We need say no more about shuffling and dealing since these chores are handled by the computer. The computer also determines the proper dealer. Now, we want to concern ourselves with themes that cannot be handled by the computer. As a first step, we should learn the individual card values.
3.1 Card Values
As already mentioned, the Skat pack consists of 32 cards divided into 4 suits - Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs - each of which contains 8 cards. These eight cards rank as follows: 7, 8, 9, Q, K, 10, Ace, and Jack. The Jacks are thus the highest trumps, the Aces the second highest, and so on. The suits rank as follows: Diamonds (lowest), Hearts, Spades, and Clubs so that the Club Jack is the highest trump card; the Spade Jack is higher than the Heart Jack, and so on. All four Jacks are counted as Trumps. Thus, if a suit game is played, there are 11 trump cards (7 in the suit plus the four Jacks).
In determining a winner(s), the question that is decisive is whether the Soloist captured the most card points. The values of the individual cards follow:
The detailed calculation follows in a later chapter.
3.2 Calculating Bid Values
To be completely upfront about it, no one can be forced to make a bid. Every player can pass no matter how strong his or her cards. One should, however, always bid a hand as far as reasonably possible. Suppose just once that you had a sure winner of a hand, but passed right away so that the person who ended up as Soloist would most likely lose. You can imagine that you wouldn't be particularly popular and such players are called "Maurer," Masons (= "wall builders") because they build up a defensive wall around themselves.
In Skat there are three basic game types that can be bid: Suit games, Grand, and Null. The maximum bid that a player may make without overbidding the hand, is found by calculating the product of a base value and a multiplier.
The base values are:
Playing according to the new Skat rules dating from 1/1/99 changes the
Grand ouvert now has the same base value as Grand (24). An additional
multiplier is added for the open play.
The question of how one determines the multiplier is somewhat more complicated to explain. The primary factors in determining it are the Jacks. In a suit game, the Aces, Tens, and so on may also play a role. We first discuss the role of the Jacks.
What is important is the sequence in which the Jacks are held. The Club Jack is the highest (also called "Alte," - the old one), followed by the Spade, Heart, and Diamond Jacks in exactly this order. The multiplier depends only incidently on the number of Jacks held. What is most important is their sequence.
Suppose first that Miller has only the Club Jack in her hand. She could bid, "with one" Jack. If she held both the Club and Spade Jacks, she could bid "with two" Jacks, and so on. The word "with" important here because it is used only when one holds the highest (Club) Jack and one counts downward as long as there is no break in the sequence. If she held the Club and Heart Jacks, for example, she could bid only "with one" although holding two Jacks. The second (Spade) Jack is missing.
Important: The counting stops as soon as a Jack is missing from the hand. In order to make these concepts clearer, consider the following additional example.
Miller holds the Club, Spade, and Diamond Jacks. She holds the highest Jack and thus is said to play "with." Viewing from the top downward, she playes "with two" since the Heart Jack is missing.
What happens when a player doesn't have the highest (Club) Jack? It's quite simple. He or she then plays "without" a Jack or Jacks. Contrary to the previous situation, what matters now is how large the gap is, i.e., how many Jacks in the sequence are missing.
If Miller, for example, had only the Heart Jack, she could bid "without 2." Holding the Spade and Diamond Jacks, she could only bid "without 1" since the Spade Jack breaks the string of Jacks that is missing. Without any Jacks, she would play "without 4." These multiplier values are valid for all suit games and also for Grand.
The way things are counted in Skat, one additional multiplier is always added to the with/without count in order to recognize that the player has undertaken a game. Consider an example:
Suppose Miller wants to play a Club game, but has only the Heart Jack. The maximum bid would then be, "without 2 plus one, 3" (usually spoken, "without 2, game 3") times the base value of Clubs, 12, for a total of 36. Smith, on the other hand, considers that he can easily play Grand since he holds both the Club and Spade Jacks. He calculates, "with 2, game 3" times the base value for Grand, 24, thus resulting in a maximum bid value of 72.
If someone holds cards that are so good that he or she doesn't need to pick up the Skat and discard two cards, then he or she can simply leave the cards alone and announce a game played "Hand." Doing this, increases the multiplier by one more value.
Supposing Meyer wants to play Diamonds without 3, Game 4, Hand 5, then the highest possible bid is 45 (Diamonds' base value is 9).
