Bauernschnapsen

This page is mainly based on a contribution from Hans-Joachim Alscher.

Introduction

Bauernschnapsen is one of the most popular card games in Austria. It is an elaborated four-player vesion of the two-player game of Schnapsen, which in turn is based on the German game Sechsundsechszig (Sixty-Six).

Players and cards

Bauernschnapsen is normally played by four people. The players sitting opposite each other are partners. The deal and play are clockwise.

It is played with a pack of just 20 cards. Either French suited or German suited (William Tell pattern) cards can be used. The four suits (hearts, diamonds or bells, clubs or acorns, spades or leaves) each contain five cards, and each card has a value in card points. The ranking (from high to low) and point values of the cards are as follows.

French suitsGerman suitsCard points
aceace (sow)11
tenten10
kingking4
queenover3
jackunder2

In addition, a player who has the king and queen (over) of trumps in hand can declare them when leading one of them to a trick and score 40 card points. The king and queen (over) of a non-trump suit can similarly be declared for 20 card points.

The deal

The dealer shuffles. The player to dealer's right may either cut or just knock on the cards.

If the cards were cut, the dealer deals the cards in two rounds - a packet of three cards each followed by a packet of two cards each. After the first three cards have been dealt, and without looking at the last two cards, forehand (the player to the left of the dealer) has to declare the trump suit. This must be a suit of which forehand holds at least one card. If forehand's first three cards are unsuitable to choose as a trump suit, forehand has the alternative of designating one of the last two cards at random as trumps. This is called "Aufschlagen". In this case, the dealer deals one of forehand's last two cards face-up on the table, and the suit of this card is trumps.

If the cards were knocked, the dealer deals them in a single round, five at a time. However, forehand's first three cards must be dealt separately, and forehand must either choose a trump suit from these or call for "Aufschlagen", in which case the dealer turns up one of the other two cards to determine trumps.

The contracts

Each hand begins with an auction in which players can bid a contract that they are prepared to play. The highest bidder's contract is played. If the bidder's team is successful they score a number of game points, depending on the contract; if not their opponents score some game points. Note that game points are entirely separate from card points. The first team to reach a score of 24 or more game points (usually over several deals) will win the game.

The following table lists the possible contracts in ranking order from lowest to highest, explains what the objective is how much they score. Note that some contracts can only be bid by certain players.

ContractScoreBidderTrumpsFirst leadObjective and notes
Normal game1, 2 or 3 game points (see below)Forehand onlyAs originally chosen by forehandForehandTo be the first team to reach at least 66 card points, counting cards won in tricks plus points for declaring king-queen (king-over) combinations (see below).
Bettler4 game pointsAnyoneNo trumpsDeclarerThe declarer must lose every trick to win the contract. The declarer's partner does not take part in the play.
Schnapser6 game pointsForehand or forehand's partnerAs originally chosen by forehandForehandTo win, declarer must win the first three tricks, and in these tricks must reach at least 66 card points (see below).
Gang (or Ring)9 game pointsAnyoneNo trumpsDeclarerDeclarer must win all five tricks
Zehner-Gang (or Zehner-Ring)10 game pointsAnyoneNo trumpsDeclarerDeclarer must win all five tricks; cards in all suits rank from high to low: 10-K-Q-J-A
Kontra-Schnapser12 game pointsAn opponent of forehandAs originally chosen by forehandForehandThe declarer must win the first three tricks, and in these tricks must reach at least 66 card points (see below).
Bauern-Schnapser12 game pointsForehand or forehand's partnerAs originally chosen by forehandForehandThe declarer must win all five tricks
Farben-Gang (or Farben-Ring)18 game pointsAnyone except forehand--The declarer must hold all five cards of one suit
Kontra-Bauern-Schnapser24 game pointsAn opponent of forehandAs originally chosen by forehandForehandThe declarer must win all five tricks
Herren-Schnapser24 game pointsForehand--Forehand must hold all five cards of the trump suit

The bidding process

There is an auction to decide who will be allowed to play one of the contracts listed above. Players bid by naming a contract they would like to play. In the bidding, there is an order of priority among the players, forehand having the highest priority, then dealer's partner, then forehand's partner, then the dealer, who has lowest priority. If more than one player wishes to play the same contract, the player with the higher priority will be allowed to play.

Forehand begins the bidding and cannot pass, but can bid a normal game (for which the trump suit has already been determined) or any of the higher contracts that are available to forehand. The turn to bid passes clockwise, each player either passing or bidding a contract. If the previous contract was bid by a player with higher priority than you, then you must bid a higher contract or pass. If the previous bidder had lower priority than you, you have the extra option of bidding the same contract as the previous bidder. Example: Forehand bids a normal game, then next two players pass and dealer bids a Gang. Forehand can now pass, or bid a Gang, which will have priority over the dealer's Gang, or bid higher.

The bidding continues around the table for as many circuits as are necessary until three players have passed. A player who has passed is out of the auction and does not get an opportunity to bid on later circuits.

When three players have passed, the fourth player is the declarer, and must play the contract of the last bid. At this stage, either of the opponents of the declarer can say "Kontra", which doubles the score for the game. The declarer or the declarer's partner can respond by saying "Rekontra", which doubles the score again. Either opponent can respond to a Rekontra by saying "Subkontra", which doubles the score yet again, so that in principle the game is worth eight times its original value. However, you should note that since the game is played to a target of 24 game points, once the score for the game is 24 points or more (or sufficient to take either side beyond the game target if they already have a score) there is no purpose in further Kontras.

The play

When there are trumps, forehand leads to the first trick. In contracts with no trumps, the declarer leads first.

