Watten

Introduction

Watten is a sociable card game that is widely played in various versions in an area extending across the Alps from Bavaria in Southern Germany through the Austrian Tyrol to the South Tyrol. The basic version of the game is for four players in partnerships, but it can also be played by two or three. Watten is traditionally played with German suited cards, with suits of acorns, leaves, hearts and bells. In Bavaria a 32 card pack is used, the cards in each suit being the ace (As or Sau), king (König), over (Ober), under (Unter), 10, 9, 8, 7. In the Tyrolean versions it is usual to include a 33rd card, the six of bells, which is known as the WELI. In Austrian and Italian packs the card is marked WELI and is decorated with some extra suit-marks of other suits, to suggest its wild status in this and some other Tyrolean games. In the South Tyrol, Watten is sometimes played with 36 or even 40 cards.

Outline of the game

Each player is dealt five cards (the remainder are unused) and these are played out in tricks. In most cases there is no requirement to follow suit. The team (or player) that takes the majority of the tricks (three or more) wins two points. During the play, a team can propose to increase the number of points at stake, at which point the other team must either accept the higher stake or concede.

In each hand there is a trump suit, chosen by the dealer, and a trump rank (Schlag) chosen by the other team. Cards of the trump suit can be used to beat non-trump cards, and trump rank cards beat the other cards of the trump suit, with the card of the trump suit and rank (the Rechte or Hauptschlag) being the best of these. In most versions of Watten there are also some permanent trumps called Kritische, which are the highest cards, beating even the Rechte.

Bavarian Watten

The four-handed version of this game will be explained first. The modifications for two or three players are described later.

Players and cards

There are four players, partners sitting opposite. A 32-card German suited pack (Bavarian pattern) is used. (Players in North America can obtain Bavarian cards from TaroBear's Lair.)

Three of the cards are called Kritische; they are permanent trumps, and are always the highest cards whatever other trumps are chosen. These are:

maxi belli spritzer
  1. Maxi - the king of hearts - the highest trump
  2. Belli - the seven of bells - second highest
  3. Spritzer or Soacha - the seven of acorns - third highest

In each hand a trump rank (Schlag) and trump suit are chosen. The fourth highest trump is the Hauptschlag - the card belonging to both the trump suit and the trump rank. Then come the other three Schläge of the same rank, which are also known as Blinde (blind cards), which are all equal in value; if two or more Blinde are played to the same trick, the first played beats the others. Below the Blinde come the remaining cards of the trump suit in descending order: ace, king, over, under, 10, 9, 8, 7 (omitting any card that is a Kritisch or Schlag). The cards in the non-trump suits also rank from high to low: A, K, O, U, 10, 9, 8, 7 omitting the Schlag rank and any Kritische.

Examples of trumps:

  1. If the Schlag is 10, and trump suit is hearts, the trumps rank from high to low:
    Maxi (heart K), Belli (bell 7), Spritzer (acorn 7), heart 10, the other three tens (equal), heart ace, over, under, 9, 8, 7.
  2. If the Schlag is 7 and the trump suit is acorns, the trump ranking is:
    Maxi (heart K), Belli (bell 7), Spritzer (acorn 7), sevens of hearts and leaves (equal), acorn ace, king, over, under, 10, 9, 8.
    Note that in this case there is no Hauptschlag, since the Spritzer is already a Kritisch, and only one Blinde.

Dealing and choosing trumps

The game is played clockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand. At the start of each hand the dealer shuffles the cards and the player to dealer's right cuts. The cut card (the one which would become the bottom card of the pack) is shown to the players. If it is one of the three Kritische, the cutter may take it. If the card thereby revealed is a second Kritisch, the dealer may take it, and if this in turn reveals the third Kritisch the cutter may take that.

The dealer now deals five cards to each player - normally a packet of three cards to each, followed by a packet of two cards each. If the cutter and possibly the dealer has already taken a Kritisch, they are given correspondingly fewer cards in the first round of the deal, so that after the deal everyone has a hand of five cards.

The dealer and the player to dealer's left (who is called forehand) pick up and look at their cards. Forehand chooses what rank (ace, king, over, under, 10, 9, 8 or 7) should be the Schlag and announces it. Then the dealer chooses and announces the trump suit. Only after the Schlag and suit have been announced are the other two players (the dealer's partner and the cutter) permitted to pick up and look at their cards.

