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Skat is a card game frequently played in Germany. It is a game for three or four players, and uses a 32 card deck with only the cards seven to ten, and the Jack, Queen, King and Ace in all four suits. The game is played in four phases.
If there are four players, one person is the dealer. If there are three players, one of players acts as dealer as well as playing. The cards are dealt as follows.
- Three cards to each player
- Two cards to the stock
- Four cards to each player
- Three cards to each player
The three players consider their set of cards, calculating a maximum value to bid. Bidding is always between two players at a time working around the table.
First, Player A (sitting next to the dealer) listens to the bidding of Player B sitting next to him. After one of the two passes, Player C has the opportunity to bid higher, or he has to pass, too. Here is an example of the bidding process.
- Player B has to bid first: '18'
- Player A has to listen first: 'Yes'
- Player B: '20'
- Player A: 'Yes'
- B: '2' (short for 22)
- A: 'Yes'
- B: 'Hmmmm - 0' (or '3', short for 23)
- A: 'Yes'
- B: 'I'm out' (passing to Player C)
- C: '4' (short for 24)
- A: 'Yes'
- C: '7' (short for 27)
- A: 'Yes'
- C: '30'
- A: 'Yes'
- C: '33'
- C: '35'
- A: 'Yes'
- C: '36'
- A: 'No' (Player C becomes 'The Player'
Further allowed values to bid are:
- Any multiple of 9, 10, 11 or 12;
- 46, 59 and 92.
The player with the highest bid at the end of the bidding becomes 'The Player'. The other two, as a team, together try to defend his play or even beat him.
We will now look at the process of bidding. If it seems a bit complex, don't worry. The meaning of the values of the bid, and how to calculate them, is explained in the section on calculation below.
The two cards of the stock are handed to 'The Player'. If he wants to, he can pick up the stock to supplement his set of cards. Then he chooses two cards to put back into the stock. These two cards of the stock will count for the player in phase four. Finally, he has to proclaim his play. The player's aim is not simply to win, but to meet his bet (36 or higher). So he has to be careful, what play to proclaim and how to play. If the other players stop the player meeting the bet, he loses.
Phase Three: Playing
After the proclamation of the play, the players usually rearrange their set of cards acoording to the play. Player A (sitting next to the dealer) starts playing a card of his hand. Then player B plays one of his cards, before finally the third player plays a card of his hand. The three cards played are called a trick. The first card played defines the suit that has to be followed by the other two players, if possible. If one or both of them do not have another card of that suit in their set, they can play a different suit. Depending on the play, one of the players gets all three cards of the trick and puts them on his stock. Then he starts a new trick playing one of his remaining cards. After the tenth trick, the playing phase of the game is over.
Phase Four: Counting
Every player counts the values of his cards. If the sum of 'The Player' is is higher than that of the other two players together, he is the winner. If it is equal or lower, his opponents win. The values of the cards are:
- 0 for 7, 8 and 9;
- 2 for the Jacks;
- 3 for the Queens;
- 4 for the Kings;
- 10 for the 10s and
- 11 for the Aces.
All 32 cards sum up to a value of 120. So 60 is the magical number to beat.
Finally, the points for the play have to be calculated that are rewarded to the winner/s. This calculation is similar to that for the bidding, and it is therefore explained in a separate section below.
There are 3 different types of plays to play:
- Suit Plays;
- Grand Plays;
- and Null (Zero) Plays.
