Doppelkopf

This page is mostly based on a contribution from Noel Leaver.

Doppelkopf is extremely popular in Germany, mainly in the North. It developed from a version of Schafkopf using a double pack of cards. Doppelkopf is a four player game with variable partnerships; the objective is to capture valuable cards in tricks. It can be played with five people, with dealer sitting out.

Although the Deustcher Doppelkopf-Verband has developed standard rules for tournaments, in informal games there are many variants and each group of players has their own house rules. Before playing with a new group of players, it is therefore advisable to agree a set of rules. Several variants are listed at the end of this description.

Contents

Pack

The pack is a double pack shortened by removing cards below 9, each suit containing two each of A K Q J 10 9. Doppelkopf packs are readily available in Germany and normally have standard suits and cards with indices A K D (Dame) B (Bube) 10 9.

In most contracts, the cards rank, from high to low:

  • Trumps: heart10, clubQ, spadeQ, heartQ, diamondQ, clubJ, spadeJ, heartJ, diamondJ, diamondA, diamond10, diamondK, diamond9 (26 cards)
  • Clubs: clubA, club10, clubK, club9
  • Spades: spadeA, spade10, spadeK, spade9
  • Hearts: heartA, heartK, heart9

The cards have the same values as in Skat:

	A = 11    10 = 10    K = 4    Q = 3    J = 2
making a total of 240 card points. The basic object of the game is to take more than half of these card points in tricks. The card points are used only to determine which team has won the hand - they are not the same as game points written on the score-sheet as a result of winning or losing.

Deal

Dealer shuffles and the cards are cut; then all the cards are dealt out, three at a time starting on dealer's left and continuing clockwise. The deal for the next hand passes to dealer's left. It is usual to play a number of complete rounds of deals in a session, so it is not important who deals first.

Bidding

The bidding consists of a single round starting with the player to dealer's left. Each player says either "Gesund" (healthy), meaning that they are content to play a normal game, or "Vorbehalt" (reservation) meaning that they want to play some other type of game. If one or more players have said "Vorbehalt", they each in turn say what type of game they wish to play. The possibilities, from lowest to highest, are:

Whoever has the highest ranking Vorbehalt plays their game. If more than one player has the same Vorbehalt - for example more than one wanting to play a Solo, then the first of these players in the bidding order plays their game.

Normal Game

In the normal game, when everyone says "Gesund", the cards rank as above and the two players who hold the queens of clubs (known as the old women) are partners against the other two. The players with the queens of clubs do not say who they are (except sometimes by means of specific announcements during the play, which are explained later), so during the play you sometimes do not know who your partner is.

If a player has both of the queens of clubs but says "Gesund", along with everyone else, that player plays alone against the other three players in partnership, though the other players will not realise initially that they are all together. This is called a silent solo.

Hochzeit (marriage)

Usually a player who has both queens of clubs will not be strong enough to play a silent solo, and will want a partner. This is achieved by saying "Vorbehalt" during the bidding, and announcing a Hochzeit (marriage). If no one has a better Vorbehalt, a normal game is played except that the first player other than the holder of the marriage who wins a trick becomes the marriage holder's partner. However, this must happen within the first three tricks - if you announce a marriage and then win the first three tricks you play on your own against the other three players.

Armut (poverty)

A person with three or fewer trumps can say "Vorbehalt" (reservation) and then announce Armut (poverty). If no one has a better Vorbehalt, the person announcing Armut places three cards face down on the table. These three cards must contain all the Armut player's trumps. A player who wishes to become the Armut player's partner has the right to take these three cards (without seeing them first) and then discard any three cards, which are returned to the Armut player. The returned cards may contain trumps and may include cards originally passed. The player to the left of the player who says Armut has the first chance to become the partner; if this player does not wish to, the opportunity passes around the table to the left - each player may pass or accept, and the first player to accept takes the three cards and becomes the partner. If nobody wants to partner the player with Armut, all the cards are thrown in and shuffled and the hand is redealt by the same dealer.

Solo

A solo is a game played alone, against the other three playing as a team. There are several types:

Trump Solo:
Declarer names a trump suit. If it is diamonds, the cards rank as normal. If the trump suit is not diamonds, the A 10 K 9 of diamonds become a side suit, and the cards of the suit named as trumps become part of the trump suit in their place. If hearts are trumps the heart10s still rank as the highest trumps, and there are only 24 trumps.
Queen (Damen) Solo:
Only the 8 Queens are trumps, ranking clubQ spadeQ heartQ diamondQ as usual. All four suits rank A 10 K J 9.
Jack (Buben) Solo:
Only the 8 Jacks are trumps, ranking clubJ spadeJ heartJ diamondJ as usual. The suits rank A 10 K Q 9.
Ace Solo:
There are no trumps, all suits rank A 10 K Q J 9. This contract is also called Fleischloser (meat free or vegetarian solo).

