Skat is the national card game of Germany, and one of the best card games for 3 players. It was invented around 1810 in the town of Altenburg, about 40km south of Leipzig, Germany, by the members of the Brommesche Tarok-Gesellschaft. They adapted the existing local game Schafkopf by adding features of the then popular games Tarok and l'Hombre. Altenburg is still considered the home of Skat and has a fountain dedicated to the game.
Note: Skat is not to be confused with the American game Scat - a simple draw and discard game in which players try to collect 31 points in a three card hand.
The main description on this page is based on the current version of the official German and International rules (which were revised on 1st January 1999). In social games many variations will be encountered. In Skat clubs in Germany, the game is generally played as described here, though often with tournament scoring. In parts of the USA other versions of Skat survive: Texas Skat is fairly close to the German game but in Wisconsin they play a significantly different game: Tournée Skat, which was brought by immigrants from Germany in the 19th century and reflects the form of Skat which was played in Germany at that time.
Skat is a three-handed trick taking game. It is also quite often played by four people, but there are still only 3 active players in each hand; the dealer sits out. Each active player is dealt 10 cards and the remaining two form the skat. Each hand begins with an auction. The winner of the bidding becomes the declarer, and plays alone against the other two players in partnership. The declarer has the right to use the two skat cards to make a better hand, and to choose the trump suit.
Some cards have point values, and the total number of card points in the pack is 120. To win, the declarer has to take at least 61 card points in tricks plus skat; the opponents win if their combined tricks contain at least 60 card points. Instead of naming a trump suit the declarer can choose to play Grand (jacks are the only trumps) or Null (no trumps and the declarer's object is to lose all the tricks).
The value of the game, in game points, depends on the trumps chosen, the location of the top trumps (matadors) and whether the declarer used the skat. Declarer generally wins the value of the game if successful, and loses the game value (doubled if the skat was exchanged) if unsuccessful. In is important to realise that in Skat the card points, which generally determine whether the declarer wins or loses, are quite separate from the game points, which determine how much is won or lost.
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Skat was originally played with German suited cards, and these are still in general use in South and East Germany, including Altenburg. Elsewhere, Skat is played with French suited cards. 32 cards are used: A K Q J 10 9 8 7 in each suit. In this article French suits are assumed, but in case you are using German suited cards the correspondence is as follows:
|Abbreviation||French Suits||German Suits|
|clubs (Kreuz)||acorns (Eichel)|
|spades (Pik)||leaves (Grün)|
|hearts (Herz)||hearts (Rot)|
|diamonds (Karo)||bells (Schellen)|
|K||king (König)||king (König)|
|Q||queen (Dame)||ober (Ober)|
|J||jack (Bube)||unter (Unter)|
The ranking of the cards depends on the game the declarer chooses to play.
In suit games and Grand, the cards have the following values:
The total value in the pack is 120 card points.
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The first dealer is chosen at random; thereafter the turn to deal rotates clockwise. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer deals a batch of three cards to each player, then two cards face down in the centre of the table to form the skat, then a batch of four cards to each player, and finally another batch of three cards each. If there are four players at the table, the dealer deals to the other three players only, and takes no further part in the hand.
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Each bid is a number which is the value in game points of some possible game (see below for calculation of game values). The possible bids are therefore 18, 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 30, 33, 35, 36, 40, 44, 45, 46, 48, 50, 54, 55, 59, 60, etc. If you bid or accept a bid it means you are prepared to play a contract of at least that value in game points.
The player to the dealer's left is called forehand (F), the player to forehand's left is middlehand (M), and the player to middlehand's left is rearhand (R). If there are three players at the table R is the dealer; if there are four R is to dealer's right. Throughout the bidding F is senior to M who is senior to R. The principle is that a senior player only has to equal a junior player's bid to win the auction, whereas a junior player has to bid higher than a senior player to win.
The first part of the auction takes place between F and M. M speaks first, either passing or bidding a number. There is no advantage in making a higher than necessary bid so M will normally either pass or begin with the lowest bid: 18. If M bids a number, F can either give up the chance to be declarer by saying "pass" or compete by saying "yes", which means that F bids the same number that M just bid. If F says "yes", M can say "pass", or continue the auction with a higher bid, to which F will again answer "yes" or "pass". This continues until either F or M drops out of the auction by passing - once having passed you get no further opportunity to bid on that hand.
