How To Play Skat


Since its development in the early 1800's, Skat was and still is, the most popular card game played in Germany and many other German speaking locales. The origins of International Skat (and thus it's variations) can be traced back to a card club in Altenberg, Germany in approximately 1810. Being great fun and highly strategic it is not hard to understand why Skat is not only the national card game in that country but very popular in many other countries as well. The rules given on this page are for the standard German version, also sometimes called International Skat. For the rules of the somewhat modified version of Skat played in North American Skat clubs and elsewhere, please see our rules page for North American Skat.

Skat is a trick-taking card game designed for 3 players. However, the game is also often played by 4 players with 3 players active in each hand. When played by four, the fourth player usually takes the part of the dealer and does not take part in the actual play of the hand. As the deal rotates each hand, when four play, each player will sit out one of every four hands.

The Suits used in the German Playing Card Deck The game is played using a 32 card German deck, traditionally using a pack of German playing cards. Like the familiar French deck, the German deck is comprised of four suits. However, the four suits in a German deck are as follows; Acorns, Leaves, Hearts and Bells. Another difference in this German pack, is the Royalty or Face cards. In this deck, the Face cards consist of an Under Knave (marked with a U), Over Knave (indicated by a O), King (K) and Ace (A), one in each suit. However, a standard French deck can, and often is, used to play. When using a French deck, it can be 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. Oftentimes, even the French decks used for traditional Skat are customized to some degree. This usually consists of special coloration of the four standard suits. The Spades () are colored green, the Diamonds () yellow, the Clubs (♣) are the expected black and Hearts () are red.

If the authentic German pack is being used for the game, the rank of the cards is as follows; Ace, 10, King, Over Knave, Under Knave, 9, 8, 7. If the French deck is being used, the cards in each suit are ranked as follows (from high to low): Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9, 8, 7. In addition, the four suits also have their own ranking with regards to the bidding. The ranking of these suits, from high to low is: (For the German Deck; Acorns, Leaves, Hearts, Bells) (In the French Deck; Clubs, Spades, Hearts, Diamonds). In most hands, a trump suit will also be designated by the highest bidder.

The four top Trump cards in International Skat When a trump suit is used, the top four ranked cards of the Trump suit will always be as follows: Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds. Since the Jacks are a permanent part of the trump suit, the remaining cards of the trump suit would then rank as follows; Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9, 8, 7. The ranking for the three non-trump suits would also rank similarly; Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9, 8, 7. The four Jacks as described are considered to be members of the Trump suit, irregardless of the actual suit marked on that card. Thus, these cards can be played at any time a card of the trump suit could legally be played.

With Skat there are a number of methods for determining 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 suit ranking described above.

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 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 to complete their hand.

Player Position and Bidding

Skat Player Positional Naming Once the dealing is complete, the players then pick up their hands for examination. Each position at the table is given a specific name in relation to the current dealer. If there are four participants at the table, the dealer is simply called the dealer, but the other positions at the table have specific names. The player to the immediate left of the dealer is Forehand, the player directly across from the dealer is the Middlehand and the player to the dealer's right is the Rearhand. If there are three participants at the table the dealer takes the position of Middlehand, the player to his right is Rearhand and the player to his left is Forehand.

After the players look at their hands the bidding begins. Middlehand submits the first bid (or passes). The minimum bid for this or any player is 18. Since the maximum possible score during a hand is 264, this would be the highest achievable bid. This bid would be based on his estimate of the number of total 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 base "game" score and any multipliers earned from the hand (see the multipliers section, below). The winning bid will effect a number of aspects of the game, which will be detailed below. A player is never forced to bid on his turn and may instead elect to pass.

If Middlehand names a bid, the Forehand may respond with an affirmation saying "Yes" to indicate he is willing to exceed or equal this bid (although he does not specify any specific bid of his own) or he may pass. In this case, Middlehand must then either increase his bid or pass. If Middlehand does again increase his initial bid, Forehand then either responds to Middlehand's bid with an affirmative statement, indicating his own intention to again increase the bid, or he may pass (indicated by stating "Pass".) If Forehand stated "Yes", indicating he would meet the bid, Middlehand must either name a higher bid than his previous or pass. This continues, with Middlehand naming a bid and Forehand responding with "Yes", until one of these two players passes. It is customary for bids to increase in increments of two points although higher bids (but always a multiple of two) are allowed (called a Jump Bid).

