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Skat


Game Type: Trick-taking
Age: Adults
Players: 3
Type of Deck: Standard, Jumbo Index 32 cards

Skat is often said to be the best three-player card game in the world. What is not mentioned nearly so often is that it is also the most complex! Whereas most three-player games are variations of games that are better-played with two or four people, Skat is actually designed with three players in mind - and works best that way.

The game was first brought to the United States and other countries by German immigrants. It peaked in popularity during the 1940s, then went into a decline. In recent years, it has become more widely played, and many players rate it among the most scientific of all card games. Players with the patience to learn its many subtleties will be well-rewarded.

Newcomers to the game will find the rules easier to grasp if they first understand that Skat has a very complex scoring system. While this broadens a player's strategic options, it also makes the game difficult to learn. In most bidding games, the winner of the bidding simply names the trump, with a few other options (such as no-trump or bidding "null.") In Skat, however, the winner of the bidding has an array of options, which can be mixed and matched to "customize" a game format that best fits his hand and (theoretically) maximizes his score. Each option has a "degree of difficulty" called a "multiplier," which is then factored into the score. A hand can be played with several such multipliers. Before jumping into the complex combinations, newcomers should try to experience a few of the many possibilities by using basic play in several practice games.

Number of Players. Three people can play. Four or five may participate, but only three people can actually play at one time.

The Pack. The standard 52-card pack is used and stripped to create a deck of 32 cards which includes the A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, and 7 of each suit.

Rank of Cards. When there is a trump suit, the four jacks are always the four highest trumps, ranking as follows regardless of which suit is trump: J (high), J, J, J. The remainder of the trump suit, and also non-trump suits, rank in this order: A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7. The cards in every suit rank A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, only when there is no trump suit.

The Draw. For games at home, the players may decide on positions at the table in any way they wish. In tournament play, seats are assigned under the direction of the Skatmeister (referee).

The Shuffle, Cut, and Deal. One participant is chosen to keep score. The player on the scorekeeper's left deals first. The dealer makes the last shuffle, and the pack is cut by the player on his right. The turn to deal rotates clockwise around the table. The most desirable time to end the play is when all players have dealt the same number of times.

Cards are dealt to only three players. (With four at the table, the dealer gives no cards to himself. With five people at the table, the dealer gives cards only to the first, second, and fourth players from his left. He always deals the first packet of cards to the player on his left.)

The rule of the deal is "3-skat-4-3." That is, a round of three cards at a time is dealt. Then two cards are dealt face down in the center of the table, constituting a "skat," or blind. Then a round of four cards is dealt at a time, and finally a round of three cards at a time.

Designation of Players. The player on the dealer's left is called the "Forehand" (or "Leader"), the other two players in order being "Middlehand" and "Rearhand" (or "Endhand"). The player who finally wins the bidding is called the Player, and the other two become the opponents.

Object of the Game. At all trump declarations, the primary object is to win counting cards to the total of 61; other goals are to win 91 points or win all the tricks. If the game is Null or Schwarz Announced, the Player tries to either lose or win all the tricks. At Ramsch, the object is to gather as few counting cards as possible.

It must be emphasized that the Player scores nothing, and loses the value of the game, if he fails to take in tricks the minimum number of points guaranteed by that game (see the table on p. 233) whether it is 61 points, 91 points, all the tricks, or none of the tricks, whatever the case may be.

The Play. The opening lead is always made by the player on the dealer's left, who may lead any card. All other players must follow suit if they can, remembering that at any trump declaration, all four jacks are trumps. If unable to follow suit, a player may trump or discard; no one is required to win tricks in any suit even if they are able to. A trick that contains a trump is won by the highest trump played; tricks without trumps are taken by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads next.

Bidding Sequence. An unusual type of competitive auction is used to determine which player may declare trump and "game" (the type of play to follow).

The Leader has an advantage in bidding because he is entitled to name the trump and game unless another player makes a bid that the Leader is unwilling to equal. The Leader does not specify how high he is willing to bid.

