A picture of four Unters of German cards
|Skills required||Hand evaluation, counting, cooperation|
|Deck||German or French|
|Card rank (highest to lowest)||(J) A 10 K Q 9 8 7
A K Q J 10 9 8 7 (only for Null-Games)
|Playing time||5-10 minutes per hand played|
Skat (German pronunciation: ) is a 3-player trick-taking card game devised in early 19th-century Germany. Along with Doppelkopf it is the most popular card game in Germany and Silesia.
Skat was developed by the members of the Brommesche Tarok-Gesellschaft between 1810 and 1817 in Altenburg, in what is now the Federated State of Thuringia, Germany, based on the three-player game of Tarock, also known as Tarot, and the four-player game of Schafkopf (the American equivalent being Sheepshead). It has become the most loved and widely played German card game, especially in German-speaking regions. In the earliest known form of the game, the player in the first seat was dealt twelve cards and the other two players ten each. He then made two discards, constituting the Skat, and announced a contract. But the main innovation of this new game was that of the bidding process.
The first book on the rules of Skat was published in 1848 by a secondary school teacher J. F. L. Hempel. Nevertheless, the rules continued to differ from one region to another until the first attempt to set them in order was made by a congress of Skat players on 7 August 1886 in Altenburg. These were the first official rules finally published in a book form in 1888 by Theodor Thomas of Leipzig. The current rules, followed by both the ISPA and the German Skat Federation, date from Jan. 1, 1999.
The word Skat is a Tarok term derived from the Italian word scarto, scartare, which means to discard or reject, and its derivative scatola, a box or a place for safe-keeping. The word scarto is still used in some other Italian card games to this day, and in some German works the word is found spelled scat.
Note: Because of the many variations in the rules of Skat, the rules below are necessarily general, although rules not found in official German tournament play are marked as such.
Skat is a game for three players. At the beginning of each round, one player becomes declarer and the other two players become the defending team. The two defenders are not allowed to communicate in any way except by their choice of cards to play. The game can also be played by four players. In this case, the dealer will sit out the round that was dealt.
A central aspect of the game are the three coexisting varieties called “Suit", “Grand" and “Null" game, that differ in suit order, scoring and even overall goal to achieve.
Each round of the game starts with a bidding phase to determine declarer and the required minimum Game Value (explained below). Then, ten tricks are played, allowing players to take trick points. Each card has a face value (except in Null games) and is worth that number of points for the player winning the trick. The total face value of all cards is 120 points. Declarer's goal is to take at least 61 points in tricks in order to win that round of the game. Otherwise, the defending team wins the round. Points from tricks are not directly added to the players' overall score, they are used only to determine the outcome of the game (win or loss for declarer), although winning by certain margins may increase the score for that round.
After each round a score is awarded in accordance with the Game Value. If declarer wins he is awarded a positive score, if he loses the score is doubled and subtracted from declarer's tally (i.e. a negative score).
The French deck consists of 32 cards which are Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8 and 7 in all four suits (Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds). Some players in Eastern and Southern Germany and Austria prefer German decks with the suits of Acorns, Leaves, Hearts and Bells. The 32 cards in the German deck are Daus (2), King, Ober, Unter, 10, 9, 8, and 7 in all four suits. Until recently in Saxony and Thuringia, for example, German-suited decks were used almost exclusively. By contrast, regions of the former West Germany had adopted a French-suited (♣♠♥♦) deck (of which the Anglo-American deck is a variant).
Since German reunification, a compromise Turnierbild deck is used in tournaments that uses the shapes of the French suits but with corresponding German suit colors, notably green Spades ♠ and yellow Diamonds ♦. The choice of deck does not affect the rules.
At the beginning of each round each player is dealt ten cards, with the two remaining cards (the so-called Skat) being put face down in the middle of the table. Dealing follows this pattern: deal three cards each, then deal the Skat, then four cards each, then three cards again (“three-Skat-four-three”). In four-player rounds, the dealer does not receive any cards and skips actual play of the round. He or she may peek into the hand of one other player (if allowed to do so) but never into the Skat.
Dealing rotates clockwise around the table, so that the player sitting to the left of the dealer will be dealer for the next round.
After the cards have been dealt, and before the deal is played out, a bidding or auction (German: Reizen) is held to decide:
The goal for each player during the bidding is to bid a Game Value as high as his or her card holding would allow, but never higher than necessary to win the auction. How the actual Game Value is determined is explained in detail below and is necessary to understand in order to know how high one can safely bid.