Play

The play is in tricks of four cards, with the winner of each trick leading to the next. The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. You must follow suit if you can; if you cannot follow suit, any card may be played. If there is a trump on the trick, the highest one wins, otherwise the highest card in the suit led wins. If there are two identical highest cards played, the first one played wins.

The trumps are a suit of their own for suit following purposes - for example, in a normal game, the queen of spades is a trump, not a spade. You cannot play the queen of spades when spades are led (unless you are out of genuine spades, in which case you can play anything). Similarly, if the queen of spades is led, everyone must if possible play trumps (not spades).

Announcements during the play

In a normal game, the team with the queens of clubs are called the Re team. In case of a Vorbehalt, the Re team is the team of the player who specifies the game (the marriage holder, the team who exchange cards in Armut, or the lone player in a solo). The basic aim of the Re team is to take at least 121 card points in the cards they win in their tricks. The opposing team is called the Kontra team; their basic aim is to take cards worth at least 120 points.

A member of the Re team may at any time while they have 11 or more cards in their hand announce "Re", which increases the score for the game. Similarly, a member of the Kontra team may while they have 11 or more cards in their hand announce "Kontra". If Re or Kontra has been announced by the appropriate team, a member of the other side can announce Kontra or Re while they have 10 or more cards in their hand. If Kontra is announced but not Re, then the Re team only need 120 points to win, rather than 121.

Note that announcements can be made at any time during the play, provided that you have at least the requisite number of cards, not just when it is your turn to play.

If one side fails to make 90 points the other side wins an extra bonus for "no 90", similarly there are bonuses for "no 60", "no 30" and Schwarz (all the tricks). Each of these bonuses can be increased in value by announcing it in advance. To make an announcement, the player must have at least the number of cards shown below:

  • "No 90" - 10 cards or more
  • "No 60" - 9 cards or more
  • "No 30" - 8 cards or more
  • "Schwarz" - 7 cards or more
An announcement can only be made if the team has already made all the previous announcements (including Re or Kontra), so for example "no 90" can only be announced by a team that has said "Re" or "Kontra", and the declarer's side cannot announce "no 60" unless they have already announced "Re" and "no 90".

When an announcement has been made, the other side can announce "Re" or "Kontra" as appropriate (if they have not already done so), so long as they still have a number of cards in their hand which is 1 fewer than the number of cards required to make the announcement. For example if the Re team announce "Re", "no 90" and "no 60", a player of the Kontra team can announce "Kontra" as long as they still hold at least 8 cards.

If a player has announced a marriage, no announcements can be made until after the end of the trick on which the partnership is determined, and the number of cards required to make a bid is reduced by the number of tricks taken to determine the partnership. For example, if person with the club queens wins the first trick but not the second, then the partnerships are determined at trick 2, so Re or Kontra can be declared from the end of trick 2, for as long as you have at least 9 (11 - 2) cards in hand.

A player announcing "no 90", "no 60", etc. must state whether he or she belongs to the Re-team or the Kontra-team if it is not already established. This may be necessary, for example, if both "Re" and "Kontra" have already been announced, and a third player wishes to announce "no 90". It is possible, though unusual, for both teams to announce "no 90" on the same deal.

Scoring

The score is kept on a piece of paper, with a column for each player, containing their cumulative total of points. The scores always add up to zero, and can be thought of as the amount of money won or lost by each player. When two play against two, each player pays to or receives from one opponent; when one plays alone against three, the lone player pays to or receives from all three opponents. Thus if the players are A, B, C and D, and the team consisting of B and C wins 3 points, then B and C each score plus 3 and A and D each score minus 3. In a solo, if (say) D is the lone player and wins 4, then D actually scores plus 12, and A, B and C score minus 4 each.

The basic score for the game is one point; this is what the Re team win if they take at least 121 card points and nothing else happens. If the Kontra team; take at least 120 points, they win two points, one for the game and one for being gegen die Alten (against the old women).

An announcement of "Re" or "Kontra" adds 2 further points to the score for the side that wins the game. If both are announced, that makes 4 extra points in total. For example, if "Re" and "Kontra" are announced and the Kontra team win, they score 6 points altogether (game 1, against the old women 1, Re 2, Kontra 2).

