North American Skat


Skat bidding diagram The following instructions detail the rules for North American Skat and several of it's variants. For the rules for the variant preferred by the German Skat clubs and the ISPA, please see our original Skat game rules. Skat was first and foremost a German game developed in the 1800's and later brought to the Americas by German immigrants wanting a taste of home. Over time, revisions and changes were made to the game making this current North American version the version commonly encountered in the United States and surrounding areas.

North American Skat is a trick-taking card game played by 3 players using a 32 card deck created from a standard deck stripped of all cards lower than 7. Thus, this Skat deck consists of one card of the denominations 7 through Ace in each of the four suits. Although designed strictly for three participants, variations for additional players are provided below in the Optional Rules and Variations section.

The four top Trump cards in Skat The ranking of the cards may vary depending on which particular suit is named trump for the hand (if one is named). Whenever there is a trump suit named (see below), the four highest ranking trumps are always the four jacks, ranked in the following descending order; Jack of Clubs (♣), Jack of Spades (♠), Jack of Hearts (), Jack of Diamonds (). After the four jacks, the remainder of the trump suit (in whichever suit might be named as trump in the hand) rank in the following order, from highest to lowest; Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9, 8, 7. The non trump suits rank in the following order, high to low; Ace, King, Queen, 10, 9, 8, 7. In addition, within the game of Skat the suits also have a ranking for various purposes within the game. This suit ranking from highest to lowest is as follows: Clubs(♣), Spades(♠), Hearts(), Diamonds(). In a few circumstances no trump suit is used in a hand, and in that case the rank of the cards is the expected ranking (from high to low): Ace, King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7. When there is a trump suit in the hand, the Jacks are then considered to be part of that trump suit and no longer belong to the suit marked on the face of the Jack. There are also occasions when the hand will be played with the four Jacks as the only trump. In these cases, these Jacks rank as described above and are part of their own "trump" suit and not considered as members of any other specific suit.

With Skat, as in most games, there are a number of methods to determine the first dealer, with cutting for low card the most common method. When doing this, if multiple cards of the same rank are cut, the cards are further ranked by suit, using the same suit ranking as in the game itself.

Once the initial dealer is determined he then shuffles the deck and offers it to the player at his immediate right for the cut. After the cut, the dealer then begins dealing the cards face-down to each individual in a clockwise direction around the table, placing the cards face down in front of each player. Each participant is distributed a total of 10 face down cards, in small packets of cards, starting with the player to his immediate left. In the first round of cards in each deal, the dealer gives each player a packet of three cards. After each player receives this first three card packet, he then places two cards face down in a separate hand near the center of the table. This small two card hand is called the Skat. After dealing the Skat, the dealer then deals a round of face down packets consisting of four cards to each player. Lastly, the dealer deals a final three card packet to each participant such that each player's hand is complete and ready to begin play.

Player Position and Bidding

Skat Player Positional Naming Once the dealing is complete, the players then pick up their hands for examination. Each player position in the game of Skat is given a specific name. The dealer is called Endhand (or Hinterhand in German). The player to the dealers immediate left is called the Leader (Vorhand) and the last player, to the dealers right, is called Middlehand (Mittelhand).

After the players look at their hands the bidding begins, starting with Middlehand. This individual may elect to pass or must name a specific number, with a minimum of 10, as his initial bid. This bid would be based on his estimate of the number of game points he believes he can earn during the hand. This bid as well as any others made during the game, therefore, would be that player's evaluation of the total points he would make on the hand, consisting of the basic "game" score and any multipliers earned from his hand (see below). The winning bid will affect a number of aspects of the game, which will be detailed below.

