Swiss Jass

Part of this page was contributed by Nick Wedd

Introduction

Many of the most popular card games in Switzerland, especially in the German speaking cantons, belong to the Jass group, and are played with characteristic Swiss cards, which have come to be known as Jass cards.

So popular has Jass become in Switzerland, that even games which have nothing to do with the Jass group are sometimes described as kinds of Jass, and the word jassen has come to mean playing any card game with the Swiss pack. The Swiss Jass games described on this site at present are:

Swiss Jass games have a number of features in common, which will be described on this page, to save repetition elsewhere. These are:

The rank and values of the cards

A standard Jass pack has 36 cards. In the west and south of Switzerland French suited cards are used: the four suits are hearts heart, diamonds diamond, clubs club and spades spade and the cards in each suit are ace, king, queen, jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6. In the northeast, the cards have the Swiss German suits of bells , shields , acorns and flowers . The cards in each suit are ace, king, ober, under, banner, nine, eight, seven, six.

In the Swiss German packs note that the aces have two large suit symbols (having in the distant past actually been deuces). The banners also have two suit symbols, but should be easy to distinguish from aces because they symbols appear on a flag or banner. Perhaps the only tricky card is the ace of shields, which can be confusing because the shields are a different shape from the others. The ace of shields and banner of bells are illustrated to the right. The king, ober and under of each suit are identified by the words KÖNIG, OBER and UNDER printed on the card.

In North America, Jass cards and equipment can be obtained from TaroBear's Lair.

Jass games are point-trick games. When there are trumps, the card ranks and values are different in the trump suit from the other suits. The rank of the cards in each suit, from highest to lowest, and their values in card points are given in the following table:

Non trump suit Trump suit
Ace 11 Under / Jack 20
King 4 Nine 14
Ober / Queen 3 Ace 11
Under / Jack 2 King 4
Banner / Ten 10 Ober / Queen 3
Nine 0 Banner / Ten 10
Eight 0 Eight 0
Seven 0 Seven 0
Six 0 Six 0

In addition the whoever wins the last trick gets an extra 5 card points. Thus the total number of card points available is 157.

A player or side that wins all the tricks is said to have made match. For this they normally score an extra 100 card points, making 257 altogether.

The Under of trumps is called the Puur (Swiss version of the word Bauer, meaning peasant, which in the form Bower also appears in Euchre). The nine of trumps is called Näll.

Some Jass games have contracts that are played without trumps. In this case, to make up for the lack of Puur and Näll the eights are worth 8 points each instead of zero, so that the total points available are still 157.

The trick-taking rules

All Jass games are played counter-clockwise. The cards are played in tricks. As usual each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trump is played, by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of each trick leads to the next. In many games the player to the right of the dealer leads to the first trick, but in some games with bidding the declarer leads first.

Any card may be led to a trick. The rules about which cards the other players may play to the trick are unique to Swiss Jass. Please read the following carefully! If a non trump suit is led, and you have a card of the suit led, you must either follow suit (play any card of the suit led) or play a trump, subject to the undertrumping rule. If trumps are led, you must follow suit with a trump if you can, except when the only trump in your hand is the Under (Puur), in which case you may play anything. If you have no card of the suit led you may play anything, subject to the undertrumping rule.

Undertrumping rule

There are two versions of this, depending what kind of Jass you are playing.

If it is a pure positive game, such as Schieber Jass, Handjass or Steiger Jass (where the object is to win card points) then the stricter undertrumping rule applies:

  • If a non-trump has been led and another player has already trumped it, you are not allowed to play a lower trump, unless you have nothing but trumps left in your hand, in which case you may play any trump.

If it is a negative or mixed game, such as Hindersi, Mittlere or Differenzler in which the object is not to take as many card points as possible, but maybe to avoid taking points or to get close to a specific value, then the weaker undertrumping rule applies:

  • If a non-trump has been led and another player has already trumped it, you are not allowed to play a lower trump, unless you have no cards of the suit led, in which case you may play any card.

The Weis

The word Weis denotes sets of cards which, held in a player's hand at the start of play, may be announced for points. There are two ways of counting weis: the large weis and the small weis.

