Kantian hustle

Reading an interview with Mark Johnston, I learned a fact that I can’t believe I didn’t know before: As a student, Immanuel Kant made money as a pool shark. Johnston gives this extended quote from one of Kant’s university friends:

Kant’s only recreation was playing billiards… [He] had nearly perfected [his] game, and rarely returned home without some winnings. As a consequence, persons refused to play with [him], and [he] abandoned this source of income, and chose instead L’Hombre, which he played well.

One question was whether this could possibly be true. A little poking around the internet finds lots of other scholars quoting the same passage, along with enough scholarly apparatus to make it sound authoritative.

Another question was about L’Hombre. Turns out it’s a card game. Not just any card game, either, but the first trick-taking game to introduce bidding.

Independently of philosophy, I have an interest in card games. So I was surprised that I hadn’t already known about this.

The rules for L’Hombre are a mad jumble.1 The Ace of Spades is always the highest trump, and the Ace of Clubs is always the third-highest trump. The second-highest trump is either the rank 7 or the rank 2 card of the trump suit, depending on whether the trump suit is red or black.

Try to synthesize that manifold.

  1. Complete rules for L’Hombre are available from the card games omnibus site Pagat, although game Kant played would have been different at least in the details. It’s a folk game and so admits of tremendous regional and temporal variation.

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