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German Whist

German Whist is a variation on classic whist for two players. The game is most likely of British origin. In for instance Sweden is the game usually called Hamburger Whist after the German city Hamburg. There are several variants of this game. The most important difference between variants is whether all the 26 tricks count or only the 13 last ones. An other difference is whether trumps should be used or if the game will be about taking as many ("high play") - or as few ("low play") tricks as possible.

While trumps or high/low makes little difference to how much luck is involved, the difference between counting all 26 tricks or only the last 13, beginning the so-called endgame as the hand is finished (beginning at the 14th trick), makes a large difference. When playing this game in two sections, the foreplay and the endgame this whist becomes the most skill demanding game of all, for two players with a common card deck. This since both players can calculate exactly which 13 cards the opponent has, and plan his or her play after that knowledge. This isn't possible to know for certain earlier in the game.

Rules

Players and cards

German Whist is a two player game using a standard deck of 52 cards ranked A (high) K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 (low) in each suit.

The deal

The initial dealer is chosen by cutting the deck, and the turn to deal alternates after each hand. Each player is dealt 13 cards, dealt one at a time. The twenty-seventh card is placed face-up on the face-down pack. The suit of this face-up card is either the trump suit for the entire hand - or decides whether to play "high" (taking as many tricks as possible) or "low" (taking as few as possible). If the twenty-seventh card is a hearts or diamond, high is played. If it's a club or spade, low is played. In the latter version the 13 first tricks almost never are counted in the score. Hence the game is split in two sections, known as foreplay and endgame. (Also other versions of deciding how the game is to be played occurs. For instance alternation between trump and high or low)

The play

The non-dealer chooses any card to play for the first trick and the other player must follow suit if he can. If both cards are the same suit then the higher card wins. If they are of different suits the first player wins unless the second player played a trump, in which case the trump wins. The winner of the trick takes the face-up card and adds it to his hand, the loser then takes the face-down card below it without showing it to his opponent. The next card in the pack is then turned over and the winner plays first in the next trick. Each player stays with 13 cards in his hand until the pack is exhausted. After this the remaining 13 tricks are played without replenishment until the cards in both players hands are exhausted.

Opening and Scoring

There are several versions of the opening. But they all come down to the colour of the 27th card (the top of the pack). For instance the 27th card can indicate which trump is to be used. But in other versions the 27th instead shows whether low or high are to be played. A black card means the players in the endgame shall take as few tricks as possible, while a red card means they in the endgame shall take as many tricks as possible.

There are further at least two variants on scoring. The winner is the player who wins the most tricks in:

  1. the whole game (26 tricks), which gives a score which is more affected of luck.
  2. after the pack is exhausted (13 tricks), which is the most usual variant, and for certain the most skill demanding version. Although not all cards are shown (played or captured from the pack) it's now possible to find out exactly which cards the other player has. The opponents cards are those which isn't on the players own hand, and which have not been seen during the foreplay (This is also true for the first version, but half the score has already been decided at this point in the game) It's no exaggeration to state that a notably better player always will win, if not every hand, so almost, independently of which cards the players randomly have received from scratch. And few other card games for two persons are so difficult to master as German Whist played with foreplay and endgame.

The score count always begins at the 7th trick taken in the endgame. For instance in a high game 10 vs 3 cards gives 4 points to the one who took 10 tricks. If it was a low game, the 4 points goes to the other player.

Strategy

The strategy for the two variants, in the first stage, is slightly different. In the first variant the player must balance winning the current trick against the probability of winning future tricks.

In the second variant the player must try to assemble the best possible hand for the endgame. This is however not so simple as it may appear. Assume the foreplay begins with hearts as trump (in foreplay as well as in endgame). You will begin and You have four low hearts on your hand, but also a possibility for a good topped suit in spades, and the top card of the pack is two of clubs. Now despite of a "worthless" card to play for, playing one's highest trump might reveal the trump situation on the opponent's hand, and You will indeed reduce the numbers of trumps (which isn't "Your colour"), and finally, if the opponent plays a lower trump You will know that the opponent may have a good trump colour (which isn't the case if the opponent needs to play another colour) finally by "winning" the two of clubs, You will keep the advantage to decide which colour to play next time. In general is it a good ide to attempt to keep "the serve". The key is to know which colour to play, in order to win also lower cards, though not by paying too good of Your own cards. Don't focus so much on bad card at the top of the pack, rather think of the colour to play. If the card to play for suits You well, play a safe card. If the card to play for is "a middle card", play a slightly higher card, but just enough high for the opponent to have difficulties to "come in".

When an Ace is gone, the King becomes like an Ace, etc. Try to remember which card that currently is the highest in each colour. Count especially trumps. But don't be afraid to play trump, as long as it's likely the opponent actually also has trump. (If it is in Your interest that the number of trump cards is reduced in the endgame especially) In "low" games try to build up long suits from the bottom. 2-4-6-8-Q-K-A is a great colour to have in a low endgame. Even better is 2-3-5-7-Q-K-A, from which You can give the serve to the opponent, provided at least one card in the same colour exists on the opponent's hand. But first play all single high cards as soon as possible. When playing low, it is very easy to get trapped and having to take all the last ten tricks due to a miscalculation. The twos are often more important than Aces in high or trump games. (And as soon as a "deuce" vanishes in the foreplay, the three takes its place and so on.)

By counting every colour and the highest known card in every colour one may easier learn which card one's opponent has (or close enough), when the endgame begins. Then you also know the best way to play the endgame cards. With exception of when playing low, the endgame is close to the playing part of bridge.

Software

Downloadable software is available from the following websites:

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Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy