Primero, Prime, Primus, Primiera, Primavista, often referred to as “Poker’s mother”, as it is the first confirmed version of a game directly related to modern day poker
Poker is a family of card games that share betting rules and usually hand rankings. Poker games differ in how the cards are dealt, how hands may be formed, whether the high or low hand wins the pot in a showdown , limits on bet sizes, and how many rounds of betting are allowed.In most modern poker...

, is a 16th century gambling card game
Card game
A card game is any game using playing cards as the primary device with which the game is played, be they traditional or game-specific. Countless card games exist, including families of related games...

 of which the earliest reference dates back to 1526. The game of Primero is closely related to the game of Primo visto
Primo visto
Primo visto, Primavista, Prima-vista, Primi-vist, Primiuiste,Primofistula, or even Primefisto, is a 16th-century gambling card game fashionable c. 1530-1640...

, if not the same.

The origins of Primero

It still seems uncertain whether the game of Primero is of Spanish or Italian origin. Although Daines Barrington is of the opinion that it is of Spanish origin, the poem of Francesco Berni
Francesco Berni
Francesco Berni was an Italian poet. He is credited for beginning what is now known as "Bernesque poetry", a serio-comedic type of poetry with elements of satire.-Life:...

, the earliest writer to mention the game, affords proof that it was at least commonly played in Italy at the commencement of the 16th century. His work entitled Capitolo del Gioco della Primiera, published in Rome in 1526, and believed to be the earliest work extant describing a card game, contains some particulars on the game of Primero. According to David Parlett
David Parlett
David Parlett is a games scholar from South London, who has studied both card games and board games. His published works include many popular books on games and the more academic volumes "Oxford Guide to Card Games" and "Oxford History of Board Games", both now out of print...

, the game is still very much played in central Europe and Spain with Italian-suited cards under the name of Goffo or Bambara, remaining the major native vying game of Italy.


This old game of cards was called Prime in France, Primera in Spain, and Primiera in Italy. All names derived from the Latin primarius (first). In English literature, besides the occasional use of the foreign names, the game is designated Primero (and also Prima-Vista, a probable variant), with the usual corruptions in spelling of the early days. Primero is actually a Spanish word, meaning " first " or " chief."

According to Stephen Skinner, Primero (Primero & Prima-vista, ab Ital. Primiera, Luxus qu dam chartarum, ab Ital. Primiero, Primus, & Prima-vista. Primus aspectus), are one and the same game. As for John Minshew, Primero and Prima-vista (Primum et primum visum, that is, first and first seen because he that can show such an order of cards wins the game), are two different games of cards.

Whichever opinion these two lexicographers might have had on the origin of Primero, it seems fairly plausible that the game being played in different parts of Europe had to acquire similar names as it migrated from one country to another, or from one region to the other, notably in Italy and Spain. And with the addition of new rules to the original set of rules, or even variations on the rules that the game devised, it finally reached a level of development that made it become separate games, despite their common origin. So, as the Italian writer Berni said: The game is played differently in different places.

The gamblers

Daines Barrington
Daines Barrington
Daines Barrington, FRS was an English lawyer, antiquary and naturalist.Barrington was the fourth son of the first Viscount Barrington. He was educated for the profession of the law, and after filling various posts, was appointed a Welsh judge in 1757 and afterwards second justice of Chester...

, described an Elizabethan card party painted by Federico Zuccari
Federico Zuccari
Federico Zuccari, also known as Federigo Zuccaro , was an Italian Mannerist painter and architect, active both in Italy and abroad.-Biography:Zuccari was born at Sant'Angelo in Vado, near Urbino ....

, and that originally belonged to Lord Falkland, in which Lord Burleigh is represented playing at cards with three other persons, apparently of distinction, each having two rings on the same fingers of both their hands. The cards used are marked as at present, although they differ from those of modern times for being narrower and longer. Eight of the cards lie on the table with the blank side uppermost, for the cards at that time had blank backs, while four remain in each of the other players hands. A particular in this painting is that one of the players is seen showing his cards, which are the Knave of Hearts, the Ace, Seven and Six of clubs. The cover of the pack lying on the table, displays two lions supporting a shield upon which is what appeares to be a Rose (the crest of the Tudor House), and underneath, though indistinctly, the name of a French card-maker Jehan Licl**rer. This particular, most certainly, gives proof that the cards then used were obtained from France. The money on the table, together with considerable heaps of gold and silver, appears to be coins of Edward VI and Queen Elizabeth I.