First, the Leader competes with the Middlehand player who begins by making a bid. If the Leader wants to bid the same amount, he says, "I hold" or "Yes." To win the right to name trump, Middlehand must increase the bid to an amount that the Leader is unwilling to equal. When either player wants to drop out of the bidding, he says "Pass" or "No." Then the remaining player, or survivor, competes against the Rearhand, who may try to buy the privilege of naming trump and game using the same bidding procedure.

If both the Middlehand and Rearhand pass without bidding, the Leader names the game (without bidding any specific number of points) or passes. In the latter case, the hand must be played at "Ramsch" (each player alone, as described below). Otherwise, the winning bidder, now called the Player, declares his game.

Bidding. Each bid names a number of points without specifying trump or game. The lowest possible bid is 10. It is customary to bid up by increases of 2 points, such as 10, 12, 14, and so on.

Games. To the left is the list of the fifteen possible games that the Player may declare, together with their base value, which is used to determine the scoring value of each game.

Solo. On declaring Solo, the Player must also name the trump suit. The two Skat cards (blind) are left face down, and the hands are played out as dealt.

Tournee. On declaring Tournee, the Player picks up the top Skat card. He may use it to fix the trump suit, in which case it must be shown to the others, or may reject it as trump without showing it (this privilege is called "Passt mir nicht" which is German for "It does not suit me").

If the first Skat card is rejected, the second is turned face up and fixes the trump suit. The game is then known as "second turn."

If the card turned is a jack, the Player may either select that suit as trump or may declare that only jacks will be trumps, in which case the game becomes Grand Tournee.

Whether trump was fixed by the first or second card, the Player is entitled to put both Skat cards in his hand and discard any other two cards face down.

Grand. In all Grand games, the jacks are only trumps. Grand Solo is played without the use of the Skat. On announcing Guckser, the Player picks up the Skat cards without showing them and discards any other two cards face down, leaving 10 cards in his hand. Grand Ouvert is a contract to win all the tricks, with the Player's hand exposed on the table before the opening lead. Grand Tournee can be announced only if a jack is turned up from the Skat, following announcement of Tournee. The Player then has the option of declaring only jacks as trumps, for a Grand Tournee.

Ramsch. Played only when all three participants refuse to make a bid or name another game, Ramsch is a Grand game, with only jacks as trumps. Each player plays individually and tries to take in as few points as possible.

Null. At Null, there are no trumps, and the cards in each suit rank: A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7. An announcement of Null is a contract not to win a single trick. The Skat cards are set aside unused. In Null Ouvert, the Player must expose his whole hand face up on the table before the opening lead.

The Skat. The two cards set aside from the play, whether they are the Skat that was dealt originally or discards from the Player's hand, are added to the Player's tricks at the end of play. Any counting cards in the Skat are reckoned in his score. At Ramsch, the Skat goes to the winner of the last trick.

Values of the Games. The point value of each game has to be computed for scoring as well as bidding purposes. The point value of Null games is always 20 or 40, as shown in the table. The point value of every other game is found by multiplying its base value, (as shown in the table), by the sum of all applicable multipliers. Following is the list of possible multipliers. An explanation follows the listing.
 
Multiplier

Matadors (each) 1

Game 1

Schneider 1

Schneider announced 1

Schwarz 1

Schwarz announced 1

Matadors. The term matadors refers to a hand with top trumps in an unbroken sequence from the J down. A hand holding the J is said to be "with" a specified number of matadors. A hand lacking the J is said to be "against" as many matadors as there are trumps higher than the highest in the hand. Examples: A trump suit headed by J, J, J, is "with two" because the J is missing. A trump suit headed by J, A, 10 is "against three."

The first item in the total of multipliers applicable to a trump declaration is the number of matadors which the hand is either "with" or "against." The skat cards, whether or not the Player used them, are counted as part of his hand in counting matadors. If the hand is "with," the skat may increase but cannot decrease the value of the Player's game. However, if the hand is "against," a matador found in the skat may decrease the value. Example: The Player has bid 30 and declares Heart Solo. The Player's trumps are headed by  J. Thus, he is "against two" and expects to make contract through "Matadors 2, game 1, total multipliers 3; 3 times 10 is 30." But the  J is found in the skat; now the hand is "with one," the multipliers are reduced by one, and the Player is set - unless the Player manages to make schneider when he plays.

