Some remarks on skilful play
Before reading this page, you should really be familiar with the rules of Königrufen, and perhaps have tried playing it a few times. This section, written by Mattew Macfadyen, gives his ideas of roughly what you need in your hand to be able to bid each contract, and how it might be played.
It is a very good idea to count trumps. A good method is to calculate at the beginning how many trumps you have yet to see (22 less those discarded less those in your own hand), and knock one off this number each time you see a new trump.
Almost any hand can be played as a Rufer, but the only common reason for wanting to do so is to get the help of a partner in making a "bird" (Pagat ultimo, Uhu, Kakadu or Marabu). Declarer's partner should normally assume that declarer is hoping to make one of these, and play as in a Besserrufer.
Most hands with six trumps, or five good ones, have a decent chance in this contract. Being able to put six cards in your trick pile at the start helps a lot with making game. The real bonus comes when you happen to find 4 or 5 trumps in the talon and can make Pagat Ultimo etc. and collect the money from three players. If you fail to find many trumps, remember to keep all your cards in one suit, intending to lead that suit repeatedly to force out trumps.
A bit of a dustbin, for hands too mediocre for higher bids. An important tactic is, when on lead, to play a small card where you have a king, so that the king will probably be trumped on the second round.
Often bid on weedy hands to keep forehand from bidding Sechserdreier. The main requirement is fairly short trumps, but they can be quite strong due to the compulsory overtaking rule, e.g. with Sküs, XIX, X of trumps you can lead the XIX (declarer gets the lead in a piccolo), driving out the XXI to guard against the emperor trick, then get on lead with the Sküs and lead the X. The other requirement is to have suits which are either so long that the first round is likely to be trumped, or contain few picture cards.
The defenders are recommended to lead trumps against a Piccolo, at least until declarer has none left.
Pretty much of a lottery, often bid to avert sechserdreier on hands too strong for Piccolo. Having the lead three times during the hand gives declarer several chances to use the lead to tidy up her side suits.
The defenders are even more strongly recommended to lead trumps.
There are two types of hand on which solo is a good idea - one has 7 or 8 trumps, but with too few high ones to bid Dreier and none of the I, II, III to bid BesserRufer. In this case declarer will hope to win the last 2 or 3 tricks by exhausting everyone else's trumps earlier than that. The other type is a hand rich in first round controls - kings and void suits - at least two of these, so that the king of a further suit can be called and declarer's side captures all the most valuable tricks.
Most commonly, each side will try to find their longest suit and attempt to force out the other side's trumps by leading it repeatedly.
Remember that bonuses count double in solo, so that the marabu (IIII on the 4th last trick) is worth 4 times as much as the game. It is well worth hanging on to the IIII and trying to arrange for the player on your right to be on lead to that trick. Conversely anyone not holding the IIII should be aware of their opponents or partner trying to do this.
Solo is the contract in which it normally takes longest to work out who is declarer's partner - especially in the case when the called king is in the talon - and some players like to lead the suit of the called king just to find out what is going on.
Difficult to play from either side. Declarer only gets one shot at leading- and this will most commonly have to be a trump. The defenders have to shop around a bit - leading a suit of which you hold the king can be effective.
The normal bid for a hand with plenty of trumps. You normally need to have the I or II, but the game and the bonus will be scored separately, so you only need to make one of them to break even. This contract prevents anyone with a weak hand from getting away with a cheap negative bid, and gives you a chance of extra bonuses for III, IIII, King ultimo etc if the hand happens to go well (or even more if you pick a strong partner who can announce some of the bonuses).
Roughly, you need 6 trumps including some very big ones to bid Besserrufer with the Pagat, and 7 good trumps to bid with the II. Kings are useful provided that they come in short suits (a 4 card suit is almost sure to be trumped on the first round).
Choosing which king to call is tricky- some players always choose their longest suit- so that partner will know what to lead when out of trumps, some choose a singleton to minimise the chance of getting the king trumped.
In play, declarer's partner should always lead trumps while she has any left, and should aim to play suits which declarer is not trumping otherwise. Declarer leads trumps, starting with little ones in case her partner has short trumps and might waste the few big ones he has. If declarer has a long suit as well as trumps, she may choose to start leading them quite early- a suit of which everyone is void behaves like the 0 of trumps if you lead it.
It is particularly important to count trumps in a Besser Rufer. Otherwise you won't know what is going on during the crucial last few tricks.
The defenders will lead side suits, trying to preserve their trumps for as long as possible. Ideally they should decide between themselves which is the defender with the longer trump suit, and that player will lead her longest side suit, while her partner will return the lead when possible, and lead his own shortest unplayed suit otherwise. The defence tends to get most of their points home when one of them has run out of trumps, and is free to throw kings and queens on his partner's tricks.
In order to make a Dreier you will need a lot of trumps, or most of the 5 point cards, or both. If you have none of the top 4 trumps you probably need to start with 11 cards which are trumps or kings, for each master trump you can reduce this requirement by about one. Two kings and seven trumps headed by the sküs and XX is about right. Since there are three players saving up their kings and queens to pile on to your losing cards they do not need many of them to amass 36 points.
In play, declarer will normally start by leading small trumps- the tricks are not too expensive while the defenders are all following suit - and keep the master trumps for the tricks on which only one defender has trumps remaining. This strategy only works if you have some really big trumps.
Defenders, on the other hand, need to arrange for the player with the longest trumps to keep her big ones back for the time when her partners have run out, so as to collect their kings and queens.
It is not a good idea for declarer to announce birds (Pagat, Uhu etc ) in a Dreier unless she is extremely strong. The problem is that the time when this will fail is when one defender has 7 or more trumps, and it will be easy for that defender to kontra, which is expensive, and the defender doing so will focus the attention of her partners on the correct way to play the hand- sometimes it takes the defenders a couple of tricks to work out which of them has the best trumps, and by then it's too late
If you were intending to bid Dreier, and someone else bids besserrufer, don't bid. You are likely to have a hard time since the trumps will divide badly, and you can make a decent profit either by being declarer's partner and making most of the tricks or by being an opponent with kontras of the game and the bird.
You need lots of kings. The normal way for a Farbensolo to work is for declarer to lead out all her winners in the suits, and then lose all the remaining tricks. This method normally works if you have 8 or more tricks to cash. There is not much difference between having one long suit, which is good at capturing the opponents' trull cards, and several shorter suits, which capture more of their knights and jacks.
Piccolo Ouvert, Bettel Ouvert
These contracts are extremely difficult against competent defenders. Your trick (if in Piccolo) had better be secure (remember the Emperor trick), and your side suits had better be very solid from the bottom. The only common patterns which work involve an enormous suit which occupies most of the hand. The compulsory overtaking rule is vital.
For the defenders, it is possible to spend hours staring at the cards. Try not to waste too much time, and don't spend any time thinking when your play is forced.
Needs an extremely strong hand, with lots of top trumps. Usually it is only a good idea to bid Solodreier voluntarily (i.e. when a bid of Dreier would suffice in the auction) if you already have some of the birds and expect to make them (remember that bonuses count double in solodreier).
If you have a hand as strong as that without the I, II, III, IIII it might be better to go Dreier and hope to find one in the talon.
Another reason for going Solodreier is that you have all the kings and trull cards already, so that there is little chance of improvement by collecting cards from the talon.