Solo is a trick-taking game for four players. Rather than higher bids simply increasing the number of tricks to be taken, as is common in trick-taking games, in Solo, the bids also affect whether or not a player will have a partner for that hand.
Solo is an offshoot of the French game Manille. It is sometimes referred to as Spanish Solo due to its former popularity in Spain and Latin America. This also helps distinguish it from the similarly-named Solo Whist and Six-Bid Solo, the latter of which is more similar to Skat. It is also sometimes referred to as Ombre.
Object of Solo
The object of Solo is to accurately judge the strength of your hand, and use this information to secure a contract which you can then fulfill.
Solo is played with a 32-card deck. To create such a thing, set aside all the 2s through 6s from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll be left with 7s through aces in each of the four suits. You’ll also want something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper.
Prior to the first hand, everyone should mutually agree on one suit that serves as the color. This suit is usually clubs, but it is essentially arbitrary, and it makes no real difference which suit is color. Bids made committing to make this suit trump will be ranked higher than an equivalent bid in one of the other suits.
Shuffle and deal out the entire pack. Each player will receive eight cards.
Solo uses a somewhat idiosyncratic card ranking for the trump suit. First, the two black queens are always trumps, regardless of what the actual trump suit is. The Q♣ is the highest trump, and the Q♠ the third-highest trump. Wedged between the two queens is the 7 of trumps. The rest of the cards rank in their usual order, with the ace just below the Q♠. Therefore, the full ranking of a red trump suit is (high) Q♣, 7, Q♠, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8 (low). A black trump suit ranks exactly the same, although since its queen is elevated above its usual position, there is no queen that ranks between the king and jack.
Non-trump suits rank in their usual order, including the 7 in its typical position as the lowest-ranking card of the suit. For a red non-trump suit, the full ranking is (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). In a black non-trump suit, the queen is missing (having been moved instead to the trump suit), and thus ranks as (high) A, K, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).
Types of games
Before a hand can be played, the players must decide which type of game to play. This is done through a bidding process, with the winner becoming the declarer and selecting which type of game is to be played. The types of games that are available, ranked from lowest to highest, are:
- Simple game in suit (2 points): The declarer names one of the three suits that are not in color as the trump suit. They then name any one of the four aces. Whoever holds that ace becomes the declarer’s partner for that hand. (Note that the partner does not immediately reveal themselves; they do so by simply playing the ace at an appropriate time during the hand.) The partners commit to capturing at least five tricks between the two of them.
- Simple game in color (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except the trump suit is the suit that is in color.
- Solo in suit (4 points): The same as a simple game in suit, except there is no partner. The declarer must collect five or more tricks all by themselves.
- Solo in color (8 points): The same as a solo in suit, but with the suit in color as trump.
- Tout in suit (16 points): The declarer names as trump one of the three suits not in color. They must collect all eight tricks without the assistance of a partner.
- Tout in color (32 points): The same as a tout in suit, but the suit in color is trump.
Solo uses a similar one-on-one bidding style to that of Skat. Bidding begins with the player to the dealer’s left. If they do not wish to bid, they may pass. If they have a bid they want to make, they say “I ask.” The player to their left can then “bid” against them by inquiring as to the first player’s bid. As the lowest bid is a simple game in suit, the player is assumed to have bid at least this high, so the second player asks “Is it in color?” If the first player responds that it is, the second may then ask “Is it a solo?” If the first player responds in the affirmative, they continue with “Is it a solo in color?” and so on.
When the first player does not want to keep bidding higher, or should it become evident that they are willing to bid higher than the second player is comfortable with going, either player may pass. If the second player passed, then the third player may continue the questioning where the second left off. If the first player passes, the second player is committed to making a bid of at least the same rank that the first player passed on, and they are questioned about it by the third player. Bidding concludes with the surviving player bidding against the dealer. Whichever player emerges from this bid victorious becomes the declarer. They may name any game and trump they like, so long as it ranked at least as high as their winning bid (i.e. they may name a higher game than they bid).
Additional rules on bidding
If all four players pass, the player holding the Q♣ must reveal it, and immediately becomes the declarer in a simple game. They must then choose a trump suit (with the suit they choose of course deciding whether the game is in color or not).
A player holding both black queens can never pass. Instead, they must always make a bid of at least solo in suit.
Play of the hand
The player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, contributes one card to the trick. Players must follow suit if able; if they cannot, they may play any card, including a trump. Whoever plays the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led if no trump was played, wins the trick. That player then leads to the next trick.
