Duke of Cumberland Hand

The history behind the infamous Whist hand held by the Duke of Cumberland, the son of George III, the King of England, is clouded perhaps in the relating of the story over time. According to the book, How to Play Whist: With the Laws and Etiquette of Whist, Whist-whittlings, and Forty Fully Annotated Games, published by Longmans, Green and Co., London and New York, OCLC: 13530178, in 1885, and written by Mr. Richard Anthony Proctor, however, this notorious event took place at the Whist table.

This card-hustling hand was also published by Mr. Edmond Hoyle as an illustration in one of his many publications. Mr. Edmond Hoyle did not describe the event of the Duke of Cumberland since Mr. Edmond Hoyle died in 1769, at least 100 years before the alleged event.

Note: The Duke of Cumberland was a peerage title conferred upon Junior Members of the British Royal Family. Junior members, or the other children of the reigning King or Queen, were not first-born and therefore not the first-in-line for succession to the throne. The Duke of Cumberland mentioned by Mr. Richard Anthony Proctor is The Prince Ernest Augustus, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, born on June 5 in the year 1771 and died on June 20 in the year 1851. He was the fifth son of George III, and later became King of Hanover in 1837 under the official title of Ernest Augustus I of Hanover. He was the fifth son and eighth son of King George III, who ruled over both the United Kingdom and Hanover in Germany.


The game of Whist is different from the game of modern-day bridge, and the rules are different. The last card is namely turned and the suit of this card establishes the trump suit. All hands are concealed in Whist, and there is no dummy faced on the table. After the dealer has dealt, he turns over the last card, which is named trump. His left opponent then proceeds to contest the contract by leading the first card. Following is the infamous hand as recorded by Mr. Richard Anthony Proctor, which according to perhaps rumor was dealt at the notorious and infamous gaming rooms in the English village of Bath, from whence the designation Bath Coup is also derived.

Partner of
the Duke
West Opponent
  East Opponent
The Duke
of Cumberland
East became the declarer after the last card, a Club, and announced to the table that Clubs were trump. The Duke of Cumberland sees an apparently excellent opportunity of scoring with his royal holding. The Duke of Cumberland leads the 7 of Clubs. In accordance with the established Whist precepts, he opened the play with this particular card. It was obviously in his best interest to eliminate all the opponent's trumps as quickly as possible to avoid the ruffing of any of his solid top cards.

It is at this moment in the deal that the card-hustlers challenge the opponents and attempt to sucker the opponents into making a bet, which they are guaranteed to lose.

It is also obvious to the present-day bridge student that only a Club lead will result in the bet being made, the purpose of this particular deal. If the card-hustling players see either a Diamond, a Heart or a Spade as the first trick led, then no bet was made. This is due to the fact that the West hand, serving as dummy, would be forced to play a Diamond, which then must be trumped by East, thereby shortening the trump length of East by one. This results in the East hand being one trump too short to finesse all four trump cards of the Duke of Cumberland since East must trump a second Diamond in order to establish the Diamonds. East comes up one trump short.

If the Duke of Cumberland leads either a Heart or a Spade, then the West hand is forced to trump, an action which leaves the West hand one trump too short. This results in the fact that the East hand is unable to finesse the Duke of Cumberland four times in order to run the Diamonds. West comes up one trump short.

Therefore, only if the lead is a Club, which was the generally accepted and expected lead, and West plays to the trick, only then do both East and West declare that they will take all 13 tricks. The Duke of Cumberland challenges this statement, and both East and West place a bet with the Duke of Cumberland that he will not take one trick. The bet is accepted, but it must be noted that it should have been obvious to the Duke of Cumberland, a passionate and experienced Whist player, that he was handed a pre-arranged hand, and that he could not win the bet. It must also be remembered that both the West and the East hands were not disclosed in the game of Whist and it therefore seems apparently suspicious that both East and West would be able to make this challenge.

Taking the surprise by the reader out of the incident prior to its explanation, the fact must be presented that this hand was used by gambling swindlers during the popularity of the game. It was Mr. Edmond Hoyle, 1672 to 1769, a barrister of good family and education, who became the first professional Whist instructor. He was the first to write a book devoted to the game. Mr. Edmond Hoyle published many books after his first best seller, and in one of them, he presented the above hand to make a point via an illustration. Gambling hustlers used this example in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to take advantage of the betting habits of the wealthy and of the elite society. This illustration by Mr. Edmond Hoyle was published over one hundred years before the alleged incident with the Duke of Cumberland occurred.

The play is as follows: West overtakes the 7 of Clubs lead with the 8 of Clubs. West leads a Diamond, which is trumped by East. East returns a Club. The Duke of Cumberland plays the 9 of Clubs, but West overtakes with the 10 of Clubs. West returns a Diamond, and East ruffs again. East leads the last trump, catching the Duke of Cumberland in a squeeze situation. He plays the Jack of Clubs, and West plays the Queen of trump followed by the Ace of trump, felling the last King of Clubs held by the Duke of Cumberland. West then proceeds to play all of his good Diamonds, taking all 13 tricks.

The Duke of Cumberland lost the bet and reportedly had to pay his opponents a total of £20,000, the amount of the wager. This amounted to about US$100,000.00 at that time. Today the estimated total is about US$800,000.00.



Source: The Official Encyclopedia of Bridge, Frey-Truscott, editors; New York, Crown Publishers, Inc., (c) 1971, pp. 122.

See also: James Bond vs. Hugo Drax

See also: Mississippi Heart Hand