Note: Because of the many variations in the rules of Skat, the rules below are necessarily general, although rules not found in official German tournament play are marked as such.
Skat is a game for exactly three players. At the beginning of each deal, one player becomes declarer and the other two players become the defending team. The two defenders are not allowed to communicate in any way except by their choice of cards to play. The game can also be played in a round of four players; in this case, the dealer will sit out the hand that was dealt.
A central aspect of the game are the three coexisting varieties called “suit game”, “Grand” and “Null”, that are differing in suit order, scoring and even overall goal to achieve.
Each deal starts with a bidding phase to determine declarer and type of game. Then, ten tricks are played, allowing players to take trick points: each card has a face value (except in Null games) and is worth that amount in points for the player winning the trick. The total face value of all cards being 120 points, declarer's goal is to take at least 61 points in tricks in order to win the deal. Otherwise, the defending team wins the deal. Points from tricks are not directly added to the players' overall score, they are only used to determine the outcome of the deal (win or loss for declarer), although winning by certain margins may increase the score for that deal.
After each deal a score is awarded, depending on the type of deal, how high it was won (or lost) and bidding calls that had been made. Generally, if declarer wins he or she scores a positive amount, otherwise the score is doubled and subtracted from declarer's tally (i.e. a negative score).
Skat deck with tournament face
The deck consists of 32 cards which are the 7, 8, 9, 10, jack, queen, king and ace in all suits, if using the French deck. Some players in Eastern and Southern Germany and Austria prefer German decks with the suits of bells, hearts, leaves and acorns. The 32 cards from the German deck are the 7, 8, 9, 10, Unter, Ober, King and Daus (2). Until recently in Saxony and Thuringia, for example, German-suited decks were used almost exclusively. By contrast, regions of the former West Germany had adopted a French-suited (♣♠♥♦) deck (of which the Anglo-American deck is a variant).
Since German reunification, a compromise Turnierbild deck is used in tournaments that uses the shapes of the French suits (and the Anglo-French "Ace" replacing the traditional "2") but with corresponding German suit colors, notably green Spades ♠ and yellowDiamonds ♦. The choice of deck does not affect the rules.
At the beginning of a hand each player is dealt ten cards, with the two remaining cards (the so-called Skat) being put face down in the middle of the table. Rules insist that dealing follows this pattern: deal three cards each, then deal the Skat, then four cards each, then three cards again (“three–Skat–four–three”). In four-player rounds, the dealer does not receive any cards and skips actual play of the hand. He or she may peek into the hand of one other player (if allowed to do so) but never into the Skat.
Dealing rotates clockwise around the table after each hand, so that the player sitting to the left of the dealer will be dealer for the next hand.
After the cards have been dealt, and before the hand is played out, a bidding (or auction, German: Reizen) is held, deciding several things:
Who will be declarer for the hand, and thus eligible for picking up the Skat
Which suit, if any, will be the trump suit, or if a special type of contract (such as Null) will be played
The (minimum) value of game points declarer's hand must be worth at least, in order for him or her to win
The goal for each player during the bidding is to bid as high as his or her card holding allows, but never higher than necessary to win the auction. The actual value of the hand is determined by several factors, including choice of trump suit and presence (or absence) of certain cards. This is explained in detail below and necessary to understand in order to know how high one can safely bid.
It is possible for a player to overbid the hand (inadvertently or not), which leads to an automatic loss of the deal in question. Often this does not become obvious before the player picks up the Skat, or even not before the end of the deal (in case of a hand game, when the Skat is not picked up at all). Players have therefore to exercise careful scrutiny during bidding, as not to incur an unnecessary loss of points.
The bidding may also give away some information about what cards a player may or may not hold. Experienced players will be able to use this to their advantage.
The hand value is what the deal will be worth after all tricks have been played. It is not only determined by the 10 cards held, but also by the two-card Skat. The Skat always belongs to the declarer, and if it contains certain high cards (German: Spitzen) this will change the hand value. It is therefore not possible in general to determine the exact hand value before knowing the Skat.