Rearhand then has the bidding opportunity to challenge whichever of the these two players whom did not pass. Rearhand may then either pass or name the next highest bid than was named between Middlehand and Forehand. If he so names a bid, the player who did not pass then may either Pass or state "Yes" indicating he intends to match or exceed that bid. The bidding then continues between these two players until one of these two also passes. At that time, the only player who did not pass during this bidding cycle becomes the declarer and plays solo against the other two players.

International Skat Bidding Diagram If Middlehand passes before making any bid, the bidding immediately proceeds between Forehand and Rearhand, with Rearhand required to name the first bid or pass. In the event that both Middlehand and Rearhand pass, Forehand may then name any bid or may pass. If he passes, the cards are thrown in with no score on the hand and the deal passes to the next player in turn.

Declaring the Game: Once the Declarer is determined, this player then announces which "Game" he intends to play the hand at. The following is the list of "Games", one of which the high bidder may declare: A player may call any legal Game type, however they can never declare a Game type which could not (including with multipliers) reach the total of that players high bid.

Additional Announcements: After the high bidder has declared his game, this player may also make an announcement or prediction indicating he intends to obtain Schneider or Schwarz during the hand. He may only make this announcement when playing from the hand (not taking the skat). These announcements can significantly increase the Declarer's final score in the hand if they are correct in the announcement. However, if the Declarer fails to make his announcement his score is similarly penalized. Schneider is an announcement to win 90 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. Note that although a player taking the skat can never make an announcement of Schneider or Schwarz, he may still earn the applicable multiplier for actually making Schneider or Schwarz.

Conceding the Game: After the Declarer declares the game to be played and before the last card has been played to the first trick of the hand, the Declarer may concede the hand. However, unless one or both opponents agrees to the concession, the game must continue. The declarer might concede when, after looking at the skat realizing he cannot win enough multipliers to win the hand, and thus prevent potentially being Schneidered. Similarly, either of the Declarer's opponents can concede at any time during the game. Doing so allows the Declarer to score the value of his bid for the hand.

Play of the Hand: After the declarer announces his games and any other expected multipliers, the play of the hand commences.

The Forehand always begins play by leading the first card to the first trick. Each other player in a clockwise direction then plays one card to the trick. If a player has a card of the suit led to the trick, they must play it. If they do not have a card of the suit led, they may play any card remaining in their hand, including a card of the trump suit. The highest card of the trump suit in the trick wins the trick. If there are no cards of the trump suit in the trick, the highest card of the suit led wins the trick. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next.

After all ten tricks have been played, the declarer then determines if he has made his game. In most declared Game types the goal of the declarer is generally to win enough tricks to accumulate 61 or more card points during the hand. However, if the declarer announces Schneider or Schwarz, he is indicating an attempt to win additional card points or tricks during the hand. If the player declared one of the Null games, the player is of course attempting to lose all the tricks during the hand.

At the conclusion of the hand, the declarer would sort through the tricks he has won and would determine how many card points he has won. The two skat cards or their replacement discards should also be turned over for inclusion in the scoring for card points and potential Top Trumps. Unless specifically indicated otherwise in the Game declared, these two skat cards (or the two replacement declarer discards) are added to the cards captured by the declarer in tricks. The following chart shows the individual value for each card captured by the bidder in tricks:
CardPoint Value
Each Ace11
Each 1010
Each King4
Each Queen3
Each Jack2
9, 8 or 70
                     Skat card Point Values

If the declarer is able to capture at least 61 of these card points during the hand, they have made game. Winning additional numbers of points may qualify the player for additional multipliers as described further below.

