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Zwickern (also known as Zwicker or Zwickeln) is a fishing game, played in Schleswig-Holstein in North Germany. The "Zwick" (equivalent to the English "tweak") is a play by which you capture all the cards from the table, scoring a bonus. There are several variants of Zwickern. The main description on this page is of the version taught to John McLeod and Günther Senst by Dietrich Jensen, who now lives in Hamburg but comes originally from the Dithmarschen region of Schleswig-Holstein. After this there is a section on the variation played by Reinhardt Christiansen, a Canadian whose parents came from Schleswig-Holstein. Finally there are notes on other variations described in German card-game books.

Note: Zwickern is not to be confused with the similarly named Dutch game Zwikken nor with the Austrian game Zwicken - both of those are gambling trick-taking games played with a three card hand.

The Players and Cards

Originally, Zwickern was played with a normal 52 card deck but today jokers are usually added. Dietrich Jensen's version uses three distinct jokers, so that there are 55 cards in all. Before beginning the players must agree which is the large (25) joker, which is the middle (20) joker and which is the small (15) joker. If necessary the numbers 25, 20, 15 can be written on the face of the jokers to distinguish them.

This game is best played by four players in two fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. It can be adapted for two or three, playing as individuals, but the tactical possibilities of the game are then much reduced. The four-player partnership game is described here.

Matching Values

As in other fishing games (such as Casino and Scopa) there is a layout of cards on the table, and the objective is to capture cards from the table by playing a card of matching value from your hand, and when possible to clear all the cards from the table, thus scoring a bonus for a Zwick.

Each card has a matching value, used to determine which cards capture which. The matching values of the cards from two to ten are simply their face values. The remaining cards have matching values as follows:

CardMatching value
Ace1 or 11 *
Jack2 or 12 *
Queen3 or 13 *
King4 or 14 *
Small joker15
Middle joker20
Large joker25

* Aces, kings, queens and jacks have two alternative matching values. The matching value of each of these cards is chosen by the player who captures it, or captures other cards with it, or incorporates it into a build.

Scoring values

At the end of the play, the cards won by each team are counted. There are 3 points for the team that took the majority of the cards, but more important are the scores for certain valuable cards. The scoring values of the cards are different from their matching values:

ItemScoring value
Large (25) joker7 points
Middle (20) joker6 points
Small (15) joker5 points
Ten of diamonds3 points
Ten of spades1 point
Two of spades1 point
Each ace1 point
Majority of cards3 points
Each Zwick1 point

So there are 30 points in all to be scored for the cards, plus one extra point for each Zwick.

The Deal and Play

Deal and play are clockwise. The first dealer is chosen at random. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts the cards.

Each hand is played in three stages. For the first stage four cards are dealt to each player, one at a time, and three cards face up on the table. The cards on the table are sometimes called the the Picture (das Bild). The player to dealer's left plays the first card and play continues clockwise. Each turn consists of playing one card from your hand face up to the table, which can be simply played and left there, or can be used to capture cards or to make a build. When everyone has had four turns, using up their first four cards, the dealer deals another four cards to each player. The game continues as before until the players run out of cards again, at which point there is a final deal of five cards each, which exhausts the pack. When everyone has played their last five cards the play ends and the hand is scored.

There are three possible things that you can do on your turn: to play a card which captures one or more cards; to play a card to form or add to a build; or simply to play a card without building or capturing.

Playing a card

The simplest thing you can do in your turn is just to play one of the cards from your hand face up on the table. It remains there and can be captured by another player later.


If you play a card that matches a card on the table (according to the matching values given above), you may (but are not forced to) capture the table card. If you decide to capture, you remove the captured card from the centre of the table and put it face down, along with the card you played, in the pile of cards won by your team.