If Middlehand names a bid, the Leader then responds with an affirmative bid saying "Stay" or "Yes" to indicate he is willing to exceed or equal this bid (although he does no specify any specific bid of his own). In this case, Middlehand must then either increase his bid or pass. If Middlehand does again increase his initial bid, Leader then either responds to Middlehand's bid with an affirmative statement, indicating his own intention to again increase the bid, or he must pass. The Middlehand and the Leader continue in this way until one of these players says "pass", in which the last player to name a bid or say "Stay" is considered the current high bidder. Once either Middlehand or Leader does pass, Endhand then enters the bidding, challenging the previous highest bidder. If Endhand wants to enter the bidding he must then name a bid higher than any bid named previously (between Middlehand and Leader). If Endhand does name a higher bid, the high bidder between Middlehand and Leader than states "Stay" if he is willing to equal or exceed the bid. These two remaining players then continue the bidding until one of them also passes, with the highest bidder (last to name a higher bid or say Stay, than becoming the Declarer and naming the "game" (see below) for this hand.

Skat bidding example
As an illustrative example say Middlehand, as the first bidder, names a bid of 10. Leader, believing he can exceed this bid simply states Stay. Middlehand then names a higher bid of 18. Leader does not intend to equal this bid, so says Pass. At this point Endhand may enter the bidding, in this case he bids 20. Middlehand then responds with Stay. Endhand then bids 28 to which Middlehand says Pass. This concludes the auction, with Endhand as the high bidder becoming the Player and provided the opportunity to name the Game.
If the Middlehand initially passes, bidding jumps directly between Leader and Endhand with Endhand required to name the first bid or pass. The bidding between these two individuals would then proceed in the same way as that between Middlehand and Leader. The highest bidder between these two would then become the Player for the hand, with the two opponents attempting to prevent the Player from either obtaining his declared game (see below) or earning enough points to equal or exceed his bid.

If both the Middlehand and Endhand pass, the Leader automatically becomes the Player and names the game. He does not name any specific point value bid but simply names the game at which the hand will be played. In this circumstance this Player has the option of declaring his game as Ramsch. This is the only time in which Ramsch may be declared and played as it may never be selected by an individual who won the right to declare his game by a high bid.

The minimum allowable bid is 10, but for all subsequent higher bids, the bidder may name any number providing the bid is larger than the previous high bid on this hand. By custom, bids are usually increased in multiples of 2 (10, 12, 14, etc). As a memory aid as to the specific order of the bidding, players sometimes recite the following; Deal, Listen, Speak. This shows the order of the participants roles of Dealer (Endhand), Forehand or Leader (Listens or Responds) and Middlehand (initial bidder or first Speaker).


Declaring the Game:
Once the "Player" for the hand is determined by the highest bid, he then declares at which "Game" the hand will be played. Whichever "Game" is chosen determines a variety of factors in the hand, including the trump suit (if any), scoring value and whether the Player will make use of the skat during play. The following chart shows the various games in which the Player can declare. Following the table are descriptions for each of these "Games". Occasionally, Skat games will include a few additional declarable "Games" to the list; see the variations section below for details. Although obvious, it should be mentioned that the Player may never declare a "game" which could not, under any circumstances, earn a score equal or exceeding the value of his bid.

Game NameTrump?Use SkatScore
 
TournéeYesYes8765
SoloYesNo1211109
Grand TournéeJacks OnlyYes12
Grand SoloJacks OnlyNo20
Gucki Grand (Guckser)Jacks OnlyYes16
NulloNoneNo20
Grand OuvertJacks OnlyNo24
Null OuvertNoneNo40
RamschJacks OnlyNo10

Announcing

Before the opening play to the first trick, the high bidder may also make an announcement, indicating he intends to obtain Schneider or Schwarz on the hand. These announcements significantly increase the Players final score in the hand if they are correct in the announcement. However, if the Player fails to make his announcement his score is similarly penalized. Schneider is an announcement to win 91 or more in card points (see below for a description of card points) and Schwarz is an announcement to win every trick in the hand. These announcements and their respective awards or penalties are described in detail below. This trick would be won by the Ace

Play of the Hand

The actual play of the hand in Skat is quite simple. The player in the Leader position always plays the first card to the first trick. The Middlehand would play the next card and Endhand the last to this first trick. For this and every trick played in the hand, each participant, in a clockwise playing direction, plays one card to the trick. The other players must follow suit if able to the card led to the suit. If he does not have a card of the suit led, a player may play any card from his hand to the trick, including a trump card. If the trick contains any trump cards, the highest trump card in the trick wins (as per the card ranking discussed above). If the trick contains no trump cards, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick. For purposes of Grand games, where the Jacks are the only trump, the Jacks are considered their own independent trump suit and no longer belong to their "original" marked suit.