So far so good, but in Skat this is not all there is to the story. Recall the values of the individual cards. If all the point values are added together, they total 120. In order to win, the Soloist must capture 61; he or she loses with a count of 60. If either the Soloist or the opponents have fewer than 31 card points, then that party is said to have been played Schneider (rhymes with "spider," means "Taylor," i.e., "cut down to size") and the multiplier in raised yet another value. In the case where either the Soloist or the opponents have not taken a single trick, this is called being played Schwarz (= "black," i.e., has been tarred) and another multiplier is added.
If playing hand, one can also predict and announce in advance that Schneider or Schwarz will be reached. In each case, this adds another multiplier.
Example: Spades, Hand, Schneider announced, with 4 Jacks:
That is, 8 times 11 (Base Value for Spades) making the highest bid 88.
The Soloist may consider a game with Schwarz announced to be so invincible that he or she is willing to play with his or her hand exposed. In this case, the Soloist plays Ouvert (= open) and exposes his or her cards face up on the table before the first card is played (the others continue to hold their cards hidden). This add yet another multiplier.
You can see that a player must consider a large number of things in order to determine the highest bidable value. Under which circumstances one should play which game will be discussed more completely in the next chapter. We'll avoid further discussion at this point except to comment on something that has not been mentioned yet in the interest of simplicity. In a suit game, the game value can be even higher under certain conditions.
These cases can, however, occur only when the Soloist either holds all four Jacks or none of them. If he or she holds, for example, 4 Jacks, Club Ace, Club 10, Club 9, 8, 7, the calculation is "with 4," game 5, Ace 6, Ten 7, multiplied by 12 (Base value for Clubs) resulting in the highest bid value of 84. That is, all the cards are counted downward until the first break in the sequence is reached. If playing without any Jacks, one counts the missing cards in sequence until the first card in a suit is encountered.
Null Games are an exception to the calculation of bid values described above. They always have the same bid values regardless of how many Jacks a player holds. The maximum bid values for the Null games follow:
In this section it was clarified how one calculates the maximum possible bid value. The most important bid values are summarized in the following table:
You can see which values are possible in each case by using Pop-up menus in the program
We still haven't discussed the question of which cards are necessary in order to play a particular game. A simple answer to the question is not possible since, in principle, you can always play most any game. The only question is whether you will win or not.
3.3 Criteria for a Suit Game
A suit game is the most typical game in Skat. Let's remember that, in this type of game, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, or Clubs are the trump cards along with the Jacks. Thus, there cannot be more than 11 trumps in a game. The more trumps a player has, the higher the probability that he or she will win the game.
Assume that you have 6 trumps. Then, your opponents can have no more than 5 which, in the best case, will be divided between them 2 and 3. At most, you will have to lead trump 3 times before you opponents can no longer win a trick with trump.
Of course, it's not only the number of trumps that determine whether one plays a suit game or not. It depends obviously also on which trumps are preferable and the trumps held by your opponents must also be considered. One must also pay attention to the maximum number of cards that will be lost and the likely number of card points that will be given up in these tricks. If Miller, for example, had only the Heart 9 in the hand (with Clubs trump), she would calculate that the opponents would win a 21-point trick, if the Ace and 10 are divided, and would be almost out of Schneider.
Remember that you must always follow the suit led whenever you hold a card of that suit (Jacks are part of the trump suit, not necessarily the suit shown on the card). If and only if a suit is missing from the hand, may one either throw off an unwanted card of another suit or play a trump. We want to explain this further with a couple of examples. You should recognize, however, that the art of bidding can only be learned through much practice.
First, consider carefully whether you prefer to use the Skat or to play a Hand game. In either case, the cards in the Skat count in the bidding process. Suppose at first that you want to play Hearts without two Jacks, have bid to 30, and pick up the Skat only to find the Club Jack. Oh no! Suddenly without 2, game 3 has turned into with 1, game 2 and the maximum bid is 20 not the 30 you have bid. Because of the Skat, you have overbid. What can you do? One possibility is to try a higher-valued game (Grand, for example) or to try to Schneider your opponents; the other possibility is simply to give up. Experienced players plan for such things and don't necessarily fully bid their "without" games.
Now for some Examples:
With a Diamonds game, 6 trump are available. The job of the Soloist in a Suit game is normally first to pull the trumps from the opponents. Two trump tricks are certain in any case, since the Club and Spade Jacks are the highest trumps. If the remaining trumps are divided normally (3-2), the opponents will have only one trump remaining after these two Jacks are played. Thus, as far as trump is concerned, there will be no immediate danger. It will hardly ever be the case that the Soloist cannot trump when not able to follow suit.