"No 90", "no 60", "no 30" and Schwarz are worth an extra point each, and all the applicable items apply, so for example if the Re team announce "Re" and the Kontra team take only 24 card points, the Re team will score 6 points (1 for game, 2 for Re, 1 for no 90, 1 for no 60, 1 for no 30).

Announcements of "No 90", "no 60", "no 30" and Schwarz increase the score by an extra point each. However, if the team fails to fulfil the announcement, they lose the whole game, and the scores for all the points they would have won. For example, if a side announces "Re", "no 90" and "no 60" they need at least 181 card points to win. If they take only 172 card points (i.e. the opponents take 68, which is more than 60) then the announcing side loses:

       1  for game 
       1  for against the old women
       2  for Re
       1  for no 90
       1  for no 90 announced
       1  for no 60
       1  for no 60 announced
Total: 8 game points (-8 to each of the Re side, +8 to each of the Kontra side)
If the "no 60" had not been announced the Re side would instead have won 5 game points (Game, Re 2, no 90, no 90 announced). If they had only announced Re they would have won 4 (Game, Re 2, no 90).

Another example: One side announces "Re" and "no 90", the other "Kontra". The Re team take 88 card points (no 90). They lose 9 (no 90 made by the Kontra side, game, women, Re 2, Kontra 2, no 90, no 90 announced).

In addition to the points described above, there are a number of game points that can be scored during play, which are independent of the game and other points, and can be scored by either team whether or not the game succeeds. These are:

Catching a Fox
A team which captures a "Fox" (Ace of Diamonds) from the opponents - i.e. wins a trick which contains an opponent's ace of diamonds - scores one game point. The Ace is left face up in the pile of tricks to indicate the point. It may not be clear when the trick is won whether the Ace came from the winner's partner or opponent, in which case it is left face up and turned over if necessary when the partnership becomes clear.
Charlie Miller (Karlchen Müller)
Winning the last trick with Jack of Clubs scores one game point. Playing it to the last trick loses a point if the trick is won by the opponents, there is no score either way if the trick is won by the partner.
Doppelkopf.
Winning a trick where all four cards are 10s and Aces scores one game point. When this happens, one of the cards is placed face up in the pile of tricks won to indicate the point.
All these points apply to the whole team - for example if you win the last trick with a Charlie, your partner benefits as well. It is possible for two or three points to be scored on one trick, e.g. if an opponent's fox is beaten by the Charlie on the last trick.

Fox and Charlie cannot be scored in a solo.

Tournament Play

Tournaments are normally played in a number of sessions of 24 deals, each session consisting of 20 normal hands plus 4 compulsory solos (if their are five players rather than four, then 25 hands with five solos).

Each player must bid one "compulsory" solo during the session, and may bid other "lust" solos. The first solo each player bids is counted as their compulsory solo, and they get the lead. After the hand the same dealer deals again.

A compulsory solo ranks above a lust solo in the bidding; if more than one player wants to play a compulsory solo the earliest in the bidding order plays. If a player fails to bid a solo by the end of a session, an additional hand is dealt on which they must bid solo.

Notes on Play and Tactics

The rule that the first of equal cards wins makes it very important to lead your ace of a side suit before an opponent can lead theirs, as the second round is almost certain to be trumped - there are only 8 cards in a suit (6 in hearts). If you happen to have both aces in a suit, then it is not urgent to lead one. Therefore, if on lead at the start, you priorities are usually:

  1. lead a single black ace (shortest suit first with two);
  2. lead a single ace of hearts;
  3. lead an ace from a pair.
After this, you normally try to give the lead to your partner. If you are on the Re side you will normally lead a trump to your partner's clubQ. If on the Kontra side you may lead a side suit (this is not always done, but gives a good indication of which side the leader is on). However, if your partner has said Kontra you should lead a trump as they should have at least one heart10 (and may well want you to lead trumps).

If you are trumping in, and there is a possibility of being overtrumped, trump with at least a Jack so that the fourth player cannot win with a Fox or 10 of trumps. Similarly, if trumps are led then if you are the last player of your team to play to the trick, with one or both opponents after you, play a Jack or higher if no high card has been played so far.

It is important that you announce Re or Kontra if things seem to be going well, not only to increase the score for the game but also so that you can announce no 90 if things continue to go well.

If you announce Re or Kontra earlier than you need to, for example on your first play rather than your second, this indicates a possession of additional strength (normally high trumps, which are very important in play).

If on the opening lead the fourth player says Re or Kontra before second hand plays, this indicates that they are going to trump the lead and want their partner to put a valuable card on it.

