Forty-Fives is such an old, wide-spread game that it goes by a vast number of names. They include Forty-Fives, Forty-Five, Auction Forty-Five(s), Strong Fives, One Hundred Twenty, Auction One Hundred Twenty, Growl, and—the first known names—Spoil Fives and Maw.
This trick-catching card game originated in either Ireland or Scotland, and is extremely popular among Celtic communities of north-eastern North America. It’s especially favored in Nova Scotia, and is also played in other Eastern Canadian provinces of Newfoundland, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and parts of Quebec. In the US, it’s common in parts of Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
History of Forty-Fives
The card game Forty-Fives comes from an old Irish game known as “Spoil Fives”, which descended from an older game called “Maw”. That game can be traced as far back as the early 1500s. The first written material on Maw game came from the 1576 publication of “Groom Porter’s lawes at Mawe”, believed to have originated in Scotland.
King James VI of Scotland (who was also King James I of England) was particularly keen on playing Maw, which helped to propagated its popularity in the 17th century. Records document his playing of “Maye” at Kinneil House during the Christmas of 1588. Being a King, of course, he always had someone hold his cards for him, and never took part in shuffling the deck. Royal privileges aside, this would easily explain the vast popularity of modern versions in predominantly Celtic communities of North America.
In nearby Ireland, Maw transformed into Spoil Fives. The rules are incredibly similar to the Forty-Fives game played today, with a few exceptions. It is possible to have 3 or 5 players (no partnerships), with 5 being preferred. Even numbers of 4, 6 or 8 players would require partnerships.
Staking money was not only common, but widely preferred. Each player put up an equal stake in the pool to start a new hand. There were no points scored. The winner won the pool, and if no winner, everyone added another stake to the pool for the next round of play. The player that succeeds in catching at least 3 tricks claims the entire pool.
The term “Spoil” in Spoil Fives refers to a hand that no one wins by catching 3 or more tricks.
A hand can also be “Spoiled” if a player fails in “Jinking”. Any player who catches the first 3 tricks must either declare the hand finished (end the hand and win the pool), or Jink. If jinking is selected, this player must go on to win all 5 tricks. If successful, he is awarded the pool, plus an extra stake from all other players. If not, the game is Spoiled.
Forty-Fives History in Eastern Canada
A multitude of Irish settlers came to Eastern Canada, mostly by way of Nova Scotia, in the 19th and early 20th century. Somewhere during this time, the game transformed into Forty-Fives, wherein teams would score points, hand after hand, until reaching a target score of 45 (hence the alteration in the name).
As bidding card games became more popular, Forty-Fives evolved into Auction Forty-Fives, where players bid for trump. Scoring was altered as well, with each trick being worth 5 points (as opposed to winning 5 points per hand). As such, the target score was increased to 120, and the game began to take on a new name; “One Hundred Twenty”, or “Auction One Hundred Twenty”.
Around the 1920’s, many French Canadians immigrated south into the United States. The Merrimack Valley of Massachusetts was a popular landing point, resulting in the spread of Forty-Fives throughout northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. It’s still incredibly popular in these regions, with occasion tournaments taking place among the most avid players.
To learn more about this centuries-old card game, check out some of our other materials:
Auction Forty-Fives (One Hundred Twenty) Rules
Auction Forty-Fives Rule Variations (including original Forty-Fives (no auction))
Auction Forty-Fives Strategy