The following table shows the base scores for the various games that the declarer may declare and play:
Game NameTrump SuitUse SkatScore
 
In Suit - With SkatDeclarer SelectsYes1211109
In Suit - Hand GameDeclarer SelectsNo1211109
In Suit Ouvert - Hand GameDeclarer SelectsNo1211109
Grand - With SkatJacks OnlyYes24
Null - With SkatNoneYes23
Null Ouvert - With SkatNoneYes46
Grand - Hand GameJacks OnlyNo24
Grand Ouvert - Hand GameJacks OnlyNo24
Null - Hand GameNoneNo35
Null Ouvert - Hand GameNoneNo59
          

Multipliers:

If the high bidder is able to make game (capture 61 card points), a number of multipliers can then be used to increase his base game score. The list of possible multipliers that can affect this score are the following:
  1. Top Trumps: The Declarer will earn one multiplier for holding or not holding specific sequences of the highest cards in the trump suit (See the section on Top Trumps, below, for a detailed description of this multiplier).
  2. Game: For scoring 61 or more in card points the Player earns one multiplier for Game.
  3. Schneider: If the Player is able to accumulate 90 or more in total card points, he earns an additional multiplier, called Schneider.
  4. Schwarz: If the Player manages to win every trick in the hand this adds one more multiplier.
  5. Hand Game: One more multiplier is added if the player bid and was able to capture 61 or more card points using one of the "Hand" games (not using the Skat).
  6. Schneider Predicted: If the Player, before the first lead, makes the announcement that he intends to score Schneider (90 or more card points captured) and manages to actually obtain Schneider, this earns one multiplier. This is only applicable if the player declared and played one of the Hand games.
  7. Schwarz Predicted: If the Player announces his intention to make Schwarz (winning every trick) before leading to the first trick and manages to score Schwarz he earns one more multiplier. This multiplier is only applicable for a declaration and play using one of the Hand games.
  8. Ouvert: If the player announces and plays the In Suit - Ouvert game as well as announcing and winning Schwarz, he earns one additional multiplier.
All multipliers are cumulative for the declarer, thus earning him any multipliers which appear previous in the given list of multipliers than the last multiplier he can claim. Thus, any multipliers lower on the list of multipliers would also be claimable by the Declarer. For instance a Player who announced and made Schneider Predicted during a Hand Game would also receive the multipliers for (a) Playing a Hand Game, (b) Schwarz, (b) regular Schneider, (c) Game and (d) any Top Trumps in their hand. 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.

For all of the Null games, multipliers are not used or calculated. If the player manages to lose all the tricks as required, they earn the base score as shown in the table above. If the declarer of a Null game wins one or more tricks during the hand they must subtract from their current score double the base value of the declared game.

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 Spitzen. 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 Spitzen.
Top Trumps: All players are either with or against some number of Top Trumps, also called Tops, Matadors or Spitzen. These Top Trumps 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 additional matador for each card in an unbroken sequence he has of the top cards in 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 during 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.

Concealed Trumps: The Multipliers a player earns for Top Trump (either with or without) are calculated based on the actual total number in the hand. In all declarable game types except Null, 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 Top Trumps, may find additional Trump cards in the Skat giving them additional, unexpected multipliers. Thus a player should remember to be careful in his bidding, particularly when considering multipliers for Top Trump as part of his hand estimate during the bidding.

This trick would be won by the Ace

Final Score for the Hand

The ultimate goal for the Declarer is to ensure he earns enough total points to reach or exceed his high bid. In addition, he must also earn the requisite card points. This is normally 61 or more points, however if the player predicted Schneider he must win 90 or more card points and a prediction of Schwarz requires the player to win all tricks. Failure to win the required points or tricks indicates the player loses twice the value of his total earned during the game (including any multipliers).

Thus, if the player has been determined to win the requisite card points, all applicable multipliers are then applied. All multipliers earned by the player on the hand are added together, and then, as the name implies, are multiplied by the original base score for the Game declared. If this score is equal to or exceeds the players high bid, the grand total for his score for the hand is added to his current ongoing score. However, if after all multipliers have been calculated the declarer's score is less than his high bid he must subtract from his current ongoing score instead. In this event, his total score earned during the game must first be set at the next highest multiple of the base score for this game. That score is then doubled and subtracted from the Declarer's ongoing score. instead be doubled and then subtracted from his current ongoing score. Negative scores are possible.