The play

The cards are played out in tricks, a trick consisting of one card played by each player in turn. Forehand leads to the first trick. Each trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trump by the highest card played of the suit that was led. If the highest cards in a trick are two or more Blinde, the one that was played earliest wins the trick. The winner of a trick leads to the next.

There is generally no requirement to follow suit - any card can be played to any trick. The only exception occurs when the Hauptschlag is led to the first trick. In that case the player leading the Hauptschlag calls "Trumpf oder Kritisch" and the other players are obliged to play a trump (i.e. a Kritsch, a Blinde or a card of the trump suit) if they have any. This obligation continues until someone beats the Hauptschlag with a Kritisch, or if that does not happen, until the end of the trick. So for example if the second player beats the Hauptschlag with the Spritzer, the third and fourth players can play whatever cards they want. But if the second player does not play a Kritisch but a lower trump, the third player is obliged to play a trump, and if this is also not a Kritisch, the fourth player must also play a trump. There is no obligation to beat the Hauptschalag with the Kritisch if you also have a Blinde or a lower trump - in that case you can play the lower trump if you wish.

Note that if the choice of Schlag and suit is such that there is no Hauptschlag (e.g. kings and hearts), then there is no possibility to call for "Trumpf oder Kritisch" on that deal.

The object of the play is to win three tricks. After a team has achieved this there is no need to continue the play. Any remaining cards are thrown in and the hand is scored.

Betting and scoring

If there is no betting, the team that wins three tricks scores 2 points. The first team that achieves a cumulative score of 11 or more points wins the game.

At any time after the Schlag rank and trump suit have been announced, a team may bet. This is indicated by a member of the betting team saying "gehen!" (i.e. "go!"). This is a proposal to increase the number of points at stake from 2 to 3. The play pauses while the opposing team decide whether to give up or to accept the increased stake.

  • If the opponents elect to give up (to go), the play ends, the remaining cards are thrown in (face down) and the betting side scores 2 points.
  • If the opponents refuse to give up - saying "schauen!" (see) - the play continues but the winning team will now score three points.

A team that has accepted a bet to increase the stake can in their turn - either immediately or at any later point - freeze the play again by proposing to increase the stake to four points, saying "vier!". The other team must now decide whether to surrender, allowing the betting team to score three points without further play, or to continue playing for a four point stake.

There can be further bets "fünf!", "sechs!" and so on, the only restriction being that the teams bet alternately. A team that has already bet cannot bet again until the other team has bet.

Note that a bet freezes the play until the other team responds. This can often happen in the middle of a trick. If the opponents of the betting team continue by playing the next card without responding to the bet, this is considered equivalent to "seeing" the bet, and play continues for the increased stake.

A team that has 9 or 10 points is gespannt ("tight") and is not allowed to bet (though they are of course allowed to accept or see a bet made by the other team). If you are gespannt, there is in fact no point in betting, since the normal two points will already be sufificient for you to win the game if you take three tricks. If the other team have 8 points or fewer, they will always bet against the team that is gespannt, having nothing to lose by increasing the stake.

The score is recorded on a piece of paper or a beer mat, and when a team wins by achieving 11 points or more, the losers buy the drinks or pay a small fixed stake, as agreed in advance of the game.

Signals

After the Schlag and trump suit have been chosen, talking and discussion of tactics between partners are allowed. Partners are also permitted to signal what high cards they hold by a system of signals. The details vary somewhat, but a common system is:

Maxi . . . Form lips into a kiss
Belli . . . Wink with right eye
Spritzer . . . Wink with left eye
Hauptschlag . . . Wrinkle the nose
Blinde . . . Briefly extend some fingers to show number of Blinde held
Trumps . . . Tap with middle finger to indicate number of trumps held

Variations

The target score
Many people play to a target score of 15 rather than 11. In that case a team with 13 or 14 points is gespannt and cannot bet. Some play that a team that has 12 points is already gespannt and thus prohibited from betting.
The machine
A holding of all three Kritische is called a "machine" (Maschine), and a team that has this can of course be sure of winning all three tricks. In order to win more points, they would normally pretend at the start to have relatively weak hands to tempt the opponents to bet or at least to accept a bet. Some play that such tactics are not allowed when a single player holds a machine - i.e. all three Kritische. The holder of the machine is forced to declare it at the start, and the player's team simply scores two points without play.

Bavarian Watten for two or three players

The two-player game is essentially no different from the four-player game. Five cards each are dealt, the non-dealer chooses the Schlag, the dealer chooses trumps and the cards are played, with the possibility of betting at any stage as usual.

