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L'Hombre
Three Player Variation

L'Hombre, originally called Hombre Renegado, emerged in Spain in the early 17th century, as a 3 player variation of an earlier four player version of ther game, Hombre. This three player version spread right across Europe and remained popular as one of the premier card games right up until the late 18th century. Although L'Hombre eventually died out, it still remains popular in Denmark, and is widely played in various South American countries where it is known as Rocambor.

L’Hombre, as it is described here, is a three-handed trick taking game where each player plays for themselves – the Declarer, El Hombre, plays against the two Defenders.

The Cards

From a standard deck of 52 cards, remove all the 8s, 9s, and 10s. This will give you a deck of 40 cards – 10 cards in each suit – A, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2.

Cards Rank

In black when there is no trump:
K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A
And in Red when there is no trump:
K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7

In L’Hombre, the black Aces are permanent trumps. The Ace of Spades, called Spadille, is the highest ranking trump, and the Ace of Clubs, called Basta, is the third highest trump. The second highest trump is Manille, which is the lowest card of the suit, being either a 7, if it’s red, or a 2 if it’s black. These top three trumps are called Matadors.

Thus when the trump suit is black, either Spades or Clubs, cards rank:
A♠, 2, A♣, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3
And when the trump suit is red, cards rank:
A♠, 7, A♣, K, Q, J, A, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
This may seem a little tedious at first glance, but it also changes the dynamics of the your hand, depending on whether there is a trump, and what colour the trump suit is.

Objective

The 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 win any tricks at all. In Nolo contracts, there is no trump.

The Following Games can be called. From lowest to highest:

  • Simple Game - Declarer names the trump suit. First declarer, then the defenders exchange cards with the talon. Can be overcalled by a bid 'Simple Game in Spades'
  • Tourné - The top card of the talon is faced; it determines the trump suit (for this purpose, spadille and basta signify spades and clubs, respectively). When declarer exchanges with the talon, he gets the faced card as his first card.
  • Simple Nolo - Declarer plays to lose all tricks. The Declarer, and only the Declarer exchanges cards with the Talon. There is no Trump.
  • Grand Tourné - To bid Grande Tourné, the player must be holding the spadille and basta at the deal. Customarily he proves this by showing the two cards to the other players as he makes the bid. The top card of the talon is faced; it determines the trump
  • Solo - Declarer names a trump suit and plays his hand as dealt. Only the defenders exchange cards with the Talon. Can be overcalled by a bid of 'Solo in Spades'.
  • Pure Nolo - Declarer plays to lose every trick. Neither Declarer nor defenders exchange with the Talon. There is no Trump.
  • Nolo Ouvert - Declarer plays to lose every trick, but in Nolo Ouvert, after he plays to the first trick, he lays his entire hand face up for both defenders to see. Neither Declarer nor defenders exchange with the Talon. There is no Trump.

The Deal

Deal and play are clockwise, and the deal proceeds to the left at the end of each hand. Each player is dealt nine cards, in batches of three, beginning with the player to the dealer’s left, and the remaining 13 cards are left face down, and slightly spread in the middle of the table to form the Talon.

The Auction

In L'Hombre, the bidding process proceeds very differently to what you may be used to in games like Five Hundred or Bridge. At each deal, each player is designated the following positions beginning immediately left of the Dealer; forehand, middlehand, and backhand (dealer), the last to bid. Thus, forehand will open the bidding by announcing a game, but he does not have to name a suit. Middlehand, the next in rotation, may now either pass or try to overcall him by making a higher bid. The right to reply, stays with forehand, who will either pass, or reply by saying 'self', meaning he can either equal or beat the bid being offered. The bidding process continues like this until one of these two passes, and once they do, then rearhand enters auction and bids against the survivor of forehand and middlehand. The onus is always on the next in rotation to overcall the standing bid or pass.

The Player who wins the auction becomes the Declarer, "El Hombre - the Renegade". Immediately he defines the contract which must be a game as good as he bid or better. For Simple Game and Solo, he names the trump suit. For Tourné and Grand Tourné, he faces the top card of the Talon and this determines the trump suit. This card is appropriated to the Declarer when players exchange with the Talon.

