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Gleek

Updated on October 22, 2014
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Jeff Johnston is a medieval reenactor and avid history fan. He is also the publisher at Living History Publications.

A Medieval Gambling Game

No I am not talking about fan's of the show Glee, Gleek is a medieval gambling card game that dates back as early as the 16th century, it grew to considerable popularity in the 18th century[1]. Many a fortune was lost and won in the gambling houses of the medieval times, and gleek would often be a favourite game among the gamblers. Easy to learn difficult to master, it could be said that it is a cross between Poker and Euchre. If you are to play at Gleek, keep your wits sharp.

The earliest known mention of Gleek comes from a 1522 translation of a French manuscript dated 1511 "The chirche of the euyll men and women, from La Petite Dyablerie dont Lucifer est le chef" by Varnet and Beda.

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William Forrest claimed Catherine of Aragon preferred playing Gleek to her matronly duties:

With stoole and with needyl she was not to seeke,

And other practiseinges for ladyes meete,

[But] To pastyme at tables, tick tacke, or gleeke,

Cardis and dyce...

How To Play

The Rules for Gleek

While there are several sources for the rules to gleek, I have chosen Francis Willughby's Book of Games as the best source for the medieval period rules. The Book of Games is a 17th century treatise on sports and games and is a great source for medieval games.

Number of Players:

Gleek is a three player game.

Stakes:

Gleek is a gambling game and as such counters of some sort must be used, for the purposes of these rules we will refer to the counter as chips, you can use whatever you like, or actually gamble with money if you are up to (but always gamble responsibly never gamble more than you can afford to lose).

Value of the Cards:

In most medieval card games Ace is always counted as a one, however Gleek is the exception to this rule, in Gleek the order of cards is A,K,Q,J,10,9,8,7,6,5,4. Threes and twos are removed from the deck prior to dealing. Each card has specific point values listed below;

Ace (called the Tib in Gleek) 15

Jack (knave) 9

King 3

Queen 3

Ante:

Each player must put 1 chip into the pot before the deal begins.

Deal:

Each player is dealt 12 cards in three batches of four cards, the remaining eight cards are placed in the middle as the stock and the top card from this pile is turned up for trump. If the turned up card is a four this is called Tiddy and the dealer automatically gets four chips from each player. As in most medieval card games seating arrangements starts at the eldest, then progresses to the left to the youngest, the youngest deals first and the eldest gets first bid at the stock and goes first. Deal then passes to the left as normal.

Gameplay:

Each hand has four parts

  1. Bidding the stock
  2. Vying the Ruff
  3. Claiming mournivals and gleeks
  4. Trick Play

Bidding the Stock:

After the deal each player may look at their cards and decide if they want to bid on the stock to try to improve their hand. The first player to bid (eldest in the first hand) must bid 12 chips, the others may pass or bid more according to how much they want to change their hand. Bidding continues until all other players pass. The player with the highest bid must discard 7 cards and take the entire stock except the turned up trump card. The amount that player bid then gets divided between the two other players, if there is an uneven number of chips bid then the extra chip goes in the pot.

Vying the Ruff:

Vying the ruff is a stage in which the players bet on who has the highest scoring cards in any one suit. To count up the value of your ruff you add 10 points for any court card (King, Queen, Jack), 11 points for the ace, and face cards are worth their face value. Four of a kind (called a mournival) of Aces automatically wins the ruff, but it is the only mournival that can be counted, all others must be of the same suit. When the betting starts if all players pass and no one bets the vying phase is skipped over and the pot remains and is doubled for the next round. Once one player bids the next player may either see, see and raise, or pass. Passing is the same as folding, seeing matches the most recent bet, and seeing and raising is matching the bet and upping it by a certain amount. Betting continues until either two players pass causing the remaining player to win the bet, or until all players have either passed or seen and raised. If their are two or more players who have seen and are thus still in the vying stage they must show their ruff, the player with the highest scoring ruff wins the pot.

Claiming Mournivals and Gleeks:

A mounival, as discussed above is a four of a kind, a gleek is a three of a kind. Each player declares their largest gleek or Mournival and the player with the highest set wins this round and each player must pay the requisite number of chips to the winner. A gleek of jacks is 1 chip, of queens 2, of kings 3 and of aces 4, mounivals double these values. Gleeks and mounivals of face cards are not counted (alternate every player gets paid for every gleek or mounival in their hand)

Trick Play:

At any time during trick play if the four of trump (the Tiddy) is played each player must pay 2 chips to the player who played the Tiddy. Beyond that trick play is played pretty much like any trick taking game. The first player lays down a card, each player must then lay down their highest card in that suit if they have a card in that suit, if they do not then they may play a trump card or any other card. The highest card in suit, or the highest trump takes the trick, and that player leads the next trick. When you play an honour (Ace, King, Queen, Jack) you must announce that fact.

After all cards are played add 3 points for each trick you took and add up the points for the cards you took according to the point value chart above. If the turn up card was a Ace, King, Queen, or Jack then the dealer counts that point. Any player who did not get 22 points total must put one chip in the pot for every point below 22, any player who scored above 22 gets one chip for every point above 22, any player who scored exactly 22 neither gets nor pays any chips.

The Avacal Games Guild is a group of people in the SCA Kingdom of Avacal who are interested in Medieval games

Badge of the Avacal Games Guild
Badge of the Avacal Games Guild | Source

© 2014 Jeff Johnston

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