The Spade suit is secure. The Ace and probably the 10 can be brought home. The Heart suit is missing and can be trumped, possibly resulting in 11 or 21 points (Ace and 10). Clubs will likely lose a trick. Perhaps something useful is in the Skat and the Club can be put away. Thinking this way, one can bid to 27.
Here there are only 5 trump (Diamonds) in the hand and not especially high ones so the previous hand was better. 33 points (the Aces) seem somewhat secure. Playing correctly - as we will see later - may contribute a few more points from the opponents. One doesn't dare to count on the contents of the Skat to help.
We'll avoid further examples at this point, since the best teacher is simply to practice. You'll quickly see what must be played. One thing must be mentioned, however. The fewer the available trump in the hand, the better the so-called "side" cards must be. An Ace is an absolute requirement. On the other hand, if many trumps are available, it is rather important to have as many missing suits as possible. If an opponent plays an Ace and his partner the 10, the Soloist by trumping can win at least 21 card points. Trumping with the trump Ace will even yield 32, more than half of the amount required to win.
Of course, a little luck is required since a bad card distribution can lead to a loss even with a good hand. If one opponent had no Clubs and the other no Hearts, then the two Aces in the second example would be lost. On the other hand, don't make the mistake of playing only sure hands that can't be lost. Such players are not popular with other Skat players. Don't be a "Maurer."
3.4 Criteria for Grand
Contrary to a suit game, in Grand only the 4 Jacks are trump. For the Soloist it is important to have as many Aces and 10s as possible. The base value for Grand is 24. At one time it was often valued at 20, but this is no longer permitted by the official rules. A base value of 36 is counted, if one plays ouvert. In this case, however, the Soloist must take all tricks, and loses otherwise.
The Grand games can be classified into 2 categories. Typically, the Soloist holds at least three Aces and sometimes the associated 10, so that he or she is confident of at least 50 card points. Also assumed is an even distribution of the cards, 2-3 per suit. If none of the 4 Aces is held, at least a high Jack must be available so that an Ace can be captured when led from a suit that the Soloist lacks. To summarize: if a sufficient number of Aces and 10 are available, the role of the Jacks is less significant.
In order to understand this better, consider the following examples:
Although the Soloist holds no Jacks as trump, this hand is an excellent one for Grand. If the remaining suit cards are somewhat evenly divided, the Aces and 10s will go through and, with a few cards from the opponents, will total the required 61 for the win. There are 74 secure points in the hand, but one would not bid this hand assuming Schneider since the Jacks are missing.
One would also bid Grand with this hand. Only 52 secure points are available. Holding no clubs, however, one would hope to trump the Club Ace with one of the two Jacks.
Two categories of Grand were mentioned above. In the second category, the primary requirement is not Aces and 10s, but rather a holding of at least 2 Jacks and a long suit.
This hand is actually a clear Diamonds game, but a Grand should be preferred because of the high base value. The first play by the Soloist should be Jacks (so that the opponents cannot trump the long suit). After that, play down the long suit (Diamonds in this case) from high to low. The defenders cannot then win these tricks and are compelled to throw off cards, even Aces and 10s of other suits at the end. With some luck, one can even win Schwarz since the opponents fortunately don't know that you hold the Heart 7.
Mixtures of the two categories also occur of course. This clear distinction in our examples is intended only to clarify how these hands look.
3.5 Criteria for Null
Null is a completely different game in Skat. In this case there are no trumps at all. The Jacks are no longer on top but are rearranged along with the 10s. The order of the cards is shown below:
7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace.
Thus, the highest card in a suit is the Ace.
Goal of the Game:
In this type of game, the Soloist has the goal of taking no tricks. When and if he or she takes a single trick, then the game is lost, even if the trick contains no points. Analogously, the opponents try to arrange things in such a way that the Soloist is forced to take a trick.
How does a typical Null game look? In order to make this clear, we must first study when a suit is secure and when it is not. A suit is absolutely secure only when one holds the 7. When it is missing, an unlucky card distribution can force one to take a trick.