The second part of the auction is similar to the first part, but takes place between R and the survivor of the first part (i.e. whichever of F and M did not pass. As the junior player, R either passes or bids a succession of numbers, the first of which must be higher than any number mentioned in the first part of the auction. To each number bid by R, the survivor must answer "yes" or "pass". The winner of the second part of the auction becomes the declarer, and the bid is the last number the declarer said or accepted.
If both M and R pass without having bid, then F can either be declarer at the lowest bid (18), or can throw in the cards without play. If the cards are thrown in there is no score for the hand, and the next dealer deals.
1. F M R 18 yes 20 yes pass (F wins first part) 22 yes 23 yes 24 pass (R is declarer in 24) 2. F M R pass (F wins first part) 18 yes pass (F is declarer in 18) 3. F M R 18 pass (M wins first part) 20 pass (R is declarer in 20)
To remember whose turn it is to start the bidding, German players sometimes say "geben, hören, sagen" (deal, listen, speak), pointing in turn to dealer, forehand and middlehand. If middlehand forgets to begin, forehand can start proceedings by saying "I'm forehand" or "I'm listening", or "Speak to me!".
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If you win the bidding you are entitled to pick up the two skat cards, add them to your hand without showing them to the other players, and discard any two cards face down. The cards discarded may include one or both of the cards picked up, and their value counts along with your tricks. Having discarded, you declare your game. If you looked at the skat, your contract is a skat game. There are seven possibilities:
Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, Clubs (in which the named suit is trumps and the declarer tries to take at least 61 card points),
Grand (in which the jacks are the only trumps and the declarer tries to take at least 61 card points),
Null (in which there are no trumps and the declarer tries to lose every trick),
Null Ouvert (Open Null) (like Null but with declarer's cards are exposed).
You may choose not to look at the skat cards, but to play with the 10 cards you were originally dealt. If you don't look at the skat you are playing a hand game, and again there are seven possibilities: Diamonds Hand, Hearts Hand, Spades Hand, Clubs Hand, Grand Hand, Null Hand and Null Ouvert Hand. In this case no one must look at the skat cards until after the play.
If you are declarer in a Suit Hand or Grand Hand game, you can increase the value of the game by announcing Schneider (undertaking to win at least 90 card points), or Schwarz (undertaking to win all the tricks), or Open (Ouvert) (undertaking to win all the tricks with your cards exposed). Such announcements must be made before the lead to the first trick. These announcements are not allowed if declarer has looked at the skat. Also (obviously) they do not apply in Null games.
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Play is clockwise. No matter who is the declarer, forehand always leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if they can. A player with no card of the suit led may play any card. Note that in Suit and Grand games the jacks belong to the trump suit, not to the suits marked on them. For example if hearts are trumps, the jack of clubs is the highest heart, and has nothing whatever to do with the club suit.
A trick is won by the highest card of the suit led, unless it contains a trump, in which case the highest trump wins it. The winner of a trick leads to the next.
If you are declarer in a Suit or Grand game you win if the cards in your tricks plus the skat contain at least 61 card points. The opponents win if their combined tricks contain at least 60 card points.
If the declarer's opponents take 30 points or fewer in tricks, they are Schneider. If they take 31 or more they are said to be out of Scheider. If they take no tricks at all, they are Schwarz. The same applies to the declarer - as declarer, you are Schneider if you win 30 card points or less including the skat, and Schwarz if you lose every trick. Note that Schwarz depends on tricks not points - if a side wins just one trick and it has no card points in it, that is sufficient to get them out of Schwarz.
If you are declarer in Null or Null Ouvert, you win the game if you manage to lose every trick. If you take a trick, you have lost and the play of the hand ceases at that point.
If you are declarer in an Open (Ouvert) contract - i.e. you are playing Null Ouvert or have announced Open in a Suit or Grand contract - you have to spread out your hand face up on the table before the lead to the first trick. Play then proceeds normally, and you play from your exposed hand. The opponents are not allowed to discuss tactics.