As the first Lord Burleigh is said to have enirely devoted his time to business and study, taking no diversion but that afforded by his gardens, of which he was both fond and proud, it is to be supposed that this painting was not "his" portrait, though mistaken for his, as was the ownership of the old manor-house of Wimbledon. So, there seems to be little doubt here as for which game the artist meant to describe, and that the person exhibiting his cards to the spectators had won a flush, for his three clubs are the best cards for counting.

A passage in an old play by Robert Greene
Robert Greene
Robert Greene may refer to:*Robert Greene , English writer*Robert Greene *Robert Greene American author of books on strategy*Robert L. Greene, American psychologist...

, has been quoted by several writers as evidence that Primero was a gambling game. But a person who objects to cards, might make such a remark with respect to any card game, whether a gambling game or not. Judging from the partial descriptions of the game which remain to us, it might seem that Primero was played for either large or small stakes, as agreed on. John Florio describes Primero played by two persons for “one shilling stake and three rest (pool). In Minsheu’s “Spanish Dialogues” four play; the stake is two shillings and the rest, eight. The text is self explanatory, explaining also the meaning of the name Primero.

Primero and the Tudor Dynasty

The game of Primero appears to have been one of the earliest card games played in England during the Renaissance and the Tudor dynasty
Tudor dynasty
The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including the Lordship of Ireland, later the Kingdom of Ireland, from 1485 until 1603. Its first monarch was Henry Tudor, a descendant through his mother of a legitimised...

, and certainly it continued to be one the most fashionable game throughout the reigns of Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England
Henry VIII was King of England from 21 April 1509 until his death. He was Lord, and later King, of Ireland, as well as continuing the nominal claim by the English monarchs to the Kingdom of France...

, Edward VI, Mary I of England
Mary I of England
Mary I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from July 1553 until her death.She was the only surviving child born of the ill-fated marriage of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Her younger half-brother, Edward VI, succeeded Henry in 1547...

, Elizabeth I and James I
James I of England
James VI and I was King of Scots as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the English and Scottish crowns on 24 March 1603...

, due to the frequent mention of it by many writers of that time. Already during the reign of Henry VII, notices of money issued several times for the King’s losses at cards appear in the Remembrance’s Office, dated December the 26th, in the ninth year of his reign. There, an entry is made of one hundred shillings paid at one time to him for the purpose of playing at cards. The private expenses of Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter and later Queen, also contain numerous items of money “for the playe at cardes“. But despite the records, it is not certain that Primero found its way to England previously to the marriage of Queen Mary I with Philip II of Spain
Philip II of Spain
Philip II was King of Spain, Portugal, Naples, Sicily, and, while married to Mary I, King of England and Ireland. He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces from 1556 until 1581, holding various titles for the individual territories such as duke or count....

, although there is no doubt that his coming to England from the court of Charles V would have cause it to be more generally known and played. William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare
William Shakespeare was an English poet and playwright, widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world's pre-eminent dramatist. He is often called England's national poet and the "Bard of Avon"...

 also speaks of Henry VIII playing at Primero with his brother-in-law Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, 1st Viscount Lisle, KG was the son of Sir William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn. Through his third wife Mary Tudor he was brother-in-law to Henry VIII. His father was the standard-bearer of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond and was slain by Richard III in person at...

, and makes Falstaff
Sir John Falstaff is a fictional character who appears in three plays by William Shakespeare. In the two Henry IV plays, he is a companion to Prince Hal, the future King Henry V. A fat, vain, boastful, and cowardly knight, Falstaff leads the apparently wayward Prince Hal into trouble, and is...

 say: “I never prospered since I forswore myself at Primero”; and among the epigrams of Sir John Harington we have one which describes "The Story of Marcus' Life at Primero" in which many of the terms of the game are majestically developed in detail.

Evolution & Decline

Judging by the pattern of succession of games during the Renaissance, it is to be noted that many of the card games played throughout Europe, ascended in popularity to be later replaced by another type of game, again brought into the country by the court gamester of that time. So that, by the last quarter of the 16th century, the game of Primero had already decreased in popularity, and was gradually replaced by the Trump
A trump is a type of card in some card games.Trump may also refer to:* Trump * Trump * Trumps * The Trump * HMS Trump , a British submarine* The Trump Organization, a business conglomerate...

 family game known as Maw, the favorite card game of James I, and alluded by Sir John Harington to succeeding the game of Primero. According to Cotton
Cotton is a soft, fluffy staple fiber that grows in a boll, or protective capsule, around the seeds of cotton plants of the genus Gossypium. The fiber is almost pure cellulose. The botanical purpose of cotton fiber is to aid in seed dispersal....

