Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- This article is about the card game Skat. For the type of singing, see scat singing.
It is a three- or four-player game of tricks using a 32-card deck.
The game of skat is not related to the simple American card game called scat , which is a draw-and-discard game.
The deck of 32 cards consists of the cards 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king and ace in the suits diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs. There are no jokers. Some players in Eastern and Southern Germany and Austria prefer "German" decks with the suits of bells, hearts, leaves and acorns. At tournaments, a compromise deck is used nowadays that has the standard suits but with green spades and yellow diamonds. The choice of deck does not otherwise affect the game's rules.
Suitable packs can be bought prefab in Germany.
Although the game at first sounds quite simple it has great depth. To be a good player it is necessary to practice for several years. Good players can recognize most of the unknown cards of the other players within a few tricks, thus being in advantage.
Organization of players
Very often it's possible to join spontaneous rounds in pubs in Germany, although some players may be unwilling to play with beginners.
Skat was developed around 1810 in Altenburg in what is now the Federal State of Thuringia, Germany and was based on the three-player game of Tarock (also known as Tarot) and the four-player game of Sheepshead. The main innovation was the Bidding process described below.
Don't try playing after just reading this. Contact some players in your area and have it explained to you properly.
In the long run, every one of the three players plays for himself, but in every single game one player, selected by the Bidding process, plays against the other two. The two opponents are not allowed to communicate in any way except by their choice of which cards to play.
The main goal in "normal" games is to score more than half of the card points. A soloist who manages to do this is awarded game points, a soloist who fails at this loses game points. At the end of the evening or of the particular round, the player with the most game points wins the round.
The game begins with the dealing of all cards to the three players. Dealing is rotated clockwise around the table, so that the player to the left of the last dealer then becomes the dealer of the next game. The cards are shuffled and dealt face down so that every player has 10 cards. The remaining 2 cards stay separate as the skat. Rules insist that dealing follows the pattern 3, Skat, 4, 3 (the numbers referring to the number of cards each player gets).
The bidding system (German: Reizen) defines which of the 3 players plays alone against the other 2.
If several players are interested in playing the game, then the calculated height of bidding defines which player succeeds. Bidding always starts with the lowest possible game (18). It then follows a question and answer pattern.
The height that a player is allowed to bid -- nobody is required to bid anything -- is a multiplication of
- the suit the player wants to be trumps -- clubs=12, spades=11, hearts=10, diamonds=9, grand(only jacks are trumps)=24
- a count of either trumps owned or trumps not owned plus one.
The trumps are always counted in unbroken succession from top down (jack of clubs, jack of spades, jack of hearts, jack of diamonds, trump ace, trump 10, trump king, trump queen, trump 9, trump 8, trump 7). If a player has the jack of clubs, he counts the unbroken series of trumps "With" which he plays; the first one that is missing stops the count. If he doesn't have the jack of clubs, he counts the unbroken series of trumps "Without" which he plays; the first one that is present stops the count. Cards in the "Skat" count as well, so the player who plays "without" 2 or more has to take into account that there might be a surprise for him in there which will reduce his count.
This is best demonstrated with a few examples:
- Jc, Js: With 2, plus 1 is 3.
- Jc, Jh: With 1 (counting interrupted by the missing jack of spades), plus 1 is 2.
- Jc, Js, Jh, Jd, Trump Ace, Trump King: With 5 (interrupted by missing Trump 10), plus one is 6.
- Jh, Jd: Without 2, plus 1 is 3.
- Jh alone: Also without 2 (counting interrupted by the present jack of hearts), plus 1 is 3.
Therefore the theoretically highest count in trumps is either with or without eleven trumps (although this is in fact highly unlikely to ever occur in real play), plus one is 12; whereas the lowest count is either the jack of spades without the jack of clubs or vice versa, plus one is 2.
The resulting score for bidding would then e.g. be without 2, plus 1 is 3, times clubs(=12), 36.
