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Doppelkopf

A picture of four Unters of German cards
Origin Germany
Type Trick-taking
Players 3-7 (4 Best)
Skills required Tactics & Strategy
Cards 2 x 24
Deck Doppelkopf (modified French)
Play Clockwise
Card rank (highest to lowest) A 10 K D B 9
Playing time 20 min.
Random chance Tactics & Strategy
Related games
Skat, Schafkopf, Sheepshead

Doppelkopf (German pronunciation: , lit. double-head), also abbreviated to Doko, is a trick-taking card game for four players. The origins of this game are not well known; it is assumed that it originated from the game Schafkopf.

In Germany, Doppelkopf is nearly as popular as Skat, especially in Northern Germany and the Rhein-Main Region. Schafkopf however is still the preferred trick-taking variant in Bavaria. Unlike in Skat, there are numerous variants.

Although the Deutscher Doppelkopf-Verband developed standard rules for tournaments, informal games often play many variants and players adopt their own house rules. Before playing with a new group of players, it is therefore advisable to agree on a specific set of rules before the first game.

Game rules

Note: In the following section, the most common rules are described.

General principles

Doppelkopf is a team game where each team normally consists of two players. The most distinguishing feature of the game is that the actual pairing is not known from the start, which is what makes the game interesting for most players.

The deck of cards consists of either 48 or 40 cards:

Each group of 8 cards consists of 2 cards from each suit: Diamonds, Hearts, Spades and Clubs. Each card exists twice in the deck (which leads to the name Doppelkopf) resulting in a total number of 240 points. In the following explanation, the more common 48-card version is assumed. The rules for the 40-card variant are the same, the only difference is that the Nines are missing.

In every game, there are two parties, called Re and Kontra. To win, the Re-party normally has to achieve 121 points or more; Kontra wins when Re fails to do so.

Preparation

Each player is dealt twelve cards, or ten in the 40-card variant. After the cards are dealt, the kind of game is determined. In non-tournament play, it is assumed that a normal game will be played and any player desiring a different game simply says so. In tournament games, a more complicated method is used to prevent players from gaining information about foreign hands.

The kinds of games that can be played only differ in what cards are considered trumps. When a player declares a game different from the normal game, (s)he alone is Re and has to play against the other three players who form Kontra. These non-standard games are, therefore, called solo games.

In the standard game, the players who hold the Queens of Clubs ("Die Alten" ("The Old Women" or "The Elders")) constitute Re, while the other two are Kontra. In these games, the actual teams are not known from the start. In case a player has both Queens of Clubs, (s)he declares Hochzeit (marriage).

Playing the cards

The player to the left of the dealer leads first; the other players follow in a clockwise direction. Each player must follow suit, that is, play a card in the same suit as the first-played card in the trick. If he cannot follow suit, he can play a trump or any other card. The player playing the highest trump or the highest card in the current suit wins the trick and plays the first card of the next trick. Since each card exists twice, there is the possibility of a tie; in that case, the first-played card wins the trick. For example, when the trick consists of ♠10 ♠A ♠9 ♠A, the player who played the first Ace of Spades wins the trick.

During the first tricks, each player may make some announcements which increase the value of the game.

After all the cards have been played, the point-values of the tricks are counted and each player in the winning party gets the game-value added to his score, while the losing players get the value subtracted.

Type of games

Choosing a Type of Game

This is sometimes referred to as Bidding in some variants - when this is referred to as bidding the section below on bidding is referred to as Announcements.

Choosing a type of game consists of a single round starting at the dealers left.

Each player says either "Gesund" (healthy), meaning that they are content to play a normal game, or "Vorbehalt" (reservation) meaning that they want to play some other type of game. If one or more players have said "Vorbehalt", they each in turn say what type of game they wish to play. Whoever has the highest ranking Vorbehalt plays their game (the first player in bidding order winning in case of a draw).

The possibilities, from lowest to highest, are:

  1. Hochzeit (marriage)
  2. voluntary Solo (various types)
  3. compulsory Solo

Normal game

Normal game
trumps (in decreasing order)
10 | ♣Q | ♠Q | Q | Q | ♣J | ♠J | J | J | A | 10 | K | 9
non-trumps (in decreasing order per suit)
Clubs Spades Hearts
♣A | ♣10 | ♣K | ♣9 ♠A | ♠10 | ♠K | ♠9 A | K | 9

The Ten of Hearts (often called Dulle) is the highest trump in every normal game as well as any color solo. Except for Hearts solo, there are actually more trumps than non-trump cards. One noteworthy result of this rule is that there are only six non-trump cards left in Hearts, making this suit more likely to be trumped in the first trick it is played.

Hochzeit (lit. Marriage)

When a player has both Queens of Clubs, he usually declares Hochzeit (lit. "marriage") and will form the Re party with the first foreign player to win a trick. Apart from this, the game is played like the normal game. If, however, the player who declares Hochzeit, makes the first three tricks, he will instead play a Diamonds solo game against the other players.

