Having gotten back to reading Dead Souls, I hit another mysterious word, гальбик [gal’bik], which is not in any of my dictionaries. From the context (Этот, братец, и в гальбик, и в банчишку, и во все что хочешь [That guy will play galbik, bank, whatever you want], a few pages into Chapter 4) it’s obviously a game of chance, but which? (I’m not the only one who wonders; Vasili Utkin, a soccer broadcaster with a passion for literature, says in an interview: “моя самая любимая книга – “Мертвые души”… Если бы я нашел описание игры в “гальбик”, думаю, что один из интересов студенческой поры для меня был бы удовлетворен.” [My favorite book is Dead Souls… If I could find a description of the game of “galbik,” I think my curiosity of student days would be satisfied.]) Both Andrew MacAndrew, whose translation I have at hand, and D.J. Hogarth, whose version is online [no longer, as of 2012], give up and render it “faro,” which provides only a vague equivalent (the Russian word for that is faraon). The only hint I found by googling (and Yandexing) was that the same Russian word was used to translate passe-dix in Chapter 32, “Un diner de procureur,” of Dumas’s Les Trois mousquetaires: “plumer quelque peu les jeunes clercs en leur apprenant la bassette, le passe-dix et le lansquenet dans leurs plus fines pratiques”—as this translation has it, “to pluck the clerks a little by teaching them bassette, passedix, and lansquenet.” According to the OED the corresponding English word is “passage”:

IV. [The passing or exceeding of ten = It. passa-dieci, F. passe-dix, i.e. pass-ten.]
15. An obsolete game at dice: see quot. 1680.
1426 LYDG. De. Guil. Pilgr. 11194 And affter pleyn at the merellys, Now at the dees, in my yong age, Bothe at hassard & passage. 1522 World & Child in Hazl. Dodsley I. 266 And then we will with lombards at passage play. 1598 FLORIO, Passa dieci, a game at dice called passage or aboue ten. 1602 2nd Pt. Return fr. Parnass. Prol. 12 You that knowe what it is to play at primero, or passage. 1680 COTTON Compl. Gamester 119 Passage is a Game at dice to be played at but by two, and it is performed with three Dice. The Caster throws continually till he hath thrown Dubblets under ten, and then he is out and loseth; or Dubblets above ten, and then he passeth and wins. 1739-40 Act 13 Geo. II, c. 19 §9 A certain game called Passage is now daily practiced and carried on, to the ruin and impoverishment of many of his Majesty’s subjects. 1755 Mem. Capt. P. Drake II. xvi. 262, [1740] The Games of Rowly Powly and Passage.. all these Games were suppressed by Parliament, and, on severe Penalties, not to be played after the 25th of March 1745.

The 1680 quote gives a concise and plausible description of the game, which is a good thing, because the only online description, endlessly copied (eg, at Wikipedia) from The Gaming Table: Its Votaries and Victims, Vol. II by Andrew Steinmetz Esq, says:

It is played with three dice. There is always a banker, and the number of players is unlimited. Each gamester holds the box by turns, and the other players follow his chance; every time he throws a point UNDER ten he, as well as the other players, loses the entire stakes, which go to the banker. Every time he throws a point ABOVE ten (or PASSES TEN–whence the name of the game), the banker must double the player’s stakes and the stakes of all those who have risked their money on the same chance. When the game is played by many together, each gamester is banker in his turn.

Which makes it sound as if it’s impossible to win unless you’re the banker.

Now, of course it’s entirely possible that the Russian translator of the Dumas book picked “galbik” as a vague equivalent of “passe-dix” in the same way as the English translators of Gogol used “faro” for “galbik,” but that’s the only clue I’ve found except for the parenthetical expansion in this etymological article (about one of the many Russian expressions for ‘get drunk’) by V.V. Vinogradov; in a list of card games, he has гальбик (гальбцвельф)—gal’bik (gal’btsvel’f). The expanded form is obviously a Russified form of a hypothetical German Halbzwölf, which would mean ‘half-twelve,’ but it’s not in my dictionaries and doesn’t relate in any obvious way to the game, so a fat lot of help that is.

Update (2012). SFReader has turned up a source that says Halbzwölf is a card game related to baccarat “bei dem 11 1/2 Punkten erreichen sind.” Not exactly sure what that laconic description means, but I’m not planning to play the game, so it doesn’t really matter. Thanks, SFR!


  1. Dead Souls is amazing. The names in the novel alone make it stand out, but the details and descriptions make me melt with envy at Gogol’s ability to mold language in creating such memorable characters.
    Sadly, I don’t know what the game is. Good luck in figuring it out, though!

  2. V.V. Vinogradov adds to the mystery with the list of outdated card games (and coordinated jargon); unfortunately you’ll have to get to the article manually since the link was filtered as “questionable content” (you don’t like -narod___ru?): http://wordhist.narod____ru/muhu_zashibit.html
    He gives an alternative name, though, so may be this will help:
    Вот вам названия игр— бывших и находящихся у нас в употреблении с начала столетия: трилистик (иначе — подкаретная), дурачки, свои козыри-мельник, короли, фофан, юрдон, марьяж, пикет, экарте, тентере, каламбриест, дружбарт, вист, бостон, гальбик(гальбцвельф), ландскнехт (дябелэк), банк (фараон), стос, квинтичь, мушка, кончинка, цхра, безик, ломбер, палки, преферанс, ералаш, рамс, стуколка, макао

  3. Thanks for letting me know about — it had somehow gotten onto my MT-Blacklist, and I’ve removed it. (Sometimes the damn spammers include some general site like that or Yahoo in a bunch of links, and when the blacklist shows me the list and asks if I want to add them, I don’t check carefully enough and just click “Yes.”)
    But as for Vinogradov, if you’ll read the last paragraph of my (overlong) post you’ll see that I got there before you.

  4. Oops, sorry – I’m at work and can’t stay in irrelevant (to it) windows for long.
    I thought may be German-speakers can shed some light on this matter if the alternative name was given.

  5. On a second thought[s], after I fortified myself with lunch:
    – game of bank, as follows from Vinogradov’s quote, is equated with faraon – or faro, as you said. Therefore, gal’bik can’t be translated as faro
    – if gal’bik is the same as passe-dix, it’s not a card game, but a dice one.

  6. D’oh — you’re right, of course — I’ll change my wording to “game of chance.” Thanks!

  7. Doug Sundseth says

    “Which makes it sound as if it’s impossible to win unless you’re the banker.”
    The rules as you’ve reported them don’t address what happens when a 10 is rolled. If the banker takes the bets on a 10 (assuming honest, six-sided dice, numbered 1-6), there is no house advantage at all. The probability of rolling a 10- on 3 six-sided dice is exactly 50% and the bet is 1:1.
    If a 10 is a push, there is actually a house disadvantage.

  8. It’s a card game
    “ONZE ET DEMI (MEZZODUODECI, HALBZWÖLF, HALBER ZWÖLF UHR) Kartenspiel der Familie Macao, Baccarat, Vingt-et-un, Black Jack usw., bei dem 11 1/2 Punkten erreichen sind”

  9. Excellent—a mystery solved after seven years! Many thanks.

  10. SFReader says

    More extensive description here

  11. Here‘s the direct link, and I love the name “Naschi-Waschi” (in the middle of the page)!

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