In a suit play one of the suits is proclaimed by 'The Player' to be trump. The eight cards of the selected suit become trump supplemented by the three remaining Jacks. So in total there are 11 trump cards. The trumps - ordered from highest to lowest are:
- Jack of Clubs;
- Jack of Spades;
- Jack of Hearts;
- Jack of Diamonds;
- Ace of trump suit;
- 10 of trump suit;
- King of trump suit;
- Queen of trump suit;
- 9, 8 and 7 of trump suit;
It is important that the Jacks belong to the trump suit and not any more to their original suit. For example, if 'Hearts' is the proclaimed play, the Jacks of Clubs, Spades and Diamonds are now 'Hearts'. The values of the non-trump suits are the same as for the non-Jack trumps. The player who plays the card with the highest value in a trick wins the trick. This can either be the highest card of the suit of the first card played in the trick, or the highest trump. Trumps always beat non-trumps. During playing (see section above) the first card played in a trick has to be followed. If the other two players cannot follow the suit they can play a card of a different suit than that of the first card. Now there are several possibilities and strategies how players decide what card to play:
First card in a trick belongs to the trump suit
According to the rules the second player has to play a trump card as long as he has trump cards in his hand. If he has no trump left, he can play any other card. After the second card is played the third player has to play a trump card as long as he has trump cards in his hand. Otherwise he can play, of course, any other.
First card in a trick is of a non-trump suit
Players two and three have to follow the suit, if possible (note: remember that Jacks do not belong to their suits anymore!). If player two cannot follow the suit, he can either play a trump card (as long as he has any left) or a different non-trump suit. His decision depends on several parameters:
If player two is 'The Player', he may want to collect a big trick or simply wants to be the first player in the next trick, or both: Then he will play a trump. For the strength of the trump he chooses to play, he has to consider whether the third player may be able and allowed to play a higher trump or not.
He may also want to get rid of a certain card that is of no value for him: Then he will play that card, considering that the third player may either fill the trick up with a high value without being forced to sacrifice a trump card, or may get rid of some lousy card of his in the same way.
If player one is 'The Player', he may play a trump card to get the trick for him and his fellow player, who may then be able to fill the tick up with a high value, without being forced to sacrifice a trump. He may as well play a card that he wants to get rid of and leave it to the third player if the trick will be theirs or 'The Player's'. He finally may know or assume that his partner will be able and allowed to take the trick: Then he can fill up the trick with a high value without sacrificing a trump card.
If player three is 'The Player'. The first card can be used as a signal to the second player: Namely, this may be a card of a 'short' suit, meaning that player one may have only this single card of that suit in his hand (in turn, player one may have played a card of a 'long' suit, if player two was the single player). Here, he can be pretty sure that player three will follow the suit. Player two simply must consider whether 'The Player' will be able and allowed to take the trick if he himself does not play a trump.
The third player's decisions are implied in the above list, although still some additional considderations may have to be taken.
There are only the four Jacks acting as trump. All suits consist of seven remaining cards. The major difference between grand plays and suit plays is the very low number of trump cards. 'The Player' usually needs to have hold of the majority of the Jacks and of a couple of Aces and 10s of the same suits, respectively.
Null (Zero) Plays
Null plays are completely different from suit or grand plays. 'The Player's' aim is to avoid any trick. The major characteristics (and differences form the other plays) are:
There is no trump at all;
10s and Jacks are put into line, resulting in a different order of values (from lowest to highest):
- 7 to 10
'The player' aims at avoiding to take any trick - even one without countable value (like 7, 8 and 9 of spades for example).
Regular Play Enhancements
Any Play can be played 'Hand'. This means 'The Player' does not take a look at the stock that he receives after bidding.
Grand and Null Plays can also be played 'Ouvert' (open). In this case 'The Player' has to present his set of cards to the other two players after the first trick has been played.
Grand and Null Plays can even be played 'Ouvert Hand'.
Within the first trick (one of) the opponents of the single player can proclaim 'Contra', meaning that he is/they are sure that the single player will loose. If the single player after a 'Contra' is still optimistic that he will win, then he can proclaim 'Re' in return.
If the looser/s cards in the counting phase sum up to less than 30 points, they are 'Schneider' (taylor). If they haven't got any trick at all, they are 'Schwarz' (black). While the first trick is played 'The Player' can announce 'Schneider' (grand plays only) or even 'Schneider Schwarz' (grand and suit plays). Sometimes the opponents react on that with a 'Contra'.
All enhancements lead to (significant) increase of the value of the plays.
