L’Hombre (Ombre)

OBJECTIVE OF L’HOMBRE: Fulfill the contract or play defensively in order to win.

NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 3-4 players

NUMBER OF CARDS: 40 card deck (52 card deck with 8s, 9s, and 10s removed)

RANK OF CARDS: Contract dependent

TYPE OF GAME: Trick-Taking



L’Hombre or Ombre (for English Speakers), which is Spanish for man, is the name of a very old and fast paced trick-taking game. The game is believed to have originated in Spain around the end of the 16th century and is still played today. However, as the game evolved, its popularity was displaced by its descendants, such as Whist and Quadrille, eventually giving way to Contract Bridge

This game was recently popular in Denmark, however, at the turn of the 21st Century is largely died out. This was the first trick-taking game to introduce bidding into the process of play. The concept of bidding and the contract has defined a whole sub-family of trick-taking games. Due to the nature of the game, having travelled through many European countries and its age, it is unique in that its terminology uses Spanish, French, and Danish terms. In the rules below, only the Danish terms have been translated into English.



L’Hombre is a trick-taking game that utilizes three hands. It can be played by four people with one person designated as the dealer and three active players OR the player opposite the dealer sits out and the rest of the players are active.


The game uses a deck of 40 cards – a 52 card deck with 8s, 9s, and 10s removed. Players are dealt 9 cards each, with the thirteen that remain forming the talon or stockpile.

Card ranking is dependent on the contract type.

Nolo Contracts have no trumps. Red and black cards are ranked differently:

Black: K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A

Red: K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

However, Game Contracts always have trumps. Black Aces are always trumps, no matter what the trump suit is. The Ace of Spades is called spadille (S) and the Ace of Clubs is called basta (B). The trump suit is ranked as follows:

Black: S, 2, B, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3

Red: S, 7, B, A, K, Q, J, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Spadille is always the highest trump and basta is the 3rd highest trump, the second highest trump card is the lowest value card of the trump suit that was chosen (i.e. black 2 or red 7). This card is called manille (M). The first three trumps are referenced under the collective label matadors. The fourth highest trump in a red suit is an Ace, it is referred to as ponto (P). 

The Deal

The first dealer is picked randomly, after it rotates to the left. The dealer also is known as the backhand or Bh. The player to the right of the dealer is the forehand or Fh. The player to the left of the dealer is called the middlehand or Mh. Bh shuffles the deck while Mh cuts it. Players are given 9 cards from the dealer, three cards at a time. The dealer deals to themselves first. The 13 cards that remain form the Talon, this is set aside and used to exchange cards later in the game.

The Auction

Each hand starts with an auction. The winner of the bidding is dubbed the declarer. They play alone while the other two active players play in a partnership. These are the defenders. The declarer’s last bid determines what the contract is. They either play a game contract, in which they attempt to take more tricks than the defenders, or they play a nolo contract, where they try to take no tricks whatsoever.

During the auction, a player has the following options during their turn:

PassDrop out of the auction and forfeit the opportunity to become declarer.

Bid: Place a bid that is higher than the previous bid.

Self: Place a bid equal to the previous one.

The starting half of the auction is between Fh and Mh only. Fh bids first, and Mh and Fh take turns calling the bids until one passes. At this point, the auction between these two players is settled. After, Bh joins the auction. The winner of the previous round and Bh bid until that auction is settled. If all three players pass, the hand is called a wash-out, and there is no play. The deal resumes. The player who wins the auction becomes the declarer.

The Bids & Contracts

The bids and their contracts are ranked below, lowest to highest. The rates are used in scoring.

Simple Game: Contract: Game, declarer names trump. The declarer first, then the other two players, exchange cards with the stock or talon. The rate is 1,1.

Spade Game: Similar to game, however, spades are trumps. The rate is 1,1.

Tourné: Contract: Game. The top card of the talon is flipped over, this is the trump suit. When the declarer exchanges their cards with the talon, they receive the top card of the talon. The rate is 1,1.