Game. In declaring any trump game, the Player contracts to win in tricks (plus whatever is in the skat) at least a majority of the 120 points in the pack, reckoned on this count:

Each ace 11

Each ten 10

Each king 4

Each queen 3

Each jack 2

(No count for lower cards)

If he gathers in tricks enough cards to total 61 points or more - that is, a majority of the 120 points available - the Player earns one multiplier, called (the "point for game").

Schneider. The Player strives to reach 61 points in cards, while the opponents strive to reach 60. Failure by either side to reach half that total (31 for Player, 30 for opponents) constitutes schneider and adds one multiplier.

Schneider announced. The Player may add one multiplier by predicting, before the opening lead, that he will make schneider (gather at least 91 points in cards). This announcement is allowed only in games where the skat cards are set aside untouched.

Schwarz. The winning of all ten tricks by one side constitutes schwarz and adds one multiplier.

Schwarz announced. The Player may announce schwarz before the opening lead-that is, he may contract to win every trick, and thereby gain one additional multiplier. Schwarz may be announced only in games where the skat is not used.

Computing the Game. The table of multipliers above shows the order in which the total score must be computed, since all points beyond the count of matadors are cumulative. That is, having earned any of the subsequent multipliers, the Player is entitled to all those preceding it. Example: If the Player earns the point for schwarz, he also gets the points for schneider and schneider announced.

The Player is not permitted to announce a game that cannot possibly score the value of the bid. For example, the Player may not declare Null if the bid is more than 20, nor Null Ouvert if the bid is more than 40.

Scoring. The score sheet contains one column for each participant in the game. At the end of a hand, the value of the game is computed, as previously described. This value is entered as a plus quantity in the column of the Player, provided that it is at least as large as his winning bid, and as long as he has taken the minimum of points or tricks needed for the game he selected. If the Player fails in either respect, the value of the game is entered in his column as a minus quantity. Moreover, the loss is doubled if the game was Guckser or second turn in a Tournee.

The multipliers for game, schneider, and schwarz are duly applied to determine the value of the game; if the Player did not reach 61 points, the multipliers accrue to his opponents. Therefore, on reaching 60 points, the opponents need not cease play, but may demand that the game continue so that they may try to earn the multipliers for schneider or schwarz.

The value of the game may fall short of the bid if there is an unlucky skat when the Player is "against," (see Matadors, p. 235), but the loss must be at least equal to the bid. In this case, the debit is the lowest multiple of the game's base value game that equals or exceeds the Player's bid. Example: The Player bid 24 and announced Spade Solo. He was originally "against two," but skat held the J. Although the Player made 61 points in cards, his game was worth only 2 x 11, or 22. The loss is 33, the lowest multiple of the base value 11 that exceeds 24.

Scoring of Ramsch. Ramsch is the only skat game in which each person plays alone (without the two opponents acting as partners). The player who gathers the least points in tricks is credited with 10 for winning the game, or 20 if he takes no tricks at all, the others scoring nothing. If all three players tie in points taken in tricks, the leader is the winner and scores 10 points. If two players tie for low score, the one who did not take the last trick is the winner and scores 10. If one player takes all the tricks, he loses the game and has 30 points subtracted from his score.

Settlement. A running total is kept of the points scored or lost by each player. When play ends, each participant pays or receives according to the amount by which his final score falls below or above the average of all the scores. Example:

Final scores:
W X Y Z
28 -75 137 82

It is convenient to first eliminate the minus signs by adding to all scores the numerical value of the largest minus score. Thus, 75 is added to each score above:
W X Y Z
103 0 212 157

The total of the scores is now 472. Divide by 4, the number of players, to find the average, 118. Then the differences from average are:
W X Y Z
-15 -118 +94 +39

The final plus and minus totals must, of course, balance. In this example, -113 balances +113.
 
Irregularities. Revoke or misplay by Player. If the Player misleads or neglects to follow suit, he loses the game even if he already has 61 points or more. However, any of the opponents may opt to correct the error and proceed with play in order to increase the Player's loss. If an opponent misleads or does not follow suit, the Player wins the game, and the full value of his score is deducted from the offending opponent's score.