Königrufen

The following description was written by Matthew Macfadyen and Kirsty Healey and revised by John McLeod.

Introduction

A fast and friendly game for four or five players, which can be a lot of fun even when played quite badly. It is one of the most popular games in eastern Austria. There is a lot of variation in the rules - in fact it would probably be hard to find two groups of players who play exactly the same way. In the following description we have therefore tried to include a typical choice of features. In future we may add further pages giving other variations. For Matthew Macfadyen's advice on how to play Königrufen, see Königrufen - remarks on skilful play.

Technically Königrufen is a point trick game with bidding. The cards have values; players bid to decide who will be declarer; then tricks are played and the declarer's side wins if they take more than half the card points. In some contracts declarer can choose a partner by specifying a king - hence the name of the game which means "Call the King".

That is the basic game, but a lot of extra variety has been added. There are other possible contracts with different objectives, and players can earn bonuses for feats achieved during the game, such as winning the last trick with the lowest trump. Such feats can be announced in advance for extra points.

Cards

Five suits; 8 each of Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds; and 22 trumps (tarocks), of which the highest, the Sküs, looks rather like a Joker. The second highest trump (XXI) is called the Mond and the lowest trump (I) is called the Pagat. The black suits rank from highest to lowest: King, Queen, Knight, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7. The red suits rank from highest to lowest: King, Queen, Knight, Jack 1, 2, 3, 4.

Identification: the king has a crown, the knight has a horse, the queen is female and the jack is the other one.

Cards are worth points as follows:

Kings                             5 each
Sküs, XXI (Mond), and I (Pagat)   5 each
Queens                            4 each
Knights                           3 each
Jacks                             2 each
All other cards                   1 each

The process for adding up the cards is slightly odd: for each set of three cards you add up the values of the cards and subtract 2. If at the end of your counting you have one or two odd cards left over they are worth one point less than their total value. (So 2 or 3 one-point cards are worth 1 point, but a single one-point card is worth nothing). The total value of the pack comes to 70 card points. See the counting points in Tarot games page for further explanation of this.

In a positive contract, the declarer's side wins if they make at least 36 of the 70 points.

Players in North America can obtain Austrian Tarock cards from TaroBear's Lair.

The Contracts, a summary

These are listed in ascending order, with their scores. Further details of the contracts are given later.

The first three are only available to Forehand (the player to dealer's right), in the case that "Mein Spiel" is passed out:

Name             score               description
Rufer              1         call a king; 3 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Trischaken         1         avoid taking cards points
Sechserdreier    +2, -4      play alone; 6 cards from talon; take 36+ points

The following contracts are available to all players:

Piccolo            2         play alone; win one trick exactly
Zwiccolo           2         play alone; win two tricks exactly
Solo               2         call a king; 0 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Bettel             3         play alone; lose every trick
Besser-rufer     2+bonus     like rufer but must announce a bird
Dreier             4         play alone; 3 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Piccolo Ouvert     5         play alone; win one trick; all cards exposed
Farbensolo         5         play alone; 0 cards from talon; tarocks don't win
Bettel Ouvert      6         play alone; lose every trick; all cards exposed
Besser Dreier    4+bonus     like dreier but must announce a bird
Solo Dreier        8         play alone; 0 cards from talon; take 36+ points

The scores above are in game points - the amount of money you win if your contract is successful. These are not to be confused with the cards points in your tricks which you count to find out whether you have made your (positive) contract.

Bonuses

These are additional ways of winning game points in positive contracts. Further details of bonuses are given later.

Bonus             unannounced      announced         description
Trull                  1               2         take S, XXI and I in tricks
4 kings                1               2         take all 4 kings in tricks  
Called king captured   1                         ...by declarer's opponents 
Mondfang               1                         capture opponent's XXI
Sküsfang               2                         capture opponent's Sküs
Pagat Ultimo*          1               2         win last trick with the I
Uhu*                   2               4         win 2nd last trick with II
Kakadu*                3               6         win 3rd last trick with III
Marabu*                4               8         win 4th last trick with IIII
King ultimo            1               2         win called king in last trick
Valat            4 x game score  8 x game score  win every trick

Notice that most bonuses can be announced in advance, and are then worth twice as much. All bonuses score double the amounts given above if the contract is Solo or Solodreier.

