All in all, it must be concluded that Hoyle's name stuck mainly because he made such a reputation for himself in the society of his day. And yet his 18th-century fame is not sufficient to explain why his authority holds today. None of his writings has survived except as collector's items. Almost nothing is known of his private life. No scholar is sure of the exact date, or the place, of his birth. No authenticated portrait has been found. Biographical books and magazine articles about him have not been published. He was the closest thing to a literary mystery man that his century produced.
It is indeed paradoxical that so little is known of this best-selling author of the 1700s even while his name has become a household word today. And his authority goes beyond games; even weddings and funerals have been conducted according to Hoyle. The name has embedded itself solidly in the fabric of the language.
The only humanizing story about Hoyle the man is that he wasn't a very good whist player. Some writers have called him third rate, and others have lowered him to the sorry ranks of the kibitzer. It is entirely probable that Hoyle did cadge from the better whist players of his time, and the successive editions of his text show marked improvements over the original. Anyhow, he can be forgiven for not being the best whist player in London or Bath. As Gerolamo Cardano pointed out in The Book on Gaines of Chance (written around 1520), knowledge about and skill in such pursuits are not necessarily one and the same. What Hoyle seems to have lacked in skill across the gaming table was more than made up for in knowledge and by the vigor of his prose on the subject of whist.
The Hoyle works present headaches for the bibliophile. The many editions and changes of title and missing publication dates are by themselves confusing enough, but the real problem is that from the outset his books were pirated in wholesale lots. If Hoyle came out with a new edition, the pirates immediately came out with a new one as well. They copied not only his matter but also his manner and even his book design. If Hoyle changed type, the pirates changed type. No sooner had Hoyle started signing his name to all authentic copies of his books than the pirates began forging it to theirs. When Hoyle's publisher also started signing the authentic copies, the pirates quickly followed suit.
Because of the many pirated editions, it is difficult today to tell a real Hoyle from a fake. There are few, if any, remaining copies of the original first edition. One at the Bodleian Library at Oxford is probably an original, but doubts have been voiced about even that one. The pirating continued long after Hoyle's death, and another form of free-booting quickly set in. Within a few years Charles Jones published Hoyle's Games Improved, by Charles Jones, and James Beaufort published Hoyle's Games Improved, by James Beaufort. The trend was set.
By 1900 dozens and dozens of books had appeared with Hoyle's name in the title. A Hoyle was published in America as early as 1860, and The Standard Hoyle, a complete Guide upon all Games of Chance, came out in New York during 1887. Also, a number of editions appeared in France, Germany and other countries. They continue to be published, too, year after year.
Use of the Hoyle name owes more to business reality than literary tradition. "Hoyle" sells books. Several authorities, some of whom were probably much more learned on games in general than Hoyle ever was, have tried unsuccessfully to buck the Hoyle mystique. R. F. Foster, an authority who reigned from 1880 to 1920, wrote a book called Encyclopedia of Games, but it did not sell until the title was changed to Hoyle. Ely Culbertson, Albert H. Morehead, Richard L. Frey and Geoffrey Mott-Smith are some of the modern authorities on indoor games, but their compendiums invariably carry the name Hoyle in the title.
For the past 20 years or so John Scarne has tried hard to replace "according to Hoyle", with "according to Scarne." He has failed, and the name Hoyle lives on. As Charles Goren has put it, "A card room without a Hoyle is like a hotel room without a Bible."