It is possible for a player to overbid, which leads to an automatic loss of the game in question. Often this does not become obvious before the player picks up the Skat, or even not before the end of the game in question (in case of a Hand game, when the Skat is not picked up). Players have therefore to exercise careful scrutiny during bidding, as not to incur an unnecessary loss.
The bidding may also give away some information about what cards a player may or may not hold. Experienced players will be able to use this to their advantage.
The Game Value (also called Hand Value) (German: Spielwert) is what the game will be worth after all tricks have been played. It is determined not only by the 10 cards held, but also by the two-card Skat. The Skat always belongs to the declarer, and if it contains certain high cards this may change the Game Value. It is therefore not possible in general to determine the exact Game Value before knowing the Skat.
The Game Value is determined by the type of the game and the Game Level as explained below for the Suit, Grand and Null games.
In a Suit game (German: Farbspiel), one of the four suits is the trump suit.
Each suit has a Base Value, as follows:
This Base Value is then multiplied by the multiplier Game Level (German: Spielstufe or Gewinngrad) to determine the Game Value, i.e
Game Value = Base Value x Game Level.
The multiplier Game Level of 1 (for becoming declarer) is always assumed. It is then increased by one for each of the following:
In case of a Hand game (declarer does not pick up the Skat), the following special cases are allowed. Each one increases the multiplier Game Level by another point:
To summarize in tabular form:
|Ordinary Skat game||Hand game|
|Matadors jack strait (with or without)||1 each||1 each|
|Game (for becoming declarer)||1||1|
|Hand (the Skat is not picked up)||n/a||1|
|Schneider (win with 90 or more points)||1||1|
|Schwarz (win all tricks)||1||1|
|Ouvert (declarer plays with open hand)||n/a||1|
n/a = not applicable
Cards in the trump suit are ordered as follows (this is important to know when counting the length of the Matadors jack strait):
The Jack of Clubs is the highest-ranking card in a Suit game and is called in German "der Alte" ("the old man").
The non-trump suit cards are ranked A-10-K-Q-9-8-7.
As mentioned above, the cards in the Skat are to be included when determining the multiplier Game Level (also in case of the Hand game, where the Skat is unknown until after the deal has been played out). During bidding, each player therefore has incomplete information regarding the true Game Value. The final Game Value is calculated by multiplying the Base Value for the suit by the multiplier Game Level:
Grand is a special case of Suit game, in which only the Jacks are trumps in the same order as in the Suit game:
All other cards are ranked the same as in a Suit game: A-10-K-Q-9-8-7.
The Base Value for the Grand game is 24 in the official rules. It used to be 20 until 1932, and many hobbyists continued to use 20 well into the postwar era.
All other rules for determining Game Value are as in a Suit game, i.e. the Base Value of 24 is multiplied by the multiplier Game Level.
In the Null game, declarer promises not to take any tricks at all. There is no trump suit and jacks are treated as normal suit cards sorted between 10 and queen. Thus the cards are ordered: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7. The Game Values of Null games are fixed, as follows:
The following examples give a player's holding and the contents of the Skat (which will be unknown to all players during the auction) and explain how to derive the Game Value.
Holding: ♣J ♦J - ♥ A 10 K 8 7 - ♦ 9 8 7
Skat: ♠ A Q
The length of Matadors jack strait will be 1 (♣J is present, ♠J is missing). The multiplier Game Level will be 2 (1 for Matadors jack strait plus 1 for becoming declarer).
The possible Game Value now depends on which game is declared, for example:
Of course, many other possibilities exist.
Note that Game Value is dependent not only on the cards held (including the Skat) but also on which game is being declared and the outcome of the play. Each holding can thus be evaluated differently by different players. A risk-taking player might be willing to declare Hand on a holding on which another player might not - these two players will therefore give different valuations to the same holding. However, after all tricks have been played, it is always possible to determine the exact Game Value by combining the actual holding with the type of game and outcome of the play. Only then it becomes apparent if declarer has won or lost (if he overbid).
Holding: ♣J ♠J ♥J - ♥ A 10 K 8 7 - ♣ 10 7
Skat: ♦J ♠ Q
Assuming a trump suit of Hearts in a Suit game, this holding will have a different valuation before and after the Skat has been examined.