*The trumps I, II, III and IIII, and the bonuses for winning particular tricks with them are called birds.

Scores for the game and bonuses are independent of each other, so that a player may have conflicting objectives during a hand. It is quite possible to win the game and yet lose money because the bonuses were worth more than the game.

Playing Procedure

The game is played anticlockwise. The first dealer is selected randomly, and the turn to deal rotates anticlockwise after each hand. There are only four active players in each deal. If there are five players at the table, the dealer deals no cards to herself and takes no part in the hand.

The sequence of events on each deal is as follows:

Deal

Dealer shuffles, gives the cards to the player on her left to cut, then deals in packets of six cards, starting on her right, one packet to each player, then one into the middle of the table (the 'talon') then finally another packet of six cards to each player. If there are five players, the dealer deals to the other four players only.

Instead of cutting, the player to dealer's left is allowed to "knock", or tap the pack of cards. They must then be dealt as follows: the first six cards to the talon, then four packets of 12 cards. Each player in anticlockwise rotation, starting with the player to dealer's right, chooses whether they will have the first, second, third or fourth packet.

Bidding

The auction then starts. The player to dealer's right ("forehand") may reserve her bid by saying "Mein Spiel". Each player in turn after that must either bid by naming a contract or pass. Once having passed a player may not re-enter the auction. The auction continues until three players have passed consecutively, and the last player to have bid becomes declarer. If the only bid was "Mein Spiel" the first player now names any contract - this is the only case in which the top three contracts in the list can be played.

During the bidding there is an order of priority, starting with forehand (highest) and continuing anticlockwise round the table to dealer (lowest). When bidding a contract, if you have lower priority than the previous bidder you must bid a higher contract or pass, but if you have higher priority than the previous bidder it is sufficient to bid an equal or higher contract.

Example: (the players in anticlockwise order are A (forehand), B, C and D) A says "mein Spiel"; B bids "Solo", C passes. Now if D wants to bid, the minimum bid is "Bettel", because B has priority over D. If D passes then A is allowed to bid "Solo", which overcalls B's Solo, because A has priority over B.

Calling a King

If the contract is one in which declarer gets a partner, declarer now names a suit, the holder of the king of that suit becomes declarer's partner but does not tell anyone who they are. The partnerships are sometimes not discovered until quite late in the hand.

It is legal to call your own king. In this case you play on your own against the other 3 players in partnership, but they will not realise at first that they are all on the same side. You also play alone if the called king happens to be in the talon.

If a declarer entitled to call a king for a partner holds three kings in her hand, she may call "The fourth king" without naming its suit. This is normally a good idea.

If as declarer you have all four kings and find yourself playing a contract in which you are allowed to call a king, you have no option but to call yourself. Incidentally, you are not allowed to try to confuse matters by calling "the fourth king" in this case.

Exchanging cards with the talon

When declarer is entitled to exchange three cards with the talon, the talon is now exposed in two sets of three cards. Declarer chooses one of the sets, and gives the other to her opponents (actually they are put in a separate pile from the opponents' tricks, since some of the players do not yet know who is on which side). After taking the chosen three cards into her hand, declarer then discards three cards face down into her trick pile. Kings and Trull cards (Sküs, XXI, I) may never be discarded; other trumps may only be discarded if there is no choice, and they should be discarded face up.

Announcements

There is now a round of announcements. Beginning with the declarer, each player can pass or make one or more announcements on behalf of her side. An announcement is a statement that you are going for some bonus, or a kontra of something said by the other side. The round of announcements continues until three players have passed consecutively.

Kontra

During the round of announcements, a member of the defending side may double the score for the game or for any announced bonuses (independently of each other) by saying for example "kontra the game" or "kontra the king ultimo". After this either member of the side which originally made the announcement may say "rekontra" to that bonus, in which case the opponents can double again with "subkontra". Some players allow the doubling to continue further with "hirschkontra" and "mordkontra", by which time the original score for that feature has been multiplied by 64 (announcement and five doubles).