The player can also decide not to announce Hochzeit, in which case he plays a "stilles Solo" (silent solo). This is played like a normal Diamonds solo; the only difference being that the other players do not know from the start they are playing against a solo. Apart from this, the game is scored like a normal solo (times 3 for solo player, normal for all others).

Solo games

Hearts solo
trumps (in decreasing order)
10 | ♣Q | ♠Q | Q | Q | ♣J | ♠J | J | J | A | K | 9
non-trumps (in decreasing order per suit)
Clubs Spades Diamond
♣A | ♣10 | ♣K | ♣9 ♠A | ♠10 | ♠K | ♠9 A | 10 | K | 9

A player can, if he wants to, announce a solo game. These games change the status of trump cards; the player also must play against the other three players. He will get thrice game value added (or subtracted) from his scoreboard in case of a win (or a loss).

The kinds of solo games are, according to the official rules:

Bids

During play, a player may make announcements claiming that his party will succeed in achieving a specific goal. These announcements increase the game value regardless of whether they are fulfilled. If a party fails to accomplish the self-given goal, it has automatically lost.

Apart from increasing the game value, the bids fulfill the role of clarifying which side a player who makes them belongs to.

The bids that are possible are:

Each of the following announcements can only be made after Re or Kontra. If, for example, Re was said and a player of the Kontra party wants to make an announcement, he also has to announce Kontra. If Re was announced by one player and his partner wants to make an additional announcement, he also has to identify himself as being on the Re team before being able to do so.

Each announcement implies any previous announcements, for example, "keine 60" implies "keine 90" and "Re"/"Kontra", increasing the game-value by 4 (for the standard rules) points. Every bid may be countered by "Kontra" resp. "Re" when the opponents think the goal will not be met. For example, if the Re-Party announces "Re, keine 60", a reply of "Kontra" simply claims Kontra will score 60 points.

To be able to make a bid, the player must still hold a specific number of cards in his/her hands, the official rules state:

A player that has, for example, announced "Re", but not "keine 90", may not announce keine 60 with 9 cards left, because the implied "keine 90" would not be legal.

A Kontra/Re in response to a bid of the opposing party may be made until one trick later, e.g. a player can say "Kontra" in response to "Re/Keine 90" as long as he holds 9 cards, regardless of when "Re" and "Keine 90" was announced.

When, in the case of a Hochzeit, the partner is found with the second (third) trick, all players need to hold one card (two cards) less than in a normal game in order to make their announcements. Also, it is not allowed to make an announcement before a partner has been found.

Ansagen/Absagen

The official rules distinguish between "Ansagen" (announcements) and "Absagen" (lit. rejection, but probably used as a pun). There, an initial "Re" or "Kontra" is a "Ansage", and all other announcements ("keine ..." and "schwarz") are "Absagen".

Scoring

After all cards are played, each party counts the points of their tricks (since the total sum of points always is 240, in theory only one party has to count; letting both parties count serves as verification). The game value is calculated as follows:

Extra score points

Unless a solo is played, the following additional score points can be made during the game, which affect the game value. There are no extra points in a solo game, not even in a silent solo (when a Hochzeit is not announced).

Catching a fox (Fuchs)

If a party's Ace of Diamonds (dubbed the fox) is won by the opposing party, the opposing party scores an extra point.

Doppelkopf
A „Doppelkopf“ Trick

A trick containing 40 or more points (4 Volle, i.e. tens and aces) scores an extra point for the party that collected the trick.

Charlie (Karlchen)

If a party's Jack of Clubs (dubbed Charlie) wins the last trick, the party scores an extra point.

Score of each player

The game value is added to the score of each player in the winning party, and subtracted for the losing party. If the game was a solo game, the soloist gets thrice the game value added or subtracted. This rule ensures the total sum of points won/lost in a round is always zero.

Examples

The following examples show the scoring as stated in the official rules.

Tactics

Suggested tactics shown here come from the Pagat website.

Leads

The first of equal cards wins rule makes it important to lead your ace of a non-trump suit before an opponent can lead theirs, as the second round is almost certain to be trumped - there are only 8 cards in a suit (6 in hearts). Avoid leading a second round of hearts, because of the danger of giving a ruff and discard to the opponents, since there are only six cards in the suit.

Therefore, if on lead at the start, normally you would lead:

After this, try to give the lead to your partner:

Trumping

If you are trumping in, and there is a possibility of being overtrumped, trump with at least a Jack so that the fourth player cannot win with a Fox or 10 of trumps. Similarly, if trumps are led then if you are the last player of your team to play to the trick, with one or both opponents after you, play a Jack or higher if no high card has been played so far.

Announcements

It is important that you announce Re or Kontra if things seem to be going well, not only to increase the score for the game but also so that you can announce no 90 if things continue to go well.

Announcing Re or Kontra earlier than you need to, for example on your first play rather than your second, this indicates a possession of additional strength (similar in concept to jump bidding in Contract Bridge).

If on the opening lead the fourth player says Re or Kontra before second hand plays, this indicates that they are going to trump the lead and want their partner to put a valuable card on it.