Hand value is determined by several factors:
Choice of trump suit, if any
Number of high cards in the trump suit missing or present (counted from the top)
If it is a Null game (in which there is no trump suit)
If it is a Grand game (in which only the jacks are trumps)
If it is a Hand game (in which the Skat is not picked up by declarer)
The different kinds of games, and according hand values, are explained individually below.
In a suit game (German: Farbspiel), one of the four suits will be trumps. Each suit has a base value, as follows:
Clubs (♣) = 12
Spades (♠) = 11
Hearts (♥) = 10
Diamonds (♦) = 9
This base value is then multiplied by the game level (German: Spielstufe) for the hand. A base game level of “1” (for becoming declarer) is always assumed. It is then increased by one for each of the following:
Length of the flush run in the trump suit, counting from the top.The Skat is not picked up by declarer; this is called the Hand game.
If the top trump (♣J) is held, count the length of the flush run of trumps
If the ♣J is missing, count the missing trumps from the top
The game is won (or lost) with 90 or more trick points taken by the winning side (Schneider).
The game is won (or lost) with all tricks taken by the winning side (Schwarz).
The following special cases are only allowed in case of a Hand game (declarer decides not to pick up the Skat). Each one increases the base value by another point:
Schneider is announced by declarer after the bidding (declarer has to take 90 or more trick points to win the game)
Schwarz is announced by declarer after the bidding (declarer has to take all tricks to win)
Ouvert (declarer plays with open cards and takes all tricks; i.e. Schwarz has to be declared in order to declare Ouvert)
Cards in the trump suit are ordered as follows (this is important when counting the length of the flush run):
Jack of Clubs, J♣ or B♣
Jack of Spades, J♠ or B♠
Jack of Hearts, J♥ or B♥
Jack of Diamonds, J♦ or B♦
As mentioned above, the cards in the Skat are to be included when determining the game level (also in case of the Hand game, where the Skat is unknown until after the hand has been played out). During bidding, each player therefore has incomplete information regarding his or her true hand value.
The final hand value is calculated by multiplying the base value for the suit with the game level.
The Grand is a special case of suit game, in which only the Jacks are trumps in the same order as in the suit game:
Jack of Clubs, J♣ or B♣
Jack of Spades, J♠ or B♠
Jack of Hearts, J♥ or B♥
Jack of Diamonds, J♦ or B♦
The longest possible flush run is therefore “4”.
The base value for a Grand is 24 in the official rules. It used to be 20 until 1932, and many hobbyists continued to use 20 well into the postwar era; a few older players still use 20 today.
All other rules for determining hand value are as in the suit game (i.e. the base value of 24 is multiplied by the game level, as described above).
In the Null game, declarer promises not to take any tricks at all. There is no trump suit. The hand values of a Null are fixed, as follows:
“23” for a simple Null game
“35” for a Null Hand game (the Skat is not picked up by declarer)
“46” for a Null Ouvert game (declarer plays with open cards)
“59” for a Null Ouvert Hand game (combination of the above two)
Calculating hand value is best demonstrated by example. The examples give a player's holding and the contents of the Skat (which will be unknown to all players during the auction) and how to derive that player's hand value.
Hand: ♣J ♦J – ♥ A 10 K 8 7 – ♦ 9 8 7 Skat: ♠ A Q
The length of the flush run will be 1 (♣J is present, ♠J is missing). The game level will be 2 (1 for declaring plus 1 for the flush run).
The possible hand value now depends on which game is declared, for example:
With Hearts as trumps, the hand value is 20 (2 times 10).In a Grand game, the hand value will be 48 (2 times 24).
If the Skat is not picked up, the hand value is 30 (the base value will increase from 2 to 3 for declaring Hand).
If declarer manages to win with at least 90 trick points, the hand value will be 30 as well (the base value will increase from 2 to 3 for achieving Schneider).
Of course, many other possibilities exist.
Note that hand value is not only dependent on the cards held (and in the Skat) but also on which actual game is being declared and the outcome of the play. Each hand can therefore have a number of values. A risk-taking player might be willing to declare Hand on a holding on which another player might not—these two players will therefore give different valuations to the same hand.
However, after all tricks have been played, it is always possible to determine the exact game value by combining the actual holding with the type of game and outcome of the play. Only then it becomes apparent if declarer has overbid or not.