A player may only make a bonus announcement if they are declarer's partner or if it is already known which side they are on. (e.g. declarer's partner holding the Sküs and the XXI may announce trull and this demonstrates that he is her partner; alternatively a defender holding both Sküs and XXI may be pretty sure of making the trull, but may only announce it if she also makes some kontra, for example "kontra the pagat ultimo; trull" might be appropriate).

The Play

In positive contracts the player to dealer's right (Forehand) leads to the first trick no matter who is declarer. In negative contracts and Farbensolo, Declarer leads to the first trick.

You must follow suit if you can. If you cannot follow suit you must play a trump. The trick is won by the highest card played of the suit led, unless it contains a trump in which case the highest trump wins (exception: Farbensolo).

Additional rule for negative contracts (Trischaken, Piccolo, Zwiccolo, Bettel, Piccolo Ouvert, Bettel Ouvert): You must beat the highest card on the table if possible.

Further additional rule for Trischaken only: you are not allowed to play the Pagat until it is your only trump.

Optional rule for all contracts - The Emperor trick: If the three trull cards, the Sküs, the XXI (Mond) and the I (Pagat) are all played to the same trick, then that trick is won by the Pagat. The bonus for capturing the Sküs only applies if the Sküs is captured by an opponent.

The Scoring

The hand is counted and scored. The scoring system is designed for people who score by pushing money across the table at the end of each hand. In contracts with two players on each side, each player on the losing team pays one of the players on the winning team the game score. When one player plays against the other three, she is paid by (or pays) the score to each of them, so the value to declarer of such contracts is three times as much.

Solidarity of partnerships applies throughout. If a player wins (or loses) a game or bonus, all players of that partnership win (or lose) equally.

Detailed Descriptions of the Contracts and Bonuses

The Positive Contracts

In all these contracts, declarer's side has to take at least 36 card points in their tricks plus their part of the talon to win the game.

Rufer:
Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, and gets to change three cards with the the talon.
Sechserdreier
Declarer plays alone but gets to draw all six cards from the talon, without showing them to the other players, and declarer's six discards all go into her tricks. Declarer scores two points if successful, but loses four if she fails to make the game.
Solo:
Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, but does not change cards with the talon. The 6 cards of the talon are put aside unseen and added to the defenders' tricks at the end of the hand, unless it turns out that the called king is in the talon. If the king is in the talon the declarer is playing alone against all three players but in compensation the talon is added to the declarer's tricks. All bonuses count double in a Solo.
Besser Rufer:
Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, and changes three cards with the talon. At the start of the round of announcements, declarer is obliged to announce at least one of Pagat ultimo, Uhu, Kakadu or Marabu ("the birds"). If the declarer in a Besser Rufer finds the called king in the talon, she may choose to play on alone or to give up the hand for 4 points (equivalent losing the game and the pagat without kontras or extra bonuses).
Dreier:
Declarer plays alone against the other three players, and gets to change three cards with the talon.
Besser Dreier:
The same as a Dreier, but in addition declarer must announce at least one "bird" at the start of the round of announcements.
Solo Dreier:
Declarer plays alone and the talon goes unseen to the opponents' tricks. All bonuses count double in a Solodreier.

Farbensolo

Declarer plays alone against the other three players with the object of winning at least 36 points in tricks, but the trumps function as an ordinary suit. The declarer leads to the first trick. A player unable to follow suit is still obliged to play a trump, but the trumps do not win - the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. It is illegal to lead trumps until you hold nothing else. When a trump is led, players must follow with trumps if possible and the highest trump wins.

In Farbensolo, all six cards of the talon go unseen to the opponents' tricks. The only bonus available is for making valat.

