Gambling games have always been popular, and the fifteenth century was no exception. For many people, one of the first gambling games that comes to mind is classic poker. Poker is a fairly old game that originated in Italy sometime during the early 1400’s, when it was called Primero. From then to now this game has sprouted countless versions from centuries of devoted players.
One could easily say that there are as many versions as there are people in Europe. During the early days of development people would add and subtract rules in attempt to “liven-up the game”, or more likely give themselves an edge.
Primero was enjoyed and played by anyone who could obtain a deck of cards including campaigning soldiers, virtually every inn-keeper, and even Elizabeth I of England who described it as her most favorite game to play. For historical reenactors like us, Primero is an excellent example of the daily-life details that help our public visitors get a real taste of “living history”.
Before starting the game of Primero, remove all eight’s, nines, and tens from the deck of cards. Like in poker, the object of the game is to obtain a specific hand. An added feature is that all cards have a point value. The point values of the cards are as follows:
Seven………………..21 Ace……………….16 Four…………………14 Two……………….12
Six………………….18 Five………………15 Three………………..13 Face Cards…………10
There are four hands that gain points. Following is a list of them in order from least value to greatest value:
Numerous = Two or three cards of the same suit. The point value is equal to the sum of these cards.
In the case of having two Numerouses in the same hand, it is recommended that you use the one of higher point value.
Primero = Four cards, one of each suit. The point value is equal to the sum of these cards.
Supremus = Consists of a seven, six, and ace of the same suit. The point value is always 55.
Fluxus = Four cards of the same suit. The point value is the sum of these cards. A Fluxus will always beat any Supremus, Primero, or Numerous.
To begin the game, each player is dealt four cards. After everyone has there cards, each player bets his or her stake. Stakes may be raised at will until all players are finished, but to remain in the game all players must match the highest bet. Then, each player is dealt two more cards with which he or she can keep, or exchange with the deck. One or both of the cards may be exchanged. Bets are now placed for a second time if desired.
It is also an option at this point for a player not to bet, but to drop-out of the game without typically being hence-forth labeled a “coward”.
If all but one of the players drop out of the game, it is the duty of the player on the right of the person who didn’t forfeit to continue the hand lest he be looked upon with little favor or honor. The winner of the round is the player with the highest ranking hand, and receives all stakes that have been bet.
As a note to reenactors, since authentic money is difficult to come-by for demonstrating this to the public, I suggest rations, trinkets, or even labors as an alternative exchange. Authentic playing cards can be purchased from only a handful of sources that I know of.