adds 5 points to himself. If the spade was a trump card, the number of points taken and received is increased by 2 times.
  • For a wrong move, the player writes himself plus 5 points.

Fly was mostly played at a table with green cloth. Each participant had a piece of chalk to write down bets. The next player could quickly erase everything with a brush.

Игроки в карты
I. A. Kalganov "Card Cheats"


Whist is a team game that appeared in England in the 18th century. In Russia, it became widespread already in the 19th century. The game was so popular that writers Thaddeus Bulgarin mentioned it in the novel "Ivan Vyzhigin" and Nikolai Chernyshevsky in "What Is To Be Done?".

Wist is designed for four participants. You have to play in pairs. However, options are provided when 2, 3, 5 or 6 participants are at the table. Two parties make up a rubber, after which the partners change. Pairs are determined by drawing a card from the deck - the two seniors play against the two juniors. The right to distribute goes to the participant with the lowest value.

Played mainly with a deck of 52 cards. In some cases, 2 sets are used at once. If there are 4 players at the table, each player receives 13 cards. Before the distribution, the participant to the right of the dealer removes the deck. One card should be dealt, starting with the player sitting on the left hand. The dealer shows his last and puts it in the middle of the table. The card becomes a trump card, and after the first trick, he takes it for himself.

During the distribution, it is forbidden to look at your hand. It is allowed to take cards after the trump card is declared. In some cases, if the distribution rules have been violated, you can continue with the consent of all participants.

The player starts to the left of the dealer. Then the move goes to the participant who takes the bribe. When playing, players are required to put cards of the same suit. It is not necessary to interrupt them. If the desired category is not available, you can use a trump card or discard any available one. The bribe goes to the owner of the highest card.

Oners play a special role - the ace of trumps, the king, the queen and the jack, and in some variants even the ten. The value of each such card is equal to one trick.

In whist, players could demonstrate individual skill. Since all cards are involved in the game, it is possible to calculate the opponents' moves in advance.

Name of the gameNative to
Pharaoh (Bank)France
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Ob arrangement of clubs

The English club was not the only place where members could gamble. Similar organizations sprang up all over Russia, with the cards becoming one of the main sources for attracting new members and funding. Their heyday in Russia came in the middle of the 19th century - the income of the St. Petersburg English Club in 1857 amounted to 29,800 rubles. Among the main ways of earning:

  • Club Membership Fees.
  • Playing Card Loan - both new and used decks were offered to members.
  • Fines - some clubs played until 2am, in case of delay, a monetary penalty was due.

Despite the fact that the club is interested in increasing the number of members, it was not so easy to become a member. The selection of candidates was carried out according to the charter:

  1. The applicant had to apply to one of the current members of the club with a request to consider his candidacy.
  2. If a member of the institution considered him worthy, he passed the application to one of the foremen.
  3. The names of the candidate and the club member he applied to were written on a special board in one of the halls.
  4. Final consideration took place on the first Thursday after 8 days at 8pm. A minimum of 30 people were required to vote.

The main advantage of the clubs was the careful consideration of candidates - it was difficult for cheaters to get membership. This attracted even inexperienced players who were partially insured and had a chance to win.

A number of rules also applied to the participants, which they had to follow:

  • The game began with a slight nod of the head. This is how the participants greeted each other.
  • At the table it was impossible to have a dialogue with other members who did not take part in the game.
  • It was forbidden to shuffle the dealt cards. This was considered an insult. The exception was cases when the dealer made a mistake during the distribution.
  • The winner could not refuse a new game if the loser wanted to take revenge.

It was customary to close card debts within 24 hours — in some clubs, debtors were given more time. If the money was not returned within the specified time, their names were entered in the book. After that, people could not visit the club until the debt was paid off.

Richard "Bose" Bosworth is the main partner and CEO of the young company JC Hospitality, LLC ...
Position: Author of analytical materials Higher education Age: 24 years old Experience: more than 5 years Brief biography: Born on March 24, 1997 in the city of Volkhov, Leningrad Region. In 2015, he successfully graduated from a comprehensive school, after which he entered the Faculty of Mechanics and Mathematics...
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