If there are cards on the table whose matching values add up to the matching value of the card that you played, you can capture this group of cards - for example a 10 can capture a 7 and a 3, or the 25-joker can capture a king and an ace (11+14). Moreover if there are several separate single cards or groups which match the card you played you can capture any or all of these cards and groups. For example if the cards on the table are 3, 4, 7, 8, J you could play a 15-joker and capture either 8+7 and J+3 or 8+4+3.

You are never obliged to make a capture, nor to make all possible captures with the card you play.

Note that in serious play your partner is not allowed to point out capture possibilities which you may have overlooked - if you don't take all the cards you are entitled to capture, the remainder stay on the table.


If you capture everything on the table, leaving it empty, you score one point for a Zwick. You place one of the captured cards face up in the pile of cards you have won, so that the number of Zwicks scored by each side can easily be counted at the end. It makes the counting easier at the end if the face up card is not a scoring card.
Example: if the cards on the table are 2, 4, 6, 10, J and you play a jack from your hand you can count the jack you play as 12 and the one on the table as 2 and thereby capture all the cards on the table as two groups adding up to 12 (2+4+6 and 10+jack), making a Zwick.

After a Zwick, the next player of course has nothing to capture or build onto, so must simply play a card to the table. The following player can either capture that card, scoring another Zwick, or play another card to the table, and so on.


The third possible type of play is to make a build, which is a card or a pile of cards with an announced value and an owner. The owner must have a card that matches the value of the build, and must eventually capture the build unless it is first captured or modified by some other player. Normally you build for yourself, but if your partner has previously built a particular value and has not yet played the matching card, you can make another build of this value "for partner". Note that if you own a build, you do not have to capture it at your next opportunity - you can modify the build or make a new build, or make a different capture or even just play a card to the table. Your only obligation if you do not capture a build that you own is to keep in your hand a card which matches its value so that you can capture it later if it is left for you.

To make a single card build you simply announce the value as you play the card - if it is an ace, jack, queen or king you must fix its value at this point. For example if you have two queens in your hand you can play one of them announcing either "13" or "3". You are then obliged to keep the other queen to capture it, unless someone else modifies or captures it first. If you had just one queen and a three you could play the queen announcing "3", but not "13".

If you play a card onto an existing card or build you take over ownership and modify the old value by adding or subtracting the value of the card you play. To do this you must hold another card in your hand that matches the new value of the build you are modifying.
Example: if there is a 9 on the table and you hold 2, 7, A, you may play your 2 on the 9 and announce either "11" (by addition) or "7" (by subtraction). Alternatively, you could play your 7 on the 9 and announce "2". You cannot build your ace on the 9 - the result would have to be 8 (subtraction) or 10 or 20 (addition) and you do not have cards matching any of these values.
Another example: suppose that the 25-joker is on the table, and your partner has just played a queen, announcing 13. If you have a jack, when your turn comes you can build the jack on the joker, subtracting 12 and announcing "13 for partner", so that your partner's other queen can take your build as well, thus winning the joker.

Note that when building you can start a new pile or add to a single existing pile, but you can never combine separate table cards or piles into a single build.

If you build with a card which is equal to the previous value of the card or pile on which you play it, you have the extra option of leaving the value of the build the same. For example if you play a 10 on a 10 you can make a build of 10 (if you have yet another 10 in your hand) or you can make it 20 (if you have the 20-joker). Playing a matching card on a build and leaving the value unchanged does not prevent further modifications. (Note that this is different from the corresponding rule in Casino.) In fact any built pile continues to behave just like a single card build with the same value.

A built card or pile can be modified by any player, or can be captured alone or with other cards or builds.

Note that separate cards or builds on the table can only be captured by matching or addition, never by subtraction. Suppose for example that the table contains a build of 9, a build of 13 and a separate 4. If you play a queen, you can make a Zwick (13 and 9+4), but if you play a 9, you can only take the 9 build. There is no way that the 9 can take the 13 and the 4.

End of the game; scoring

Any uncaptured cards remaining on the table at the end of the first or second stage of the game remain there and are available for capture in the following stage.

