- Players, Cards and Deal
- The Play
- Schwimmen software
Schwimmen belongs to the Commerce group of games, in which you improve your hand by exchanging cards with a central pool of face-up cards. In this game players have three cards each and the basic aim is to collect cards of a single suit whose total value is as high as possible, the maximum achievable being 31.
Other names for the game are 31, Schnautz, Knack and Hosen 'runter (trousers down). Although it is known in many parts of the world, it seems to be particularly popular in Germany and the western part of Austria. This page also incudes variants from the Netherlands, Switzerland (Hosa aba) and Russia (Tri Palki), and a four-card version in which 41 points are obtainable. The related Italian games Petrangola (also known as 31) and Mambassa, in which sets of equal cards and suit sequences have a special value, are described on a separate page.
There are at least two other types of card game called 31:
- the draw and discard game 31, also known in the USA as Scat and in Britain as Ride the Bus, which is like the game on this page, except that cards are not swapped with a central pool, but are drawn from a stock or discard pile as in rummy;
- the Greek banking game 31, which is similar to 21 except that the object is to draw cards adding as near as possible to 31 without exceeding it.
The first version of this description of Schwimmen was based on an article posted to rec.games.playing-cards by Christian Moeller. Several readers have since contributed other versions of the game from various countries.
Players, Cards and Deal
This game will work with from 2 to 8 players. First of all everybody is given an equal number of chips (the more chips, the longer the game will last - 3 each is reasonable).
You need a normal 32-card deck (7-10, J, Q, K, A) which can be made if necessary by stripping the low cards (2-6) from a standard 52 card deck. The cards have values as follows:
|King, Queen, Jack, Ten||10|
The dealer deals 3 cards face down to each player, plus an extra hand of 3 cards. The dealer looks at his 3 cards and decides whether to play with these or with the extra hand - this choice must be made before he sees the cards in the extra hand. The cards rejected by the dealer (either his original hand or the extra one) are now turned face up and put in the middle of the table.
The player to the left of the dealer plays first, and turn to play passes clockwise.
At your turn you have three options:
- exchange one card of your hand with one of the face up cards on the table;
- exchange all three of your cards for the three cards on the table;
- pass, doing nothing.
The turn then passes to the next player. Note that you are never allowed to keep just one card and exchange two.
If you ever have a special combination (either from the initial deal or as a result of exchanging), you must immediately expose it and the hand ends (there is no further chance for the others to exchange). The special combinations are:
- Feuer (fire): a hand of three aces, worth 32;
- Schnauz (or 31): three cards of the same suit whose values add up to 31 - i.e. the ace and two of the ten-point cards.
If all the players pass in succession, the three face up cards are replaced by three new cards from the undealt portion of the pack (talon). After this the game continues as usual.
If a player decides, at the end of his turn, that he holds enough points he may 'close'. After that every other player has just one more turn and then the hand is finished and the cards are shown.
When the play is over, all the players' cards are exposed. The score for a hand is got by adding up the values of the cards in any one suit. For example: 7, 9, K would count 16 points (for the two hearts); 8, 9, J would count 10 (for the jack of spades).
Three of a kind (three cards of the same rank, such as 3 queens or 3 sevens) score 30.5, unless the cards are aces - three aces score 32 as already mentioned. So A, A, A (32) beats A, K, J (31) which beats 9, 9, 9 (30.5) which beats K, Q, J (30).
If the play ends because a player closes, or because of a declaration of 31 (Schnauz), whoever has the worst hand loses one chip. If two hands have the same score, a higher three of a kind beats a lower one (in the order A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7) and a combination in a higher suit beats an equal scoring combination in a lower suit - the suits rank as in Skat: clubs (high), spades, hearts, diamonds. If both players have the same suit then both players lose. In the rare case of a tie (two equally low scores in the same suit - for example one has King-Ten and the other Queen-Jack in the same suit, both having the third card in a different suit, or one has K-9-6 and the other has 10-8-7 in the same suit)), both players lose.