As mentioned previously, the Null games do not use multipliers. Thus, if the Declarer wins every game as contracted he wins the base value of the score. If he wins any trick during the hand he must subtract twice this base score from his current score.

If the declarer is unable to reach 31 card points during the hand he is said to be Schneidered. This adds one extra multiplier the Declarer must add to his score before doubling and subtracting it from his current score.

Skat Variations and Optional Rules

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

Schieberamsch:
Although not a part of the official International Skat rules, many players include a feature called Ramsch into the game. Ramsch is a Game type played if all players elect to pass. As noted in the rules for Skat and many of it's variations, 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. In addition to being an additional potential bid, Ramsch can also be played (and often is) as a card game entirely in itself. The version of Ramsch most often played in these circumstances is called Schieberamsch.

Schieberamsch is played with the standard Skat deck. The ranking of the cards in each suit in this deck are as follows, from high to low; Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9, 8, 7. The four Jacks are considered to form their own, individual trump suit which is independent of any of the other four suits. The ranking of the four Jacks in this special trump suit is as follows (also from high to low); Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds.

Schieberamsch card ranking in a standard suit As in Skat, each player is dealt 10 cards in packets of three, four and three. After the first batch of three card packets is distributed, a two card skat is dealt to the center of the table. As a reverse type of trick taking game, players normally attempt to win the least number of point scoring cards in tricks during the hand. The point values for the individual cards won in tricks is exactly the same as in standard Skat (Ace - 11, Ten - 10, King - 4, Queen - 3, Jack - 2, Lower cards - 0.)

After the deal has completed, the player in the Forehand position has the first opportunity to take the skat. If he elects to do so, he takes the two skat cards into his hand and discards any two cards from his hand (which may include those from the skat) face down on the table. These two cards are placed in the same location as the skat was previously, making a new skat consisting of that players two discards. Each player in turn then has the same opportunity to pick up whatever two face down cards which currently make up the skat. Each time a player declines to pick up the skat, the score for the current hand will be doubled.

Forehand then leads the first card to the first trick, playing any card of his choice from his hand. The other two players in turn, must then play one card to the trick. A player must play a card of the suit led to the trick if they have one. If they do not have such a card, they may play any card from their hand, including from the permanent trump suit (the four Jacks). The highest trump card played to the trick wins it, or if the trick contains no cards of the trump suit, the highest card of the suit originally led to that trick wins it. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick. The two face down skat cards are added to the last trick of the hand, such that whoever wins that trick wins these cards as well. If any Jack is led to a trick, the remaining players must play a Jack if they have one. If not, they may play any other card which, of course, cannot win that trick which is won by the highest trump card (Jack) played to it.

Whichever player has captured the most high card points during the hand must subtract that number from their current score. If the scoring for the current hand has been doubled one or more times (by players declining to take the skat), this players scoring penalty is appropriately increased. If two or more players tie for the most total card points, each tying player scores the penalty. If any other active player was able to win no tricks during the hand, the current penalty is also doubled. However, if both opponents took no tricks, the player who won every trick has the opportunity to subtract 120 points from their current score. This score may also be doubled one or more times if any players did not take the skat cards.

In order to simplify the record keeping on the score sheet, the penalty score for the hand is usually first divided by 10 and then rounded down to the next lowest multiple of 10. Any doubling occurs before the division by 10. However, the 120 point score for managing to take all the tricks is not divided by 10, but the entire amount is subtracted from that players score.

