At the end of a meal, when we have the energy, we play Posso. A hypercharged rummy, it finishes the work our dinner started – bringing us together around a table, even though at times it may threaten to drive us apart. My grandmother Ginny learned it from Alfred, who brought the game to us, having learnt it from a group of Franciscan nuns in California, in particular one Sister Ruth, who apparently always carried a gun to the table. Ginny played this game right up until her last day, on her 102nd birthday – it is without doubt the key to a very long and very happy life, along with wine and chocolate.
It is played in a series of ten hands. In each hand one more card is dealt than in the previous. By hand six or seven you may find yourself holding more than half a deck in an ill-formed fan.
The game requires a lot of cards, a lot of time (about an hour, once you get the hang of it), and a lot of rules.
Here they are:
Best played by 3–5, but up to 8-10 can take part
You will need:
1 deck of cards less than you have players (i.e. 2 decks for 3 people, etc), which must include the jokers
1 piece of paper
Someone you trust to keep score
The overall goal is to have the lowest score, which is cumulative over ten hands. In each turn, you pick up a card (from the top of the face-down stack or face-up pile), take it into your hand, then discard one, face-up on the pile. In each hand you try to get rid of your cards – any cards left over count towards your score. First you must go down, by putting a particular requirement (a combination of runs and of-a-kinds) down on the table. After you have gone down, you can get rid of your remaining cards on any requirements (your own runs or of-a-kinds, or someone else’s) that are already down on the table. There are therefore two phases in each hand – trying to go down and trying to go out. Twos and jokers are wild – they can represent any card of any suit you like. You may have a lot of cards to get rid of if you have Posso-ed (‘bought’ extra cards) too often.
For the deal:
Cut the deck – the player who draws the highest card is first to deal. The dealer shuffles the deck, the player to his right cuts, and the dealer deals clockwise, starting with the player to his left. In the first hand, 7 cards are dealt to each player. The turn to deal passes clockwise, and the next dealer deals 8 cards in the second hand, the next deals 9 in the third, and so on. The undealt cards are placed face-down in a stack in the middle of the table, and the top one turned face-up, starting the separate pile.
Play passes clockwise, starting to the left of the dealer. You start your turn always by picking up either the top card in the face-up pile or the top one in the face-down stack, and you end your turn by discarding a card on the face-up pile. During your turn, with luck, you may be able to do one of the following:
If you haven’t already gone down, you may do so if you have the requirement in your hand, and as long as it is your turn. You haven’t won the hand, though, until you have gone out – either put down or discarded your very last card. In the last hand, going down is a little different, and harder (we’ll come on to this later).
If you have already gone down, in this turn or a previous one, you can put down – in other words, you can add – cards to runs and of-a-kinds already down on the table. You can put down on to your own runs and of-a-kinds or anyone else’s, as long as it is your turn and you’ve already gone down – even in the same turn you go down yourself. You can’t start a new run or of-a-kind, or move cards between them, but you can add to them – using the correct card, or a wild card (two or joker), which can go anywhere. You may also replace a wild card that is already down, in which case the wild card must stay in the same run – it can be moved up or down the run, but not into another run or your hand. (When a run is ‘full’, from three to Ace, no more cards can be added to it, wild ones included.)
You win the hand by getting rid of your last card – either by discarding it, or adding it to a run or of-a-kind – and going out. Of course, this can only be done after you’ve started your turn by picking up a card.
This happens between turns (and also, usefully, immediately after the deal, before the first player has started his turn by picking up a card). After one player has discarded, but before the next has picked up, you may stake a claim to the top card in the face-up pile by shouting ‘Posso?’ (‘May I?’). The person whose turn is next may either say ‘no’, in which case he must take the top pile card to start his turn, or ‘yes’, in which case you must take both the top pile card and the top stack card.
If you have ‘posso’-ed it is not actually your turn: you have just ‘bought’ a card you wanted by taking another one you couldn’t see, and you don’t get to discard. Play continues with the player whose turn it was about to be before you called ‘Posso’.
If more than one player calls ‘Posso’, priority is given to the one closest to the player whose turn it is, moving clockwise. After someone has Posso-ed, ‘Posso’ may not be called again until the player whose turn it was anyway starts and finishes his turn. If it is your turn to play, you neither want to, nor are you permitted to, call ‘Posso’.
When you have made the requirement for the hand, but only after you have started your turn by picking up a card, you may go down by putting the requirement face-up on the table. No part of the requirement may be more than half wild cards when you go down, although any number of wild cards may be put down on it subsequently.
Here are the requirements:
You keep playing until your last card is gone and you have gone out – when you have won the hand all the other players, having cards left in their hand, need to add up their scores.
Hand ten, the last hand, is different. The requirement is not just that you make 3 runs, but that you are able to put them down with nothing left in your hand, and no discard. You must therefore, with 3 perfect runs in your hand, wait until you pick up the perfect card, when you can put down the lot. Having gone down and out in one fell swoop, everyone else has lost the hand and must add up their scores, which will be high.
Only cards held in the hand (not ‘down’ on the table) count against you, and the score is cumulative from round to round. The lowest score after ten hands wins. Cards count thus:
Three to seven all score 5 points
Eight to King all score 10 points
Aces score 15 points
Twos score 20 points
Jokers are free (0 points)
If you end up with a score of over 500 you are deemed to be ‘in the toilet’, which someone normally is.
Ginny seemed to make up the rules as she went along. Here are a handful of extra ones that have stuck: It avoids some of the arguments if you agree before you start play which (if any) of the following rules your are implementing…
‘Dead card’ After the top card in the face-up pile has been ‘Posso-ed’, the next one is dead, and may not be taken by the player whose turn it is next, they can only pick up from the face-down stack. I never play this rule, even Ginny didn’t unless it suited her, but it often did.
‘No Posso down’ After you have gone down you may not call ‘Posso’ in the remainder of the hand. I prefer not to play this rule (sorry Ginny).
‘Cutting to win’ When it is your turn to deal, you try to pick up the right number of cards for the deal, without counting cards or fidgeting with the deck. If you get it right (i.e. for round 2 among 3 people, you pick up 24 or 25 cards – 8 cards each, or 8 cards each plus 1 to turn over for the face-up pile), your entire score up to this point is cancelled, and you start again from zero. We always played this rule, as it offers a chance of reprieve to players who are ‘in the toilet’, and haven’t a hope in hell of winning. Also Ginny was exceedingly good at judging the right number of cards, up til her very last days.
She is probably playing now…