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The value of a Suit or Grand contract is obtained by multiplying together two numbers: the base value and the multiplier. The base value depends on the trump suit as follows:
The multiplier is the sum of all applicable items from the following table:
|Multiplier||Skat game||Hand game|
|Matadors (with or against)||1 each||1 each|
|Game (always applies)||1||1|
|Hand (declarer did not look at the skat)||n/a||1|
|Schneider (one side took 90 or more card points)||1||1|
|Schwarz (one side took every trick)||1||1|
|(n/a = not applicable)|
Note that all applicable multipliers count - for example
Open contracts are extremely rare: you can only play open if you did not look at the skat and you also undertake to win every trick. By implication, an open contract includes announcements of Schneider and Schwarz,so you count: matadors, game, Hand, Schneider, Schneider announced, Schwarz, Schwarz announced, and Open.
The jack of clubs and any top trumps in unbroken sequence with it are called matadors. If as declarer you have such a sequence in your original hand plus the skat, you are with that number of matadors. If there is such a sequence in the opponents' combined hands, declarer is against that number of matadors.
|Examples of matadors (Hearts are trumps)|
|Declarer has:||Declarer is:|
|J, J, J, A, 10, Q, 9||with 1|
|J, J, J, J, A, 10, K||with 7|
|J, J, A, K, Q, 7||against 1|
|J, A, 10, K, Q, 7||against 3|
Note that for the purposes of matadors, cards in the skat count as part of declarer's hand, even though in a Hand game declarer does not know what is in the skat when choosing the game.
The game multiplier is always counted, whether declarer wins or loses. The calculation of the value of a game sounds something like this: "with 2, game 3, Schneider 4, 4 times spades is 44". The declarer must always be with or against at least one matador (the jack of clubs must be somewhere), so the smallest possible multiplier is 2, and the smallest possible game value (and the lowest possible bid) is 18.
These are easy to score. Each possible Null contract has a fixed value unaffected by multipliers. As with all contracts, an unsuccessful declarer loses twice the value of the game. The Null values are:
|Contract||Fixed Value||Amount lost if unsuccessful|
|Null Ouvert Hand||.....||59||.....||118|
These rather eccentric looking numbers are chosen to fit between the other contract values, each being slightly below a multiple of 12. (Before the rule change of 1st Jan 1999, Null Hand cost only 35 when lost and Null Ouvert Hand cost only 59 - see scoring variations.)
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If declarer wins the game and the value of the game is as least as much as the bid, then the value of the game is added to the declarer's cumulative score.
If the declarer loses the game and the value of the game is as least as much as the bid, then twice the value of the game is subtracted from the declarer's score.
If the value of the declarer's game turns out to be less than the bid then the declarer automatically loses - it does not matter how many card points were taken. The amount subtracted from the declarer's score is twice the least multiple of the base value of the game actually played which would have fulfilled the bid.
Note that the above are the official rules as from 1st January 1999. Before then, scores for lost games played from the hand were not doubled (see scoring variations).
If as declarer you announce Schneider but take less than 90 card points, or if you announce Schwarz or Open and lose a trick, you lose, counting all the multipliers you would have won if you had succeeded.
Example: Middlehand holds J, J, 10, K, 9, 8, A, A, 10, 7, and decides to play Clubs Hand. This should normally be worth 48 game points ("against 2, game 3, hand 4, 4 time clubs is 48"). Rearhand has a Null Ouvert and bids up to 46, to which M says yes. M plays clubs hand and takes 74 card points (including the skat cards), but unfortunately the skat contains J, Q. M is therefore with 1 matador (not against 2 as expected), and the game is worth only 36 ("with 1, game 2, hand 3 times clubs"), which is less than the bid. M therefore loses 96 game points (twice the 48 points which would be the minimum value in clubs which would fulfill the bid). Had M taken (say) 95 card points, the Schneider multiplier would have increased the value of the game to 48 ("with 1, game 2, hand 3, schneider 4 times clubs") and M would have won 48 game points.
Normally a running total of each player's score is kept on paper. At the end of a session (to be fair, each player should have dealt an equal number of times), the players settle up according to the differences between their scores. Between each pair of players, the one with the lower score pays the one with the higher score the difference in their scores multiplied by the stake.