The bidding roles are fixed in this order (clockwise): dealer, listener, bidder, next bidder. Thus the dealer is also the "next bidder" at a three-player table; at a four-player table the dealer doesn't deal any cards to himself and skips that game. The bidder will either say "pass" or announce a number, the listener will answer each bid with "yes" or "pass". If he says "yes", the bidder can then either himself pass or announce a higher number, etc. After either has passed the "next bidder" will continue to bid (or pass), with the remaining one of the first two now listening, until only one player remains. Good players can usually deduct some information on the other players' cards from their maximum bid.
Bidding begins with 18 (with or without 1 jack is 2 times 9 (diamonds)) and continues with all possible combinations: 20, 22, 23, 24, 27, 30, 33, 35, 36, 40, 44, 45, 46, 48 etc. The highest possible value (extremely rarely reached) is 264 for a grand ouvert with four. (See below for explanation of "ouvert"). Included in this row is the special game null and its variants null hand, null ouvert and null ouvert hand. They will be discussed further down.
The player who has won the bidding (known as the "soloist") may now take up the two remaining cards (the skat), and exchange any two cards from his hand. He then declares which suit will be trumps. Trumps can be
- any one of the four suits with the jacks as highest trumps, or
- only the four jacks (known as "grand").
Should all players pass in the bidding, a sub-game called ramsch (literally "trash") may optionally be played. Most hobbyist rounds do this, but it is not part of the official rules. Tricks are played as if the game were Grand (only jacks are trumps), and after all 10 tricks are played, the player with the highest number of points (or alternatively, every player) has their card points amount deducted from their score as negative game points. Thus the object of this type of game is to receive as few game points as possible. The idea is to punish players who should have bid on their not-too-bad hands instead of passing. According to the official rules, in this case the cards are handed in again without being shown, and the next dealer deals anew.
The soloist can decide to take up the skat and then to drop those two cards he deems least useful; or he can decide not to look into it (called "hand game"). In either case those two cards are counted together with the tricks he takes.
Then he announces which suit will be trumps.
The player to the left of the dealer "leads", i.e. he lays the first card, to the first trick; the other two follow in clockwise direction. Every player lays one card together as a trick to the middle of the table. The winner of a trick must lead to the next trick, the other two again following clockwise.
The suit shown by the first card of the trick must be followed, if possible. If not, it is possible to discard a card of to trump the trick. Trumps, including all four jacks, count as a suit in their own right; if trumps are led, every player must also play trumps if he has any, and it is not possible to "follow suit" to a non-trump card with a jack.
If there is at least one trumps card in the trick, the highest trumps wins the trick. If there is no trumps in it, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. A card of a suit that is neither led, nor trumps, can never win a trick.
The suit cards are sorted (lowest first) 7, 8, 9, queen, king, 10, ace. Note that the 10 is sorted above the queen and king! The trumps are sorted the same, only that the four jacks in the order (lowest first) diamonds, hearts, spades and clubs are higher still. The jack of clubs always wins the trick that it is in.
The finished tricks are kept face down in front of each player until the 10th trick has been made. Looking into the stack before that time is not allowed. The tricks of the two players who are playing together are put together, either during or after play.
To win, the soloist must achieve 61 card points of 120 possible. To avoid confusing them with game points, card points are called "Augen" (eyes) in Germany.
Since Skat is a zero-sum game, whatever card points he failed to acquire were acquired by the defenders, so only one stack of cards need be counted. The cards have the following card point values: 7=nil, 8=nil, 9=nil, jack=2, queen=3, king=4, 10=10, ace=11. Note in particular that the highest-ranking cards for taking tricks (the jacks) are not the highest scoring cards. Note also that 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, winning 7s, 8s, or 9s doesn't help (or hurt) at all, unless "schwarz" (see below) is to be achieved.
If a player bid more than he had (e.g., because he found a jack of clubs in the skat and thus went from "without three" to "with one"), he loses. There are several methods of bidding and scoring higher, which allows a player to rescue himself in this case, or which simply increases the number of game points he gets:
- hand: the player will not look into the skat (but he receives their card points). The trump count is raised by one.
- schneider ("tailor", who were proverbially poor people): The losing side has 30 or less card points. The trump count is increased by one.