It is almost always correct to announce a marriage - rarely will you have a hand so good that it is profitable to go solo instead. It is always desirable to become the partner of a player with a marriage - you get a partner with at least 2 high trumps. Therefore, if on lead against a marriage you might lead a heart10 to win the trick; otherwise you could lead an ace in your shortest suit.

A game with Armut (poverty) is easier to win than it sounds, because the poverty player can discard valuable cards on partner's tricks, and also because the accepting player gets the chance to create voids.

When considering a solo, possession of the initial lead is a big advantage on most hands. Trump solos require a much stronger hand than you might at first think, and these hands will also play well in a normal game. For an Ace solo, a five card suit to A A 10 will normally capture over 60 points. For a Queen or Jack solo 4 trumps are often sufficient, but you also need a reasonable number of aces.

Because announcing no 90/60/30 changes the target, you are gambling 1 extra point against the possible loss of the whole game, so you must be very certain of making the announcement.

It is often bad to lead the second round of hearts, because of the danger of giving a ruff and discard to the opponents, since there are only six cards in the suit.

In tournament play, it is very likely that a player will not get a hand which warrants a solo bid during the session and so a compulsory solo, particularly towards the end, should almost always have Kontra said if declarer does not say Re.

Variations

Two of the commonest variants, both worth trying, are:

1. The second 10 of hearts wins if both are played to the same trick. This reduces the power of these cards, and prevents the lead of one in order to become the partner of a marriage. Variant: the second 10 of hearts wins except on the last trick.

2. If several players want to bid a solo, a player later in the bidding can announce "no 90". The first player may either pass, letting the second solo play, or hold the bid and themselves play in solo with no 90 announced; the second solo may then announce no 60, and so on. The first player can hold this by making the same announcement, which in turn can be outbid with a further announcement, and so on.

Some further variants are:

3. Many people remove all the nines and play with a 40 card pack. This makes the trumps even more important and reduces scope for play in the side suits.

4. Some play that Re and Kontra double the score for the game, rather than adding two. Some play that the scores for foxes and Charlie are also doubled.

5. Schmeißen. A player with particularly bad cards can annul the hand and demand a redeal. There are various versions of what you need to do this:

  • At least five 9s
  • At least 6 (or sometimes 5) Kings
  • Four kings and four nines
  • At least 8 cards that are tens or aces
  • At most one trump

6. Some variations on Armut:

  • Aces of diamonds do not count towards the three trumps for Armut.
  • The Armut player may only offer the trumps they hold for exchange (and must offer all of them), ie they might have to offer fewer than three cards.
  • Trumps may not be passed back to the Armut player.
  • (Ralf Wirth's version) An Armut player announces which team they belong to (Re or Kontra) according to whether or not they hold a clubQ; the other player of that team must take the three cards. In this variation two players on opposite teams can play Armut at once; if two players on the same team have Armut the deal is annulled. An Armut can be played at the same time as a Hochzeit - the Armut player is automatically on the Re team and exchanges with the Hochzeit player. If the Hochzeit player also announces Armut, or if two players other than the Hochzeit player announce Armut, the deal is annulled.
  • Some players do not allow Armut at all.

7. Variations on determining the partnerships in a Hochzeit:

  • A trick to which a trump is led cannot determine the partnership in a marriage. If all of the first 3 tricks are either trump tricks or won by the person with the marriage, the marriage holder plays alone.
  • (Ralf Wirth's version): the announcer of a Hochzeit has a choice of three ways of choosing a partner - the choice must be made before the first lead:
    1. First other player to win a trick;
    2. First other player to win a trump trick;
    3. First other player to win a non-trump trick.

8. The number of cards required for each announcement is 12 for Re or Kontra, 10 for no 90, 8 for no 60, 6 for no 30, 4 for schwarz. This remains the same even when a marriage has been announced; in this case, a player who does not yet know which side they are on may say "double" instead of "Re" or "Kontra".

9. Announcements can only be made when it is your turn to play.

10. There is an extra bonus point for capturing an opponent's 10 of hearts.

11. When playing with 40 cards, there is a bonus point for a trick consisting of all 4 hearts (two aces and two kings).

12. A king solo is allowed - similar to the queen and jack solos but with the four kings as trumps.

13. Schweinchen

  • A person with the two Aces of diamonds (variant, Aces of hearts) can announce Schweinchen (piglets) before the start of the play and these cards become the top two trumps, beating the tens of hearts.
  • Some also play that after the two Aces of diamonds have been announced as piglets, a call of Hyperschweinchen (hyper-piglets) by a player with the two 9s of diamonds causes them to become the top trumps, above the piglets. If you play with 40 cards, the hyper-piglets are the 10s of diamonds.

