37

I once read that in one of the Discworld novels, Granny Weatherwax is playing cards against Death over the life of a small child, and Death deliberately let her win. If I recall correctly she says: "I have 4 kings" and he replies "Oh, I have only 4 ones" referring to Aces which beat kings, but he pretends that her hand beats his, thus sparing the child's life.

Which of the Discworld novels contains this and can you quote or bring an excerpt of that scene?

1
  • 3
    "Aces low" is a perfectly valid way of playing poker, it's just far less common than "aces high".
    – Mark
    Jul 21, 2023 at 1:43

1 Answer 1

50

That's from Maskerade; Granny is playing for the life of a child.

Granny sat back.

"Then I challenge you to a game. That's traditional. That's allowed."

Death was silent for a moment.

THIS IS TRUE.

"Good."

CHALLENGING ME BY MEANS OF A GAME IS ALLOWABLE.

"Yes."

HOWEVER... YOU UNDERSTAND THAT TO WIN ALL YOU MUST GAMBLE ALL?

"Double or quits? Yes, I know."

BUT NOT CHESS.

"Can't abide chess."

OR CRIPPLE MR ONION. I'VE NEVER BEEN ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THE RULES.

"Very well. How about one hand of poker? Five cards each, no draws? Sudden death, as they say."

Death thought about this, too.

YOU KNOW THIS FAMILY?

No.

THEN WHY?

"Are we talking or are we playing?"

OH, VERY WELL.

Granny picked up the pack of cards and shuffled it, not looking at her hands, and smiling at Death all the time. She dealt five cards each, and reached down...

A bony hand grasped hers.

BUT FIRST, MISTRESS WEATHERWAX—WE WILL EXCHANGE CARDS.

He picked up the two piles and transposed them, and then nodded at Granny.

MADAM?

Granny looked at her cards, and threw them down.

FOUR QUEENS. HMM. THAT IS VERY HIGH.

Death looked down at his cards, and then up into Granny's steady, blue-eyed gaze.

Neither moved for some time.

Then Death laid the hand on the table.

I LOSE, he said. ALL I HAVE IS FOUR ONES.

He looked back into Granny's eyes for a moment. There was a blue glow in the depth of his eye sockets. Maybe, for the merest fraction of a second, barely noticeable even to the closest observation, one winked off.

Granny nodded, and extended a hand.

She prided herself on the ability to judge people by their gaze and their handshake, which in this case was a rather chilly one.

11
  • 7
    So she cheated, Death let her know he knew she cheated, and let her win anyway. Nice. Jul 20, 2023 at 9:14
  • 19
    @Michael The game is poker - 5 card draw specifically, with no further draws. Essentially, each player draws a hand of five cards, and whoever has the best hand (google poker hands) wins. In this instance, Granny Weatherwax cheats and deals herself 4 aces, and Death 4 queens. Death knows this and swaps their hands, nullifying the cheat and giving himself 4 aces, a winning hand. In poker, aces are typically "high"; the highest value card. However, they can also be interpreted as 1; the lowest value. Death opts to do this, feigning ignorance, making his hand worth less than 4 queens. Jul 20, 2023 at 11:58
  • 10
    @Michael It depends. In most casinos and professional games the "Cards Talk", which means that even if a player misdeclares their hand (say 4 Aces as 4 Ones), the house would rule them as 4 Aces when the cards are shown. However, in home games, it is often the rules that "Players Talk" which means that if you under-declare your hand, that's on you. Since it was a home game, and the cards were never shown, it appears that Death's under-declaration of his own hand would stand. Jul 20, 2023 at 12:25
  • 18
    @JackAidley She possibly cheated when she dealt. He possibly cheated by changing the rules mid-game. And, with the formality of "playing a game for the child's life" established and out of the way, Death was in a position to decide the outcome by playing ignorant or not. It's all undertones, hidden meanings, and mutual respect. Jul 20, 2023 at 15:04
  • 11
    Headology. Granny knows that Death knows that Granny knows that Death knows it's for a child. Jul 21, 2023 at 0:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.