2. The Basics
Before we confront the specific details of Skat, we want first to give you a basic outline of what happens so that you have a better overview of the game.
Skat is played with exactly three people. The card pack consists of 32 cards with the suits Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs, each suit containing the cards 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, and Ace.
As is typical in card games, a hand begins with the shuffling of the cards. One should note, however, that the dealer changes after each hand. More precisely, the player to the current dealer's left, deals next. The dealer distributes the cards face down to the individual players in the pattern 3-4-3. The last two cards form the so-called Skat and remain for now in the middle of the table.
The individual players take up their cards so that only they can see what is on them. According to the Skat rules, the so-called bidding process begins at this point. They have looked at their cards and in a preliminary way determined whether they want to play a suit, Grand, or Null game or to pass. On what basis one determines this will be carefully explained in the next chapters. The purpose of bidding is to determine which player will become the Soloist who plays against the other two. An exception is Ramsch in which all three players play alone.
Before the game can begin, it is necessary to explain the terms "Forehand," "Middlehand," and "Rearhand." Let's assume that our three player are called Meyer, Miller, and Smith. Meyer has dealt the cards. Miller sits to his left and Smith to his right. Play always moves clockwise. The player to the left of the dealer, Miller in our case, is Forehand, Smith is Middlehand, and Meyer is Rearhand.
Once each player has figured out how high he or she wants to bid, it is up to Middlehand to make a bid. This is directed to Forehand, in our case Miller. Let's suppose that Smith is willing to bid and makes the lowest bid, 18. For Miller there are two alternatives: she either holds the value and says, "Have it" or she answers, "Pass." In the latter case, she is letting it be known that her cards are not sufficient to allow her to bid this high. If Smith as Middlehand cannot bid a higher value, he must pass. Irrespective of who passes first, the person in Rearhand may now bid a higher value. If he is unwilling or unable to do so, he must pass too. If he makes a bid, it is directed toward the person who has not yet passed. In any case, this process results in a player who has bid the highest value or who has not passed in the face of the bids from others. This person becomes the Soloist and must now determine which game is to be played, Null, Grand, or a suit game.
What happens when all players pass and no one makes a bid? According to the official rules, all the cards must be thrown in. The deal rotates and the cards are shuffled and re-dealt. Quite often, however, Ramsch is played in which each player plays alone. The loser is the one who captures the most points.
A Quick Review:
A Skat game begins with the shuffling and dealing of the cards and the bidding process. What comes next? After the bidding the Soloist is determined. He or she can either take up the two face-down cards, the so-called Skat, or play with the hand as dealt and leave the Skat untouched. If the Skat is used, two cards must be then be laid aside restoring the hand to ten cards. The Skat cards belong to the Soloist in any case regardless of whether they are seen, used, or left untouched. The other two players are then informed about the game the Soloist desires to play. As an example, let's suppose it's a suit game with Clubs as trump. After everything is known about what will be played, the first card can be led.
The first card is played by the player to the dealer's left. In our example this would be Miller. Then Smith plays a card and then it is Meyer's turn. When one card from each player is on the table -altogether 3- this so-called "trick" is won by the player who, according to the rules, has played the highest card. This person then lays the trick face down next to him or her. If the trick is won by either of the defensive partners, it is usually collected in a common pile. Whoever wins the trick, plays the first card of the next one, after which a card is played by each of the others in a clockwise rotation. It continues this way until the tenth trick is played after which the hand is over.
At this point, each party takes up the cards they have won and counts the points contained in their tricks. The winner or winners is then determined, the corresponding game values are entered into the score sheet, and the next dealer deals the cards again to begin a new hand.
This ends our discussion of the basics of the game. As a beginner, you must still have a lot of questions. The main purpose of this overview was to show you the main phases of the game. We will now go into more detail about the specifics in the chapters that follow.