Scoring

After the last trick is played and won, the hand is then scored.
The first thing that must be determined is whether the bidder (in the "games" where appropriate) was able to earn enough points to make their bid. This is determined by several factors, which will be detailed here. The base value of a Player's score is determined by which game he has declared (as per the chart above). If the Player does not make "game" (see below), he does not earn the value of this base score, and is said to be "set" with any appropriate penalties applied. If the Player is able to make game, his base score is then adjusted by multipliers as described below. All of the applicable multipliers are added together and then multiplied to the base score to determine the player's final score for the hand. If this final score equals or exceeds the "player's" high bid, he obtains the total score earned for the hand. If, however, his total game point score falls short of his bid, he instead must subtract the base value of whatever game he declared from his current score. This penalty is doubled in certain circumstances (as described in the appropriate section). Negative scores are possible.

Game

After all tricks in the hand have been played, the "Player" then checks all the cards he has won in tricks to determine if he was able to win the necessary 61 points or more in card points to make "game". For this purpose, the following card denominations (regardless of suit) have the indicated point values:

CardPoint Value
Each Ace11
Each 1010
Each King4
Each Queen3
Each Jack2
9, 8 or 70
                     Skat card Point Values                     

In any of the declared games where the skat or discarded cards are set aside for the Player, any points found in these cards is also added to his total. If the player has earned 61 or more points, he is said to have made game (except when playing at Nullo or Ramsch). If the Player has taken 91 or more such card points, he is said to have Schneidered his opponents, which adds an additional multiplier to his score (see multipliers, below). If the Player is able to win every trick, this is called Schwarz (also known as Grand Slam). This earns an additional multiplier for the Player to his final score.

Multipliers

If the high bidder is able to make game, a number of multipliers can then be used to increase his base game score.
  1. Matadors: The Player will earn one multiplier for holding or not holding specific cards of the trump suit (See the section on matadors, below).
  2. Game: For making game (scoring 61 in card points) the Player earns one multiplier.
  3. Schneider: If the Player is able to accumulate 91 or more in card points, he earns another multiplier for Schneider.
  4. Schneider Announced: If the Player, before the first lead makes the announcement that he intends to score Schneider and manages to actually obtain Schneider, this earns one multiplier.
  5. Schwarz: If the Player manages to win every trick in the hand this is worth one more multiplier.
  6. Schwarz Announced: If the Player announces his intention to make Schwarz before leading to the first trick and manages to score Schwarz he earns one more multiplier.
All multipliers are cumulative for the Player, thus earning him any multipliers which appear previous in the list of multipliers than the last multiplier he can claim. Thus, any multipliers with a smaller list number than this multiplier would also be claimable by the Player. For instance a Player who announced and made Schneider Announced would also get the multipliers for regular Schneider, Game and any matadors in their hand.

Matadors can drastically affect a players multipliers and thus his score
As an example, in a hand with Spades as trump, a hand containing the trump cards shown in the top hand would be said to be "With" 5 matadors. Similarly, in another hand where Spades was set as the trump suit, a player having the bottom trump cards would be said to be "Without" 3 matadors.
Matadors: All players are either with or against some number of matadors. The matadors are the full unbroken trump suit for the hand. An individual who holds the Jack of Clubs thus has one matador (said as "with" one). He adds one matador for each card in an unbroken sequence he has of the trump suit (including the Jacks). Thus, if Spades was trump and the player held the following cards in the trump suit (Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, Ace of Spades, 10 of Spades, 7 of Spades), he would have 5 matadors (worth 5 multipliers on the hand), as he has the 5 top cards of the trump suit. Similarly, for a player who does not hold the top trump card (Jack of Clubs), each card that he is missing from his highest trump card is considered "without" one matador. Thus, a participant whose highest trump card was the Jack of Diamonds would be without 3 matadors (worth 3 multipliers). For each matador the declaring player is with or without, this adds one multiplier. Once it is determined the Player has made game, every applicable multipliers is added together and multiplied by his base game score, which will then become his score earned for the hand.