Hand: ♣J ♠J ♥J – ♥ A 10 K 8 7 – ♣ 10 7 Skat: ♦J ♠ Q
Assuming a trump suit of Hearts in a suit game, this hand will have a different valuation before and after the Skat has been examined.
Without knowledge of the Skat, assuming Hand is not declared
the game level is 4 (3 for the ♣J ♠J ♥J flush run, plus 1 for declaring)
the base value is 10 (for Hearts being the trump suit)
This hand can be safely valuated at “40”—regardless of the Skat, a Hearts trump game will always be worth at least that many points.
Now, assuming declarer wins by taking 95 points in tricks, after having declared Hand and Schneider, the actual value of the hand will be as follows:
The base value is 10 (for Hearts being the trump suit)
The game level is 11The actual game value will be 110 (11 times 10)
1 for declaring
7 for the flush run of ♣J ♠J ♥J ♦J ♥ A 10 K
1 for declaring Hand
1 for declaring Schneider
1 for achieving Schneider (at least 90 points in tricks taken)
The player could have bid up to that value (110) during the auction—in practice this would have been too risky because only the ♦J in the Skat increased the length of the flush to 7.
Note: most players will declare a Grand game with the above hand, as it will be much more lucrative than a suit game in Hearts (declarer will concede at most one Club trick, achieving Schneider for a score of at least 144 points).
♣J, ♠J: With 2, plus 1 is 3.
♣J, ♥J: With 1 (counting interrupted by the missing Jack of Spades), plus 1 is 2.
♣J, ♠J, ♥J, ♦J, trump Ace, trump King: with 5 (interrupted by missing trump 10), plus one is 6.
♥J, ♦J: Without 2, plus 1 is 3.
♥J alone: This is also without 2 (counting is interrupted by the present Jack of Hearts), plus 1 is 3.
Now for the special cases—if you think you can do more than just win, you can add in points for the special cases.
♣J, ♠J: With 2, plus 1 (Game) plus 1 (for Hand) is 4.
♣J, ♠J: With 2, plus 1 (Game) plus 1 (for Schneider) is 4.
♣J, ♠J: With 2, plus 1 (Game) plus 1 (for Hand) plus 1 (for Schneider) plus 1 (for Schwarz) is 6.
♣J, ♠J: With 2, Game 3, Hand 4, Schneider 5, Pre-Announced (Schneider) 6, Schwarz 7, Pre-Announced (Schwarz) 8, Ouvert 9
The highest possible game level is 18, that is with (or without) eleven trumps in the hand including the Skat, plus the maximum of 7 for declaring, Hand, Schneider, declaringSchneider, Schwarz, declaring Schwarz and Ouvert. The lowest game point level is 2, either with the Jack of Clubs or without the Jack of Clubs and with the Jack of Spades, plus declaring, which is a point always added.
Order of bidding
The order of bidding is determined by the seating order. Players are numbered clockwise, starting to the left of the dealer, and said to be in first seat (German: Vorhand), second seat (German: Mittelhand) and third seat (German: Hinterhand). In a three-player game, the dealer will be the person in third seat. In a four-player game the third seat will be to the right of the dealer.
Bidding starts by the player in second seat making a call to the player in first seat. This continues until either of the two players passes. The player in third seat is then allowed to continue making calls to the opponent who has not yet passed. Bidding ends as soon as at least two players have passed. It is possible for all three players to pass.
The starting order can be memorized as “deal—respond—bid—continue” (German: “geben—hören—sagen—weitersagen”). The player who “continues” in this mnemonic is either the dealer (in a three-player game) or the player in third seat. The mnemonic is commonly used among casual players.
Example: Alice, Bob and Carole are playing, and seated in that order around the table. Alice deals the cards. Carole makes the first call to Bob, who passes right away. Alice then makes two more calls to Carole, who accepts both bids. Alice then passes as well. The bidding ends, with Carole being the declarer for the hand.
The calling player (i.e. the player currently calling the bids) may either
“pass”, leaving the bidding and forfeiting the chance to become declarer on this hand, or
bid any possible hand value that is higher than the highest bid made so far on this hand.