Without knowledge of the Skat (assuming Hand is not declared)
This holding can be safely valuated at 40 (10x4), regardless of the Skat. With Hearts as trump, the Game Value will always be at least that much.
Now, assuming declarer wins by taking 95 points in tricks, after having declared Hand and Schneider, the actual Game Value will be as follows:
The player could have bid up to that value (110) during the auction. In practice this would have been too risky because only the ♦J in the Skat increased the length of Matadors jack strait to 7.
Note: Most players will declare a Grand game with the above hand, as it will be much more lucrative than a Suit game in Hearts (declarer will concede at most two Club tricks, probably achieving Schneider for a Game Value of at least 144 (24x6)).
Now for the special cases: If you think you can do more than just win, you can add points for the special cases.
The highest possible multiplier Game Level is 18: that is with (or without) four jacks and all seven cards of trump suit (including those in the Skat, if any) 11, plus the maximum of 7 for becoming declarer, Hand, Schneider, declaring Schneider, Schwarz, declaring Schwarz and Ouvert. The lowest possible multiplier Game Level is 2: either with the Jack of Clubs or without the Jack of Clubs and with the Jack of Spades 1, plus 1 for becoming declarer.
The order of bidding is determined by the seating order. Starting from the left of the dealer players are numbered clockwise: the first seat (German: Vorhand), the second seat (German: Mittelhand) and the third seat (German: Hinterhand). In a three-player game, the dealer will be the third seat. In a four-player game the third seat will be to the right of the dealer.
Bidding starts by the player in second seat making a call to the player in first seat on which the latter can hold or pass. If the first seat player holds, the second seat player can make a higher call or pass himself. This continues until either of the two players passes. The player in third seat is then allowed to continue making calls to the player who has not yet passed. Bidding ends as soon as at least two players have passed. It is also possible for all three players to pass.
The starting order can be memorized as “deal - respond - bid - continue” (German: “geben - hören - sagen - weitersagen”). The player who “continues” in this mnemonic is either the dealer (in a three-player game) or the player in third seat. The mnemonic is commonly used among casual players.
Example: Alice, Bob and Carole are playing, and seated in that order around the table. Alice deals the cards. Carole makes the first call to Bob, who passes right away. Alice then makes two more calls to Carole, who accepts both bids. Alice then passes as well. The bidding ends, with Carole being the declarer for this round.
The calling player (i.e. the player currently calling the bids) may either
The responding player (i.e. the player currently responding to the bidder) may either
Responder must wait for caller to bid or pass before passing herself.
Except for "pass", only the possible Game Values are legal calls. Therefore, the lowest possible call is 18, which is the lowest possible Game Value in Skat. Players are free to skip intermediate values, although it is common to always pick the lowest available call while bidding.
The sequence of possible Game Values through 60, beginning with 18 is 18 - 20 - 22 - 23 - 24 - 27 - 30 - 33 - 35 - 36 - 40 - 44 - 45 - 46 - 48 - 50 - 54 - 55 - 59 - 60 (higher bids are possible albeit rare in a competitive auction). Among German players the values representing Null games, especially 23, the most common one, are often replaced by the call “Null”. Also, numbers are frequently abbreviated by only calling the lower digit of a value not divisible by 10 (e.g. “two” instead of “twenty-two” or “five” instead of “forty-five”); this is unambiguous if values are always called out in order and intermediate values never skipped, as is the custom.
If all players pass, the hand is not played and the next dealer shuffles and deals. A dealer never deals twice in a row.
It is common in informal play to play a variant of Skat called Ramsch (junk, rummage) instead of skipping the hand and dealing for the next one. This is not part of the sanctioned rules, however.
In a pass-out game, the player in first seat will be the last one to pass. If that player intends to become declarer, however, he has to make a call of at least 18 (picking up the Skat in that situation implies the call).
Players Alice, Bob and Carol are seated in that order, clockwise; Alice is the dealer. The auction proceeds as follows (initial of player name in parentheses): “18” (C), “accept” (B), “20” (C), “accept” (B), “22” (C), “pass” (B), “23” (A), “accept” (C), “24” (A), “accept” (C), “pass” (A).
On this deal, Carol will be declarer with a final bid of 24 (the last bid accepted by Carol).
The winner of the auction becomes declarer. He will play against the other two players. Before the hand is played, declarer either
In either case the two cards in the Skat count towards declarer's trick points.