, the game of Primero, which by the time of the Restoration in 1660 had already evolved into many other variations, some of six cards, rapidly went out of fashion with the introduction of the royal Spanish game of Ombre
Ombre, English corruption of the Spanish word Hombre, arising from the muting of the H in Spanish, is a fast-moving seventeenth-century trick-taking card game with an illustrious history which began in Spain around the end of the 16th Century as a four person game...


Rules of the game

The object of the game, as in Poker, is to attain the highest possible hand, or at least bluff your competitors out of betting against you. There are no existing written rules for the 16th century Primero, only descriptions. However a number of reconstructions of the game have been made, primarily on the basis of books describing playing strategy and references in period literature.

The play

Primero is played with a 40-card deck, though there are special decks just made for this game. It works best with 4 to six players. He who holds the 'prime', a sequence of the best cards and a good trump, is sure to be successful over his adversary—hence the game's denomination.
Chorus (Quartet) Four cards of a kind
Fluxus (Plush) All cards of the same suit
Numerus (Point) Two or three cards of the same suit. A point of higher card-value beats one of lower value for which purpose Courts count 10 each of the hand is the sum of the cards. Ace, 6, 7 and Jack cards in any suit.
Supremus (Fifty-five) The highest possible three-flush, the Ace, 6, 7 (plus an unrelated fourth card) and Ace card from any other suit.
Primero (Prime) One card from each suit. It’s a four-card hand containing one card of each suit, hence the exact opposite of a “flush” in Poker. The major gambling game based on this combination goes back to the 16th century, being known to Gerolamo Cardano
Gerolamo Cardano
Gerolamo Cardano was an Italian Renaissance mathematician, physician, astrologer and gambler...

 as Primiera, the noblest of all card games, to François Rabelais
François Rabelais
François Rabelais was a major French Renaissance writer, doctor, Renaissance humanist, monk and Greek scholar. He has historically been regarded as a writer of fantasy, satire, the grotesque, bawdy jokes and songs...

 as Prime, and to Shakespeare as Primero.

Court Cards The player scores 10 points
2 (deuce) The player scores 12 points
3 (trey) The player scores 13 points
4 (four) The player scores 14 points
5 (five) The player scores 15 points
Ace The player scores 16 points
6 The player scores 18 points
7 The player scores 21 points

English version

Because this is a gambling game, the first step is for all players to ante into the pot. The deal is counter-(clockwise) starting with the dealer. Each player receives 4 cards dealt in 2’s from a 40-card deck ranking K Q J 7 6 5 4 3 2 A. Anyone dealt a winning combination calls for an immediate showdown, and the player with the best hand wins the pot. Two cards go to each player, which is followed by the next phase of betting. Two more cards are dealt to each player, then eight cards are dealt face down on the table or the remaining cards are left out as a draw or stock pile.

The other way is to lay out eight cards and draw and discard from only those cards. Each player then may draw and discard from the eight cards on the table. When a player is satisfied with his cards, he may knock on the table, calling out: Vada (go!), which brings an immediate showdown won by the best hand. If no one bets, the stakes are carried forward to the next deal; but if one stays in, at least one other must contest the pot this obligation ultimately falling upon the player immediately ahead of the last bettor if everyone else has folded. In a showdown, the better equal combinations is that with the highest point. Thus, a quartet of Aces (4x16=64) beats a quartet of Fives (60), but it’s beaten by four Sixes (72). Four Kings will not beat four Queens or Jacks, as these hands all count 40. Such ties are broken in favor of the eldest hand competing. Players “vie” by stating how high a hand they are claiming to have, and may “bluff” by overstating it. What they apparently must not do is to underbid their hands; for as Cardano puts it: “If anyone wins with the greatest point, he is obliged to show another card; otherwise he loses his deposit because he could have a “flush”… Similarly, if he “vies” on the basis of point, he is obliged to show two different cards and one of a matching suit, so that no one may suspect him of having a “flush” or “ prime”.

