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SKAT for WWII Reenactors
By Marcus Jurado


SKAT was the card game of choice for the German Soldaten.  Many hours were spent playing this game both in the barracks and on the front lines.  SKAT is basically a card game where players attempt to take “tricks” by using trumps.  It is much like a traditional modern game of spades or hearts.  The key differences are that it is played with three players, is played with only 32 cards (Diamonds, Hearts, Spades, and Clubs, each suit containing the cards 7, 8, 9, 10, J, Q, K, and Ace) and has different variables that are applied to calculate a final score.  I’ll begin with the basics, and proceed to the more intricate details later.

Play begins with the shuffling of the cards.  After shuffling, the cards are dealt clockwise in a 3-4-3 pattern until all players have 10 cards.  The left over 2 cards are placed in the middle and are known as the “skat”.  Next the players take turns bidding on their hands.  The first person to bid is the player to the dealer’s right, known as the Middleman.  That player bids against the player to the dealer’s left, known as the Forehand (a simple way to remember this is the dealer says “deal, listen, speak” pointing to himself, then the person on his left, then the person on his right; clockwise from himself).  If one of these two passes, the remaining bidder then bids against the dealer, known as the Rearhand.  Whoever wins the final bidding is said to be the soloist, and therefore attempts to beat the other two players.  The other two players play as one versus the winning bidder.  The soloist now has the option of taking the 2 leftover skat cards and discarding two cards from his current hand.  No matter what the soloist decides to do with the 2 Skat cards, they count as part of his hand, we’ll discuss this in more detail when we talk about scoring.
 

(SKAT DECK, http://ostfront.com/)

 
The soloist now declares what type of game they wish to play, Grand (only Jacks are trump and you attempt to take 61 points), Null (there are no trumps and you attempt to take 61 points), or Suit (the named suit and all Jacks are trump and you try to take 61 points).  The first card is played by the player to the dealers left, and play rotates clockwise, note that it’s the dealer that this is based on, not the soloist.  Play continues until all tricks are taken.  The points are then counted, the soloist total versus the two other player’s totals.  The winner of the hand records his score, and the next player shuffles and deals.  The above process is repeated again, and again until a winner is established for the game.

Now let’s address card values for calculating the winning hand.  These are pretty simple, and are as follows:
 

 CARDS  POINTS
7, 8, 9
Queen
King
10
Ace
Jack
0 card points
3 card points
4 card points
10 card points
11 card points
2 card points

 
Bidding on the other hand is a bit more complicated.  The bidding is done by calculating how many points you think your hand is worth, and then applying a multiplier.  This begins by looking at the base values for your suits or type of game being played…these are:
 

 SUIT

BASE VALUE

Diamonds
Hearts
Spades
Clubs
Grand
Grand Ouvert
9
10
11
12
24
36

 
The next step is to calculate the multiplier.  This is based on the Jacks, and if you’re playing a Suit game you also use the ace, tens and so on.  First let’s discuss the Jack’s role.  The most important part is the sequence of Jacks.  These rank in the following order Clubs, Spades, Hearts, and then Diamonds.  The player needs to figure out how many trumps (all Jacks are always trumps) they consecutively have.  If a player has the highest Jack, they bid by saying they are “with” a certain number.  That number is how many trumps they have in a row from that Jack of clubs.  Let’s say for example that a player has the Jack of Clubs, Spades and then an Ace of hearts.  This player would be “with 2” because they have the top two trumps, but their string ends there.  If a player does not have a Jack of Clubs, they are known to be “without”.  They would state how many they are without, ie  if the player has the Jack of Diamonds, they are “without 3” because they have none of the other Jacks that rank higher than theirs. 
 

   

So now you have a basic multiplier, ie if I was “with 3”, my multiplier is a 3.  However, there is always one more added to that multiplier to let everyone know that you are playing in the game.  This is stated as “with 3, game 4” (note all I did was add one to my original multiplier to give my game hand a total multiplier of 4).  So if I was playing a Suit game of Spades, I would multiply the base value of 11 (see the list above) by 4, for a game hand worth a maximum of 44 points. 
 

Up to this point it is easy enough, but it gets a bit more complicated.  Remember that the cards all have a value for calculating the winner of a hand.  Well, the total possible points in a hand are 120, and in order to win a hand, one must take 61 of those points.  However, if either the soloist or the two opponents get caught with just 31 points, then they are known to be “Schneider”.  If you think you can “Schneider” a player, you may bid that up front, and add another multiplier to the total bid.  You may also attempt to take all tricks, this is called “Schwarz”, and this also adds another multiplier to the pot.  Additionally, you may wish to play an “Ouvert” hand, where  the soloist exposes his cards and attempts to win 61 points, this too adds another multiplier.  The final possible multiplier is if the Soloist chooses not to look at the Skat, in this case it is said to be a “hand” game, and another multiplier is added.  This is all very important, because if you win the hand, you record the bid as your total points, these accumulate over the course of the game to determine who wins the game of SKAT; therefore you want a high bid if you think you can win the hand.

The only exception to these bidding guidelines is a Null game.  Null games have maximum bids set at the following:

Null 23
Null Hand 35
Null Ouvert 46

The last note to the game of SKAT is the rank of trumps for each type of game.  They are as follows:
 

Suit games

The four jacks are the top four trumps no matter what suit is chosen as trump, the ranking goes club spade heart diamond.  Then comes the suit cards in the following order:
clubJ - spadeJ - heartJ - diamondJ - A - 10 - K - Q - 9 - 8 - 7.
The other three suits each contain just seven cards ranking from high to low:
A - 10 - K - Q - 9 - 8 - 7.

Grand

The four jacks are the only trumps, and rank in the following order:
clubJ - spadeJ - heartJ - diamondJ.
The left over suits rank in the following order for each suit:
A - 10 - K - Q - 9 - 8 - 7.

Null

There are no trumps, and the order is as follows for each suit:
A - K - Q - J - 10 - 9 - 8 - 7
 

So when scoring for the game, the winner adds the total bid to the running total.  If the soloist loses a hand, they deduct the bid that was made.  Remember that if 61 points is not scored, it’s an automatic loss for the soloist.  The soloist can also lose if the hand does not play out as high as the bid.  This happens when the soloist bids Schneider (meaning they need to take 90 points) and they fail.  It may also happen if they discover a higher Jack in the Skat cards (remember, the Skat cards belong to the Soloist regardless if they take them or not), thus lowering their original bid value…ie a “without 3, game 4”, now becomes a “with 1 game 2”.  This means that the game was worth less than originally bid, thus a loss for the soloist.  When the soloist loses be sure to deduct the bid total from their running score.  The overall SKAT game may last as many hands as you wish, but to be fair all players should have equal turns at dealing. 
 


 

Well, there you have it, the very basics to SKAT…a complicated game, but one that was played by the German Soldaten on a regular basis.  With a cheat card (click here) and some practice you and your buddies can be playing SKAT at events in no time.  For a little practice there are numerous downloadable versions on the internet (click here), most are in German, but there are some English versions as well.  I recommend downloading and practicing prior to breaking the cards out at an event.  Either way, good luck and enjoy.

 

  


Sources:
-
http://ostfront.com/
-
http://jwsell.wooster.edu/skat/Skatdflt.html
-
http://members.aol.com/skatmktg/pub/Skatmktg.html
- http://www.pagat.com/schafk/skat.html

   
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