- schwarz ("black"): The losing side achieved no tricks. Note that even if the losing side takes a trick with only "nil points" cards in it, it is not schwarz. The trump count is increased by one for schneider, one for schwarz (thus by a total of two).
- ouvert ("open"): The soloist player will lay his hand open on the table before the first trick; the Skat remains hidden. In the standard rules, this implies also announcing "schneider" and "schwarz", thus the soloist must take all tricks to win. Ouvert must be announced, thus it is only possible in hand games. The trump count is increased by one for hand, one for schneider, one for schneider announcement, one for schwarz, one for schwarz announcement, one for ouvert, for a total of six.
If (and only if) playing hand: schneider, schwarz or ouvert can be announced after bidding, and their being announced adds another one to the trump count. However, a player who announces, and then doesn't follow up on the announcement, loses. Schneider is never counted more than once; so if you announce schneider and then at the end you get less than 30 points yourself, only the original schneider plus announcement that you failed to reach is counted against you, your own schneider is not.
Some hobbyist rounds allow all possible combinations of hand, schneider, schwarz and ouvert announcements; in the standard rules this is not possible, schneider can be announced only if hand is also announced, schwarz obviously implies schneider, and ouvert can only be announced if schwarz is also to be achieved. But even in the standard rules unannounced schneider and schwarz apply in all eligible games, hand or not.
Some hobbyist rounds allow a player of the opponent party to announce "Contra" before the first trick if he thinks the soloist won't win his game, which doubles the game points to be won or lost by the soloist. The Soloist may then reply "Re", which doubles again, if he thinks he can win anyway. None of this is allowed in the standard rules.
There are also the following special games:
- grand: only jacks are trumps. The trump count is multiplied with 24. Of course in this case "with four" or "without four" are the highest possible normal trump counts, as only four trumps exist in this type of game; but hand, schneider, schwarz and ouvert remain possible. Grand ouvert with four is the highest possible game in Skat, counting 264 game points. (Grand ouvert without four would count as much but it is not winnable.)
- grand ouvert: the multiplier used to be 36. This has been removed from the rules as a game with its own multiplier since 1998; now it uses standard "grand" and standard "ouvert" values.
- null (fixed bid of 23): The soloist will win if he manages to make no tricks. He loses, and the game is over, as soon as he makes a trick. In null games, there are no trumps at all (jacks count as part of their normal suits), and 10s are lower in trick taking power than face cards. Card points are of no interest in this game. The idea of this is to give a player with an exceptionally bad hand a chance at doing something with it. Since any communication between the opponents would mean a huge disadvantage to the soloist in null games, most rounds play them in complete silence.
- null hand (fixed bid of 35)
- null ouvert (fixed bid of 46). This is the only "ouvert" game in the standard rules where the Skat is picked up. The two cards that the soloist drops need not be shown to the opponents.
- null ouvert hand (fixed bid of 59)
The score (game points, not the same as card points) for each game is always assigned to the soloist player.
If the outcome of the game matched or exceeded the initial bid, and the player therefore had won the game, then the player scores as many game points as a bid value on the outcome could have reached maximally -- no matter what his actual maximum bid was.
Otherwise, if the single player failed to reach the goal set by the initial bid and therefore lost, then the player is penalized by twice as many negative game points. Until 1998, lost hand games did not count double, but this rule has been dropped.
In league games, a fixed number of points is added for each game that is won by the soloist, to lower the chance factor and to stress the skill factor of the game. In that situation, it becomes far more important for each participant to bid the given hand to its best.
- Deutscher Skatverband e.V. with official rules in German
- International Skat Players Association with rules in English, Spanish and French
- The German Online Skat page Deutscher online Skatverband e.V.
- German Skat pages
- Skat pages
- Scat, the American card game
There are several computer programs that claim to play Skat, but most show only juicy graphics and play very poorly (although not as poorly as a few years ago).
Skat is also the fourth star in the constellation Aquarius, delta Aquarii. The name comes from Arabic As-Saq which means "shin", or "foreleg". Another name for it is Scheat, albeit there's a different star with that name in Pegasus.
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