After putting two cards back into the Skat, declarer then either declares a Suit game by announcing a trump suit, declares a Grand game or a Null game.
If Hand has been declared, the player may make additional announcements such as Schneider, Schwarz and Ouvert.
A common variant in non-sanctioned play allows the defenders to announce “Kontra!” just before the first trick is played, if they have made or held at least one call. In this case, the stakes will be doubled for the hand. Declarer, in turn, may announce “Re!”, to re-double the stakes. In a less common further variation this process can be repeated twice more by announcing "Bock" and "Hirsch".
The player in the first seat sitting to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. The other two follow in clockwise direction. Every player plays one card to the trick, which is in the middle of the table. The winner of a trick stacks the cards face-down in front of him and leads to the next trick, which is again played clockwise.
The players must play a card in the same suit as the first card of the trick, if possible (“following suit”). If a player cannot follow suit, he may play any card (including a trump card). Trumps, including all four jacks, count as a single suit. If a trump is led, every player must also play trump, if he has any.
If there are trump cards in the trick, the highest trump in it wins the trick. If there are no trumps in it, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick.
The non-trump suit cards rank in order A-10-K-Q-9-8-7. The trumps rank the same way with the four jacks on top in the order ♣J, ♠J, ♥J, ♦J.
Completed tricks are kept face down in front of the players who won them, until all the cards have been played. Examining completed tricks (except for the last one) is not allowed. The tricks of the two players who are playing together are put together, either during or after play.
In the Grand game, only the four Jacks are trumps in the suit order given above for a regular Suit game. All other ranks are the same as in the regular Suit game (10 is ranked just below the Ace). There are thus five "Suits" in the Grand game (if a Jack is led to a trick, the other two players must play jacks too, if they have them).
In a Null game there is no trump suit, and in each suit the cards are ranked A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7.
The goal of a Null game is for declarer not to take any tricks. If declarer takes a trick in a Null game, he immediately loses and the game is scored right away.
Declarer may, unilaterally, concede a loss while he is holding at least nine cards (i.e. before playing to the second trick). Afterwards approval of at least one defender is required. Defenders may concede at any time, but may be requested by declarer to complete the play (e.g. if declarer thinks that Schneider or Schwarz is still possible).
Claiming of remaining tricks is possible as well, but for a defender only if she would be able to take the remaining tricks herself.
A game in which the necessary trick points have been won can not be lost, regardless of claims.
After the last trick has been played, the game is scored. Winning conditions for Null game are different from Suit and Grand games.
To win a Suit or Grand game, declarer needs at least 61 card points in his tricks. If declarer announced Schneider, he needs at least 90 card points in order to win. The two cards in the Skat count towards declarer's tricks. If declarer announced Schwarz, he must take all ten tricks in order to win.
The highest-ranking cards for taking the tricks (the Jacks) are not the highest scoring cards. The Aces and Tens combined make up almost three quarters of the total points; taking as many as possible of them is thus imperative for winning. On the other hand, taking 7s, 8s and 9s doesn't help (or hurt) at all, unless Schwarz was declared.
To win a Null game, declarer must not take a single trick. Null games are often not played through to the end, either because declarer is forced to take a trick, ending the game prematurely, or because it becomes apparent to the defenders that they will be forced to take the rest of the tricks. There are no card points in a Null game.
Even with the majority in card points, declarer may still lose if the Game Value is lower than the value he bid during the auction. This is called “overbidding”. An overbid hand is automatically lost, leading to a negative score for declarer.
An overbid hand is scored by determining the lowest possible Game Value that is a multiple of the Base Value of declarer's suit (or 24 in case of a Grand) which is at least as high as declarer's bid. This value is then doubled and subtracted from declarer's score (negative score).
Example: Declarer bid to 30, missing the two top trumps (without 2), intending to play a Club Suit game (Game Value would be 12x3=36). She then finds the ♣J in the Skat (with 1). Her Game Value is now only 24 (12x2) - she has overbid. Unless she manages to play at least Schneider (raising the Game Value to 36), or makes a game other than Clubs with a Game Value of at least 30, the game will be lost. She will receive a negative score of -72 (36 is the lowest multiple of 12, the Base Value of Clubs, greater than the 30 she bid; 36 times two is 72). She can try to minimize her loss by declaring a game in Hearts instead of Clubs (Base Value 10 instead of 12). This will be worth only -60 points, unless opponents score Schneider against her…
The score is always assigned to the declarer (positive or negative).
