Rubber game?

Anyone know why the third match in a best-of-three contest is sometimes referred to as a rubber game or rubber match?

WAG-ing here, but I vaguely have the notion that it has to do with the act of rubbing in some way (the winner ‘noogeying’ the loser) rather than having to do with the stuff car tires are made of.

“I am a news-paper man, damn it! Come to the point with me, sir, or take your business elsewhere!” - T. Herman Zweibel, Publisher, The Onion

Rats! The dictionary says “origin unknown”, although it does define it as the odd game in a series of 3 or 5 (the tie breaker, in other words.)

Did the term originate from bridge, or is the usage older than that? In bridge, winning two games is a rubber. If a third game is being played that means each of the teams has won one game and the winner of this game is going to win the rubber. If this is the original usage of the term it is a logical extension to make it any decisive, somebody-has-to-win game.

That still doesn’t explain why the word “rubber” is used, though.

I thought of a clever new sig line last night, but I forgot it when I woke up this morning.

The term “rubber” is a good deal older than the game of bridge; Jane Austen uses it, referring, I presume, to whist. Not that this answers the question, of course…

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“Rubber game” is also used in the same context with respect to the game of cribbage.


“Believe those who seek the truth.
Doubt those who find it.” --Andre Gide

That site explains it as coming from Bridge but the question remains where it was from prior to that. An inquiry to a Bridge message board might be helpfull.

From the above site…

Rubber of Whist (A). A game of cards called “whilst.” “Rubber” is transferred from bowls, in which the collision of two balls is a rubber, because they rub against each other.

That’s great, funnee, but, um, why is the decisive third game of a best-of-three card contest called a rubber game? If it came from bridge and the bridge phrase came from the ball game you refer to, how did that initially transfer to bridge?

(Rub), n. [Cf. W. rhwb. See Rub, v,t,]

  1. The act of rubbing; friction.

  2. That which rubs; that which tends to hinder or obstruct motion or progress; hindrance; obstruction, an impediment; especially, a difficulty or obstruction hard to overcome; a pinch.
    Every rub is smoothed on our way.
    To sleep, perchance to dream; ay, there’s the rub.
    Upon this rub, the English ambassadors thought fit to demur.
    One knows not, certainly, what other rubs might have been ordained for us by a wise Providence.
    W. Besant.

  3. Inequality of surface, as of the ground in the game of bowls; unevenness. Shak.

From Webster’s unabridged at…

Perhaps it evolved from the meaning of uneveness or inequality being that it decides the winner of a previously tied contest.

My WAG. Rubber is interchangeable with “eraser” in Britan.

Perhaps the logic here is tie breaker “erases” the results of the two previous matches.

I don’t know E.G., considering how long the term has been around. Bridge took it from Whist which took it from Bowls (now known as lawn bowling). How long have rubber and eraser been used ? Maybe a better question is how long has rubber been used as an eraser because that must be the origin of the interchangeable use of these terms by the British ? Certainly possible though …

A couple clarifications on my last post, as I was considering this during milking…

It seems rubber game was used as a way to describe best 2 of 3 (3 of 5 etc.) in both the card game Bridge and it’s forebear Whist as well as Cribbage (and others?). This was not the case for Bowls however. In Bowls it referred to, as mentioned above; an uneven playing field, two balls rubbing together, and even later as the mat which you roll from. Add to that the fact that the balls and the mat are occasionally formed of rubber and you have a totally confusing mess. In any case I can find no place where rubber game historically meant “deciding game” in the game of bowls.

As for the compound rubber equaling eraser, strike that. For all I know rubber (the compound) could be named that for the simple reason that it was good for rubbing (erasing) out a mistake.

I plan on continue to dig but what we really need is a good word use historian. Is there one in the building ?

Auction bridge was standardised by Vanderbilt in the 1920’s (approx). I don’t think they had rubbers (first to 2 games) in the scoring.

Modern bridge (sometimes called Rubber bridge) was popularised by Culbertson in the 1930’s (approx).

I doubt an eraser, known here as a rubber (which usage probably derives from the fact they were made of rubber) has anything to do with it. Incidentally us Brits also use rubber as slang for a condom. (Perhaps the phrase is used when one player withdraws from the contest :))

Why doesn’t the sun come out at night when the light would be more useful? (Pratchett)

Well Beruang’s link says that it came from lawn bowling and that it was used in regards to a tie-breaking match back in the late 16th century. It also states it doesn’t know exactly how it developed to mean that. Someone ought to do a term paper…

I do believe I have a stumper. Could it be time to axe the Almighty Cecil Himself?