This page is based on information from Martin Garrod, Brian Daglish, Steve Heath, Stuart Carroll, David Parlett, Rodney Jones, Tony Simons and Jim Buckley.
Noms, short for Nominations or Nomination Whist and sometimes known affectionately as Nommie, is a four-player card game played in the Royal Navy and to a lesser extent in the British Army. Please note that the same name Nomination Whist is also used in Britain for various versions of the different game Oh Hell!. On his Navy Song website, Barry Scott mentions both games, distinguishing them as 'Big Ships Rules' for Oh Hell! and 'Small Ships Rules' for the partnership game described on this page.
Noms is a whist-like game with bidding, in which the bidder's partner is chosen by calling a card, and the identity of the partner remains secret until the called card is played. There are quite a few variants, and I am not sure at this point which is the most usual. I will describe one version and then list the alternative rules I have come across in the Variations section towards the end of the page.
There are four players, and a standard 52-card Anglo-American pack is used, without jokers. The cards in each suit rank from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. Deal and play are clockwise.
Any player may deal first, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. The cards are not shuffled between deals: the dealer simply gathers the cards from the previous hand, stacking the tricks together, cuts the pack and starts dealing. Traditionally, the cards are dealt in batches of four and three as follows: 4-3-3-3; 3-4-3-3; 3-3-4-3; 3-3-3-4. That is, you deal four cards to the left, three to the player opposite, three to the right and three to yourself, then three to the left, four opposite and so on. This will result in everyone having a hand of 13 cards.
After a deal in which all four players pass, a double hand is played. All players sort their hands into suits from left to right: hearts, clubs, diamonds, spades, with the cards in each suit in descending order, highest card to the left. The hands are then stacked in clockwise order, starting to dealer's left. The new dealer cuts the cards once, dividing the pack and placing the bottom section on the top, without shuffling, and deals as above.
Bids are an undertaking to win at least the stated number of tricks with the help of a partner chosen by nominating a card. The bidder will choose the trump suit but the bids do not mention a suit, only the number of tricks. There are also two special bids which undertake to lose every trick, playing alone: Mis (short for Misère) and Mis a Vis (short for Misère Ouverte), the difference being that in the higher bid Mis a Vis, all the bidder's cards are exposed after the first trick.
The lowest possible bid is 10 (but see variations below), and the ranking of the bids from lowest to highest is: 10, 11, 12, 13, Mis, Mis a Vis.
Player's speak in turn, in clockwise order, beginning with the player to dealer's left. At your turn you can pass or make a bid, which must be higher than the previous bid. If all four players pass there is no play, and the cards are sorted and stacked for a double hand, as described above. If anyone bids, the bidding continues for as many circuits as necessary until three consecutive players pass. Passing does not prevent you from bidding at your next turn if someone else has bid, but if a bid is followed by three passes the auction ends and the bid cannot be changed.
The highest bidder leads to the first trick. If the final bid was a number, then at the same time as leading, the bidder must state the trump suit or no trumps and also nominate a card whose holder will be the bidder's partner for the hand. For example the bidder, having bid 12, might say "twelve hearts on the ace of clubs", meaning that hearts are trumps and the holder of the ace of clubs is the bidder's partner. If the suit of the nominated card is not mentioned, it is assumed that a trump is called, for example "spades are trumps and the queen is it" means that the bidder wants to play with the holder of the spade queen as a partner. If you want to play without trumps you must say so: "no trumps with the king of diamonds" for example. If no suit is mentioned after a number bid, the suit led by the bidder to the first trick is trumps. It is possible to nominate a card that is in your own hand, thus playing alone and potentially causing some confusion among your three opponents, who will not realise initially that they are all on the same team.
The player who holds the nominated card must not say or do anything to indicate this. The identity of the partner is definitively revealed only when the called card is played, though it may be guessed earlier because the partner will try to play cards that will help the bidder.
If the final bid was Mis or Mis a Vis there are no trumps and the bidder is alone, so the bidder does not have to say anything when leading to the first trick.
Each trick consists of one card from each player, played face up in the centre of the table in clockwise order. Players must always follow suit if they can, playing a card of the same suit as the first card played to the trick. A player who has no card of the suit that was led may play any card. If anyone plays a trump, the trick is won by the highest trump in it, otherwise it is won by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of the trick gathers the four cards, stacks them face down in front of himself and leads any card to the next trick. Since the partnerships are not known until the nominated card is played, all four players keep their tricks separately, and partners combine their tricks only at the end or at the earliest when the partnerships are revealed by the play of the called card.
If your bid was Mis a Vis, then at the end of the first trick you must place your remaining 12 cards face up on the table, preferably arranged neatly by suit and rank, so that your opponents can see what you have and play accordingly. They may of course surrender at this point if it is clear that there is no way that they can force you to take a trick.
The bid succeeds if the bidder together with the holder of the nominated card win at least as many tricks as the number that was bid. In this case they each score the amount of the bid. Note that there is no score for overtricks: if you bid 10 and win 12 tricks, you and your partner just score 10. If the bidder and partner fail to win enough tricks between them, the other two players score the amount of the bid. If the bidder plays alone (the nominated card was in the bidder's hand), then the bidder alone scores the bid if successful, and if it fails the other three players all score that amount.
The score for a Mis is 13 (the same as for 13), and for a Mis a Vis 26. If the bidder succeeds in losing every trick, the bidder scores the appropriate amount; if the bidder wins a trick, all three opponents score that amount.
In a double hand, played after a deal in which all four player's pass, the score for the bid is doubled. Because of the way the cards are stacked it will quite often happen that a player can bid 13, Mis or Mis a Vis for a score of 26 or 52 points in a double hand.
A separate cumulative score is kept for each player and the game can continue until someone reaches the agreed target score, typically 101. The player with most points then wins.
In practice, however, the length of a session when played aboard a ship may depend on the time available until someone has to go on watch, at which point the player with the highest score is the winner.
Some players use other methods of dealing, such as 5 cards each, then 3 cards each, then 5 cards each. Some play that when the hand is passed out, the cards are redealt by the same dealer rather than the next dealer after stacking.
Many players allow the bidding to begin lower, for example at 7 or 8. If bids as low as 7 are allowed it will be very rare for everyone to pass. Some play that if the first three players pass the fourth player is forced to bid 7.
Some play that each of the bidder's opponents score one point for each trick that they took as individuals. These points are scored whether the bid succeeds or not. It is still in the opponents' interests to cooperate to defeat the bid, so as to prevent the bidder's team from scoring the value of the bid.
Some play that a bid of Misère ranks between 10 and 11, instead of above 13 and there is no Misère Ouverte. In this version, Misère scores 10 and for a failed Misère the bidder deducts 10 points plus one point for each trick taken while the opponents score nothing.
Some play that it is not the bidder but the player to dealer's left who leads to the first trick.
Some play that a bid of 13 scores 26 points rather than 13.
One source gives the interesting rule that if the bidder's team wins all the tricks having bid less than 13, this counts as a failure and their opponents score 26.
Rules for one version called Nomination Whist are given on Jim Buckley's website.