|Alternative names||Hombre, Lomber|
|Skills required||Tactics and strategy|
|Playing time||20 min.|
|Loo, Nap, Euchre, Skat|
Ombre (from Spanish hombre, meaning "man") is a fast-moving seventeenth-century trick-taking card game for three players. Its history began in Spain around the end of the 16th century as a four-person game. It is one of the earliest card games known in Europe and by far the most classic game of its type, directly ancestral to Euchre, Boston and Solo Whist. Despite its difficult rules, complicated point score and strange foreign terms, it swept Europe in the last quarter of the 17th century, becoming Lomber in Germany, Lumbur in Austria and Ombre (originally pronounced 'umber') in England, occupying a position of prestige similar to contract bridge today.
The historical importance of Ombre in the field of playing cards is the fact that it was the first card game in which a trump suit was established by bidding rather than by the random process of turning the first card of the stock. This notion of bidding was adopted from Triomfi, though it was from L'Hombre that the idea of bidding was adopted into other card games such as Skat, and Tarot, which owes Hombre a good portion of its betting system as well. The game continued to be in vogue almost in every corner of Europe in the following century.
As with most games, Ombre acquired many variations of increasing complexity over the years, until its popularity was eclipsed by the second quarter of the 18th century by a new four player French variant called Quadrille, later displaced by the English Whist. Other lines of descent and hybridization produced games like Preference, Mediator and Twenty-five. Under the name Tresillo, it survived in parts of Spain during the nineteenth century, as Voltarete in Portugal and Brazil, as Rocambor in countries such as Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia in the twentieth century, and it is still played as L’Hombre in Denmark, mostly in Jutland and on the island of Funen, where it is organized by the L'Hombre Union.
Daines Barrington, English antiquary and naturalist, says that Ombre was probably introduced in England by Catherine of Braganza, the Queen of Charles II, as Edmund Waller, the court poet, had a poem entitled "On a Card Torn at Ombre by the Queen". She was such a keen player, as were so many members of English high society by the end of 1674, that the Lower House of Parliament proposed to pass an Act against the playing of Ombre, or at least to limit the stakes at 5 pounds, a proposition received as "ridiculous" at that time. But a political pamphlet called: “The Royal Game of Ombre”, published in London in 1660, supports the inference that the game was known in England before the Restoration. It is not likely that it would be selected as a mask for political allusions, unless that the game had been in general use, or at least pretty generally familiar to the people across the country.
Ombre takes its name from the Spanish phrase originally used by the player who declared trumps: Yo soy el hombre, i.e., "I am the man". It appears to be merely an alteration of the game Primero and it is to be presumed that it was invented previous to the publication of the Dictionary of Sebastián de Covarrubias in 1611, although it makes no mention of it.
Cotton's Complete Gamester says that “there were several sorts of this game, but that which the chief was called "Renegado", at which three only could play, and to whom were dealt nine cards apiece so that by discarding the eights, nines and tens, there would remain thirteen cards in the stock". In Seymour's Complete Gamester, in 1722, where there is a frontispiece to the book in which a party of rank are represented playing at it, it is described as a game so much in fashion that at its peak by the turn of the eighteenth century, it inspired a unique form of furniture - a three-sided card table. And according to Jean-Baptiste Bullet, writer and professor of divinity at the University of Besançon, the Spaniards, occasionally, also called this game "Manilla", from the name of the second matador, word in Spanish signifying a slayer.
The game of Ombre is Belinda's game in Alexander Pope’s poem The Rape of the Lock, written in 1714, where every incident in the whole deem is majestically described in detail.
Ombre is a three-handed game, and l'Hombre, or the man, refers to the single player who plays against his two opponents. There are many ways of playing the game; it is sometimes played with forced Spadilla, or "Spadilla Forcé", sometimes by two persons only, sometimes by three, which is the most general way, but it may be played by four or five persons as well. If four are playing, the dealer for each round sits out. The game is played with a forty-card deck. Spanish card suits were commonly coins and cups (female) and swords and clubs (male).
Once the cards are dealt, each player bid how many tricks he believes he could win with the cards in his hand. The winning (highest) bidder then plays against the other two, who are allowed to consult over their hands in an attempt to prevent the Ombre from making the bid. The Ombre leads to the first trick and the other two must follow suit if possible. As the game progresses, the winner of each trick then leads to next. If Ombre makes the first five tricks, he may declare the hand won, or may choose to continue, but if he goes for the sixth trick, he must take all nine to win the hand, or "Vole". If he believes he cannot win, he can surrender before taking the fourth trick. In that case, one of the opponents may choose to continue, taking over the role of Ombre and the potential win (the other player then joins the first Ombre in the opposition). Ombre is most often played for stakes, and the amount depends on how decisive the win. Simply to win the first five tricks entitles the Ombre to collect a single stake from each player, while winning the "Vole" grants him a fivefold payout. Failing to make the bid requires him to pay each of his opponents instead and if one of the opponents win the game, the Ombre pays that player five times the value of the stake.
By the 17th century, when it was caught on outside Spain, most people were playing a three-player variation called "Renegado" first described in 1663 in Madrid. The terms used were those in English, which were anglicized versions of French versions of the original Spanish words.