The score to be awarded is the actual Game Value. How high the player bid during the auction is immaterial, as long as the Game Value is at least as high as declarer's bid (see Overbid Hands above). Note that often the score will be higher than the auction value, because players typically do not bid as high as their hand would allow.
For a won game, that score is added to declarer's tally. For a lost game, the score is doubled and subtracted from declarer's tally (negative score).
Until 1998, lost hand games did not count double, but this rule was dropped in that year. The reason was that in tournament play nearly all games played were Hand games. This increased the Game Level by one, but did not penalize as much as a normal game would have if lost.
In league games, a fixed number of points is added for each game that is won by the declarer to lower the chance factor and to stress the skill factor. In that situation, it becomes far more important for each player to bid his hand as high as possible.
Example 1: Declarer bids to 20 and declares a Grand game. He then wins with 78 points in tricks. Declarer held the ♣J, ♠J and ♦J. The Game Value is 24x(2+1) = 72 points. These are awarded to declarer.
Example 2: Declarer bids to 30 and declares a Null Ouvert game. She, however, is forced to take the ninth trick, losing the game. The Game Value is 46, it will be doubled and subtracted from her total score (-92 points).
Ramsch (rubbish) is not part of sanctioned Skat rules, but is widely practiced in hobbyist rounds, and is the variant most often suggested to be officially sanctioned. It is played if all three players pass in the bidding. There is no declarer in Ramsch; every player plays for himself, and the goal is to achieve as low a score as possible. The idea behind Ramsch is to punish players who underbid their hands.
To make Ramsch more interesting, an additional rule is often played that adds a second winning condition: the Ramsch is also won by a player if that player manages to take all tricks (German: Durchmarsch). At first, this seems to be not too difficult, since the other players will initially try to take as few tricks as possible and to get rid of their high-ranking cards. Once they get suspicious, however, they may thwart the effort simply by taking one trick from the player trying for the Durchmarsch.
Suit ranks in Ramsch is the same as in the Grand game, with only the four Jacks being trumps.
Hobby players often add the following rule: 10s are lower in trick taking power than Queens and Kings, but still count as ten points. Sometimes, they only count one point. There are a couple of variants to the rules concerning 10s, so this should be sorted out before starting the game. Often, the players are allowed to check and exchange cards with the skat, or decline to do so and pass the skat on to the next player, doubling the score (German: Schieberamsch). Jacks are not allowed to be passed on in this variation. The two cards in the Skat are usually added to the tricks of the player who takes the last trick. After all ten tricks are played, the player with the highest number of card points (or alternatively, every player) has their card points amount deducted from their score as negative game points. If one player takes no tricks at all (Jungfrau, English: virgin), the points of the losing hand are doubled. Some players also give a fixed value of 15 negative points to the loser and if there are two "virgins", 20.
It's possible to play a modified version of the game with only two players. The cards that would be dealt to a third player are simply laid down as a “dummy” hand instead and not used.
A popular two-player variant is called Strohmann (strawman), in which the dummy hand is played by the player who loses bidding. After the game has been declared, the third hand is flipped and can be seen by the other players. Thus, it is possible to predict what hand the opponent has and play much more strategically. It is sometimes used to teach new players the principles of Skat.
Officer's skat (German: Offiziersskat) is a variant for two players. Each player gets 16 cards on the table in front of him, 8 facing down and 8 on top of each of them with face shown. Bidding is replaced by declaring a game type and trump by the companion. When a top card is played, the hidden card is uncovered, making a total of 16 tricks in that game. Scoring is like normal skat.
Skat in the United States and Canada was played for many years as an older version of the game, also known as Tournee Skat, which shares most of its rules with its modern European counterpart with the addition of a few different games and an alternate system of scoring. Tournee Skat is declining in popularity. Most tournament Skat players in North America play the modern game described above.
Upon determining the game, declarer may also state that he or she intends to Schneider or Schwarz for extra game points or penalties.
Card points are the same as in German Skat: A=11, 10=10, K=4, Q=3. J=2 and all other cards have no value. The game points, however, are a bit different. Base value for the different games are as follows:
As in German skat, game points in North American Skat are tallied by multiplying base game value by:
Note that if Schneider or Schwarz are declared but not made, then the contract is not met and declarer loses the amount that he or she would have won if successful. The above multipliers do not figure into games played null or ramsch.
League games are organized worldwide: