header('Cache-Control: max-age=259200'); A Regency Primer on How to Play Hazard - Kristen Koster
Mar 062012
A painting entitled, "Kick-up at the Hazard Table" by Thomas Rowlandson.

If you’ve ever come across the phrase “She was at sixes and sevens” in a historical novel and wondered what it meant, you may be surprised to learn it originated from the game of Hazard and generally is used to mean in a state of chaos or agitation. This popular dicing game has been around since the 14th century and the phrase “Set upon six and seven” first appeared in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and referred to betting one’s entire fortune on a single throw of the dice. We also get the modern meanings of “risk” and “danger” associated with the word “hazard” from this notion as well.

History of The Game of Hazard

A painting entitled, "Kick-up at the Hazard Table" by Thomas Rowlandson.

“Kick-up at the Hazard Table” by Thomas Rowlandson

Hazard is an old English game played with two dice. One of the more popular places to play Hazard in the late 18th and early 19th century was Crockford’s Club in London. The name is commonly thought to be Old French, but likely derived from the Spanish “azar”, which is “an unfortunate card or dice roll”. There’s some speculation the game was allegedly first played by the crusaders laying siege to a castle, called Hazart or Asart, in the 12th century or that the name came from the Arabic word “az-zahr”, meaning “dice” but little evidence can be found in classic Arabic dictionaries. The modern game of Craps evolved from Hazard, which is basically a variation, where throws of 7 or 11 always win.

Despite its complicated rules, Hazard was very popular during the 17th and 18th centuries and well into the 19th where gambling of the nobility was a favorite past time to chase away the boredom and make some extra money.

The Basic Rules of Hazard

In each of the many rounds the caster picks out a number between 5 and 9, inclusive. This is called the “main”, then the caster throws two dice.

If the caster rolls the main numbers, you win, which is called “throws in” or “nicks”. If you roll a 2 or 3 you will lose, or “throws out”.

If the caster rolls a 11 or 12, the result of that throw depends on the “main”:

  • a main of 5 or 9, the caster “throws out” with both an 11 and 12.
  • a main of 6 or 8, the caster “throws out” with an 11 but “nicks” with a 12.
  • a main of 7, the caster “nicks” an 11 but “throws out” with a 12.
  • if the caster doesn’t “nick” or “throw out”, that number is called the “chance”, then you throw the dice again.
  • if the caster rolls “the main” on a “chance” you will lose, unlike when you first threw.
  • if the caster rolls neither of them, they keep throwing the dice until one or other is rolled, either winning with “chance” or losing with the “main”.
19th Century ivory or bone dice and wooden cup.

Ivory or bone dice and wooden cup, 19th c.

As long as the caster keeps winning, he keeps on playing. If the caster loses three times in a row, the dice pass to the player on his left.

Bets on this game are usually between the caster and the bank, or “setter”. The remaining players may act in this role as well.

A nick on the first throw wins the caster an amount equal to his stake or wager. The setter or bank gives odds if the setter throws a “chance”.

You can even hone your skills for free by playing Hazard in a flash game at DeviantArt by Drakonlady.

More information regarding a variety of other Regency-themed topics including how to play Whist can be found on my Regency Resource page. If you’d like more information on a specific place or topic, please let me know in the comments section below.

  8 Responses to “A Regency Primer on How to Play Hazard”

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  1. I suspect I’d forget the rules of this one pretty quickly LOL I’ll stick with my whist. 🙂

    • Yes, whist looks simple in comparison! Now… Faro… Faro looked complicated too. Maybe I’ll do that one next.

      I’ve played Craps before (not for my own money! company Christmas party) but mostly relied solely on luck. It was funny, because I was trying to lose and I couldn’t. I ended the night by giving away my pile of chips. Adding more layers onto that would drive me crazy trying to remember all the variations.

  2. Yes, please do Faro next. 🙂

    I learned the rules of Piquet and used MeggieSoft Piquet to get a feel for how it works, because of a scene I was writing. Well worth the time spent — a great game.

    • Thanks, Barbara! I just found two more topics. =) I was so happy to find the whist game online and to be able to play for free against 3 computers was VERY helpful for learning the game, the feel of it and yep, all because this card sharp won’t leave me alone until his story is told.

  3. How Many people can play Hazard at once?

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