The Negative Contracts

Piccolo:
The declarer plays alone and must take exactly one trick to win.
Zwiccolo:
The declarer plays alone and must take exactly two tricks to win (this contract is considered degenerate and not allowed by some circles of players).
Bettel:
Declarer playing alone must lose every trick to win the game.
Bettel Ouvert:
A contract to make no tricks, but with all four hands exposed as soon as a card has been led to the second trick.
Piccolo Ouvert:
Exactly one trick, with all hands exposed as soon as a card has been led to the second trick.
Trischaken
The four players play as individuals. The object is to take as few points as possible. The talon is not used. In Trischaken, the two players who take most card points in tricks pay one point to the two who take least. If any player takes no tricks they are paid 2 by all three others in addition to this, and if any player takes 36 or more points they pay 2 to all three in addition (Trischaken is meant to be a sort of punishment for not bidding meted out to the player with the best hand - the word "trischaken" is Viennese dialect for beating up or mugging).

In all of the negative contracts Declarer leads to the first trick, rather than the player on dealer's right. The rules of play are different in negative contracts: when it is your turn to play, you are forced to beat the cards already played if you can. In addition, in Trischaken it is illegal to play the Pagat unless it is your last trump.

Bonuses

These are only available in positive contracts.

Trull
Taking all three of the Sküs, XXI and I in your side's tricks plus your part of the talon.
4 Kings
Taking all 4 kings in your side's tricks + talon cards.
Mond Fang
Capturing an opponents' XXI with the Sküs
Sküs Fang
Capturing the opponents' Sküs (by means of the 'Emperor trick', if allowed )
Capture Called King
The opponents capture the king which the declarer called to determine the partnerships
Pagat Ultimo
Winning the last trick with the I
Uhu
Winning the penultimate trick with the II
Kakadu *
Winning the 3rd last trick with the III
Marabu *
Winning the 4th last trick with the IIII
King Ultimo
Playing the called king to the last trick, and having your side win the trick.
Valat
Winning all the tricks. Any cards from the talon are surrendered to the winning side if valat is made - so trull and four kings are made even if one of those cards was in the rejected half of the talon.

Bonuses except that for valat are not available in Farbensolo.

Most of these bonuses are worth double if you announce the intention to achieve them during the announcements phase (see summary table of bonuses), but in this case failure to achieve the bonus scores minus. They are all scored independently of each other and of the game.

These bonus scores are doubled in Solo and Solodreier, on top of any doubles for being announced beforehand and for kontras.

* many players do not allow Kakadu and Marabu, as they are thought to introduce to great a random element into the game.

Notes on bonuses involving winning a particular trick with a particular card (Pagat Ultimo, Uhu, Kakadu, Marabu, King Ultimo)

  • For king ultimo it is good enough for either partner to win the last trick with the called king in it. For Pagat, Uhu, Kakadu and Marabu the card named actually has to win the trick - if not the bonus is lost, even if the trick is won by the partner of the person playing the card.
  • If the bonus is not announced, but you play one of these cards to the relevant trick, you are deemed to be attempting to get the bonus, and you score minus the appropriate bonus if the card fails to win the trick (or if your side fails to in the case of King Ultimo).
  • An announced bonus of this type can be lost in four ways:
    • you play the card to the correct trick, but it fails to win (or in the case of the king, your partner also fails to win);
    • the card is forced out prematurely;
    • (for II, III and IIII) you keep the card until the correct trick but the player on lead leads a suit to which you have to follow, so you don't manage to play it;
    • your side does not possess the card at all (stranger things have happened!).
  • If the bonus is announced, the side making the announcement is obliged to keep the card until the relevant trick and play it then if possible. e.g. having announced Uhu the player must hold onto the II until the penultimate trick (if possible) and must play it to that trick if it is legal, even though it may have become clear that the II will not win the trick.

Other Königrufen web pages and software

There are countless variations of Königrufen. Here are some web sites that give rules for alternative versions. Since the game is Austrian, most of the pages are of course in German.

In Christian Rieseneder's Tarock Forum you can find opponents, discuss strategy and discuss and vote on the merits of different versions of the rules.

A Königrufen computer program is available from KEC Austria: Triangle productions.

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


See also Königrufen - remarks on skilful play