by Robert fitz John, Master Gamesplayer

The Guildmaster and I were observed playing a rather obscure dice game at St Briavels Castle. The game was Hazard, which is mentioned in Chaucer's 'The Canterbury Tales': In Flanders whilom was a company / Of younge folkes, that haunted folly, / As riot, hazard, stewes, and taverns. Here are the rules, which are not (as some suggested) "whoever has the rule book wins"!

You need two or more players, two ordinary dice, and gaming tokens of some sort. If you're the gambling type, the tokens could be sweetmeats, bangles or reproduction coins. Otherwise, anything will do - pebbles, for example.

Start off by choosing the caster. The other players are then faders. One or more faders place a token on the table, and the caster matches each token with one of his or her own. These are the stakes. (Non-participants are welcome to place side-bets if they wish.)

The caster begins by throwing the dice to determine the Main Point. This must be a score between 5 and 9. If anything else is rolled, the dice are thrown again until a Main Point is obtained.

Now the caster throws the dice again. If the score is the same as the Main Point, this is known as a nick and the caster wins. If a 2 or 3 was rolled, that's an out and the caster loses. 11 and 12 are also outs, except in certain cases: a roll of 11 after a Main Point of 7 is a nick, and so is a roll of 12 after a Main Point of 6 or 8. The table below should make this clearer.

Assuming a nick or out hasn't been rolled, the result will have been a score between 4 and 10 that isn't the same as the Main Point. This is called the Chance Point. The caster now throws the dice until either the Main Point or the Chance Point is rolled. (There are no nicks or outs at this stage.) The caster wins if the Chance Point comes up, but loses if the Main Point is thrown.

If the caster wins, he or she collects all the stakes and the process starts all over again. Otherwise, the stakes go to the faders, and the nearest fader on the caster's left becomes the new caster. Play continues until somebody wins all the tokens, everyone's too drunk to carry on, or a fight breaks out.

The rules for nicks and outs sound rather complicated, but they ensure the odds are pretty much even, regardless of what was rolled for the Main Point. In each case, the caster has about a 49% chance of winning. The precise odds aren't too important anyway, as the role of caster will tend to move round the table fairly rapidly.

Petty Hazard

In case you find these rules too complicated, I've invented a variant which I'll call Petty Hazard. In this version, you only get a nick if you roll the Main Point, and you only get an out if you roll 2 or 3. If you roll 11 or 12, you throw the dice again. Once the Chance Point has been decided, the rules are the same as for Hazard. In this variant the odds are slightly in favour of the caster, who has nearly a 51% probability of winning.

© 2003, 2005, Trevor Barker.  Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this work, on the following conditions: this must not be done for profit, and this copyright notice must remain attached and unaltered.

About the Author

Dr Trevor Barker studied Chemistry at Oxford University. He works for a leading software and systems integration company and is married with two young children.

Robert fitz John was born in Flanders, circa 1047. He joined the army of William, Duke of Normandy, as a mercenary archer, and participated in the invasion of England in October 1066. He is currently the ruling Monarch of the Kingdom of the Far Isles.