Friday, April 29, 2016


By Abby, brought to you through the generosity of our Patreon.

When I was about eight, my dad taught me to play a card game called Rook. I didn’t think of it as an Adventist game, and it wasn’t presented to me that way. Instead, it was presented as a piece of our family legend. Rook was how my parents met—partners on a blind date (they beat everyone).

My dad taught me that you can tell a lot about a person by how they play this game. Some people are too risk-averse to succeed. Others are compulsive risk-takers, and they tend to lose as often as they win. Some people are so attached to common patterns that they can’t take advantage of unusual patterns when those crop up in the game. Other people are so determined to play creatively that they refuse to follow traditional patterns, which nearly always results in failure. Two people who both want to lead don’t make good partners. Two people who both want to follow don’t win much, either. Some people win, not because they’re good at winning, but because they are very good at causing other people to lose.

My dad had stories about legendary Rook games with his college roommates at Southern. My parents played Rook with their friends when I was so young that all I could do was peak over their shoulders and get shooed away when I made the wrong comment. When my brother and I were old enough, our family played 4-person partner Rook around the kitchen table on Saturday nights. My brother, Dad, and I would play 3-person cut-throat after Mom went to bed. On vacations at the beach, my cousins joined us, and we played 5 or 6 or 7-person call-partner. We played hundreds of hours of Rook.

I still think of Rook-analogies sometimes in wildly-different contexts. “Oh, I just totally played the 14 when the 1 was still out.” “That guy is the sort of person who would bid up his own partner.” “There’s no point in playing out the rest of his hand, because I have every trick.”

As I got older, I became aware that few people outside the Adventist church had ever heard of Rook. Other people knew a game called Poker. But Poker has face cards, and Ellen White disapproved of face card games.

She wasn’t the only religious leader who felt this way. Rook was introduced by Parker Brothers in 1906 as an alternative game for religious sects who disapproved of playing cards because of their association with gambling and the tarot. Wikipedia tells me that Rook is sometimes referred to as “Christian Cards” or “Missionary Poker.”

Of course, I never heard Rook referred to that way, and I never met any other groups of people outside Adventism who played the game. Within, Adventism, on the other hand, I encountered a number of Rook variants. My family played Rook High, but some Adventists (clearly heretics) played Rook Low, and then there were the really weird off-shoots like Rook Ten and a Half, Uptown-Downtown, and No Trump. These were the fringe versions.

At times, I’ve wished my family had been playing Poker all those years. Poker would have given me a cultural touch-stone that I might have shared with other people. Rook is yet another example of my peculiar Adventist sub-culture, shared with almost no one. On the other hand, I feel instant comradery with people who know how to play Rook. I associate the game with good times and a feeling of belonging. It is both a gift and a curse of my insular up-bringing.

How about you?

It’s my impression that my parent’s generation (the Baby Boomers) played more Rook than my generation (Gen X), and that Millennial Adventists play even less. I’d be curious to know how many of you have played Rook and what variant of the game you played. Do you still play? Have you taught any non-Adventists to play?