Special Plays and Enhancements
Suit plays can be played 'Spitze' (top). In this special case, 'The Player' has to have hold of the trump-7. This card is turned open to the other players. 'The Player' has to be able to play that card in the 10th trick only and take the trick (so no trump card other than the 7 must be left in the last trick).
As an escalation of 'Contra' and 'Re' next the opponing party can proclaim 'Bock' (ram) and after that the single player can proclaim 'Doppel-Bock' (double ram).
A special play is Called 'Revolution'. It belongs to the Null Plays and is played 'Ouvert Hand'. Additionally the first player of the opponing party takes the stock as usual and hands two cards of his set of cards to his partner, who does the same and puts the two least wanted back into the stock.
Another special play, called 'Ramsch' (trash) may be played if no player wants to bid at all and all pass instead. All players are single players. The first player gets the stock. If he wants to, he can pick it up, take the cards to his set of cards, pick two out and pass them to the second player, who does the same. The third player, finally, puts his two least wanted cards into the stock on a separate pile to the side. Instead of looking at the stock and exchanging two of his cards, a player can 'push' it to the next player. The jacks are trump (like in Grand Plays). Each player's aim is to collect a minimum number of tricks and points. The player that takes the last trick also takes the stock. The looser is the player, whose cards of the tricks he got sum up to the highest value. A player who hasn't had to take any trick at all has played 'Blank'. 'Pushing' the stock and having a 'Blank' each double the score. Attention: If two players are 'blank' fortune turns. In this case the player who got all tricks is the winner. This case is called 'Durchmarsch' (march through).
If there happens to be a lost 'Contra', meaning 'The Player' really looses, the next round of three (or four plays) is a 'Bock'-round and the round after that is a 'Ramsch'-round. In the 'Bock'-round all plays are doubled. In the 'Ramsch'-round all plays are 'Ramsch'. If one player definitely does not want to play a 'Ramsch' play, he can proclaim to play a 'Grand Hand'. In this case the next round again is 'Bock' and a round of 'Ramsch' is obligatory after all remaining 'Ramsch' plays are finished.
Calculating Bids and Scores
In the bidding phase the players need to calculate a value of possible plays that they might be able to play. Rewarding points to the players' scores after counting and determination of the winner is done similarly. To be exact, there are some additional aspects when calculating rewards.
Calculation of Suit and Grand Plays is strongly dependent on which trump cards you may and may not have. Null Plays are played without trumps, so calculation is different.
Calculating Null Plays
Null Plays have special values that players simply have to know:
- Null: 23
- Null Hand: 35
- Null Ouvert: 46
- Null Ouvert Hand: 59
- Revolution: 92
Calculating Suit and Grand Plays
Suit and Grand Plays have special base values:
- Diamonds: 9
- Hearts: 10
- Spades: 11
- Clubs: 12
- Grand: 24
- Grand Ouvert: 36
These base values are multiplied with a factor that depends on the set of trump cards that you do or do not have: If you have got...
the Jack of Clubs and not the Jack of Spades (rest irrelevant), you play: 'With 1 Played 2'
the Jacks of Clubs and Spades and not the Jack of Hearts (rest irrelevant), you play: 'With 2 Played 3'
the Jacks of Clubs, Spades and Hearts and not the Jack of Diamonds (rest irrelevant), you play: 'With 3 Played 4'
all the Jacks (rest irrelevant), you play: 'With 4 Played 5'.
If the highest trump you have is...
the Jack of Spades (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 1 Played 2'.
the Jack of Hearts (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 2 Played 3'.
the Jack of Diamonds (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 3 Played 4'
the Ace (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 4 Played 5'.
the 10 (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 5 Played 6'.
the King (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 6 Played 7'.
the Queen (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 7 Played 8'.
the 9 (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 8 Played 9'.
the 8 (rest irrelevant), you play: 'Without 9 Played 10'.
the 7, you play: 'Without 10 Played 11'.
no trump at all, you play: 'Without 11 Played 12'.
