History of Ombre

Ombre is a fast-moving trick-taking game, played by 3 (or 4) players. It has an illustrious history, going back to the beginning of the 17th century, or earlier Ombre (originally called L'Hombre) was developed in Spain in the early 17th century. As with most games it is a variation of an earlier game, also called Hombre. The three player version, which in Spain was originally called Hombre Renegado (The Renegade Man?) spread rapidly across Europe and during the 17th and 18th centuries became the premier card game, occupying a position of prestige similar to Bridge today. It rapidly grew in popularity and gained notoriety as a game of the court. We evidence of this reflected in the literature of the time. In Alexander Pope's Rape of the Lock - Canto III Belinda and the Baron play Ombre to "decide their doom", while providing Pope with an excellent mock battle to enhance his perfect mock epic. The fact that Ombre was developed in Spain and played at court emphasizes the consumer culture Pope was capturing. Along with Ombre, Belinda and other guests, drank a new drink called coffee; not to mention the entire opening sequence of Canto I, where Belinda's dressing table is described with rather colonial language.
Ombre was one of the first games to introduce bidding, through which one player becomes the declarer, trying to make a contract, with the other players cooperating to prevent him. The declarer was originally called Hombre (i.e. the man). These contracts are what led to the wars (of cards) and the final result...a winner. Something that should be noted, with this bidding and wars one was able to transport themselves out of their everyday lives and onto a battlefield. This is extremely important when thinking of Ombre in connection with Pope's Rape of the Lock. Ombre was Belinda's key to freedom and fighting on an equal level with the Baron. Basically it through the sexes out the window and made man and woman equal at the table.

Description of Ombre

Ombre is a three-handed trick taking game in which a deck of 40 cards is used. Each player is dealt 9 cards
'Straight the three bands prepare in arms to join, / Each band the number of the sacred nine...'(Canto II, 29-30), and the remaining 13 form the talon. Each hand begins with an auction. The winner of the bidding becomes the declarer, and plays alone against the other two players (defenders) in partnership. (Though Pope seems to pit Belinda and the Baron against each other, almost leaving out the third person completely). The final bid by declarer determines the contract. Declarer plays either a game contract, where his objective is to take more tricks than either defender, or a nolo contract, where his objective is not to take any tricks at all. When the contract is known, the players take turns exchanging cards with the talon, subject to restrictions particular to each contract. Afterwards, nine tricks are played. However, as soon as the outcome of the contract is clear, declarer will face his hand and make a statement to that effect. After the play, immediate payment is made in the form of tokens. In general, the amount of payment increases with the rank of the contract. When declarer makes his contract, the defenders each pay declarer; when the contract fails, declarer pays each defender. The general direction of rotation in the game is counter-clockwise. The following description is taken from a web-page in which the author's family plays a minimal version which is now described.

Game contracts

In game contracts, there always is a trump suit. The black aces are permanent trumps, independent of which suit otherwise is trumps. In this capacity, the spade ace is called spadille (abbreviated S) and the club ace is called basta (abbreviated B). Spadille is thus always the highest trump, and basta is always the third highest trump. The second highest trump is the card that would otherwise be the lowest ranking card in the trump suit (black 2 or red 7). It is called manille (sometimes abbreviated M). In a red trump suit, the ace is the fourth highest trump and is called ponto (sometimes abbreviated P). The collective term matadors is used for the three or four trumps that outrank the trump king. When a suit is not the trump suit, it retains its ranking as in nolo contracts, but since the black aces now have their role of spadille and basta, there remain only 9 cards in each black suit.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen at random
(Making fate take a hind seat. Strange Belinda would decide her fate by chance); thereafter the turn to deal rotates. The dealer is also called the backhand (Bh). The player on the dealer's right is called the forehand (Fh); the player on the dealer's left is called the middlehand (Mh). Bh shuffles and Mh cuts. Each player is dealt nine cards, three cards at a time in rotation, starting with Fh. The remaining 13 cards form the talon, which is put aside face down to be used later for exchanging cards.

The Play

Before the Play comes the aution which I have left out for spacial reasons. You can find complete rules at Rules of Card games: L'Hombre
Play is counter-clockwise. No matter who is the declarer, forehand always leads to the first trick. A trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless it contains a trump, in which case the highest trump wins it. The winner of a trick leads to the next. Players must follow suit if they can, playing any card they wish from the suit led. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card, including a trump. Note that in game contracts, spadille and basta belong to the trump suit, not to the suits marked on them. In game contracts, the obligation to follow suit does not apply fully to the matadors. When a trump is led, the holder of a matador need not play it, unless a higher matador is already in the trick, and he has no other trumps. It follows that spadille can never be forced out. For instance, suppose the manille (second highest trump) is led. If the next player has the spadille and no other trumps he need not play the spadille, but may play any card. If the second player had the basta and no other trump, he would have to play the basta, because it is lower than the manille. If the second player had S K 4 of trumps, he would have to play a trump, because although his S cannot be forced out, his other trumps do not enjoy this privilege. In game contracts, each player keeps track of the tricks he has won; in nolo contracts, the defenders keep track of declarer's tricks and no one keeps track of the defenders' tricks.

Special Thanks to John McLeod from whom the majority of the rules have been taken from. You can visit his web sight for a more in depth explination of Ombre at Rules of Card games: L'Hombre

Source: The Game of Ombre