Jamón (game)

Jamón (game)

Jamón (Spanish for ham) is a traditional Spanish card game, involving any deck of cards (usually 48 Baraja or 52 Anglo-French cards, although any deck can be used) and some counters (traditionally real Jamón). The rules of "Jamón" are a little like a cross between the games Cheat and Poker, where the aim of the game is to get rid of one's cards and amass as many "Jamón" counters as possible.

Rules of the game


The game can be played by two or more players. Generally, the more people in a game, the shorter the game will last. The cards are dealt out to each player until every card has been dealt. Then, each player is given a number of "Jamón" counters (usually 5). Play starts with whoever is to the left of the dealer, then continues clockwise until the end of the game.

Player turns

The centre of the table will hold a pile of cards face-up, which have been played during the game. Each player in turn can either put down up to four cards of the same rank, or call "Jamón". The rank put down must be of either equal value, one above or one below the card at the top of the pile. With Baraja cards the values go from Ace up to twelve, with an Ace considered as one above a 12 and a 12 as one below an Ace. With Anglo-French cards the values go from Ace to 10, then Jack, Queen and King, in that order, with an Ace considered to be one above a King and a King one below an ace. If the pile is empty, then the player may choose to put down any card. A player who cannot put down any cards must call "Jamón" until they can put down a card, or the game is over.


A player may call "Jamón" at any stage in the game, although it is usually only beneficial to the player when they may not put down any cards on the pile. Calling "Jamón" (also known as "hamming" or "hamming on") involves swapping a "Jamón" counter for a card from another player. The person calling "Jamón" (the "caller") must call "Jamón" whilst passing a counter to another player they choose. This other player, also known as the "called", must then fan out all their cards so that the caller cannot see them. The caller then picks a card at random and adds it to their deck. If the caller still cannot put any cards down, they may either call again or add the entire pile to their hand. If the player has not yet called "Jamón" this turn, they must call to the person directly to the left. The player may not pick up the pile until after calling at least once. The only situation where this does not apply is when the player has run out of "Jamón" counters. In this case the player may not call, and must pick up the entire pile. In no situation does the next player's turn start until the player has put something down.

End of the game

The game is over when a player has no cards left. That player is then given two "Jamón" counters from each player who has any left. The winner of the game is whoever has the most counters after the game finishes, even if that person still has some cards left. If for any reason the game ends before anyone has run out of cards, the player with the most "Jamón" counters is the winner.


As with all thinking men's card games there is no best strategy which reduces the game to pure luck. However, a number of players like to use the "Ruido Fuerte" technique, which involves shouting abuse at any player and simultaneously stealing one of his/her "Jamón" counters. Beware when using this strategy, it can be looked down upon as gamesmanship or even cheating in certain social circles.

History of the game

The complete history of Jamón is marred in obscurity, but may originate from the time of the Spanish Civil War of 1820-1823. Many historians think that due to food shortages at this time, any kind of meat was in very short supply. Because of this, it is thought that many people, especially those in small rural villages, would be forced into gambling with their food just to survive. Many historians suspect that this card game was developed solely for gambling for Jamón, with the winner taking home all of the Jamón from the game to give to his family.

There are also rumours that Jamón grew in popularity amongst the Spanish peasant classes due to a certain treatment of the pieces of betting ham. This treatment involved boring a hole into it, and filling it with seaweed, before cooking it for several hours. Many people believed this gave it hallucinogenic properties, received merely from touching the piece of Jamón to one's shoulder blade.

The Jamón World Championships

The inaugural Jamón World Championships (JWC) were held in Montréal, Canada, in 1984, and had players travel from 7 different countries to play for the grand prize of a whole roast pig. Unfortunately the winning player Grégoire Petit of France was unable to triumphantly return home with his winnings due to EU laws over the transportation of meat.

The JWC is a triennial event and has taken place in the following cities:
*1984 Montréal, Canada
*1987 Aix en Provence, France
*1990 Astana, Kazakhstan
*1993 Melbourne, Australia
*1996 Postponed due to adverse weather conditions
*1997 Dallas, USA
*2000 Cape Town, South Africa
*2003 Valencia, Spain
*2006 Exeter, UK

The 2003 JWC was widely recognised as the greatest ever JWC, with 109 competitors from 48 different nations attending. Lessons had been learnt from the previous JWCs, and the grand prize was now a year's supply of Danepak bacon. For the first time a runner's up prize was introduced, that of a pig being donated to an African village on behalf of the player.

Unfortunately, JWC 2006 was marred with controversy, as the Federación Española de Jamón - The Spanish Jamón Federation (FEJ) didn't receive an official invitation. The organisers claim that the invitation was sent out but that it was lost in the post due to the postal strike taking place at that time in Exeter. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/devon/5301568.stm BBC NEWS | England | Devon | Breakdown in postal strike talks ] ] The refusal of FEJ affiliated players to attend led players from all but 2 nations to boycott JWC 2006, leaving only 7 players, 6 of whom were themselves the organisers and all shared the same address as each other and the JWC venue. The remaining player, Kloos Müller, was from Luxembourg and stumbled across the tournament quite by accident when running away from a large dog. By a mixture of beginner's luck and a quick mind for strategy he won the tournament, but this win has not been recognised by the majority of the national associations, and hence the sponsors, Danepak, have withheld the grand prize.

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