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Claviash (#1059)

Topics/tags: Miscellaneous

The other day, I was thinking about my parents and about card games. I won’t bore you with the reasons why. My brain brought up a word. Claviash. It’s a card game I recall my father playing, or my mother talking about my father playing, or both.

So I did what I often do when confronted with a partial memory. I searched the Web. In particular, I searched the Web for rules to the game.

My first search was what you might call marginally successful. I could not find rules. I could not find much at all. But I did find a line in an Arthur Miller play. At the beginning of scene 3 of The Man Who Had All The Luck, one of the characters says There’s no brainwork in this game. Let me teach you claviash. That context does suggest it’s something my father would have played. Was my father an Arthur Miller character? No, probably not. But it feels like he inhabited a similar world to those characters, at least when he and mom lived in NYC. And, as far as I can tell, he liked games with brainwork.

Faced with one dead end, what did I do next? I considered other spellings. Clabiash seemed like a good choice. It’s similar. I’d assume that my search engine would know to try clabiash as a match in a search for claviash, but it never hurts to confirm. This time, the search engine thought clabiash looked like clubbish, but also gave me a possible lead. A discussion of the best card games included a comment that I don’t personally play the game, but I know some who would vote for clabiash. The next comment, from the same day, is klaberjass, I think. Ah, the joys of spelling, particularly spelling of words that may come from multiple languages.

Given that spelling, the game is easy to find. Wikipedia has a page on it. I appreciate the paragraph on History and naming.

According to David Parlett, this popular and widespread two-hander has so many names, mostly variations on the same one, that it is hard to know which is best for universal recognition. Klaberjass is probably closest to the original. He lists the alternative names as Clob, Clobby, Clobiosh, Klob, Kalabrisasz, Bela, Cinq Cents, Zensa. Other sources also list Klabberjass, Senserln, Clobyosh, Kalabrias, Klab, Clabber, Clobber, Clubby. Another common name is Klabrias. This truly international game originates from the Low Countries and is particularly strong in Jewish communities. (For an earlier form see the history of Jack–Nine card games.)

Particularly strong in Jewish Communities. Yup, it’s almost certainly the game dad played. Then there are the rules. It’s a game with 32 cards, Seven to Ace in four suits. It’s a trick-taking game, but also one in which certain melds of cards score points. Melding reveals information to the other player, so there can be disadvantages for scoring a meld. That definitely sounds like the kind of complexity dad would have liked. It’s also one his namesake would enjoy. Maybe we’ll play when we’re next together.

Is it still popular and widespread? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure how I’d figure that out. Are any card games still popular and widespread?

You know what’s especially scary, at least to me? In my latest manuscript for The Craft of Creative Nonfiction, I noted that 32 is the number of cards in a deck with four suits and eight cards in each suit. I wasn’t thinking of any game in particular, just about cards, family, and the number 32 [1]. I wonder if somewhere, deep in the recesses of that thing I call a brain, some aspect of claviash [2] resides. Now I have to decide whether to change that part in the next version of the manuscript [3].

Now I want to remember the game my Aunt Mary (Harry’s wife) taught me. I feel like it had a snake name. All I recall is that each round involved a different number of cards and perhaps even had a different goal. So many things have passed through my brain, so many have been lost.

Postscript: It appears some people spell klobyosh with only four letters, as Bela. I don’t see how one gets the expected pronunciation of that.

Postscript: I see that the game can even inspire poetry, albeit with the b spelling (clabiash).

Postscript: I see that the Jass games had their origins in the Netherlands. I don’t think that dad learned claviash during our two years there, but perhaps his knowledge of the game allowed him to play other variants. At this point, I will almost certainly never know.

[1] One reader of the essay thought I was thinking of Euchre. They are almost certainly wrong.

[2] Given the huge range of spellings, I don’t think there’s any harm in me thinking of it as claviash. What’s good enough for Arthur Miller is good enough for me.

[3] That presumes there will be a next version of that manuscript. I have not yet decided which of the manuscripts I’m rewriting.

Version 1.0 of 2020-04-30 .