In the three-player game, forehand (the player to dealer's left) chooses both the Schlag and the trump suit and plays alone. The other two players play as a team. If the team wins both players score the relevant number of points. A separate total is kept for each player and the game is to 11 or 15 points as usual.

Tyrolean Watten

WELI

There are several small but siginificant differences between Tyrolean and Bavarian Watten. The most immediately obvious is the cards. In the Austrian Tyrol Watten is most often played with cards of the German suited William Tell pattern, in which the aces depict seasons of the year. In the South Tyrol and in Vorarlberg it is more usual to use the single-ended "Salzburg" pattern. In either case, a thirty-third card is added to the pack - the WELI - which is a modified six of bells, used as an extra trump.

In the Tyrol, Watten is often played without Kritischen, so that the card which belongs to both the Schlag rank and the trump suit, which in Austria is called "der Rechte", is the highest trump. There are also differences in the play, in that when the Rechte or any card of trump suit is led everyone must play a trump if they can

Vierer-Watten: the players and the deal

This is the normal Austrian game for four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite each other. The first deal is decided between two opponents who each cut the cards - whoever cuts the higher card has the slight advantage of dealing first. The player to dealer's right cuts but does not take or show the cut card. The dealer deals clockwise - a batch of three cards to each player, followed by a batch of two cards each. So each player has 5 cards are there is a stock of 13 cards that is not used in the game.

Choosing trumps

The dealer and forehand look at their five cards. Forehand chooses and announces the Schlag, which can be any rank from ace down to six; then the dealer chooses and announces the trump suit. After that the other two players may also pick up their cards and look at them.

The Schlag of the trump suit is the highest card, called "der Rechte" (the right). Then come the other three cards of the same rank - "die Linken" (the lefts). The lefts are all equal; if more than one left is played to a trick, the first played beats the others. Below the lefts come the remaining cards of the trump suit, in descending order ace, king, over, under, 10, 9, 8, 7. Finally, the lowest trump is the WELI, which is always a trump no matter what suit is chosen.

It is possible to choose six as the Schlag, in which case the WELI will be the only Schlag and counts as the Rechte; there are no "Linken" in this case.

If forehand has unsuitable cards to choose a Schlag - for example small cards of five different ranks not including the WELI - forehand can ask the dealer for "schöneres" (better cards). If the dealer agrees, both discard their five cards face down and the dealer deals a new five-hard hand to each from the remaining stock. Dealer is entitled to refuse the request, in which case all play with their original cards. It will sometimes happen that forehand will ask for "schöneres" with a strong hand, hoping that dealer will refuse and wrongly assume that forehand has bad cards.

The play

Forehand, the player to dealer's left, leads to the first trick. A trick is won by the highest Schlag or trump in it, or if it contains no Schlag and no trumps by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick leads to the next. In Tyrolean Watten, the trumps are the cards of the chosen suit (including the Rechte) and the WELI. When one of these trumps is led, any other players who hold a trump must play a either trump or a Linke. There is, however, no obligation to beat the led card. If any other card (including a Linke) is led, the other players do not have to follow suit, but are free to play any cards they wish. The Linken (the three equal Schlag cards) can therefore be played to any trick, and cannot be forced out.

Betting and scoring

The game is won by the first team to reach 15 or more points. In each hand, if there is no betting, the team that takes three tricks scores two points.

Betting works the same way as in the Bavarian game. At any time after the Schlag and trump suit have been announced, any player can bet on behalf of their team. The other team must choose whether to give up (go) for 2 points or continue playing for 3. If they decide to go on they can later try to increase the stake to 4, and if the original bettors accept this they can later try to increase the stake to 5, and so on, up to the number of points needed to win the game.

There is a special rule in Tyrolean Watten about betting during the last trick. This rule only applies if there has been no betting up to this point, and the teams have two tricks each. If you then wish to bet after the first card has been played to the last trick, you are only allowed to do so if your last card is either the same suit as the card led to the trick, or is a trump or Schlag (left or right).