The responding player (i.e. the player currently responding to the bidder) may either
“pass”, leaving the bidding and forfeiting the chance to become declarer on this hand, or
“accept”, staying in the bidding and waiting for further calls.
Except for “pass”, only possible hand values are legal calls. Therefore, the lowest possible call is “18”, which is the lowest possible hand value in Skat. Players are free to skip intermediate values, although it is common to always pick the lowest available call while bidding.
Responder must wait for caller to bid or pass before passing herself.
The sequence of possible hand values through “59”, beginning with “18” is 18—20—22—23—24—27—30—33—35—36—40—44—45—46-48—50—54—55—59 (of course, higher bids are possible albeit rare in a competitive auction). Among German players the values representing Null games, especially “23”, the most common one, are often replaced by the call “Null”. Also, numbers are frequently abbreviated by only calling the lower digit of a value not divisible by 10 (e.g. “two” instead of “twenty-two” or “five” instead of “forty-five”); this is unambiguous if values are always called out in order and intermediate values never skipped, as is the custom.
If all players pass, the hand is not played and the next dealer shuffles and deals. A dealer never deals twice in a row. It is common in informal play to play a variant of Skat called “Ramsch” (English: “junk”, “rummage”) in this case (instead of skipping the hand and dealing for the next one). This is not part of the sanctioned rules, however.
In a pass-out game, the player in first seat will be the last one to pass. If that player intends to become declarer, however, he has to make a call of at least “18” (picking up the Skatin that situation implies the call).
Players “Alice”, “Bob” and “Carol” are seated in that order, clockwise; Alice is the dealer. The auction proceeds as follows (initial of player name in parentheses): “18” (C), “accept” (B), “20” (C), “accept” (B), “22” (C), “pass” (B), “23” (A), “accept” (C), “24” (A), “accept” (C), “pass” (A).
On this hand, Carol will be declarer with a final bid of 24 (the last bid accepted by Carol).
The winner of the auction becomes declarer for the hand. He will play against the other two players. Before the hand is played, declarer either
picks up the Skat, combines it with his hand, then puts two cards back face down on the table (German: “drücken”) or
declares “Hand” (in this case the Skat remains face down on the table).
In either case the two cards in the Skat count towards declarer's trick points for the hand.
After putting two cards back into the Skat, declarer then either picks a trump suit (declaring a suit game), declares a Null game, or a Grand game.
If Hand has been declared, the player may make additional declarations such as Schneider, Ouvert, etc.
A common variant in non-sanctioned play allows the defenders to announce “Kontra!” just before the first trick is played. In this case, the stakes will be doubled for the hand. Declarer, in turn, may announce “Re!”, to re-double the stakes. This process can be repeated twice more by announcing "Bock!" and "Hirsch!".
The player in first seat, sitting to the left of the dealer, leads to the first trick. The other two follow in clockwise direction. Every player plays one card to the trick, which is in the middle of the table. The winner of a trick stacks the cards face-down in front of him, and leads to the next trick, which is again played clockwise.
The players must play a card with the same suit as the first card of the trick, if possible (“following suit”). If a player cannot follow suit, he may play any card (including a trump card). Trumps, including all four jacks, count as a single suit in their own right; if trumps are led, every player must also play trumps if he has any.
If there is at least one trump card in the trick, the highest trump in it wins the trick. If there is no trump in it, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick.
The non-trump suit cards rank in order (highest first): ace, 10, king, queen, 9, 8, 7. Note that the 10 beats the king and queen. The trumps rank the same way, with the four jackson top of them, in the order ♣J, ♠J, ♥J, ♦J. Thusly, the ♣J is the highest-ranking card in the game (unless Null is played, see below). In German the ♣J is often called “der Alte” (English: “the old man”).
Completed tricks are kept face down in front of the players who won them, until all the cards have been played. Examining completed tricks (except for the last one) is not allowed. The tricks of the two players who are playing together are put together, either during or after play.
The suit and rank order described above deviates in a Null game. There is no trump suit, and the 10s are ranked just above the 9s. Also, the Jacks are ranked just below the Queens. In each suit, the order thus becomes A–K–Q–J–10–9–8–7.