Simple Nolo: Contract: Nolo. Only the declarer has the chance to exchange with the talon. The rate is 2, 1, 1.

Grand Tourné: Similar to tourné, however, the bidder must have the spadille AND basta in hand. Traditionally, the bidder shows these two cards while bidding. The delcarer reveals the top card of the talon, that is trump suit. The rate is 2, 1.

Solo: Contract: Game. The declarer plays the cards in their hand and clares trump suit, no exchanges. The defenders, however, get to exchange cards with the talon. The rate is 2, 1.

Pure Nolo = (in rank) Spade Solo: Pure Nolo is simply a Nolo contract. No players exchange cards. Spade Solo is similar to Solo, however, spades are trumps. Pure Nolo bid in an auction outranks Spade Solo.

Nolo Ouvert: Similar to Pure Nolo, except after the declarer plays their first card they must reveal their hand for both defenders to see. The rate is 5, 3.

After winning the auction, the declarer claims their contract.

Exchanging Cards

WIth low level contracts, the declarer can exchange cards with the talon. The defenders are permitted to exchange cards in the declarer has claimed a game contract, but not a nolo contract. If there is exchanges taking place, the declarer will always exchange first, then the defenders (passing to the left).

Players may exchange as many cards as they wish, that could be none or up to the amount of cards in the talon. The first player to exchanges places their cards face-down and discards them, then retrieves an equal number of cards from the talon. Players must maintain a 9 card hand. If players muck up game procdure the contract is lost and players must pay up.

Cards that remain in the talon stay there for the rest of the game.

L’Hombre: The Play

Play moves to the right. It does not matter who is the declarer, the forehand will always lead in the first trick.

To win a trick, a player must have the highest value card of the suit led with. However, if there is a trump card, the highest value trump card wins. The winner of a trick leads in the next trick. The game consists of 9 tricks- 1 per card. Players play a single card each trick.

If they can, players are required to follow suit by playing a card from the suit led. If a player is unable to do so, they may play any card, including a trump card. Reminder, spadille and basta are always trump cards, no matter what suit is the trump suit. The matador cards, therefore, do not follow the requirment of following suit.

Players keep the cards in the trick they win, or they take the trick. However, in nolo contracts, the defenders keep score of the delcarer’s tricks while the defender’s tricks are left unobserved.

Ending the Game

Play typically continues until the outcome of the contract is clear, the four possible outcomes are:

Win: The delcarer takes more tricks than both of the defenders. This is determined win the declarer takes 5 tricks, or if the tricks are divided 4-3-2 (delcarer taking 4 tricks). Gameplay ends once it is clear the delcarer will fulfill their contract.

Bête: The declarer takes the same amount of tricks as the defender who take the most tricks. I.e. 4-4-1 or 3-3-3.

Kodille: The delcarer takes less tricks than one or both of their opponents.

Tout: The declarer takes all 9 of the tricks. The declarer is required to announce their intention to take all tricks after winning the fifth trick. Leading in the 6th trick is referred to as trying for tout. 

Nolo contracts have different outcomes:

Win: The declarer does not take a single trick.

Bête: The declarer takes exactly one trick.

Kodille: The delcarer takes 2+ tricks. In Pure Nolo and Nolo Ouvert contracts, the game ends once the declarer takes their second trick.


Once the fate of the contract is revealed, payment occurs.

Win: The declarer is given tokens from each defender, this is contract dependent. The rates are defined in the contracts above. I.e. simple games pay out 1 token each.

Bête: The declarer pays out tokens to the defenders. The rate is the same as for winning.

Kodille: Again, the delcarer pays out to the defenders basedon the contract rate. However, there is an extra penalty. 1 token for the low contracts, 2 tokens for Pule Nolo and Spade Solo contracts, and 3 tokens for Nolo Ouvert contracts. In Simple Nolo, the penalty is 1 token per trick taken.

Tout: If the declarer wins a Tout (and it was announced) they receive an extra token from each defender. If they fail to win the Tout after announcing it, they pay a token to each player, but still receives their standard winnings.




Nakoa Davis

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