Some play that it is possible to bluff in this situation, betting without a card of the right suit or a trump or Schlag. If you play this way, then the opponents have four possible reponses to a first bet during the last trick:

  1. To give up, or "go", allowing the betting side to win (2 points if there has been no previous bet).
  2. To hold or see the bet, playing out the last trick. The winners will score 3 points if there has been no previous bet.
  3. To hold and bet in their turn, proposing that the score for the winners be increased by another point.
  4. To say "Farbe" (suit), which is to accuse the opponents of having bet without the requisite card. The player who bet exposes their card. If it is the same suit as the lead or a trump or Schlag, the betting side score the current value of the game (2 points if this was the first bet) even if their card would not have won the trick. If it is a different (non-trump) suit, the opponents of the betting side score the current value of the game.

scoresheet with Bummerlescoresheet with Schere

The points scored are written down in two columns, with the scorer's team's score on the right and the opponents' score on the left. A team that has 15 or more points has won, which is indicated by drawing a black blob (called a Bummerle) above the losers' column.

A team that has 13 or 14 points is "gestrichen" - a line is drawn through their score. If just one team is gestrichen, that team must decide (after Schlag and Trumps are announced and before playing to the first trick) whether to play the hand for 3 points or to give up and allow the other team to score two points. If they decide to play there is no betting. If both teams are gestrichen the cards are always played and there is no betting; the winners win the game. (These rules are really just a formal recognition of the fact that - under the usual betting rules - if you are gestrichen it is always wrong to bet, and that if your opponents are gestrichen and you are not it is always right for you to bet before a card is played).

In the illustration on the left the opponents of the scorer were gestrichen with 13 points and then won. It is of course possible to win without first being gestrichen, by scoring more than 2 points in the last hand. If the losing side score no points at all, they are "Schneider", which counts as a double loss. This is indicated with two blobs extended to make a pair of scissors (see right-hand illustration). A "reverse Schneider" occurs if a team which has scored nothing when their opponents are gestrichen subsequently goes on to win. This counts as a quadruple game - that is 4 Bummerlen or two pairs of scissors.

Signals

From the moment that Schlag and trumps have been announced, players can use signals to indicate to their partner what cards they hold. It is also legal to signal cards that you don't hold, to try to confuse the opponents. One signalling system is as follows:

Rechter . . . Form lips into a kiss
1 Linker . . . Wink with one eye
2 Linke . . . Shut both eyes
3 Linke . . . Shut both eyes, then wink
Ace of trumps . . . Right thumb
King of trumps . . . Right index finger
Over of trumps . . . Right middle finger
Under of trumps . . . Right ring finger
Small trump . . . Right little finger
Acorn . . . Left little finger
Leaf . . . Left ring finger
Bell . . . Left middle finger
Heart . . . Left index finger
Poor cards . . . Glance up at the ceiling

Exception: if six is the Schlag, so that the WELI is the top trump, the game is played without signals. Instead, before the play begins each player is allowed to look at their partner's cards. Partners therefore exchange hands across the table, and having memorised their partner's holding, return the cards to their original holders.

Variations

Watten without signals
Some play the game without signals. In this case, partners are allowed to look at each other's cards once, after Schlag and trump are announced and before the first lead. This is done by each player passing their hand across the table face down to their partner, and then returning the cards to their original owners after everyone has seen their partner's hand.
WELI is always a bell
Some play that WELI is not a wild card but always counts as a bell. Therefore it is only a trump when bells are trumps. Nevertheless it always counts as the Rechte when 6 is the Schlag, so that in this case trumps must be played when it is led.
Der Guate
In the South Tyrol, some play that the trump whose rank is next above the Schlag in the natural order is the highest card in the pack, beating the Rechte. This high trump is called "der Guate" (the good one). So if 10 is the Schlag and leaves are trumps, the highest card is the Leaf Under (der Guate) followed by the Leaf Ten (der Rechte), the other tens (die Linken), and then the remaining leaves from the ace downward. If ace is the Schlag then the seven is the Guate. If six is the Schlag there is no Guate, and the WELI remains the highest trump.
Watten with 36 cards
In the South Tyrol, Watten is sometimes played with 36 or even 40 cards. Domenico Starna reports that in the 36-card game played at Toblach - Dobbiaco, the Schlag can be either the WELI or an ordinary six. If "WELI" is chosen as the Schlag it is the only Schlag, there is no Guate, and the sixes of hearts, acorns and leaves are the lowest cards of their suits. If "six" is chosen as the Schlag, then the WELI counts as an ordinary six of bells (even if the dealer chooses bells as trumps) and takes its place as a Rechte or Linke. The seven of trumps is the Guate, followed by the six of trumps, then the other sixes, and then the ace of trumps.
Target score
Some play the game to a target of 11 points (gestrichen with 9 or 10) or 18 points (gestrichen with 16 or 17) rather than 15 points (gestrichen with 13 or 14).
Immediate bet of four
In the South Tyrol, some play that a team that is 4 or more points behind can make an immediate bet of 4 before the first lead. If the winning team give up the betting team scores 2 points; if the winning team accepts the bet, the score for the game becomes 4, which they can later try to increase further by betting 5 if they wish, and so on. Wolfram Steiner reports a related rule observed in Steiermark. If one team is "gespannt" with 13 or 14 points and the other team has no points at all, the situation is known as "Gespannt - Luft"; the gespannter team has to decide after trump and Schlag are announced whether to play for 4 points or give up for 2.
Two or three players
Tyrolean Watten can be adapted to be played by two or three people in the same way as the Bavarian game.