Marriage Announcements

It is generally correct to announce a marriage - and rarely profitable to go solo instead.

It is desirable to partner with a marriage as your partner has at least 2 high trumps.

Leading against a marriage you might lead a ♥10 to win the trick; otherwise you could lead an ace in your shortest suit.

Solo Games

When considering a solo, the initial lead is a big advantage. Trump solos require a much stronger hand than you think ... these hands will also play well in a normal game. For an Ace solo, a five card suit to A A 10 will normally capture over 60 points. For a Queen or Jack solo 4 trumps are sufficient with a reasonable number of aces.

See also note on solo games in tournament play below.

90/60/30 announcements

Care must be taken with 90/60/30 announcements as they change the target. It can be very rash gambling 1 extra point against the possible loss of the whole game.

Tournament Play

It is highly likely that a player will not get a hand warranting a solo bid during the session. A compulsory solo, particularly towards the end, should almost always have Kontra said if declarer does not say Re to increase the game value when the soloist loses.

Variants

Armut (poverty)

A person with three or fewer trumps can say "Vorbehalt" (reservation) and then announce Armut (poverty). If no one has a better Vorbehalt, the person announcing Armut places three cards containing all the Armut player's trumps face down on the table. A player who wishes to partner (preference being given clockwise from the Armut player - if nobody wishes to partner then the hand is redealt by the same dealer) the Armut player has the right to take these three cards (without seeing them first) and then discard any three cards, which are returned to the Armut player. The returned cards may contain trumps and may include cards originally passed.

ohne Neunen (Without Nines)

Many groups remove the nines so that there are 40 cards left. This way, there are no more dummy cards and the balance between trumps and non-trumps is shifted even more towards trumps. Such a game might be called "scharfer Doppelkopf" (acute Doppelkopf) as well.

Hochzeit

Some variants allow the Hochzeit player to announce a specific kind of trick that must be taken, e.g. the first non-trump trick. However, this is usually not a good idea since it is in the interest of the Hochzeit player to find a "strong" partner, e.g. one with a Ten of Hearts.

Dullen

It may be agreed that - as the only exception - the second Ten of Hearts is considered higher than the first, if both are played in the same trick. In some variants, this is true for all but the last trick, where the first Ten of Hearts is considered higher. Playing this variant makes the game less predictable because some conventions (such as playing a Ten of Hearts in the first trick by a Re player, or to marry a Hochzeit player) cannot be used anymore.

Pflichtansage (Forced announcement)

If a player collects 30 points or more in the first trick (not counting the tricks needed to determine the partners after a Hochzeit has been announced), he has to announce either Re or Kontra. This variation is often played in games "without Nines". Some players even insist that a further announcement (i.e. 90) be made if the announcement in question has been made already. This rule is popular among recreational players in order to render the game more dynamic.

Catching a fox in the final trick

Losing an Ace of Diamonds to the opposing party in the last trick of the game may lead to two extra points (instead of one) counted against the party losing the fox.

Schweinchen (Piglet)

When one player has both Füchse (Aces of Diamond) on his hand, he announces "Schweinchen". That means, that these cards become the highest trumps in play, outranking the Dullen (Tens of Hearts) and Alten (Queens of Clubs). It may be played that a Schweinchen forces the player to an announcement of Kontra or Re. Other variants include the announcement at any point during the game, often breaking the opposing party's bid or the possibility of Super-Schweinchen, if one holds both Nines of Diamonds. In some variants only the first played fox becomes a piglet at the top of the trump suit while the second one still ranks low.

Super-Schweinchen (SuperPiglets)

Only when Schweinchen is announced does Super-Schweinchen become possible. When one player has announced Schweinchen, and a player has both nines of diamonds on his hand, the player with the nines of diamonds may announce Super-Schweinchen. That means, those nines of diamonds become the highest trumps in play, outranking the Schweinchen, the Dullen and Alten.

Lost Charlie (Karlchen)

As a variant, a Jack of Clubs may be also scored if a party loses it to the opposing team in the last trick. If a player loses their Jack of Clubs to their partner, no point is counted. Many groups play Lieschen Müller (or Karola Müller or Karlchen Killer): Only if the Queen of Diamonds catches the opponent Jack of Clubs in the last trick one point is scored. A Charlie lost to another higher Trump is not scored.

Tournament Play

Tournaments are played over a series of sessions, each of 24 deals. Each session having 20 normal hands plus 4 compulsory solos (or 25 hands with five solos for five players at a table).

Compulsory Solos

Each player must bid one "compulsory" solo during the session. He/she may bid other "lust" solos if desired. The first solo each player bids is their compulsory solo, and they lead.

Following the hand the same dealer deals again.

A compulsory solo ranks above a lust solo in the bidding; if more than one player wants to play a compulsory solo, the bidding order overrules.

Failure to bid a solo

If a player fails to bid a solo by the end of a session, an additional hand is dealt on which they must bid solo (vorführen (showing up)).

Conventions

Essener or Essen System

The Essener System is a system of conventions used in Doppelkopf in accordance with the rules of the German Doppelkopf Association.

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