Example: A, B and C are playing for 5 Pfennig a point. At the end the scores are A: 96, B: 30, C: -8. Then B pays A 66 x 0.05 = 3.30, C pays A 104 x 0.05 = 5.20, and C pays B 38 x 0.05 = 1.90. So the net result is that A wins DM 8.50, B loses DM 1.40 and C loses DM 7.10.
A side effect of the method of scoring is that if there are four players at the table, the dealer of a hand is effectively against the declarer, winning or losing the same as the declarer's opponents.
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In tournaments organised by the Deutscher Skatverband, the game is played with four players at each table (with dealer sitting out of each hand) wherever possible. A session generally consists of 48 deals. A small number of three-player tables may be formed if necessary, depending on the number of players in the tournament; at these table 36 deals are played.
The scoring is modified somewhat to reduce the difference in value between the different contracts. At the end of the session, the following additional scores are calculated:
In 2001 an improvement in scoring at 4-player tables was suggested, by which when a contract is lost the declarer loses an extra 50 points (as usual), and the two active opponents each gain 40 points (instead of 30); with this scoring the inactive dealer at a 4-player table does not gain points when a contract is defeated.
This variation is very widely played in social games. Either opponent of the declarer, at any time before they play their card to the first trick, may say kontra. This doubles the score for the contract, whether won or lost. The declarer may immediately answer with rekontra, which doubles the score again.
Note that it is the score that is doubled, not the value of the contract. For example suppose I bid up to 20, look at the skat, and play in diamonds. I am only with one matador, but am hoping to make the opponents schneider. One of the opponents says Kontra, and in the play I win 85 card points. As I am with 1, the game value is 18, so I have overbid (the Kontra does not affect this). So I lose based on the lowest multiple of diamonds which would have been sufficient, namely 27. I lose double because I looked at the skat and the score is doubled again for the Kontra, so I lose 108 game points altogether.
There is some variation as to when Kontra and Rekontra can be said. Some play that Kontra can only be said before the first lead (and a declarer who is Forehand must wait before leading to give the opponents an opportunity to Kontra).
A variation occasionally met with is that you are not allowed to Kontra if you passed an opportunity to bid 18 or say yes to 18. For example, A is forehand, B bids 18 to A and A passes; C also passes. A will not now be allowed to kontra B's contract, because A failed to say yes to B's 18 bid. On the other hand, C can Kontra, because C would have had to say at least 20 to enter the bidding - C never had an opportunity to bid 18. The thinking behind this variation is that a player with a good hand should bid - they should not be allowed to pass and lie in wait, ready to Kontra another player.
This is also very widely played. If Middlehand and Rearhand pass, and Forehand also does not want to play a contract, the cards are not thrown in, but a game of Ramsch is played. Ramsch can be thought of as a punishment for a player who does not bid with good cards. The rank and value of the cards is the same as in Grand, but the object is to avoid taking card points. Players keep their tricks individually, and whoever takes the most card points loses.
There are many varieties of Ramsch. The players need to agree in advance on the following rules:
If you like playing Ramsch, it is possible to play it as a game in its own right. That is, you just play Ramsch on every hand. See the Schieberamsch page for a description of how this works.
A Bockround is a round (i.e. 3 consecutive deals when there are 3 players; 4 deals when there are 4 players) played for double stakes (i.e. double scores). Note that this doubling only affects the final scores on the scoresheet; the bids and game values are unaffected. It is usual to play a Bockround after some special event; the events which cause a Bockround should be agreed before the game. Possibilities are:
If you play with Bockrounds, you also need to agree the following rules:
Some people like to play a round of compulsory Ramsch after each Bockround, or after every third Bockround. Ramschrounds are played according to the rules of Schieberamsch, including the possibility of playing Grand Hand. A Ramschround consists of as many hands of Ramsch as there are players; a Grand Hand does not count towards completing the Ramschround, and after a Grand Hand the same player deals again.