Concealed Matadors: The Multipliers a player earns for matadors (either with or against) are calculated based on the actual total number in the hand. In all "games" except Ramsch and Nullo, the two skat cards are considered part of the Player's hand. Thus, the actual hand, for consideration of the number of matadors to be found in the hand would actually consist of 12 cards; the 10 cards actually used in the play of the hand and the two skat cards or any cards exchanged for the skat (when applicable). Thus, a player who, without yet having seen the Skat believes they are without a specific number of matadors, may, upon exposure of the skat, find that it causes the number of "missing" trump cards to be reduced and thus discover they have fewer multipliers than they had accounted for in their bid. Likewise, a player with a certain number of such matadors, may find additional matadors in the Skat giving them additional, unexpected multipliers. Thus a player must remember to be careful in bidding, particularly when considering matadors as part of his hand estimate during bidding.

Winning the Game and Additional Scoring

Earning enough card points to make Game, Schneider or Schwarz is not enough to actually win the hand, however. In order to actually win the hand and earn the score for the hand, the Player's total score for the hand, including multipliers, must equal or exceed the amount of his high bid for the hand.

If the Player is able to make his game and his bid for the hand, the base value multiplied by all applicable multipliers is added to his current score.

However, for the declarer who is unable to make game, the full value of his declared game is subtracted from his current score. If this player wins fewer than 31 card points (called being Schneidered), he must instead subtract double the base "game" score. If the declared game was Gucki Grand or the Player used second turn privileges in Tournee and did not make his bid, he would subtract double the base game value from his current score

If the Player manages to make his declared game but does not earn enough points on the hand to equal or exceed his bid he must also subtract points from his hand. In this case he would subtract from his score the next multiple of his base game declaration that is higher than his bid. For instance, if the Player bid 24 and declared a Spade Solo, making his game but only able to obtain a total score of 22, he would be short of his bid. This player would thus have to subtract 33 points from his current accumulated score (33 being the next highest multiple from his bid of the base game of 11 for Spade Solo). This penalty would be doubled if the declared game was Gucki Grand or the Player used second turn privileges when playing Tournee.

No bid required
If both Middlehand and Endhand pass, Leader names the game without bidding, often electing to play the hand at Ramsch.
If both Middlehand and Endhand pass without naming a bid, as mentioned previously, Leader must name a game and need not declare a bid value. In this case, Leader only has to ensure they make "game" or fulfill whatever other criteria is specified for the game they declare (i.e. winning no tricks in Nullo). Since no bid was declared he has nothing to compare so as long as he fulfills the requirement of his declared game, he wins the game and scores accordingly.

When the game the bidder has declared is Nullo or Null Ouvert, no multipliers are used, with the Player just earning the base game value (20 or 40).

Multipliers are also not added or used when Ramsch is being played. In Ramsch, whichever player takes the fewest card points (as per the chart above) is considered the winner and earns 10 points for the hand. If a player manages to take no tricks, he earns 20 points instead. If two of the players tie for lowest card points, the hand is won by whichever of the two players took the least recent trick, in which earns 10 points for winning the hand. If all three participants tie for card points, the Leader is considered the winner, earning him 10 points.

If, while playing Ramsch, a player wins every trick he must subtract 30 points from his current score.

If a player announces Schneider or Schwarz but does not manage to make his announcement, he is also considered to have lost the hand. He not only loses the points for his base game, he loses it after all applicable multipliers are first factored in and multiplied by the base score for the declared game.

Generally, it is agreed upon by the participants beforehand to complete a full game after some set number of deals. It is usually advised to set this number such that each player has the opportunity to deal the same number of hands. At the completion of this number of deals, the individual with the highest total score is determined to be the winner of the game session.

Skat Variations and Optional Rules

Being a very popular game, a number of rules variations for Skat have been developed and played by many, which include:

Additional Declarable Games:
In addition to the "games" used in the standard version of Skat, there are a few additional "games" which the Player may declare. These include the following which are sometimes added to the standard list:

Game NameTrump?Use SkatScore
Gucki NulloNoneYes15
Gucki Nullo OuvertNoneYes30

Gucki Nullo: When a Player declares Gucki Nullo, he is indicating an intention to take no tricks. No trump suit will be used but the Player is entitled to take the Skat and then discard any two cards from his hand. No multipliers are used when scoring a Gucki Nullo.