If there are cards remaining on the table at the end of the third and last stage, they are all won by the last team that made a capture. This does not normally count as a Zwick. However, if the dealer's last card validly captures all the cards from the table leaving nothing, the dealer's team does score a Zwick for this.

At the end of the play each side then counts the value of cards they have won and their Zwicks; the two teams' scores should total 30 plus the number of Zwicks made. The scores are recorded and the turn to deal passes to the left. Zwickern is generally not played for money. If you play a series of hands, the overall winners are the team with the higher total score at the end.

Notes on tactics

The jokers account for more than half of the points, so much of the game centres around capturing or saving the jokers, and to a lesser extent the ten of diamonds. This is difficult because of their high matching values; they do not match any other single card.

You should avoid leaving cards totals of 10, 15, 20 or 25 on the table if the corresponding high value card might be held by an opponent. You do not want to let them save it easily by capturing a group of cards. If you hold a joker yourself, you will generally try to make a build to the value of your joker. The opponents will probably try to destroy this build, either by subtraction or by increasing it to match a larger joker that they hold, but your partner, knowing the joker you hold, may be able to restore it or make other builds to the same value on your behalf.

If there is a joker on the table - either because it appeared in the initial deal or because it has been played there - it can only be captured by building it down. If this does not happen it will eventually be collected by the team that makes the last capture at the end of the game. Even if you cannot build down yourself you may be able to do so by cooperating with your partner.
Example: If the 25-joker is on the table along with a 5 and you hold a queen and an 8, you can play your 8 on the 5 building 13. Now your partner knows that you have a queen, and may be able to play a jack on the joker, building 13 for you.

You should generally avoid leaving a combination of cards on the table that will allow your left hand opponent to score a Zwick. Not only does a Zwick score a point, but it puts your partner under pressure. It may be the start of a series of enemy Zwicks, your partner's card being matched by the right-hand opponent, and so on.

You should generally try to avoid playing aces, kings, queens and jacks except when capturing or building with them. If left free on the table they give the next player more options, because of their alternative matching values. In general it is bad to play low matching value cards to the table, as they are too easy to capture. Cards 5 to 9 give the next player fewer chances, especially if you have more cards of the same rank.

Christiansen Version of "Zwickern"

This section was contributed by Reinhardt Christiansen, a lifelong Canadian, who learnt the game from his late father, formerly of Schleswig-Holstein. His mother's family also played a very similar version of Zwickern. Reinhardt played the game as a child, in the late 1960s, and is no longer absolutely certain of all of the details of the game, especially the exact scoring, but has re-created the rules to the best of his ability below.

The Christiansen version of the game uses many of the same principles as the game described above, but introduces some important variations. The differences are as follows:

  1. It is played by two, three or four players as individuals.
  2. Four jokers are used, with matching values of 15, 20, 25 and 30. This results in a deck of 56 cards, the normal 52 card pack and 4 jokers. The 30 joker presents a special challenge: since no two non-jokers can add up to 30, it is clear that any building involving the 30 joker must involve another joker. For example, if the 30 joker is lying on the table, a player having a 5 and the 25 joker could use the 5 to build the 30 joker down to 25. Of course, another player could then build the 25 down to another value that could be taken by a non-joker, e.g. reduce the 25 to a 14 (King) by building it down with an ace (11).
  3. The number of cards dealt is different:
      Two handed version
      During the initial deal, each player gets 8 cards and 8 cards are dealt face up to the center of the table. In the second and third rounds, each player is again dealt 8 cards but no new cards are dealt to the Picture.
      Three handed version
      During the initial deal, each player gets 8 cards and 8 cards are dealt face up to the center of the table. In the second round, each player is again dealt 8 cards but no new cards are dealt to the Picture.
      Four handed version
      During the initial deal, each player gets 6 cards and 8 cards are dealt face up to the center of the table. During the second round, each player is again dealt 6 cards but no new cards are dealt to the Picture.
  4. The values of the cards are the same as in Dietrich Jensen's version above, with the exception of the jokers. The scoring values are:
    Item  Scoring value
    30 joker 7 points
    25 joker 6 points
    20 joker 5 points
    15 joker 4 points
    10 of Diamonds (cardinal) 3 points
    10 of Spades (honour) 1 point
    2 of Spades (honour) 1 point
    Each ace 1 point
    Winning most cards 3 points
    (not awarded if there is a tie)
    Each Zwick 1 point

