Calypso is not so much an historic game (yet) as a "forgotten" one from the mid
20th century, and is included here because it has always struck me as worthy of rescue
from an undeserved neglect. So far as I know, the only remaining regular players
are to be found in Western Massachusetts, where (according to my correspondent Mark Paul)
it is played by a few clubs on a regular basis. Of all "invented" card games not
invented by me, Calypso is the one I most enjoy, and most wish I had thought of first.
It was in fact invented by one R W Willis of Trinidad, and further developed by the English international Bridge player Kenneth W. Konstam. In his book on the game published in 1954, Konstam recounts the story thus:
In October 1953, Mr. R. W. Willis and his wife were spending a holiday in this country and through a mutual friend I was told that Willis had invented a new card game which he and his friends were playing at home in Trinidad. Being of a curious disposition... I arranged an introduction at which we all sat down and played what I firmly believe to be the first game of Calypso ever played other than at Mr. Willis' home. What is more surprising I found myself fascinated by it. The rules as we played on that first afternoon were cumbersome and the game itself too "busy"... [T]oo many cards were lying about the table at one time and too many different scoring combinations existed. But nevertheless I enjoyed it. I liked the idea of having my own personal trump and of occasionally being able to winkle from my opponent his Ace with my Jack.
There were novel features which I had never met in any other game and... [w]hen Mr. Willis left me I asked him for the option to develop his game and bring it out in such a way that I thought would appeal to the card-playing public. I am grateful to Mr. Willis for his confidence and trust and believe that he is now satisfied with the evolution of his brain child. By turning Calypso into a partnership game and changing many of the scoring combinations I tried out the game on my friends, apologetically at first, but more boldly later on as I discovered that strange as it may seem no one became bored and even non card-players learnt the rules in the minimum amount of time...
I have played Calypso with expert card players, with keen card players and with novices. In every case it has proved an enjoyable recreation, a possible gamble and a first class test of skill. I boldly prophesy that others will look on it in the same light.
Konstam's boldness and reputation were enough to persuade the British card-manufacturers Thomas de la Rue and John Waddington Ltd to publish Calypso in the form of a boxed set including four packs of cards, trump indicators, and a book of the inevitably "official" rules. No doubt all concerned believed this would be the next fad game, perhaps to knock off its perch the then fashionable and relatively novel game of Canasta. Alas for all concerned, not least for Konstam's all-too-bold prophecy, this desirable outcome was not to be.
Waddington's boxed Calypso set One possibility was that Canasta was still in full flood and not yet ready to be knocked off its perch - a few years' wait might have proved beneficial. Another is that the game's ingenious system of "personal trumps" is not quite as intuitively accessible as Konstam believed; and some players may have been put off by the necessity of permanently maintaining and replacing four packs of (ideally) identical cards. There will, of course, be those who maintain that it simply isn't a very good game; but that is surely a matter of opinion, and I'm happy to avow it isn't mine. Disconcertingly odd at first play it may well be, but I have found it highly rewarding of perseverance.
In America Calypso was published by the United States Playing Card Company and promoted by notable Bridge experts such as Ewart Kempson, Josephine Culbertson (book cover, left), Geoffrey Mott-Smith, and Alphonse Moyse, Jr.
|For each partner's first calypso||500|
|For each partner's second calypso||750|
|For each subsequent calypso||1000|
|For each card in an unfinished calypso||20|
|For each unmelded card won in tricks||10|
In most trick-taking games you lead to a trick from either the trump suit or a plain suit. In Calypso, however, you are always leading from a trump suit - not necessarily your own - and you have in fact three choices. Whether to lead your own trump, your partner's trump, or either of the adverse trumps, calls for a radically different approach from what you may be used to.
Probably the most important piece of advice is to avoid leading from your own suit just for the sake and novelty of winning an easy trick. The danger of doing so is that if an opponent follows with a duplicate of the card you lead, or any other card played to the trick, or any rank already represented in the calypso you are currently constructing, you will thereby be deprived of a whole calypso, as the duplicated card can only be added to your pile of won cards.
This doesn't mean to say that you should studiously avoid leading from your own trump. It can be a good opening gambit at the start of a deal if you hold between three and six of your own suit and have no particularly short suit elsewhere. It may also be helpful if you have only low-ranking personal trumps and are unlikely to be able to take tricks with them later when opponents get the lead.
It is rarely a good idea to lead your partner's trump, especially early in the deal, as there is no guarantee that your partner holds high enough cards of that suit to be able to win the trick. But it may be worth doing so if you have certain trick-winners in that suit, or if you are void or have only one of it, so that you may be able to trump when the suit is led again.
As for leading adverse trumps, it is generally best to lead high rather than low.
Calypso for four with everyone playing for themselves, although apparently the original game, is pretty pointless; for if there is no requirement to give anyone else cards for their own calypsos it will be quite surprising for anyone to complete more than one.
Rather more promising is Calypso for three. In the official version, you simply omit one of the suits (conventionally spades) and play for yourself. "In both [non-partnership] games", says Kempson, "players who cannot help themselves should endeavour to give help (however grudging) to the player who is farthest in arrears."
In an earlier version of this page (May 2009) I offered another method of three-handed play which at the time I had not tested. Having since tested it and found it unsatisfying I have now removed it. More workable is to play the "official" version described above, but in what I call "split partnership" format. This simply means that, at the end of the game, you each score for everything made by yourself and the player on your right.
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