What is Skat? The CSC FAQ
First of all, it's actually pronounced "skaht", like "Scott" and not like "scat". Second, it's quite simply the best darned card game you've never heard of (likely), unless your heritage is German or central European and you vaguely remember some older family members playing it. If so, you might also recall they had a really great time doing that!
Skat was invented in the early 1800's in Germany as a hybrid of other card games that were popular at the time, namely Schafkopf--aka Sheepshead, Solo, Tarock and Ombre. By taking only the best elements of these older games, integrating them, and combining them synergistically, the inventors produced a remarkably fun and well-designed game of skill that greatly exceeded the sum of its component parts. Later, Skat players borrowed the Null contract from Whist, and thereby further improved the game. Like many things, Skat has continued to evolve and continuously improve throughout the decades that ensued. Today, the modern game of Skat is played under the International Rules that were codified in 1999. German-speakers make up a vast majority of players, and the popularity of Skat exceeds that of poker and bridge in Germany and parts of Poland and Austria. The Cleveland Skat Club is dedicated to getting more avid card players in Northeast Ohio playing this wonderful game. We welcome card players of all heritages and backgrounds to join us!
How do you play Skat?
OK, so how does the game work? Skat has a complex bidding and scoring system, but the basic game is actually fairly simple. The Skat deck has 32 cards, equivalent to 7 through Ace in a poker/bridge deck. Skat uses a special German deck that has the familiar International suits (♣,♠,♥,♦), but the jacks are indexed with a "B" for Bube, meaning "boy" and the queens with a "D" for Dame, meaning "lady". Kings are still indexed with a "K" for Koenig. So the picture cards appear unfamiliar at first, but the rest of the deck looks like a standard International deck.
It's really quite easy to get used to the Skat deck. I encourage new players to use the Skat deck right away so it's easy to remember the peculiar order of the cards.
Let's look at the highlights of the rules of the game:
• Cards of a specific rank have point values ranging from 0 to 11 points. Ace = 11, Ten = 10, King = 4, Queen = 3, Jack = 2, all other cards = 0. Note that, as in Pinochle, the Ten outranks the King in this game (as it does in many Central European games).
• There are exactly 120 card points in the deck.
• Exactly 3 players play each hand, each is dealt 10 cards, and the remaining two cards form the skat, which is called the "blind", "widow" or "stock" in other card games.
• The winner of an auction bidding process becomes the Player, who can then elect to exchange two cards from his hand with the Skat (or not). At this point the Player has 12 cards.
• The Player lays two cards away into his point pile, keeping 10 in his hand, and then names a trump suit or one of two special games called "Grand" or "Null"—more on those later. The four jacks (B♣,B♠,B♥,B♦) respectively are automatically the four highest trumps, regardless of the suit named trump. Think of them as "wild" cards at the top of the trump suit. They become the highest cards of that suit, always in that order.
• A trick-taking game ensues, with the winner of each trick collecting the trick into his point pile and releading. On every trick, each player must follow the suit led, if able, and, if not able to follow suit, that player may trump or discard another suit. Highest trump played or the highest card of the suit led takes the trick and leads to the next trick.
• To win the game, the Player must collect a clear majority (61 or more) of the card points by the end of the hand. Along the way, the Player competes cut-throat against the other two opponents, who play defense as a team. And, the Player must score enough game points, based on the value of his hand, to cover his bid. If either one is not the case, the Player loses.
There are a number of other rules, but that's the basic game. Yet, that simple outline does not serve to convey the subtle complexities, the sublime strategies, or the thrill of bold yet calculated risk-taking that this great game affords. To appreciate those, you will have to experience Skat for yourself! Skat takes a little while to learn, and a lifetime to master, but it is WORTH IT!
Do I have to play Skat competitively?
The answer is that Skat is by its nature a competitive game, but you can choose to play either a "friendly competitive" or a "serious competitive" game in the CSC. New players want to play friendly games to get their feet wet, have a fun evening out, meet the club members and to learn to enjoy the game. For those of us who have been playing a while, we compete seriously at Skat because the game really does lend itself to serious competition, and we've fallen in love with that style of play. Several of us compete in tournaments across North America. But that may or may not be for you, and you can just play friendly games if you wish.
Since our mission at the CSC includes developing new players, we recognize that beginners are going to be anxious about taking on some of the more seasoned players. That's why we allow newer players the chance to compete for a reduced entry fee. We also offer "Skat School" sessions each month where we will coach you on basic and advanced strategies and tactics for offensive and defensive play. We'll show you the ropes!
Check out our calendar for more information. And check out the International Skat Players Association (ISPA) for information on tournaments and clubs throughout North America. Want to know the best way to practice at home? Go to the online International Skat Server and sign up for a screen name.
Don't be afraid of competing at Skat—it is the very soul of the game to do so! But the game must remain fun above all else, and we will strive to provide the level of competition that each player needs to nurture that spirit.
Exactly how addictive is this game?
A picture is worth a thousand words. Your mileage may vary.
Why does the Organizer of this group spend so much time writing about Skat?
A very fair question with a multi-faceted answer:
First, ever since I first learned this game, I became deeply fascinated with it. There is literally no other card game that I have played (and I know over 100 card games) that has even come close to capturing my interest as much as Skat. Joe Wergin wrote extensively on the game of Skat and he puts it best: "No other card game combines the elements of skill, chance and psychology as successfully as Skat." Skat is a uniquely satisfying card game.
Second, I need to teach card players the game of Skat because it is still almost unknown in this part of the world, except for small pockets of people of German descent. The English-speaking world just doesn't know what it has been missing! Therefore, in order to promote the game, I need written materials IN ENGLISH so that players around here can read them over at their leisure and practice the game on their own time. It is a sad fact, but there are very few English language books on the game of Skat. Even the best of these books, Joe Wergin's 1975 classic "Wergin on Skat and Sheepshead", deals with the older Tournee Skat game, not the MODERN game of Skat that is now played in countries all over the world under the International Rules that were codified in 1999.
Third, part of the charm of the game of Skat is how you need to learn some principles to guide your actions, yet know when to break with those principles based on unique circumstances or the revelation of unanticipated information. Neither the haphazard nor the overly formulaic player are likely to succeed at Skat. Every "rule" of play has exceptions, and there are no absolutes. You really have to use your whole brain to play well. So I write examples of play to illustrate that. The single most important skill in Skat is CARD SENSE, and it cannot be taught. It must be developed by each individual through experience and focus. Perhaps my writing down some illustrative examples can shorten that process.
Finally, I like to write, and I like to write about Skat. Doing so has made me a better player. If reading my writings makes you a better player, that is a bonus for both of us.