There is, however, other opportunities in this game for a player to subtract points from their score. Before anyone may pick up the skat, each player in turn (starting with Forehand) has an option to bid a Grand Hand. There may only be one Grand Hand bid during any hand, so the first player to declare this on his proper turn is the official declarer on the hand. A Grand Hand is a declaration that the player believes he can capture 61 or more card points during the hand. The skat is not taken or viewed during the hand and the cards in it are given to the declarer after the last trick is played. If the declarer of the Grand Hand is able to capture 61 or more card points during the hand, he scores a base value of 24 plus any multipliers. The multipliers he can earn are a select group from the standard game as follows: If the declarer of a Grand Hand actually manages to take the required 61 or more game points, they can then subtract the total points (24 + all appropriate multipliers) from their current score. This amount is subtracted directly from that players score and not first divided by 10. If, however, the player does not manage to take 61 or more card points, or announces Schneider or Schwarz without actually making Schneider or Schwarz as appropriate, they instead have the same total added to their score. In addition, after a player has declared a Grand Hand, any other player may double the scoring for the hand (called Kontra). If a player states Kontra, the declarer may then Rekontra, which doubles the score for the hand a second time. Normally, the deal rotates in a clockwise direction from hand to hand, however after a Grand Hand, the same dealer deals the next hand.

The game continues until some mutually agreed on number of deals, after which time the player with the lowest score is declared the winner.

When Ramsch is played during a game of regular Skat, the rules for Schieberamsch are often used during that hand, except, of course, a player would not have the opportunity to declare a Grand Hand while playing the Ramsch hand.

Kontra, Rekontra and Bock:
Kontra and Rekontra are methods of doubling or redoubling the potential score or penalties faced by the Declarer in the hand.
At any time before the first card of the trick is played, either of the two opponents of the Declarer may state "Kontra". This automatically doubles the scores or penalties earned by the declarer during the hand. If the declarer is confident in the strength of his hand, he may 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 Declarer but does not affect the actual value needed by the Declarer to make his contract. If the Declarer is in the position of Forehand 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.

In some games, the players also arrange a Bock round. A Bock round is a series of hands in which all accumulated scores during the series are automatically doubled. The number of hands is the same as the number of players at the table (usually three). There is usually some condition decided in advance that initiates a Bock round, usually such things as after a Declarer successfully plays a Null or Grand hand or after a hand where all players pass.

Additional Players may not receive cards on every deal but still participate in the game Skat With Additional Participants:
Although Skat is usually played by 3 players, additional participants may want to participate in a game. 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 dealer's 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 dealer's left would not receive cards on that particular hand.

Spitze card exposed in Declarer's hand
If Diamonds were trump for the hand, the Player would keep the lowest trump card in the deck exposed to the other players. In this case this would be the seven of Diamonds.
Der Spitze:
Der Spitze is an additional special announcement that some games allow the Declarer to announce during a hand. It is an announcement that the Declarer can make specifying that he believes he can win the last trick of the hand with the lowest trump card in the hand. This is usually a statement given by the Declarer at the same time as any other announcements (Schneider, etc), but it may also be announced by turning the low trump card in your hand such that is visible to the opponents. If successful, this adds one additional multiplier for the declarer. In order to earn the multiplier, after making the announcement, the Declarer must not only earn Game (61 or more points), he must win the last trick of the hand with the lowest trump card in play. This declaration is obviously not permitted in Null games and games where the Declarer does not hold the lowest trump card. This lowest trump card will be either the seven of the trump suit or the Jack of diamonds if playing the hand at Grand.

By custom, when declaring Spitze, the Declarer would expose that lowest trump card from their hand. This if often done by turning the card in the hand such that it is visible in the hand while the remaining cards are only visible to the Player himself.

To add even more excitement to the game, some games allow the Declarer to call additional Spitze cards, up to the full number of Trump cards in the deck. Thus, if the Declarer declared two Spitzes, they would have to win the last trick with the lowest trump card and then win the second to last trick in the hand with the second lowest trump card. Each Spitze declared adds one multiplier for the Declarer. If the Declarer makes a declaration of Spitze and does not fulfill the requirement of Spitze he loses the game with the normal loss as if they had not made Game.

North American Skat:

As mentioned previously, after the original game of Skat was imported into the New World by German immigrants, a number of regional and local changes were made to the basic game. Thus, a version popularly played in the United States and some of the surrounding areas is North American Skat. Please visit our How to Play North American Skat page for the instructions on playing this variant.

Schafkopf (Sheepshead):
This game is the forerunner of Skat and all its variations. Schafkopf is different enough from Skat to require 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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