The small weis are:

     sequence of three cards in suit          20 points
     sequence of four cards in suit           50 points
     sequence of five or more cards in suit  100 points
     four tens (banners)                     100 points
     four obers / queens                     100 points
     four kings                              100 points
     four aces                               100 points
     four nines  (if played)                 150 points
     four unders / jacks                     200 points
With the small weis, the same card may not be used in two different combinations. E.g. a player holding all four kings and the ober under ten of bells might choose to treat this as four kings and a sequence of three, or as a sequence of four. A sequence of seven cards scores no more than a sequence of five (though it beats it). A sequence of eight (or nine) cards may be regarded as a sequence of five and a sequence of three (or four).

The large weis are:

     sequence of three cards in suit          20 points
     sequence of four cards in suit           50 points
     sequence of five in suit                100 points
     four tens (banners)                     100 points
     four obers /queens                      100 points
     four kings                              100 points
     four aces                               100 points
     four nines  (if played)                 150 points
     sequence of six in suit                 150 points
     four unders / jack                      200 points
     sequence of seven in suit               200 points
     sequence of eight in suit               250 points
     sequence of nine in suit                300 points
With the large weis, the same card may be used in both a set of four and a sequence. E.G. a player holding all four kings and the ober under ten of bells could treat this as four kings and a sequence of four.

Each weis on a list is better than those above it on the list. A longer sequence is better than a shorter one. In comparing sequences of the same length, the one with the higher card is better. In comparing identical sequences in different suits, one in the trump suit is better. If two players have identical sequences in non-trump suits, the one wins whose turn to play to the first trick is earlier.

For the purposes of Weis, suits are always in the order A K O U B 9 8 7 6.

Announcing Weis

The details vary from game to game, but the general way in which Weis are announced is as follows.

As each player plays a card to the first trick of a hand, she may announce a weis (set of cards, as listed) that she holds if it is at least as great as any which has so far been announced. She may hold a weis but choose not to announce it. She might choose to announce a weis that was not her best, though it is hard to imagine why anyone should do so deliberately.

When the trick is complete, if more than one weis has been announced, a discussion takes place about which one was best. In this discussion players reveal only sufficient information to establish which Weis is highest. For example if there are two four card sequences in contention, the players first each say what is the highest card of their sequence, and if these are equal, whether they are trumps. Once this has been resolved, the holder of the winning weis scores for it, and for any others which she holds and chooses to announce. In a partnership game, the partner(s) of the player with the best weis may then also choose to announce and score for any weis they hold. The opponents score nothing for weis, even though some of theirs may be better than some of the weis scored by the other side.

Once an item of weis has been scored for, any player other than the one holding it may ask to see it. Its holder then displays it for everyone to see. The purpose of doing this is not to check if it is genuine (competent card players would know in any case by the end of the hand); it is to help the asker, and possibly her partner, in planning the play of the hand.

Variations

Some players allow four 9s, worth 150, as weis.

Some Jass games contain a contract called undenufe in which the cards rank in reverse order - 6 highest. In this case the reverse ranking also applies when comparing sequences of equal length, or equal scoring fours of a kind.

In undenufe, some people value the 6 rather than the ace as 11 points, and allow a Weis of four sixes worth 100 points, in place of four aces.

Note

Jass games involving announcements of card combinations are played throughout Switzerland. The German word for these announcements is "Weis", but as there is no single correct way to spell Swiss German, various other forms are also found, such as Wis and Wys. It is pronounced "veez". In French the announcements are known as "annonces".

The Stöck

A combination of king and ober of trumps, held by the same player in her hand, generally scores 20 points and is known as stöck. This is not a kind of weis and cannot be invalidated by another player's weis. Stöck can be announced and scored when the second of the two cards is been played, or when the cards are exposed as part of a weis, or at any later time, up until the counting of points won in tricks at the end of the play of that hand. Stöck can be claimed and scored at any earlier time if the player thereby gets enough points to win the game.

Equipment, clubs, tournaments

The site www.jassinfo.ch has an online shop for Jass cards and equipment, plus news and information on clubs and tournaments

Software

Michael Gasser's Jass!! program plays several Swiss Jass games: Differenzler, Sticheln, Plusminus, Guggitaler, Total Guggitaler, Schiltenoberjass, Schaufeldamejass, Molotow, Schellenjass, Handjass, Schieber.