A player may either knock or draw in a turn, but not both. Once a player knocks, he may no longer draw. When two players have knocked, the play stops, and cards are shown. Betting starts after the two cards are dealt, and can continue after the two cards are dealt, and then at every round just before the dealer’s turn. The dealer always bet first. Players may match, raise, or fold any time during wagering. If all players refuse a bet, it must be withdrawn.

Italian version

In Florence, it is custom to leave out the sevens, eights and nines, keeping and vying only with the smaller cards; the "rest" (To set up a rest = to win it, is a phrase which occurs in almost every poet in the times of James and Charles. It is taken from terms used at the game of Primero, and perhaps other games then played) is made at the second card, and when the first player say “pass”, every one is obliged to discard, notwithstanding any one may have an Ace or a six in hand. At Venice, for instance, the mode of playing may be different; in Lombardy, Naples, France and Spain, so many countries, so many customs. But of all the modes, none can be superior to that of the court of Rome. There, the sevens, rights and nines are not withdrawn; there it is allowed to discard, but not both cards, after “pass” is once said; nor can this be done with the two cards of the “rest”, as it is usual in other places. The most essential operation of this game may be called its two principal heads, the “flush” and the “primera”, and a third, derived from the first, which is called the “punto”; from these three are deducted all the varieties which daily occur at Primero, as the greater and less “flush”, the great and little “prime”, and more or less points, which diversity gives rise to numerous controversies, and a thousand disputable points. Another not less excellent operation in this game is, that four cards of one sort, as four court cards, four aces, etc, conquer both the “flush” and “primera”.

Spanish version

Jacob Le Duchat, in a note on that chapter of Rabelais in which the games Gargantua played at are enumerated, has described the mode of playing Primero, and a similar account may be gathered from the Dictionary of the Spanish Academy. According to Duchat, there are two kinds of primero, the greater and the lesser; the difference between them is that the former is played with the figured cards, while at the latter the highest card is the seven, which counts for twenty one. Each player has four cards, which are dealt one by one; the next card in value to the seven is the six, which counts for eighteen; then the five, which counts for fifteen. The Ace is equivalent to six points, but the deuce, the trey and the four count only for their respective numbers. To these cards may be added, if the players choose, the Quinola, for which the Knave of Hearts is most commonly chosen, and of which he may make what card and what colour he likes. After which each of the players show their four cards, and he whose cards are all of different sorts wins the prime, if they are all of one colour he wins the flush. This game, according to the Great Spanish Dictionary, is played by dealing four cards to each player; the value of the seven, six and Ace, are the same; but the deuce is said to count for twelve, the trey for thirteen, the four for fourteen, and the five for fifteen, the figured cards are each equivalent to ten. The best hand is the great flush, that is four cards of high numbers and one of one colour; the next is the punto, consisting of the “Quinola” and seven, six, Ace which count for fifty-five; then the primera, or prime, which is four cards of different suits. Should two persons had flushes, he who counts the highest number, or the greatest flush wins, and the same regulation holds good in regard to the prime. But should there be neither flush nor prime, he wins who can count most points in one suit.

See also

  • Primo visto
    Primo visto
    Primo visto, Primavista, Prima-vista, Primi-vist, Primiuiste,Primofistula, or even Primefisto, is a 16th-century gambling card game fashionable c. 1530-1640...

  • Put (card game)
    Put (Card Game)
    Put is an English tavern trick-taking card game first recorded in the 16th century and later castigated by 17th century moralists as one of ill repute. It belongs to a very ancient family of card games and clearly relates to a group known as Trut, Truque, also Tru, and the South American game Truco...

  • Bouillotte
    Bouillotte, a vying 18th century French gambling card game of the Revolution, based on Brelan, very popular during the 19th century in France and again in America for some years from 1830. Bouillotte is regarded as one of the games that influenced the open-card studvariation in poker.-Game:A piquet...

  • Post and Pair
    Post and Pair
    Post and Pair, is a 16th century English gambling card game based on the same three-card combinations, namely Prial, found in related game of this family. It is much depended on vying, or betting, requiring repeated staking as well as daring on the part of the players...

  • Ambigu
    Ambigu is a French card game, composed of the characteristic elements of whist, bouillotte and piquet.A whist pack with the court cards deleted is used, and from two to six persons may play. Each player is given an equal number of counters, and a limit of betting is agreed upon. Two cards are...

  • Brelan
    Brelan , is a famous French vying game with rapidly escalating bets from the seventeenth to nineteenth century...

  • Brag

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.