The derivation of the word fives is doubtful. It may be from an old game called Longue Paume, in which five on a side played, or from allusion to the five fingers of the hand or from the fact that winners formerly had to make five points.
The game, played largely in Great Britain in public schools, has three forms that vary from each other in the physical conformation of the court and in slightly different playing rules. For us in MCKK, we only play Eaton Fives.
The Eton fives court is a remarkably close copy of the court used by generations of Eton College boys on the steps of the school chapel. It is enclosed on three sides and opens at the back. A shallow step divides the court into an upper and lower part, and the court has several physical irregularities, or hazards.
The game is played with four players, two on each side, who wear leather gloves to protect their hands. There is no recognized singles game. When the game starts, the server alone stands in the upper court. To begin the game he throws the ball so that it hits the front wall and then the right-hand side-wall and falls to the lower court.
The opponent who returns the service is said to make the “first cut,” and he need not do so until he gets a service to his liking. Serving is only a method of putting the ball in play. The ball must be hit with a single blow of the hand or wrist and must not touch any other part of the striker’s person.
After the first cut, the ball is played alternately by a player of each side. Providing the ball is played not later than after the first bound on the floor and is returned above the line, the rally continues.
A game is won by the side that first obtains 12 points. When the server’s side wins a rally, a point is won; if the server’s side loses a rally, the server’s partner serves and no point is scored; if the server’s side loses another rally, the service changes to the opponents. A point can only be won if the winners of the rally are the serving side. A match is usually the best of five games.
Governed by the Eton Fives Association, the main competitions are for an amateur championship and a public schools competition.
For the uninitiated spectator, the game is bewildering. The ball rebounds in many unexpected ways off the hazards, and the players seem often to be in each other’s way. It involves mental as well as physical exercise, there being a variety of ways to outwit an opponent.