It should be noted that the black queens are part of the trump suit and not part of the suit printed on the card. That means that if diamonds are trump, someone leads clubs, and you have the Q♣ in addition to some other clubs, you cannot play the queen! Instead, you have to play one of your other clubs. Playing the Q♣ would be playing a trump card, the same as playing a diamond. That can only be done if you hold no other cards of the suit led.
Once all eight tricks are played, the hand is scored. If the declarer successfully won the required number of tricks required, they score the point value of the game. If they did not, the point value of the game is deducted from their score. In a simple game, the declarer’s partner scores the same amount that the declarer does.
Game play continues until a previously-agreed-to number of hands is played, or one or more players exceeds a certain point threshold. Whoever has the highest score at that point is the winner.
Solo Whist, also known simply as Solo, gained popularity in the late 19th century as an alternative to Whist. Whereas Whist is a strategic partnership game, Solo provided a more accessible option: a more relaxed, non-partnership game for four players. Solo was particularly popular on the commuter rail of the era, where its structure made it possible for travelers to easily join and drop out of the game as they boarded or departed the train.
Object of Solo Whist
The object of Solo Whist is to successfully estimate the strength of one’s hand and accurately place a bid for the hand. If one doesn’t successfully win the bidding, the object is to stop the winner from completing the bid.
Solo Whist is played with a standard 52-card deck. While you could use any manner of 52-card deck out there, why wouldn’t you use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards?
Solo traditionally handles scoring through counters of some form, such as poker chips. If the players desire, each counter can be purchased in an initial buy-in and represent some amount of real money. Otherwise, the counters can serve as valueless MacGuffins. Score can also be kept with pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player in sets of three, with the thirteenth card being dealt by itself. The dealer’s thirteenth card, the last card in the deck, is turned face-up. The suit of this card is considered the default suit for this hand.
Each hand begins with a bidding round, with the player to the dealer’s left opening the bidding. Players may make any of the following bids, from lowest to highest:
- Prop (1 credit): Player makes a proposal to join in a temporary alliance with any other player in an attempt to capture eight tricks. So long as no higher bid has been made, any other player may respond with “Cop”, accepting the proposal and joining the alliance, should the bid not be overcalled. The default suit becomes trump.
- Solo (1 credit): The player will win five tricks, playing alone. The default suit becomes trump.
- Misère (2 credits): The player will lose all thirteen tricks, playing alone. There is no trump.
- Abundance (3 credits): The player will win nine tricks, playing alone. If the bid is successful, the player will name any suit desired as trump.
- Abundance in Trump (3 credits): The same as an abundance, but using the default suit as trump.
- Misère Ouverte (4 credits): The same as a misère, but the player must play with their hand exposed after the first trick.
- Slam (6 credits): The player will win all thirteen tricks, playing alone. There is no trump, and the player leads to the first trick.
A bid may only be overcalled by a higher bid. Players may also elect to pass; upon passing, a player cannot rejoin in the bidding for this hand. (There is one exception: if the player to the dealer’s left passes, the next player bids Prop, and the remaining players pass, the player to the left of the dealer has the option to call “Cop”.) Bidding continues as long as necessary: until there has been both a Prop and a Cop, or any higher bid, and all other players pass.
If all four players pass, the hand is abandoned and a new hand is dealt by the same dealer. If a player bids Prop and no other player accepts the bid by calling “Cop,” the bidder has the option to change their bid to any higher bid. If they decline, the deal is abandoned.
The successful bidder or bidders become the declarer(s), and the other players become the defenders. The defenders’ goal is to prevent the declarers from fulfilling their contract.
Play of the hand
After bidding concludes, the dealer takes their thirteenth card into their hand, and the player to the dealer’s left leads to the first trick, unless the bid was slam, in which case the declarer leads. Players must follow suit unless they are unable, in which case they may play any card, including a trump. Tricks are won by the player who played the highest card of the suit led, or if the trick contains a trump, the highest trump. Collected tricks are not added to the player’s hand, but are placed face-down in a won-tricks pile in front of the player, with succeeding tricks placed at right angles to one another to allow them to be counted later. (If the contract is Prop, the declarers may stack their tricks in a single pile in front of one of the partners, rather than maintaining separate stacks).
After the first trick is concluded, but before the second trick begins, the declarer must spread their hand face-up if the contract is Misère Ouverte.
When all thirteen tricks have been played out, the declarer counts their tricks to determine whether the contract was made or broken. If it was made, all defenders pay the declarer the amount of their contract (for a made Prop bid, a defender must pay one credit each to both of the declarers). If the declarer(s) failed, they must pay the amount of their contract to each defender. (If keeping score with pencil and paper, simply score the amount of the contract under each declarer if successful or under each defender if not successful.)