If the opponents decide at the start of the play that they cannot defeat the declarer, they can give up (schenken). If the declarer accepts, the score is as though the game was won simply (i.e. with 61-89 card points). The declarer can insist on playing on, but in that case has to make the opponents Schneider to win. The score in this case is as for an announced Schneider (but without the hand multiplier if it is not a hand game). If the declarer goes on the opponents can schenken again, giving the declarer the Schneider. The declarer can accept Schneider or insist on playing on for Schwarz.
The normal way of giving up is for one opponent to say "schenken". The other then either agrees, in which case they are offering to give up, or disagrees, in which case play continues as though nothing had happened.
There are some tricky ethical problems about this variation (for which as far as I know there are no standard answers), for example:
Some people play that if the bid is 18 and the contract is diamonds, or the bid is 20 and the contract is diamonds or hearts, then the hand is automatically conceded by the opponents and won simply by the declarer, unless the opponents Kontra or the declarer makes some additional announcement (such as open or Spitze).
This is an announcement that the declarer will win the last trick with the lowest trump - the 7 in a suit contract or the jack of diamonds in a Grand. It is announced verbally, or by reversing the card in your hand so that the face is visible to the opponents. Spitze increases the value of your game by one multiplier. In order to win, you have to win the last trick with the lowest trump in addition to taking 61 or more card points. If you fail in either, you lose.
You can announce more than one Spitze - in fact you can produce any unbroken sequence of trumps including the lowest and contract to win an unbroken series of tricks with them at the end of the hand. This is worth one extra multiplier per card - for example contracting to win the last 3 tricks with the 9-8-7 of trumps is worth 3 extra multipliers.
Two changes to the scoring were introduced at 1st January 1999 when the German (DSkV) and International (ISPA) rules were unified. These changes seem to have been swiftly adopted by Skat clubs in Germany, but the older rules may well still be found, especially in private games. The main description on this page now follows the new rules. The differences in the older rules were as follows.
Here are some other scoring variations that may be encountered. These have no official status.
Some people play that declarer's cards are not exposed until after the first lead, or after the first trick.
Some people allow the declarer to play any contract open, adding an extra multiplier to the game value. Some score contracts played open as double value. Some play open contracts as double value if exposed before the first lead, but adding one multiplier if exposed after the first trick.
In this variation, the declarer can score an extra multiplier when using the skat in a suit or grand contract by showing the skat cards to the opponents before picking them up. ("Der Skat geht rum"). This variation is not recommended - there is very little advantage to the opponents in seeing the original skat (as opposed to the declarer's discards) so the multiplier is too easy to score.
Gamblers may like to play with a pot. This can work in various ways. A common scheme would be that everyone puts a small amount in the pot at the start or when it is empty. Any declarer who loses a contract (or a Ramsch) pays to the pot as well as to the other players. The contents of the pot are won by a player who wins a Grand Hand. If you play and lose a Grand Hand you have to double the pot.
Texas Skat differs from German (or International) Skat as follows:
This game is played in Wisconsin, USA. It corresponds to a form of Skat played in Germany in the 19th century but no longer known there. There are several significant differences from modern German Skat.
There are no Skat contracts in the usual sense (where you pick up the skat, discard, and then choose a trump suit). The only possible games are as follows:
The base values of tournee contracts are:
In Tournee Skat the declarer needs 91 card points to make the opponents Schneider - with 30 points they are out. However, the declarer needs 31 points to be out of Schneider, as in Germany.
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Skat is popular in Sønderjutland, the southern part of Jutland that was under German rule from 1864 to 1920. Whilst the German minority in this region play by German rules, the Danish population play a slightly different version of the game. The official rules of the Danish Skat Union differ from the German rules as follows:
In tournaments, when playing for the highest score at the end of the session, rather than paying the difference between the scores of each pair of players, the opponents of an unsuccessful declarer each score the value of the contract. Example: declarer plays Open Grand with 2 and loses: with 2, game 3, open 4 x 20 =80. The declarer scores -160 and each opponent scores +80. In money games normal scoring is used: in the example the declarer is paid 80 by each opponent if successful and pays 160 to each opponent if not.
In private games, many other variations are played. The version played at the Århus club differs from the official Danish game as follows:
A version described by Reinar Peterson differs in other ways from the official Danish game: