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Skitgubbe

Introduction

This page describes Skitgubbe, a popular Swedish game for three players, and some related games played in Norway and Finland. All the games of this group consist of two phases. In the first phase you collect cards by winning tricks, and in the second phase you try to get rid of your cards by beating cards played by other players. The last player left holding cards at the end is the loser.

It is likely that this group of games originated in Finland. The Finnish game Myllymatti is mentioned in several 19th century newspaper articles. Myllymatti seems to be the direct ancestor of Swedish Skitgubbe, which is also sometimes known as Mjölnarmatte or Mas.

The Finnish game Koira appeared later and has somewhat different rules. It is closely related to the Norwegian game Mattis.

Skitgubbe

Players, cards and deal

The game is best for three players, but it is also possible for two or four to play. A standard 52 card pack, without joker, is used. The cards rank in the usual order: A (highest) K Q J T 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 (lowest).

Deal and play are clockwise. Each player receives 3 cards. The rest of the cards are laid face down in a pile on the table (stock).

Object of the game

Skitgubbe has two phases. In the first phase players collect cards for the second phase. In the second phase the object is to get rid of one's cards as fast as possible. The last player left with cards in hand is the loser and becomes the skitgubbe.

Play in the first phase

The first phase consists of tricks of 2 cards. The player to dealer's left leads first. Any card can be led and the player to the left of the leader plays any card to complete the trick. At this stage the suits have no significance and there is no requirement to follow suit. Each player draws a card from the stock immediately after playing, so that each player always has a hand of three cards so long as there are still cards in the stock. Whoever played the higher card wins the trick, places the two cards face down in front of himself, and leads to the next trick. If the player who led wins the trick, he leads again and the same two players are involved in the next trick.

If the two cards played to a trick are equal it is called a stunsa (bounce); the cards are left on the table, the two players each draw a card from the stock and the same player leads again. This continues until one of the players wins the trick and takes all the cards played, including the cards from the tied tricks.

In this first phase, the second player to a trick is under no obligation to try to beat the card led. If a low card is led the second player may wish to play lower and give the trick to the leader, for it is important to collect strong cards in the first phase of the game, so gain an advantage in the second phase.

Throughout the first phase, when it is your turn to play and there is still more than one card in the stock, instead of playing from your hand you may turn up the top card of the stock. If you turn a card from the stock you must play it - you may not put it in your hand.

The last card from the stock determines the trump suit for the second phase. The player who has to draw this card takes it but does not add it to his hand but keeps it face down until the first phase is over.

When the stock is exhausted, the play continues as long as possible with the cards players have in their hands. If some players have cards left in hand at the end of the first phase they keep them for the second phase. If the final trick of the first phase is a bounce, the players take back the cards they played to it and keep them for the second phase.

Play in the second phase

The players have now divided the 52 cards between themselves, but the cards are probably not divided equally; some players have more cards than others. The player who drew the trump card leads. The object is to get rid of one's cards as fast as possible.

Now you must either beat the previous card played or pick it up. A card may be beaten by a higher card of the same suit, and a non-trump may be beaten by any trump. It is never lawful to duck. If you cannot or do not wish to beat the card in front of you, you must take it up into your hand, and it is then the next player's turn to lead to a new trick. If there is more than one card lying on the table and you cannot beat the last card played, it is only this last card which you must take up into your hand. It is then the next player's turn to beat the card which was underneath it.

A trick is complete when either:

  1. the number of cards in it is equal to the number of players who were in the game when the trick began, or
  2. all its cards have been picked up.

In the first case, the cards in the trick are set aside and the player who played last (and therefore highest) to the trick leads to the next. In the second case, the player to the left of the player who picked up the last card leads to a new trick.

Suppose there are 3 players; player A has led and player B has beaten A's card. If C now beats B's card, C puts aside the cards and leads to the next trick; but if C does not beat B's card but picks it up, it is now A's turn to beat the card showing on the table (which is in fact A's own lead). If A does this, and then B beats A's card, it is B who has completed the trick; B sets aside the three cards and leads to the next trick. Another possibility is: A leads, B beats A's card, C picks up B's card, and A picks up his own card. It is now B's lead.

Note that as players run out of cards, the number of cards in each trick reduces. If there are three players, one of whom runs out of cards during a trick, that trick still requires three cards to be completed (or all its cards to be picked up), but the next trick will require only two cards.

For example suppose there are 3 players: A, B, C. A leads his last card, B beats it, C picks B's card up, B beats A's card again, and now C beats B's card. The trick is now over, and C leads to the next trick. As there are now only two players, the new trick will have only two cards. Another example with three players: A leads; B beats with his last card, C picks this card up, and A picks up the card he led. It is now B's lead and the next trick will be complete with two cards.

A player who gets rid of all his cards can draw a sigh of relief, for he is not the loser. The loser is the player who is left with the last card in his hand, and is called "Skitgubbe" (or "Mas" or "Mattis"). Skitgubbe is an insulting word meaning a disreputable or offensive old man; Mas and Mattis mean fool.

Variations

Playing sequences

This version is described by David Parlett and Dan Glimne. In the second phase, as an alternative to playing a single card it is possible to play a sequence of two or more consecutive cards in the same suit. A card or sequence is beaten by any higher card or sequence in the same suit. Any non-trump card or sequence is beaten by any trump card or sequence. The length of the sequences is immaterial. For example a lead of diamond5 could be beaten by a sequence diamond7-diamond8-diamond9, which could in turn be beaten by a sequence diamondQ-diamondK, or by a single spade3 if spades are trumps.

A trick is completed when it contains as many plays as there are players at the beginning of the trick, each card or sequence counting as a single play. A player who cannot or does not wish to beat the card or sequence played by the previous player must pick it up. In this version, it is important in phase two to keep the successive plays to a trick separate rather than piling them up, so that players can clearly see how many times the trick has been played to, and which cards must be picked up if the previous play is not beaten.

Anti-trumps

This version, played in Borås, was reported by Bengt Green. In the second phase, as well as a trump suit, there is a mot-trumf (anti-trump) suit. Anti-trumps have no power over any other suit, but cannot themselves be beaten by trumps.

In some circles, anti-trumps are the other suit of the same colour as the last card of the stock.

Thomas Franzén describes a variant known as "Skitgubbe med elektriska klöver" (Skitgubbe with electric clubs) in which the anti-trump suit is clubs unless the last card of the stock is a club, in which case clubs are trumps and spades are anti-trumps. The anti-trumps are called "electric" to suggest that they would give you a shock if you tried to trump them.

Mas with turned up trump

This variation (described in Kortoxen) has a different first phase. After three cards have been dealt to each player the next card is turned up and placed face up crosswise under the stock, to determine the trump suit.

The first phase consists of two-card tricks as in ordinary Skitgubbe, but in this version the second player can only beat the led card by playing a higher card of the suit led, or playing a trump if a non-trump is led. If the second player cannot or does not wish to beat the lead he must pick it up, and it is the next player's turn to lead.

As long as there are cards in the stock, you must draw a card from the stock as soon as your hand contains less than three cards. However, it is possible to have more than three cards in your hand, because sometimes you pick up a led card. If after playing a card you still have three or more cards in your hand you do not draw from the stock.

A player who at any stage has a hand of three trumps and no other cards is allowed to show these three trumps, store them face down for the second phase, and draw a hand of three new cards from the stock.

As long as the turned up trump remains on the table, any player who at any stage has the two of trumps can exchange it for the turned up trump.

When someone has to draw the last card of the stock (which is a face-up trump, usually the two by this time) to replenish their hand, the first phase ends as soon as the current two-card trick is completed. Players keep any cards in their hands, along with cards they have won in tricks for the second phase.

The player who drew the final card (face-up trump) from the stock leads to the first trick of the second phase, which then proceeds exactly as in ordinary Skitgubbe.

Mattis

This Norwegian game differs from as follows from the Swedish game Skitgubbe in the main description above.

  • It is possible for more than three people to play. One correspondent says that the number of players is 'almost unlimited', but with more than about eight it probably becomes unwieldy.
  • In phase 1, all players play to the trick. If there is a tie for highest card, all players involved in the tie play another card to the trick - either from their hand or from the stock - and the highest of these new cards takes the trick. If there is a tie for highest among the new cards another card is played, and so on.
  • In phase 2, sequence plays are usually allowed, but some play that a sequence must contain at least three consecutive cards of the same suit. A player who cannot or does not wish to beat the previous play must pick up the lowest card or sequence in the trick - that is the one that was played earliest - not the most recently played as in Skitgubbe.
  • Any players who end the first phase with no cards in their hands are called "Blåmattis" (Blue Mattis). These players take part in the second phase and, having no cards, at their first turn they must pick up the lowest card of whatever trick is on the table at the time.
  • Some play with the custom that the loser of the game has to wear an ugly hat, the so-called "Mattishaetta".

Variants

Some play that anyone who is Blåmattis (without cards) at the end of phase one loses immediately.

Some play that in phase one, if any equal cards are played to the trick, even if these are not the highest cards, all players of equal cards play another card. The player of the highest of these new cards takes all the cards unless the new cards include equal cards, in which case the players of the new equal cards play again, and so on.

Atlanta Variation

This variation of three-player Norwegian Mattis, played in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was contributed by Mark Reed.