The goal of a null game is for the declarer to avoid taking any tricks. If declarer takes a trick in a Null game, they immediately lose and the hand is scored right away.
In the Grand game, only the four Jacks are trumps in the suit order given above for the regular trump game. All other ranks remain the same (the 10 is ranked just below the Ace). There are thus five suits in a Grand game; if a jack is led to a trick, the other two players have to play jacks too, if there are any in their hands.
Conceding and claiming
Declarer may, unilaterally, concede a loss while he is holding at least nine cards (i.e. until before playing to the second trick). Afterwards approval of at least one defender is required. Defenders may concede anytime, but may be asked by declarer to complete play (e.g. if declarer thinks that Schneider or Schwarz is still possible).
Claiming of remaining tricks is possible as well, but for a defender only if he or she would be able to take the remaining tricks herself.
A game that is won (by taking the necessary amount of trick points) can not be lost after the fact, no matter what.
Counting and scoring
After the last trick has been played, the hand is scored. Winning conditions for Null games are different from suit and Grand games.
Winning conditions for declarer
Point-values of cards
To win a suit or Grand game, declarer needs at least 61 card points in his tricks; the two cards in the Skat always count towards declarer's tricks. If declarer announced Schneider he needs at least 90 card points in order to win. If he announced Schwarz he must have taken all ten tricks in order to win.
The highest-ranking cards for taking tricks (the Jacks) are not the highest scoring cards. 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, and 9s doesn't help (or hurt) at all, unless Schwarzwas declared.
To win a Null game, declarer must not have taken a single trick. Null games are often not played through the end, either because declarer is forced to take a trick, ending the game prematurely, or because it becomes apparent to the defenders that they will be forced to take the rest of the tricks. There are no card points in a Null game.
Even with the majority in card points, declarer may still have lost if the value of the hand is lower than the value he bid during the auction. This is called “overbidding”. An overbid hand is automatically lost, leading to a negative score for declarer.
An overbid hand is scored by determining the lowest possible hand value that is a multiple of the base value of declarer's suit (or 24 in case of a Grand) which is at least as high as declarer's bid. This value is then doubled and subtracted from declarer's score (negative score).
Example: Declarer bid to 30, missing the two top trumps, intending to play a Club suit game. She then finds the ♣J in the Skat. Her hand is now worth only 24—she has overbid. Unless she manages to play (at least) Schneider (raising the hand value to 36 after the fact), or make a game other than Clubs with a value of at least 30, the hand will be lost. She will receive a negative score of -72 (36 is the lowest multiple of 12, the base value of Clubs, greater than the 30 she bid; 36 times two is 72). She can try to minimize her loss by instead declaring a game in Hearts (base value 10 instead of 12). This will be worth only -60 points unless she ends up in Schneider herself…
The score (game points, not the same as card points) for each game is always assigned to the declarer.
The score to be awarded is the actual value of the hand. How high the player bid during the auction is immaterial, as long as the hand value is as least as high as declarer's bid (seeOverbid Hands above). Note that often the score will be higher than the auction value, because players typically do not bid as high as their hand would allow.
For a won game, that score is added to declarer's tally. For a lost game, the score is doubled and subtracted from declarer's tally (negative score).
Until 1998, lost hand games did not count double, but this rule was dropped in that year. (The reason was that in tournament play nearly all games played were Hand games at this point; they increased the game level by one and also did not penalize as much as a normal game would have if lost).
In league games, a fixed number of points is added for each game that is won by the declarer, to lower the chance factor and to stress the skill factor of the game. In that situation, it becomes far more important for each player to bid his hand as high as possible.
Example 1: Declarer bids to 20 and declares a Grand game. He then proceeds to take 78 points in tricks, winning the hand. Declarer held the ♣J, ♠J and ♦J. The hand value is (2+1)×24 = 72 points. These are awarded to declarer.
Example 2: Declarer bids to 30 and declares a Null Ouvert game. She, however, is forced to take the ninth trick, losing the game. The hand value is 46, it will be doubled and subtracted from her total score (-92 points).