|A widespread Central European trick-taking game|
Austrian accessories for keeping score in Schnapsen
|Cards||20 or 24|
|Card rank (highest to lowest)||A 10 K Q J 9|
|Playing time||15 min.|
|Marjapussi, Bezique, Pinochle|
Sixty-six or Schnapsen is a fast 5- or 6-card point-trick game of the marriage type for 2-4 players, played with 20 or 24 cards. First recorded in 1718 under the name Mariagen-Spiel, it is the national card game of Austria and also popular in Germany, Hungary and Slovenia. Also popular in Transylvania (north western Romania) where it is known as cruce (translated name as 'cross' due to the positioning of players as it is normally played in four) and it is always played with cards.
Closely related games for various numbers of players are popular all over Europe and include Czech/Slovak Mariáš, Hungarian Ulti, Finnish Marjapussi, French Bezique and American Pinochle. Together with the Jack-Nine family they form the large King-Queen family of games.
German Sixty-six is a 6-card game played with a deck of 24 cards consisting of the Ace, Ten, King, Queen, Jack and Nine, worth 11, 10, 4, 3, 2 and 0 card-points, respectively. The other major variant is Austrian Schnapsen, which does not make use of the Nines and has a hand size of 5 cards. The trump suit is determined randomly. Players each begin with a full hand and draw from the stock after each trick. The object in each deal is to be the first player to score 66 points. The cards have a total worth of 120 points, and the last trick is worth 10 points. A player who holds King and Queen of the same suit scores 20 points, or 40 points in trumps, when playing the first of them.
The table shows the cards ranked from highest to lowest and their card point value once taken.
Many central European games use this valuation. The ranking is different from standard North American ranking in that the ten ranks high, i.e. it is the second highest card after the ace.
Dealer is determined by any method acceptable to both players. The deal then alternates between players. Each player is dealt six cards and the top card of the remaining deck is turned face-up to show the trump suit. The remaining stock is placed crosswise on the trump card.
The non-dealer leads to the first trick. A trick is taken by the highest card of the suit led that is in the trick, unless the trick contains a card from the trump suit, in which case it is taken by the highest trump card in the trick. Until the stock is gone, there is no obligation to follow suit or to trump. The trick is taken by the winner, turned face down, and should not be looked at again. The winner scores the value of the two cards in the trick, as shown on the table above. Players must remember how many points they have taken since their scores may not be recorded, and they are not allowed to look back at previous tricks. Once the trick is played, the winner takes the top card of the stock to replenish his hand, then the loser does the same. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick.
The holder of the lowest trump card, the nine, can exchange it for the turned up trump. This can be done only by a player who has the lead and has won at least one trick. This exchange cannot be done in the middle of a trick. It must be done just after the players restock their hands, when no cards are in play.
On his turn when he has the lead, a player may marry a Queen-King couple of the same suit by playing one and simultaneously showing the other. Regular marriages are worth 20 card points and trump marriages are worth 40. A marriage or meld is usually announced in some way to the other player, often by saying the number of points made. The points do not count towards the player's total until he has taken at least one trick.
Once the stock is gone, with the turned up trump taken by the loser of the sixth trick, the rules of play change to become more strict. Players now must follow the suit led (winning the trick when possible), they must trump if they have no cards of the suit led, and marriages can no longer be played.
Closing indicates that the closer has a good enough hand to reach the 66-point target under the stock-depleted rules above. The player must be on lead to the next trick in order to close. It is indicated by turning over the face-up trump card, before or after taking cards to make the hands back up to 6 cards. The rules change to the strict rules given above for play after the stock is depleted. The stock is now "closed" and players do not replenish their hands, and there is no 10-point bonus for taking the last trick. If the closer reaches 66 card-points first, he scores game points as described below. If he fails to reach 66 card-points or his opponent reaches 66 card-points first, his opponent scores 2 game points, or 3 if that opponent has no tricks.
A player who thinks that the points in the tricks he or she has taken together with those from any marriages add up to 66 or more, stops the game and begins counting card points. If the player who stopped the game does not have 66 card and marriage points, then the opponent wins 2 game points, or 3 if that opponent has taken no tricks. If the player does have 66 points, then he or she wins game points as follows.
The first person to get 7 game points is the winner. These are usually tracked by showing pips on a seven covered by a face-down card.
The Austrian national two-handed variation of Sixty-six in which all the nines are removed for a 20- rather than a 24-card deck, and the hand size is reduced from six to five cards. There are several other important changes to the rules in Schnapsen from those given above for Sixty-six:
Schnapsen is considered a much tighter game than the 24-card version and is particularly popular in Austria and Hungary, where they sell specialized packs of cards called "Schnapskarten" specifically to play this game. There are many minor variations on the rules of both Schnapsen and Sixty-six, summarized and discussed in an article.