Meyer holds the 8 and 9, Miller has the Queen, while Smith holds all other 5 cards among them also the 7. If Smith leads the 7 directly, Meyer must surely play a higher card, but Miller would win the trick with her Queen. So, this doesn't work out for the defenders. If Smith leads the King, however, he wins the trick for certain and can lead again. Since Miller has no more cards in this suit, Smith can immediately lead the 7, Meyer must play a higher card, and Miller can throw off. The Soloist has thus lost. This outcome is likely only when the Soloist plays "ouvert," since the opponents can see the weak point. In a normal game, it is unlikely since Smith doesn't know for sure how many cards Miller has and he must also figure that Meyer has put unsafe cards away in the Skat. If he leads a card from a suit that Meyer is missing, Meyer can throw off the unsafe cards and thus possibly win the game.
That also means that the more cards one holds in a suit that lacks the 7 the less secure it is. A lone Ace in a suit is certainly a card one would try to put away.
Even holding the 7, however, doesn't necessarily mean that a suit is secure. That depends heavily on the remaining cards held. A holding of a 7 and a King is very dangerous. One either tries to put the King away in the Skat or hopes that it can be thrown off when a blank suit is led. In the second case, one would never play ouvert.
There is, of course, no problem with a holding of 7 and 8. A holding of 7, 9, Jack, and King (alternating cards) is also completely safe if played correctly. If Smith holds all of the other cards and leads the 8, 10, Queen, or Ace, all the Soloist must do is to play the next lowest card until there is no possibility of losing. Not following this method, may lead to an unexpected loss. Suppose Smith leads his Ace and Meyer plays his Jack. The following cards remain:
Meyer: 7, 9 and King
Smith: 8, 10 and Queen
Smith can now play the 10 and Meyer must follow with the 9; then Smith plays the 8 and Meyer plays the 7; finally Smith plays the Queen and the Soloist takes the trick with the King!
What must the Soloist consider when he or she must lead to the first trick (remember, take one trick and Null is lost). One should select a card that doesn't leave any suit unprotected after the card is played. Leading the 7 when it is the only card held in a suit, leaves the suit blank and is a secure play when one figures that the opponents will play their highest cards from this suit. Similarly, one can safely lead the 7 in the following cases:
One must already have considered these issues when one announces a game in which one must lead the first card. The specific strategy of leading both for the Soloist and for the defenders will be discussed in a later chapter.
Up to this point we have learned when a suit is secure in a Null game and when not. When a suit is not 100% safe, this is not necessarily a reason for avoiding a Null bid. It may mean only that one must not play it ouvert. A simple Null can be played since the opponents must determine the weak suit through the play. Holding only the 8 in a suit is certainly no great problem since the 7 and other cards will likely be divided among the other players. It is unlikely that any one play will hold all of the remaining cards. If the soloist is missing both the 7 and 8, however, then the situation is dangerous. One would for sure use the Skat in order to try to put these dangerous cards away.
One would normally avoid bidding a Null game when one holds two or more dangerous cards, since it is unlikely that two usable cards will be found in the Skat. It could even be worse. Despite that, give it a try! You'll soon learn from experience when it makes sense to play a Null and when not. Remember, in the end, your opponents don't know your cards.
When playing "ouvert," the Soloist must place his or her cards face up on the table as soon as the game is announced.
3.6 The Bidding Process
The necessary fundamentals of bidding have now been discussed. We will now discuss more precisely how the bidding in Skat works.
As discussed previously, Skat is always played in a clockwise direction. The player to the dealer's right (Middlehand) must bid first, either saying, "I pass" or naming a bid value. It's best to begin with the smallest value so that the bidding can be won with the minimum bid. This minimizes the chance that one will overbid the hand.
The player to the dealer's left (Forehand) responds to the bids from Middlehand. Either the bid is accepted by saying, "Have it" or one indicates that the bid is too high by saying, "Pass."
At some point during the bidding, one of these two players will pass. The dealer must then bid. He or she either passes immediately or makes a higher bid to the player who remains. The Soloist is determined when one of these two remaining bidders passes. The winner can then decide whether or not to pick up the Skat or to play Hand. How the game continues from here can be read in the next chapter.
3.7 All Players Pass Immediately
Sometimes it happens when playing Skat, that no player knows what he or she should bid. This may result in a case when all players pass immediately. In this case, the official rules say that the cards should be thrown in and the next dealer should deal again. Commonly, however, a game of Ramsch is played. The Skat remains face down and the first card is led immediately by Forehand. More exact rules will be given in the chapter on playing strategy.