A Sample Game of Zwickern (Christiansen variation)

The following is an example of a game of Zwickern, played according to the rules of the Christiansen variation. It is annotated to highlight the reasoning behind each player's actions during the game.

Four imaginary players, Albert, Beatrice, Charlie, and Dianne are having a game of Zwicker. None of these players is especially gifted so each is capable of making poor plays when better plays are possible. Albert won the right to deal. After the deal for the first hand, the cards are distributed as follows:

Albert: A, K, J, 3 ; 10 ; Joker 15
Beatrice: K ; 8, 7, 3 ; 9, 5
Charlie: 8, 7, 3 ; J, 5 ; 6
Dianne: 9, 6 ; J, 10 ; 4 ; Joker 20
Picture: Q ; A, 8, 4, 2 ; 2 ; 10 ; Joker 30

The first hand is played out as follows:

All of the players have exhausted their cards so Albert deals out the remaining cards in the deck to the players so that each of the four players has 6 cards. At the conclusion of this deal, the cards are as follows:

Albert: A, 10 ; 9, 6 ; 7 , 3
Beatrice: J, 9 ; 5, 2 ; 8, 2
Charlie: A, 4 ; 6, 5 ; Q ; Q
Dianne: K, 7 ; K, Q, 4 ; Joker 25
Picture: J ; 5
(left over from previous round)

The players begin to score their hands, beginning with Beatrice:

Other Variations

Dietrich Jensen told us that at one time Zwickern was played without jokers, and such a game is indeed described in two books: "Einmaleins der Kartenspiele" by Rita Danyliuk (München, 1972) and "Das neue Spielbuch" by Rudolf Dietze (Berlin, 1984).

This is a much simpler game played by two or more people as individuals; the ace and court cards always have their higher matching values of 11-14, and building is by addition only. The score for the diamond-10 is increased to 10, the aces score 2 each, the diamond-7 and spade-7 score one each, and there is one point for the majority of cards. This makes a total of 21 points for cards, in addition to which each Zwick scores 3 points. The initial deal is four cards to each player and four face up to the table to form the "picture". When the players have played their cards, another four each are dealt but no more to the picture. If there are more than 4 players a double pack can be used, for a total of 41 points plus Zwicks.

Claus Grupp's book "Schafkopf Doppelkopf" (Falken/ASS, 1976) describes a form of Zwickern that is similar to Dietze and Danyliuk's game but uses 52 cards plus six jokers. A special 58 card pack for Zwickern was at one time sold by the playing-card maker ASS and is now available from Nürnberger Spielkarten. Grupp's version of the game is played by two, three or four players as individuals, or by more people using a multiple pack. The deal (four cards at a time) and the card and Zwick scores are the same as in the Dietze and Danyliuk version described above. Because of the different size of the pack, it is not possible to deal four card hands to each player throughout. Grupp says that in the last deal the players receive fewer cards; in fact there will always be six cards left for the last deal - three each for two players, two each for three players, and presumably if there are four players two of them get two cards each and the others get only one. The jokers are not scoring cards but wild cards which can take on any value from 2 to 14. To limit their power, Grupp suggests that a joker on the table can only be matched by another joker, and that clearing the table by playing a joker does not count as a Zwick.

Grupp acknowledges help from the staff of the Flensburger Tagesblatt, so it may be that the simpler Zwickern tradition described by the books is characteristic of regions further east than the more elaborate Dithmarschen games described above.


You can download a freeware Zwickern program from Thanos Card Games.