For information on winning strategy, see The Schnapsen Log and Winning Schnapsen.
North-American Sixty-six is also a partnership game which uses a 24-card pack ranking 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace. A deck can be made with the cards 8 and below removed from a standard playing card deck. The game is played by two, three or four (in teams of two). Team members sit across from each other.
Each team gets a black 6 and a red 4, used for scoring. In Polish American communities of South Bend, Indiana, the game is played to 15, so a 7 and 8 are used for scoring. There are 30 points per suit, for a total of 120 points in the deck. Points are distributed amongst the cards as shown in the table.
In addition, points are awarded to players who have a marriage or meld. In order to get the points for the meld and marriage, the king or queen must be led (i.e. the first card played in the trick) and the other card must be in the same player's hand. It is not necessary to take the trick, just to lead. But the team may only count the meld if during the course of the hand they win at least one trick. The player must announce the marriage (as "40" or "20") when leading, otherwise the player does not receive the award. 40 points are awarded for a meld/marriage in trump, 20 points are awarded for a non-trump meld.
Points are kept in 33-point increments. Score is kept up to 10 points. Although, in money games and among certain playing communities the game has always traditionally been played to 15 points.
The play to the left of the dealer initiates bidding. Bidding is done based on how many points the player thinks they will make in the hand. Each player either bids greater than the previous bid or passes. Each player bids or passes only once. The player who has the highest bid leads. Trump is determined by the first card played. Each tick on the scoresheet is 33 points. Bids are not additive. If your partner bids 1 and you bid two, the bid for that hand is 2, not 3. Since bidding is based on number of points you want to take, use the following table:
The bidding difficulty describes pre-1970s money games. Since then, innovations were made using aggressive bidding, notable in South Bend, IN. This aggressive style of play was previously discouraged by money rules which penalized losing bids: "A dollar a point, and a dollar a set." Consequently, players were not able to work out the optimal odds and circumstances favoring a more aggressive bidding style which was allowed in family friendly games where younger players were free to push the boundaries without fear of losing money (or card room brawls.)
After the players bid, the player who bid highest begins play. The first card led is automatically trump.
Players must follow suit. If a player has the ability to play higher, they must play higher. If a player does not have the led suit, but does have trump, the player must play trump. This can be a useful way of removing trump from your opponent while getting rid of low-point cards, i.e., the 9s. If the player does not have the led suit or trump, his partner is free to play any of the remaining cards.
The team that bid highest must make their bid in order to score. Failure to do so results in a reduction of points. At the end of the hand, teams count up their points and add in the points of any called marriages. If the marriage wasn't led, it isn't scored.
For the opponents, for every 33 points, score one on the scorecards. For the bidding team, if they made their bid, score one on the scorecard for every 33 points. If they were set, remove the bid from their scorecard.
In close matches, the rule is "bidders out". Meaning that if both teams pass 15 on the last hand, the team that won the bid, is the winner.
It is important to note that there is no penalty in underbidding. If a player overbids, however, his partner is set to bid again. The opposing team gets points based on what they collect. If they collect 35 points, they make one on the scorecard.
Although it is played with 24 cards, this Danish game is perhaps more properly regarded as a variant of Mariage, in that it is always played to the last trick and it uses the device of setting the trump suit by melding, which also occurs in old Mariage variants.
Each time a player melds a mariage, the trump suit changes to the suit of the meld. The first mariage is worth 20 points, the second 40 points, the third 60 points, and the fourth 80 points. Card-play after the stock has been used up is strongly restricted. Players must follow suit if possible and must win the trick if possible.
Sixty-six was widely played in the Polish American community in South Bend, Indiana, in the 1950s and '60s. There were regular tournaments and "money games". The bidding was usually conducted in Polish. The games were played with 4 players comproming two teams made of the players sitting across from one another. A three player game was known as "cut-throat" and involves seven cards per hand and a "widow" of three cards won by the first trick. Two team and cut-throat games are played to 15 points.
In the 1970s and '80s, a more aggressive bidding style was developed in familial games known as the Kromkowski style. Members of the Kromkowski family worked out odds and circumstances favoring higher bidding strategies. The strategy involves, in part, understanding what is known as "the distribution" or "the card distribution". What is in your hand and the bids made by other players, provides information to make guesses about what is in other hands. The process is remarkably similar to a hidden Markov model (HMM), a statistical model in which the system being modeled is assumed to be a Markov process with unknown parameters, and the challenge is to determine the hidden parameters (the other hands) from the observable parameters (your hand and the bids).