Players must follow suit if able to, and whenever possible must play a card that beats the highest card so far played to the trick (even when this means beating a high card played by their partner). A player who has no card of the suit led must play a trump if possible. If there is already a trump in the trick, and you are also unable to follow suit, you must trump, beating the highest trump in the trick if possible, but if the trick contains a trump you cannot beat you must still play a (lower) trump. If you have no cards of the suit led and no trumps, you may throw any card.

A trick is won by the highest trump in it, or by the highest card of the suit led if it contains no trumps.

Special rules for normal game, Schnapser and Kontra-Schnapser only

A player who holds the king and the queen of a suit (the king and the over if playing with German cards) can declare them when leading one of these two cards to a trick. The player's team then scores an extra 20 card points if the K-Q is in a non-trump suit, or an extra 40 card points for the K-Q of trumps. Each combination can only be scored if the holder leads one of the cards as the first card to a trick, while still holding the other card in hand, and shows the other card to claim the bonus. Forehand can do this on the first trick. Any other player would first have to win a trick, and then lead a card of the still intact combination to declare it. It is not necessary to win the trick to which the combination card was led to claim the score.

In a normal game, when you believe that your team has at least 66 card points in tricks you have won plus declared combinations, you can stop the play, saying "enough". If the claim is correct your team scores 1, 2 or 3 game points (doubled, redoubled, etc. for any kontras), depending on the card points taken by the other team, as follows:

  • 1 game point if the opponents have taken 33 or more card points
  • 2 game points if the opponents have taken at least one trick, but fewer than 33 card points
  • 3 game points if the opponents have taken no tricks
A claim can be made after you have won a trick, or immediately after declaring a combination. If you claim after declaring a combination, the remainder of that trick is not played out, and any card points in it do not count to either side.

Usually it is permitted to look at your side's tricks, to check how many card points you have. Therefore false claims should be unusual, but if you do claim and then turn out to be short of the necessary 66 card points, the other team wins the game points that you would have won if the claim had been correct.

If no one claims to have won before the lead to last trick, the team that wins the last trick wins 1 game point (doubled for any kontras), irrespective of the number of card points taken by either side.

If Schnapser or Kontra-Schnapser is bid, just three tricks are played. To be successful, the declarer must win all three of these tricks, and take at least 66 card points. The contract is lost if any other player takes a trick - even the declarer's partner! Note also that in a Schnapser or Kontra-Schnapser, only the declarer can score for combination; if forehand's partner plays a Schnapser, there is no score for any K-Q combination held by forehand.

Scoring

The cumulative scores of the teams are recorded on a piece of paper (or a chalk slate) divided into two columns. When the declarer's contract is successful, the appropriate game points are added to the declarer's team's score. When it fails, the points are added to the other team's score. When a team's score reaches 24 or more game points, that team wins. This is recorded by marking a "Bummerl" (or Pummerl) - a blob in the losers' column. If the losing team has no game points at all when the winners reach 24 they are "Schneider", and the winners win a double game, which is represented by two Bummerl for the losers.

Variations

Some circles do not allow the Bettler contract. When Bettler is allowed, there are several variations:

  • Some play the the card order is changed; cards rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10.
  • Some play that Bettler is worth 5 game points rather than 4.
  • Some play that the declarer's partner does not drop out, but all four players take part in the play.
  • Some play that if either of forehand's opponents want to say Kontra to the normal game, this has priority over a Bettler. Even if forehand announces a Bettler, an opponent can Kontra the normal game, which annuls the Bettler and forces forehand to play a normal game with the chosen trump suit, unless someone wants to bid a higher contract, such as a Gang.

Some include an additional contract "As-Bettler", which ranks just above an ordinary Bettler in the auction and is worth 5 game points. The As-Bettler is just like an ordinary Bettler, except that the declarer must hold at least one Ace. (The declarer could choose to bid Bettler instead, to conceal the ace.)

Some circles do not allow the Zehner-Gang (Zehner-Ring or Zehner-Loch) contract. If allowed, it may be worth 8 or 9 game points rather than 10 and be ranked below an ordinary Gang.

Talon-Schnapsen

The variation is for three players. In each deal the declarer plays against the other two players in temporary partnership. The general rules are the same as for Bauernschnapsen and the same 20 card pack is used.

A batch of three cards is dealt to each player, then two face down to the centre of the table (the "Talon"), then another batch of three cards each. As in Bauernschnapsen, forehand must choose trumps on the basis of the first three cards dealt, or turn up a card for trumps from the second batch dealt to him. If the player to dealer's right knocks rather than cutting, forehand's two batches of three cards are dealt first, followed by a batch of 6 to each of the other players, and the 2-card talon is dealt last.

The possible contracts and the bidding procedure are the same as in Bauernschnapsen, with these exceptions:

  • In Schnapser and Kontra-Schnapser, declarer must win the first four tricks, and reach at least 66 card points in those four tricks
  • In Gang, Zehner-Gang, Bauern-Schnapser and Kontra-Bauern-Schnapser the declarer must win all six tricks
  • In Farben-Gang and Herren-Schnapser the declarer has a complete suit plus a sixth card. The declarer leads out the complete suit, winning five tricks, and must then win the sixth trick with the last card - which ideally would be an ace, but you could try playing this with a lower card and hope that the opponents keep the wrong cards.

After the bidding, the declarer picks up the two talon cards without showing them, to make a hand of eight cards, and discards any two of these face down. The card points in the discarded cards do not count for either team. The players must agree in advance whether the declarer is allowed to change to a higher contract after seeing the talon.

Some play that having won the bidding you can choose not to look at the talon, but to play with your original hand, and in this case the game is worth an extra game point.

Other WWW pages and software

You can play Bauernschnapsen on line against live opponents at the Gametwist site (the interface is in German).