1. The History of Skat

Witnesses from that time substantiate that Skat came from the game of Sheepshead. By 1810, Sheepshead was a game played by four people. The Brommisch Tarot Club of Altenburg, Germany preferred three-handed games, however, such as the Spanish game of Hombre and the Italian Tarot. The groups of three who had become accustomed to playing together were reluctant to add a fourth player. Because of that, some players tried to accomodate the 32-card German-suited Sheepshead pack to three players. Each player received ten cards and the two remaining cards were set aside by the Tarot players.

The new game was mentioned for the first time in 1818 in the weekly paper, the Eastland Pages ("Osterländische Blätter"), and one might suppose that this was when Skat was born. Of course, one must admit that the game played in those days was not exactly played according to the current rules - the games of Grand and Null were added later, for example. It is also true, that the current method of bidding by number had not yet been born.

It is interesting that Skat was played in two forms in 1818. Originally, the dealer always had to play a game no matter whether he had any hope of winning or not. More often than not, he probably lost. The newer method was more sporting. Whoever thought they had the best cards opposed the others. This really wasn't yet bidding, however. The Altenburgers simply worked it out among themselves. Bidding proper, was first promoted by the players in Leipzig as they began to operate with numbers. Up to this time, the bidding process was still child's play and had little in common with the clever, interesting, and often-dramatic process that preceeds the playing of the first trick today.

But, how did Skat jump the border of eastern Thuringia and spread to other locations? Here everyone agrees that it was primarily carried by students, and primarily those studying in nearby Leipzig since Altenburg had no university of its own. They then carried the game back home with them when their studies were over. These students also developed bidding by numbers. To them, it seemed much more logical since the other players would not know in advance what each wanted to play, as was the case when it was simply worked out. Besides, the bidding went much more quickly this way.

Around 1840, the games of Grand and Null were introduced. The Jacks, however, were not included as Trumps in all locations. Not until 1860 were Jacks counted as Trumps everywhere. Even at this time, though, some other game types did not exist. Among them, Ramsch, which continues to be popular even to this day.

It should be clear at this point that the development of Skat was not always smooth and unified. Many locations played different versions of the game. In this regard, it should be remembered that not too long ago the base value of Grand was commonly 20, not the 24 specified today.

How many deals of the Skat cards would it take - ten to each player and two for the Skat - before the players held the same hands that they had on the first deal? One might suppose that this question is silly and the calculation simple. The truth is, however, that the probability is so small that this situation likely has never occured and may not occur in 1000 years. This surprising result makes more sense when one considers that the total number of possible card distributions is 2,753,294,408,504,640. Everyone should try to pronounce this number at least once!

One could certainly write a lot more about the founding of Skat. We'll let it go with this: From August 7 - 9, 1886 the first German Skat Congress took place and the stage was set for future developments.

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