A Spanish 40-card deck is used, but an English 52-card deck may be used instead by stripping out eights, nines and tens.
The rank of the cards in the game depends on whether a black or a red suit is chosen as trumps. The basic ranking of numerals is reversed in red suits, being 7 low; and a red suit is always one card longer than a black one of the same status, whether trump or plain.
The black Aces are permanent trumps, and the top three trumps are called matadors:
When a red suit is trumps, the fourth highest trump is the A♥, or A♦, called "Punto", but it does not have the status of a matador.
Whoever draws the highest card from the deck becomes the dealer; the turn to deal and play rotates counter-clockwise. Before play, the dealer antes five chips to the pool, deals nine cards in batches of three, and places the remaining thirteen face down on the playing surface to form the stock, or talon.
Whoever bids highest becomes Ombre, chooses trumps, and seeks to win more tricks than either opponent individually. Thus, five or more wins, and four wins if the others split three-two. The possible bids are, from low to high:
In turn, each player may pass or bid, and having passed bid again. Each bid must be higher than the last. However, a player who has made a lower bid, and not yet passed, may raise his bid to equal that of the previous player, unless overcalled again. Unless playing Solo, Ombre may make as many discards as he likes before drawing the same number from the stock. Solo or not, both opponents may then discard and draw for themselves. As it is advantageous for one of the defenders to have the stronger hand, they may agree as to which is to exchange first. Whoever does so may draw any number of cards up to eight. Rules vary considerably as to whether any untaken cards are left down or turned face up, and the point should be agreed before play.
Eldest leads first and the winner of each trick leads to the next. The trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led or by the highest trump if any are played. Normally, suit must be followed if possible, otherwise any card may be played. Matadors, however, can only be forced by higher matadors, not by lower ones or trumps. That is, if the player only trumps are matadors he need not follow to a trump, but may discard ("Renege") instead. However, if a higher matador is led, and his only trump is a lower one, he is obliged to play it.
If Ombre takes the first five tricks straight off, he can claim the game won without need for further play. If instead he leads to the sixth, he thereby obligates himself to win all nine ("Vole"), thus increasing his potential winnings or penalties. If Ombre thinks he cannot win, he may surrender at any time before playing to the fourth trick, but he may not do this if playing a "Solo". In a "Vuelta", his surrender must be accepted by both opponents. However, if the game played was “Entrada”, either opponent may himself take over the role of Ombre and play the rest of the hand as if he had made the bid himself.
There are three possible outcomes, which are:
If the game is won, Ombre then takes the content of the pot and is paid by each opponent.
If Ombre loses “Puesta”, he doubles the pool and pays five chips for each player in the game. If Ombre loses “Codille”, he pays the same as for a “Puesta”, but to the player who won instead of to the pot. These penalties are further increased as described above for “Primeras”, and if he loses the first five tricks, and “Estuches”, he pays one per each consecutive trump. If Ombre fails to win all nine tricks after leading to the sixth, he pays 30 to each opponent, less 2 if he played “Vuelta”, and 10 if he played Solo, less also the number of “Estuches” applicable.
If all pass immediately, lower bids may be made so as to avoid a redeal. They include:
Vole, Contrabola: No one discards, Hombre announces a trump suit of which he holds at least one, and aims to lose every trick. If successful, he wins as if the game was “Entrada”, if not it counts as “Puesta”.
Spadille Forcé, Force Spadille: if all pass without bidding, whoever holds “Spadille” or “Basto”, must take the role as Ombre, or by eldest if no one does. He discards up to 8 cards, draws replacements from the stock and then announces trumps. The game counts as “Entrada”.
Ombre may be played sometimes by two players, for lack of a third person. It is played exactly as for three hands, but a whole suit is removed from the pack, either Diamonds or Hearts, so that 30 cards remain. Deal eight cards in batches of 2's and stock the remaining 12 on the table. Ombre may take as many cards as he wants up to eight and the other player may take the rest. When the trump is named, the player is paid for Matadors. Ombre is intended to make five tricks to win the stake. If the tricks are divided by four, the game is then considered "Remise". If the other player makes five, he wins by "Codille".
In this variation, first described in 1669 in Zaragossa, usually only three players are active at a time. The player opposite the dealer sits out, but takes part in the payment after the play as though he were a defender. If three players pass, the fourth player picks up all 13 cards from the stock and discards four. He chooses trump then and plays as declarer against the other three, who cannot exchange any cards, since the stock is already used up. The contract counts as “Entrada”.
In this five-handed variation called Cinquillo, first described around 1683, the players are dealt eight cards each, after staking down a fifth to the pool, therefore no discard is possible. Bidding may be for Ask Leave, when Ombre calls a king seeking for a partner. If the first four players pass, the fifth may play Solo. Ombre is obliged to win five tricks, otherwise he loses. He names trump and if between them five tricks can be won, Ombre wins, sharing between them two third of the pool for Ombre and one third for his partner. If they both make only three tricks the game is Remise, and Ombre is to lay down two thirds of the pool and his partner one.