Gucki Nullo Ouvert: Similar to Gucki Nullo, when Gucki Nullo Ouvert is the declared game, the Player is indicating he intends to take no tricks in the hand. No trump suit is called or used and the Player takes the Skat and then discards any two cards from his hand. What makes this game different from a straight Gucki Nullo, however, is that the player must place his entire hand face up on the table before play of the hand begins.

Usually when adding one of the Gucki Nullo options to the list of games a high bidder can opt to declare, both Gucki Nullo and Gucki Nullo Ouvert are added.

Original Rules:
As Skat has been played for quite some time, a number of changes (usually simplification of some of the complexities of the game) have been made as the game has moved from place to place over time. The original German game, often called International Skat is played somewhat differently.

After the bidding, which is identical to that base game, the high bidder first elects to either play a Skat game or a Hand game. A Skat game is a game in which the Player may make use of the Skat and a Hand game is where the Skat will remain face down on the table untouched. In either a Skat game or a Hand Game, the Player can declare one of the following "Games": In suited and Grand games, the two Skat cards are added to all the cards captured in tricks by the high bidder, with any high card points found in the Skat added to his total of card points captured during play. Announcements of Schneider (attempting to capture 90 or more card points during the hand) and Schwarz (attempting to win every trick during the hand) are allowed, as in the parent game, however these announcement may only be made with Hand games (never with Skat games). Additionally, a new announcement is permitted in this version of Skat called Open. An announcement of Open indicates an intention by the Player to not only win every trick during the hand, but to do it with his entire hand exposed. This announcement is also only allowed with Hand games.

Suited contract values in Skat As in the parent game, the player to the dealers left (Leader) always leads to the first trick, regardless of who is the high bidder. The base values of the games are also slightly different from the classic game, as follows: Another scoring change used in these modernized rules, which was adopted in 1999, regards the penalties for the Player being unable to obtain game. When the Player is unable to take game (61 or more card points) double the base point value for the game declared is subtracted from their current running score.

Similarly, if the Player makes his declared game but does not earn enough points on the hand to equal or exceed his bid he would need to subtract from his score an amount double the next multiple of his base game declaration that is higher than his high bid.

The specific multipliers considered for determining the Players game points are dependent on whether he declared a Hand game or a Skat game. The following charts show the applicable multipliers and value for each:

Hand without Skat               Hand with Skat
Hand Game               Skat Game
  • Matadors - 1 Each
  • Game - 1
  • Hand - 1
  • Schneider - 1
  • Schneider with Announcement - 1
  • Schwarz - 1
  • Schwarz with Announcement - 1
  • "Open" with Announcement - 1
 
  • Matadors - 1 Each
  • Game - 1
  • Schneider - 1
  • Schwarz - 1

The multiplier for "Hand" is earned for playing any Hand game (not looking at or using the Skat). This multiplier is always earned if the Player is able to make game on a hand game. As mentioned previously, the Open multiplier is earned if the Player plays the hand with his entire hand face-up and manages to win every trick. As in the parent game, the multipliers are cumulative. For instance, a Player managing to score Open (after announcing it) would also get the multipliers for Schwarz with Announcement, Schwarz itself, Schneider with Announcement, Schneider, Hand, Game and any Matadors (with or without).

In this version, if both Middlehand and Endhand decline to make a bid, the Leader is not forced to declare a game and play the hand. If he chooses to Pass he may do so and all the cards are re-gathered, shuffled together and then passed to the next dealer in rotation who will proceed to deal the next hand. Thus, Ramsch is not normally played in this version.
However, in some variations of International Skat, Ramsch is still played (as in the original game) when all players choose to pass without making a bid.

In all other respects the classic version is played the same as North American Skat, described above. See the How to Play Skat page for the detailed rules of the original International variation of Skat.