14. Genscher A player who holds both kings of diamonds can, when playing the first of them, announce Genscher and choose a new partner - obviously someone who has already won plenty of points. If the player with the kings belongs to the Re-team, the chosen partner from that moment also joins the Re-team, and the Genscher's old partner goes to the Kontra-team. Conversely, if the Genscher announcer is on the Kontra-team, the chosen partner joins that team, and Genscher's old partner joins the Re-team. All announcements, such as 'no 90', 'no 60', etc., remain as obligations for the player who said them, even if that player is now on a different team. This variant is named after the politician Hans-Dietrich Genscher who switched sides in 1982 from the FDP-SDP coalition to help form the FDP-CDU/CSU coalition, serving as foreign minister and vice chancellor in both.

15. A Doppelkopf, rather than being a trick containing 40 or more points, is a trick which contains two pairs of identical cards.

16. All solo contracts score double (alternative: all solo contracts are automatically considered to announce Re).

17. If several players want to bid solo, the one latest in the bidding (rather than earliest) has precedence.

18. There is a bonus score of 2 for winning the last trick with a fox, or for catching a fox in the last trick. Some also play that catching a fox on the first trick counts 2.

19. Although there is a point for winning the last trick with a Charlie, there is no penalty for playing a Charlie to the last trick, if the opponents win it.

20. Bockrounds. After certain events there is a Bockround, in which all scores are doubled - this starts with the deal after the event that caused the Bockround, and continues for one deal by each player - i.e. 4 hands if there are 4 players. Events which may be agreed to cause a Bockround include:

  • a trick containing only hearts (if a 40 card pack is used)
  • each team takes 120 card points
  • the scores for the hand cancel out
  • the Re team announce Re and lose
  • the Kontra team announce Kontra and lose

21. Instead of the partnerships being determined by the queens of clubs, it is the holders of the two kings of diamonds who are partners and form the Re team.

22. The kings of diamonds are the highest trumps instead of the tens of hearts. The tens of hearts are ordinary hearts between the aces and the kings. This is not played at the same time as variation 14 or 21.

23. The declarer in a solo makes the opening lead, and afterwards the same dealer redeals the next hand.

24. Trump solos and Ace solos are not allowed.

25. The 10s of hearts do not count as trumps, but as ordinary hearts. The highest trumps are the queens of clubs. This was the original rule but is rarely played nowadays.

26. Zwingen. If the first trick contains 30 or more points the winner must say Re or Kontra (as appropriate). If the trick winner's team has already announced Re or Kontra, the trick winner must announce "no 90".

27. Schwarze Sau (Black Sow). One round of this is sometimes played after a Bock round ( or one game after each Bock game). The player who ends up with the second queen of spades in his or her tricks is playing alone - the hand is scored as though that player was playing solo.

28. Scharfe (Sharps). If a player holds both kings of hearts, these are called "scharf" (sharp). The holder announces "scharfe" when playing the first king of hearts.When the kings of hearts are sharp, they count as trumps ranking between the 10s of hearts and the queens of vlubs. If no kings of hearts are played to the first heart trick, this may be taken as a clue that someone probably has Scharfe.

Other Doppelkopf Pages and Software

The Deutscher Doppelkofverband (DDV) web site

On Uwe Rasche's site, there is a description of the Essen system in German and in English. This is a system of signalling for tournament use. The system involves choice of lead, timing of announcements and deliberate hesitation during the play (Bridge players may be shocked by this last idea, but in Doppelkopf it is legal to hesitate intentionally, for example when waiting to see whether your partner wants to make an announcement).

Doppelkopf Online Games and Software

At GameDuell you can play Doppelkopf online against live opponents.

The computer program Doppelkopf Professionell can be obtained from skatcorner.de.

Fuchstreff is a free Doppelkopf community site where you can meet other players and play Doppelkopf online.

From Skat24.de you can download the Windows program Royal Doppelkopf with which you can play against the computer or against live opponents over the Internet.

With Michael Fischer's Net Doppelkopf program, available from his Cutesoft site, you can play against the computer or against live opponents over a local network or over the Internet.

Jan Spiess's Live Doko site, you can play Doppelkopf on-line against live opponents.

Online-Doppelkopf.com is a free site where you can play Doppelkopf online.

The German site Skill 7 includes an online Doppelkopf game.

Uwe Rasche's Doppelkopf program runs under Macintosh and Win95/Win98/NT4/... and you can choose between an English version and a German version.

Free Doko is the home page of a project to produce a free Doppelkopf computer game.

e-Doko is a free server on which you can play Doppelkopf by e-mail, each game lasting anywhere from a few minutes to several months!