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SKAT

Germany's national card game

Part 3 : Variations

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Like most great card games of any respectable age, Skat is enormously varied. It has varied through time, as you can see from the History page, and it varies by country, in that there are two American forms of the game, while that followed by the Danish Skat Union differs in one or two significant respects from that of Germany. Even in Germany, it was not until 1999 that the German Skat Federation and the International Skat-Players Association sorted out various minor differences between themselves in the hope of promoting a world-wide standard (the Internationale Skatordnung) for national and international tournaments. This standard is also followed and recommended by the British Skat Association. But for the sake of those likely to visit Germany and play on the regional and domestic front it will be useful to record some of the likeliest variant rules and general departures form orthodoxy that the visitor should be prepared to encounter. The commonest are as follows.

Tournament scoring
Unlike scoring variations listed below, this one is perfectly orthodox and actively promoted for tournament play. Its purpose is partly to even out the extreme variations in natural game values (from 18 to 264), and partly to discourage irresponsible bidding. At the end of a session each player's final score is modified as follows: (a) add 50 for each contract you played and won, (b) deduct 50 for each contract you played and lost, (c) add 40 (or, at a four-player table, 30) for each contract lost by each opponent).
Kontra (Double)
This scoring variation is widespread in domestic play. Upon announcement of the contract either opponent may double it by saying "Kontra". This means the soloist wins or loses double whatever he would have won or lost without it. The soloist may immediately counter by saying "Rekontra", which doubles it yet again. Some circles forbid doubling to an opponent who has not either made or accepted a bid of at least 18.

Bock rounds
A Bock round is a round of deals (three or four, depending on how many are at the table) in which all scores are automatically doubled. This does not prevent them from being doubled (by "Kontra") yet again). Players must agree in advance what event should initiate a round of Bock. For example, it might be after a lost Grand, or a successful Grand hand. They must also agree whether the recurrence of the same event in a Bock round should cause additional Bock rounds to run concurrently (in which case one or more deals may be in double Bock) or consecutively.

Contract scoring variations
Some players still prefer to accord Grand its original base value of 20 instead of 24. In some circles Null Ouvert Hand counts 69 (i.e. 3 × 23) instead of 59. Some still also recognise the contract called Revolution - a Null Ouvert Hand in which the opponents also expose their hands and may discuss their strategy. This is valued at 92 (i.e. 4 × 23).

Ramsch
When no one will make a minimum bid of 18, many players prefer to play a hand of Ramsch instead of throwing the cards in. Ramsch, meaning "junk", is in fact a card game in its own right, being of the trick-avoidance variety like Hearts or Misère. The basic idea is that everyone plays for themselves (no soloist or partners) with only Jacks as trumps (as at Grand), and whoever takes in the greatest number of card-points loses. Its theoretical purpose, therefore, is to penalise whoever held the strongest hand and failed to bid it. It is in fact quite possible for all three to receive genuinely unbiddable or risky hands, which is why the Skatordnung forbids it; on the other hand, it is so traditional and widespread that probably more domestic players admit it than not.

Of several different varieties of Ramsch probably the commonest is Schieberamsch. Forehand takes the skat, adds it to his hand, passes any two cards face down to Middlehand, who likewise passes any two face down to Rearhand, who finally discards two to form a new skat. A player choosing to play with the hand as dealt, and passing on the two additional cards without looking at them, thereby automatically causes the penalty score for that round to be doubled (so if all three play as dealt it is octupled!). Tricks are played as at Grand, and whoever takes the greatest number of card-points deducts that number from their score.

Any points contained in the skat are (by prior agreement) either ignored, or added to those either of the loser or of whoever won the last trick. If two tie for most, they both lose.

Ramsch rounds
A round of deals (three or four, depending on how many are at the table) in which only Ramsch is played. Players must agree in advance what event should initiate a round of Ramsch - for example, after a contract has been lost 60-60. This is usually coupled with the anomaly that if anyone offers to play Grand Hand during a Ramsch round they are allowed to do so, but the missing Ramsch hand must still be played, and the next deal is made by the same dealer.

Mit einem Spitze ("With a spit")
Der Spitz (cognate with "spit" meaning something pointed or jutting out) is the lowest trump, namely the Seven of the trump suit or Diamondjack the Jack of diamonds at Grand. Announcing "with a spit" means you undertake not only to make your contract but also to win the last trick (the tenth) with the lowest trump, which you indicate by turning it round the other way in your hand so that its face is visible to your opponents. You may do this whether playing with the skat or from the hand, and it raises your game value by an extra multiplier. This means you can bid higher in the auction than you otherwise might, or (and this can be very useful) you can use it to justify your bid when you take the skat and find it contains a Jack that devalues your game. Note: Suppose you bid hearts, with one, game two, with a spit three, value 30, and either fail to make the contract or fail to make the spit. Then you lose 60 (30 doubled). If you fail to make the contract and also fail to make the spit, you still lose 60 - you don't need to add another multiplier for having been beaten in both endeavours.
Copyright © 2017 by David Parlett

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