Kontra, Rekontra, Bock and Hirsch:
Kontra and Rekontra are methods of doubling or redoubling the potential score or penalties faced by the Player in the hand.
At any time before the first card of the trick is played, either of the two opponents of the Player may state "Kontra". This automatically doubles the scores or penalties earned by the Player during the hand. If the Player is firm in the strength of his hand, he can immediately respond with the statement "Rekontra". This again doubles all scores and penalties on the hand. This doubling and re-doubling affects the final scores earned by the Player but does not affect the actual value needed by the Player to make the contract. If the Player is the Leader he must wait a few moments to give the opponents the opportunity to make the Kontra statement on the hand before making his first lead.

If the Player does declare Rekontra, one of the opponents can then respond with a call of Bock which doubles the scores and penalties earned on the hand yet again. In response to a call of Bock, the Player may call Hirsch which doubles the scores for the hand one last time.

Rauber Skat:
This is another version which has been developed to somewhat simplify the basic game. Rauber Skat is played identically to the original, with the following exceptions: In all other aspects Rauber Skat is played the same as the basic game described above.

Standard Skat:
Another variation of the parent game with an aim to simplify the rules is Standard Skat. This game is also identical to classic Skat with the following differences:
Additional Multipliers::
In some Skat games additional multipliers are used. In these games, one or more of the following multipliers are used when calculating the total multipliers the Player may earn on the hand:

Additional Players may not receive cards on every deal but still participate in the game Skat for Additional Participants:
Although Skat is designed for 3 players, additional participants may want to sit down to a session. Obviously, if there is an even multiple of three such participants, multiple games of skat at different tables can be set. In these cases, at the end of a session of Skat, the individual from all tables having the highest score would be declared the overall winner of the session. If there are 4 or 5 players, however, all the players can still sit at the table with some players not receiving cards or otherwise participating in the play of a specific hand. In this case, the players would all sit around the table as normal and perform the normal procedures for determining the first dealer (and seating positions, if that is an issue). Once the first dealer is established, the deal rotates around the table to each player as normal in the usual direction. When there are 4 players at the table, the dealer himself would not receive any cards on this hand but the remaining three players would receive cards as normal. On the next hand, when the deal rotates to the next player in turn, the new dealer would then not receive cards but the previous dealer will, continuing in this manner with each dealer distributing the cards to the other 3 players but himself not receiving any cards in the hand.

Similarly, with 5 players, both the dealer would not receive any cards nor would the third individual to that dealers left (in a clockwise rotation around the table) for the hand. As the deal rotated around the table, the new dealer and whichever player was seated in the third position to that dealers left would not receive cards on that particular hand.

Ramsch: Although not used in all versions of Skat, many players include the Ramsch feature in the game of Skat. Ramsch is a Game type played if all players elect to pass. As noted in the rules for North American Skat and many of it's variants, a Ramsch hand is one in which, in most versions of Skat, no player bids and the players play the hand in an attempt to win the fewest card points in tricks.

During a hand of Ramsch, the four Jacks are the only trump, there is no Declarer and each player attempts to win as few card points as possible. The Skat is taken up by the player in the Forehand position, who then selects any two cards from the hand and passes them to the Middlehand player. After receiving these cards, the Middlehand player then takes any two cards from his hand and passes them to the player in the Rearhand position. The Rearhand player then discards any two cards and places them in the center of the table. After all ten tricks have been played the players examine their hand and total up the number of card points captured during the hand. Whichever player takes the highest number of card points is penalized that number from their current score. The two discarded skat cards are not used after discard by Rearhand. If two or more players tie for most card points during the hand, they both must subtract the total of card points captured from their current score.

An additional rule often used when playing Ramsch, is that if a player, on his turn elects to not look at the two cards passed and passes them immediately to the next player (or the Skat in the case of RearHand), the penalty for the hand is doubled. This can occur a total of three times during a Ramsch hand.

Schafkopf (Sheepshead):
This game is the forerunner of Skat and all its variations. Schafkopf is different enough from Skat to have its own individual rules page. Visit the How to Play Schafkopf page for the detailed instructions on how to play Schafkopf.
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