The highest 'Played'-value for Grand Plays is 5. The 'Played'-value is multiplied by the base value.
Example 1: You have got the Jacks of Clubs and Spades, you haven't got the jack of Hearts, and you intend to play Spades. The maximum bid is calculated '(With 2 Played) 3 * 11 = 33'.
Example 2: You have got the Jacks of Spades, Hearts and Diamonds, and you have a couple of Aces and related 10s, and you want to play Grand. The maximum bid is calculated '(Without 1 Played) 2 * 24 = 48'.
If you want to play 'Hand' the 'Played'-value is increased by 1.
Example 3: You have got only the Jacks of Clubs and Diamonds, and you intend to play Hearts. You are so convinced of your set of cards that you may want to neglect from taking the stock (given you win the bidding). The maximum bid is calculated '(With 1 Played 2 Hand) 3 * 10 = 30'. 'Spitze' also increases the 'Played'-Value by 1.
In addition to the calculation of bids there are some more ways to increase the 'Played'-value and to double scores:
'Schneider' and 'Schwarz' both increase the 'Played'-value by 1, (as 'Schwarz' always implies 'Schneider', in fact this leads to an increase by 2);
Additional increases of the 'Played'-value by 1 are rewarded for the announcement of 'Schneider' or 'Schwarz', even if the counting is not like that.
If 'The Player' looses, the score is doubled. 'The Player' also looses when his bet (Play) or announcement (Schneider/Schwarz) were higher than what he played or achieved.
If the counting results in 60 points for both 'The Player' and the opponents, this is calles 'A...h gespalten' (a..e chopped (?)). This result means the single player looses.
Contra, Re, Bock and Doppelbock each double the score.
Example 4 (One of the highest scores): The single player succeded playing Grand Ouvert Hand Schneider Announced Schwarz Announced with all four Jacks. The score is '(With 4 Played 5 Hand 6 Schneider 7 Announced 8 Schwarz 9 Announced) 10 * 36 = 360 Contra 720 Re 1440 Bock 2880 Doppel-Bock 5760'.
Example 5: Same as above, but the opponents got one trick (value indifferent, even zero!). The score of the above is doubled once more to 11520.
Scoring Ramsch Plays is completely different from the calculations above. Looser is the player whose cards sum up to the highest value. This value is his negative score or positive score for the others. The Ramsch score is doubled for every 'Push' and 'Blank'. A 'Durchmarsch' (walk through) is positive score of 120. This may also be doubled for 'Pushes' (no 'Blank', here).
The score is always dependent on what was actually played, not on the bet. 'The Player' has to receive a score that is equal or higher than the bet at which he got the play. Otherwise he turns out to be the looser, although he might have won according to what was counted. There are 2 cases that are likely to end like that:
Example 6: You intended to play 'Spades without 2 (Jacks of Clubs and Spades are missing)'. So your maximum bid is '(Without 2 Played) 3 * 11 = 33'. You were lucky and got the play already at 27. You take the stock and find the Jack of Clubs and some other card of no importance. Now your play is no longer 'Without 2' but 'With 1'. Your maximum bid would have been 22. In order to win you either have to be so good that your opponents will be 'Schneider' or you have to play 'Grand' or some other Play of a value of at least 27.
Example 7: Similarly to example 6, a Suit or Grand Play played 'Hand' and a bet calculated by 'Without... Played...' can turn out to be a bad idea, when in the stock there is a high Jack. The stock does always count even though in a Hand play you haven't seen or used it.
From the bet at which the opponents passed, you can guess what their set of cards may be like. If a player passes at 24, 36 or 48, for example, his maximum bids, obviously were 23, 35 or 46, representing different Null Plays. If a player passes at 20, 22, 23 or 27, he was obviously bidding for a certain suit play either 'with 1' or 'without 1'. Passing at 30,35,40 means a suit play 'with 2' or 'without 2'. BTW passing at 40 can also mean Diamonds 'with 3' or 'without 3'.