Kritisch-Watten

A version of Watten with Kritischen is also played in the Tyrol. The rules are the same as for Vierer-Watten above, except that six cannot be chosen as the Schlag. There are a few permanent trumps that rank above the Rechte. The exact set of permanent trumps varies somewhat from region to region. One set of rules (from Helmut Jenewein of Innsbruck) has three Kritischen - from high to low:

Martl (king of hearts), WELI (six of bells), Nell (seven of acorns).

Others play with four Kritischen - from high to low:

Martl (king of hearts), geschriebener Weli (six of bells), kleiner Weli (seven of bells), Eichelspitz (seven of acorns)

Some play with three Kritischen, omitting the seven of acorns from the above four. One informant described a version with two Kritischen - the Maxi (heart king) and the ober of bells, with the WELI as the lowest trump and six as a possible Schlag.

In the play, Kritischen can be played to any trick, and if a Kritische is led, the other players can play any cards they wish - they do not have to follow with trumps.

Wolfram Steiner gives the following set of signals for Watten with three Kritischen:

Martl (heart king) . . . Form lips into a kiss
WELI . . . Move your lips to the right
Spitz (acorn VII) . . . Move your lips to the left
Rechter . . . Wink with right eye.
Linke . . . Wink with left eye.
Ace of trumps . . . Right thumb
King of trumps . . . Right index finger
Over of trumps . . . Right middle finger
Under of trumps . . . Right ring finger
Small trump . . . Right little finger

Blind-Watten

This interesting verion of the four-player game - also known as Ladinisch Watten - is played in the South Tyrol and to some extent in Steiermark. There are no Kritischen, but it is played with the Guate (see above) - so the highest card is the trump with the next higher rank above the Schlag rank. The Rechte (card of trump suit and rank) is second, then the three Linken (the other cards of the Schlag rank), the remaining cards of the trump suit from the ace downwards. In this game the WELI is usually counted as a bell whatever suit is trump, unless six is the Schlag. If ace is the Schlag the Guate is the seven; if six is the Schlag there is no Guate, the WELI is the Rechte and there are no Linken.

The special feature of Blind Watten is that the Schlag and trump are not announced out loud. Instead forehand privately shows the dealer a card whose rank is the Schlag, and the dealer then similarly shows forehand a card whose suit is trump. The other two players do not see these cards, and in this version the players are not allowed to look at their partners' cards, nor to signal or communicate their cards in any other way. Therefore the partners of the dealer and forehand will only be able to deduce what are the Schlag and trump by observing the play. To aid this process the cards played to the first trick are left face up throughout the play.

Forehand and the dealer are bound by the usual Austrian rule that if the Rechte, a card of the suit chosen as trump or the WELI is led, they must follow with a trump. The other two players are not bound by this rule - they can play any card to any trick. However, this rule along with the information about who wins each trick often enables everyone to deduce what the trump suit and rank are after one or two tricks have been played.

Betting works in the same way as in open Watten. The restrictions on betting during the last trick, whereby the bettor must have a card of the suit led or a Schlag, also apply only to forehand and the dealer.

In the 36-card version of Blind Watten, played at Toblach - Dobbiaco, if forehand shows the WELI it is the only Schlag and there is no Guate. If he shows one of the other sixes, this is like choosing "six" in open Watten: the seven of trumps is the Guate and the WELI counts as an ordinary six of bells, even if the dealer chooses bells as the trump suit.

Other Watten web pages

The web site wattn.com describes Bavarian Watten in German and English.

There is a shorter description of Bavarian Watten in German only at the Kartenspiele.net site.