Phase One:

  1. All three players play to a trick, not just two.
  2. If, when it is your turn to play, you possess a card equal in rank to the highest card yet played on the trick, you must play that card, thus forcing a bounce (tie). A bounce may occur between more than two players; only those players who played the bouncing cards participate in the bounce resolution, although other players may slough (see below).
  3. Any player, once after playing to a trick and before that trick is taken by anyone, may play ("slough") additional cards to the trick, provided that the cards being sloughed are equal in rank to a card already played to and losing the trick.

Phase Two:

  1. If any player has fewer than six cards at the end of phase one, then all players collect from their hands the cards of rank two through five, plus the six of the trump suit (referred to collectively as the "dreck"), and divide them up randomly and as evenly as possible among those players with too few cards. (If by removing the dreck from his hand, a player drops below six cards himself, he does not then become eligible for dreck, but enters the second phase with the smaller hand. This does not happen often.)
  2. Play is as described under the Sequences variant, with one exception: when a player cannot play to a trick, he picks up the entire lowest unbroken sequence on the table, even if it was played by more than one player. This may remove more than one play from the table and thus extend the trick even further.

Myllymatti

This Finnish game is probably the ancestor of all the games on this page. According to research by Cristian Seres and others, it has been played since the early 19th century and probably originated in the western part of Finland, known as Österbotten or Pohjanmaa, where it is still played. On this Helsingin yliopistomuseo page you can see (in the fourth picture) people playing Myllymatti on a boat-trip between Vihti and Lohja in 1907.

Myllymatti is very similar to the basic Swedish game of Skitgubbe described above.

In the first phase, only two players play to each trick. The player to dealer's left begins and plays with the next person clockwise. If the first player wins the trick these two players continue to play until the second player wins. If the second player wins a trick, he/she in turn starts to play tricks with the next player.

In the second phase, only single cards can be played, not sequences. As usual a complete trick consists of as many cards as their are players; the player who completed it sets the cards aside and leads to a new trick. When a trick is incomplete, a player who cannot or does not wish to beat the previous card played must pick up that card and add it to their hand, and it is the next player's turn to play.

Koira

This game is rather similar to the Norwegian game Mattis. The Finnish word koira means 'dog', and according to some accounts the loser, as a penalty, has to bark like a dog.

Koira can be played by from three to around eight players.

In the first phase, all players play a card to each trick. If there is a tie for highest card, the players involved in the tie play again, and continue to play cards until the tie is broken.

In the second phase, sequences can be played. A player who is unable or unwilling to beat the latest play must pick up the lowest card or sequence from the trick.

Variants

Some play that in case of a tie in phase one, the players involved in the tie take the cards they played back into their hands. The other cards in the trick are then arranged in ascending order and dealt to the players involved in the tie one card at a time so that they are distributed as evenly as possible. This deal begins with the last player who played a tied card so that this player gets the lowest card, and continues counterclockwise.
Example with 7 players:
A - 2, B - 8, C - J, D - 5, E - J, F - J, G - 4. C, E and F take back their jacks and the other cards are arranged in the order 2-4-5-8 and dealt out to these three starting with F. So player F gets the 2, player E gets the 4, player C gets the 5, and player F gets the 8.

Some play that in phase two a trump played on a non-trump immediately ends the trick. The player of the trump puts the cards aside and leads to a new trick.

Some play that in phase two only single cards and sequences beginning with a 2 can be played. Without the 2 of a suit you can only play single cards.

Some play the when picking up from a trick, only the lowest card is taken. If the lowest (oldest) play to a trick is a sequence, only the bottom card of the sequence is taken. For the purpose of determining whether a trick is complete, a sequence counts as being in play until all its cards have been removed.

Note that the distinction between Myllymatti and Koira is not an absolute one. There are people who play with various combinations of rules from both games, and sometimes the two names are used interchangeably.

Sources

The original version of this page was based on four sources of information:

  • E. Werner and T. Sandgren: Kortoxen (Helsingborg 1975)
  • David Parlett: Shedding Games (Games and Puzzles No 4: July 1994)
  • A letter from Dan Glimne (1996)
  • A translation by Anthony Smith from the Norwegian book: I and U Schenkmanis "Cappelens Kortspillbok" (Cappelens Forlag a.s., 1987), which is based on the Swedish books "64 Kortspel" (1982) and "54 Kortspel" (1984).

It has since been revised and expanded, on the basis of contributions from several players including Thomas Franzén, Bengt Green, Markku Jaatinen, Eyolf Østrem, Mark Reed, Cristian Seres and Stephen Smith.

Other Skitgubbe WWW Pages

An archive copy of the Swedish Goat Game page, which gives further American variations of Skitgubbe for up to 7 players (related to the Atlanta Variation above) played at UCLA, CalTech and elsewhere.