Once a player passes, he cannot re-enter the bidding process. If all three player pass without bidding, the hand is thrown in, and the deal proceeds to the left.

Exchanging with the Talon

After the declarer has announced a game and/or the top card has been turned, players may exchange cards with the Talon as the particular game contract permits. The Declarer always exchanges first, and then the Defenders in rotation, first, left of the Declarer. At his turn, a player may exchange as many cards as he wishes, being none or as many as are left in the Talon. It is important that the player first discard his unwanted cards face down, and then pick up and equal number from the top of the Talon. Anyone who messes up the procedure is deemed to have lost the contract, and pays the value of the game to each player.

The Play

Left of the Dealer leads first, and thereafter the winner of the trick leads to the next.

The Rules

Standard trick taking rules apply with some exceptions:

  • Players must follow suit to the Card led.
  • If you can't follow suit, you can play any card.
  • The Trick is won by the highest Trump played to it. If no Trumps are played, the Trick is won by the highest card of the suit led.

There is one exception to the 'You must follow suit' rule. The obligation to follow suit does not fully apply to the Matadors (Spadille, Manille and Basta). If the only trumps a player has in his hand are Matadors, and a lower trump is led, the player does not have to follow suit - he can play any card. However, if a higher Matador is led, then he must follow suit. This means that low trump cards cannot be used to force out any of the Matadors.

As soon as the outcome of the contract is clear, the Declarer will face his hand and announce his victory rather than playing out the hand. However, if the Declarer has won the first 5 tricks, and then leads to the 6th, this is taken as a try for Tout, i.e. winning all 9 tricks. If the Declarer succeeds, he receives an additional token from each player, but if he doesn’t, then he pays a token to each defender, but still gains his reward for his declared contract. Trying for Tout is not the usual play, but it is there if you want to go for it.

Outcomes

For Game contracts, there are four possible outcomes:

  • Win – The Declarer takes more tricks then either opponent. This occurs as soon as the Declarer has won 5 tricks, OR if the tricks are divided 4-3-2.
  • Bęte – The Declarer takes exactly as many tricks as the Defender with most tricks. This occurs when the tricks are divided 4-4-1 or 3-3-3.
  • Kodille – The Declarer takes fewer tricks than either one of both Defenders.
  • Tout – The Declarer takes all 9 tricks. The Declarer is supposed to announce his intention to do this as he wins the 5th trick, however, a lead to the sixth trick is enough of an indication.

For Nolo Contracts, there are 3 possible outcomes:

  • Win – The Declarer takes no tricks
  • Bęte – Declarer takes 1 trick
  • Kodille – The Declarer takes two or more tricks. For Pure Nolo and Nolo Ouvert, play ends when declarer takes his second trick. For Simple Nolo, however, any subsequent tricks are counted and go against the Declarer, so the hand is played out to the last trick.

Scoring

At the beginning of the game, each player is given a designated number of tokens or chips. At the end of the hand, players exchange chips by either ‘paying’ the victor or receiving ‘payment’ from the other players. In other words, chips are not drawn from a bank, but are ‘paid’ from the players’ stack.

The number of chips exchanged is:

  • 1 for Simple Game and Tourné
  • 2 for Solo, Grande Tourné or Simple Nolo
  • 3 for Pure Nolo
  • 5 for Nolo Ouvert
  • Win – If the Declarer wins, he receives the said amount from each Defender.
  • Bęte – If the Declarer loses he pays the said amount to each Defender
  • Kodille – The Declarer pays each Defender the said amount, plus additional penalty points of 1 extra for Simple, Tourné, Solo and Grand Tourné; 2 extra for Spade Solo and Pure Nolo; and 3 extra for Nolo Ouvert. For Simple Nolo, the Declarer pays 1 extra token to each Defender for every trick he wins in excess of one trick.
  • Tout – the Declarer is paid one extra token by each player, but if he fails, then he pays a penalty of 1 token to each player, but still receives payment for winning his game contract.

Game

L’Hombre is played over an agreed number of hands, that being a multiple of the number of players. Thus, in a three-player game the agreed number of hands would be 3, 6, 9 or 12. That way each player gets an equal number of turns at dealing. The player with the highest total, i.e. the biggest stack of chips, at the end of the agreed number of hands wins the game.



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