If the play ends because of a declaration of fire (Feuer), all the players except for the one with fire lose a chip.
If someone has to give away his last chip he said to be 'swimming' (schwimmen in German). He can continue to play, but if he loses another hand he drops out of the game and only the others may play on.
The game continues until all the players except one have been eliminated. The last 'survivor' has won the game and receives a prize.
It may sometimes happen that the last surviving players have equal hands in the same suit when one of them closes. In this case they share the winnings, or if the players really need to find a single winner, then these last players need to play another deal to decide the game.
Jay I. Sharn offers the following advice.
If you want to improve your chances of winning you need to play strategically and not rely entirely on luck. Try not to show any visible reaction if the game is not going your way (for example if somebody took the card you needed to get a score of 31).
If you need a particular card from the table, do not stare at it, because the other players will observe you and know what card you need. Sometimes you may be able to fool the others by staring at an unwanted card.
Assume that each player will have just three turns: games rarely go on longer than this before someone closes.
When you first look at your cards and the table card, form a plan and a backup plan in case the first one fails. For example if your cards are 9H,9D,7H you would make your main objective to get 3 nines but say there is a nine face up and somebody takes it before you can you deduce that it is unlikely for the fourth nine to be present, it is more likely to be in the talon. When it's your go again you find the cards face up are 10H,8D,7S then you could replace your 7D for the 10H so your total is 26 which is reasonably good.
3)You must try and work out the strategies of your opponents by looking at which card they take and which card they put in the middle and then act accordingly.
Some people do not recognise the option of exchanging all three cards. In such a game you must either exchange one card or pass.
If one or more players are dealt 31 in their initial hand, some play that all the players who do not have 31 lose a chip. If someone is dealt three aces (fire) as their initial hand, all the other players lose 2 chips unless they were dealt 31; players with 31 lose 1 chip only.
Some older descriptions of this game do not recognise the "three of a kind" combinations, but most people nowadays do allow these.
Rutger Wimmenhove describes a variant traditionally played in the Netherlands, which differs from the game described above as follows:
When it is your turn you must either exchange or close your game. You cannot pass with the option of exchanging again later. The options on each turn are as follows:
- Exchange one card for a card on the table.
- Close your game, which you do by saying 'pas' or throwing your cards face down on the table.
- Exchange all three of your cards for the three cards on the table. This action also closes your game - you cannot make any further exchanges.
Note that it is not possible to close your game in the same turn after exchanging one card. You must wait until the start of your next turn to close (option 2).
Closing does not bring the game to an end for the other players. They can continue taking turns after one passes; this goes on until only two players are left. If one of those two passes (at the beginning of his turn), the other player can exchange one last time.
Because you must always exchange or close, new cards never enter into play.
Scoring 31 always immediately ends the game. If you make 31, it must be announced immediately and the cards shown. Nobody may exchange another card and the hand is immediately scored. The only exception is if 31 is made in the first round of exchanging: in this case everybody who who has not yet played yet gets one turn; players who already had a turn do not get another. If you are dealt 31, you must immediately declare 31 and open, even if it's not your turn; every other player gets just one turn.
There is no special score for "Feuer": three aces scores just 30.5. If multiple hands of 30.5 are lowest, all those players lose: one 30.5 does not beat another 30.5 based on which cards the trios are.
The score is usually kept using dice: one for each player. Everybody starts at six, and losers turn to make their number lower. The person who is first out of points gets the "Chicken", usually marked with a joker card, a low card from the deck not used for playing or an actual chicken doll, and can lose one more time before they are eliminated from the game. There is only one chicken and it can be used only once during the game. If several people are eliminated at the same time, nobody gets the chicken.
Sascha Baer describes a variant played around Chur in Switzerland. "Hosa aba!" means “pants down".
It is played with a 36-card deck: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 in each suit (the 6 is worth 6 points). On your turn, you must take exactly one of the following actions:
- Exchange one card with the table
- Exchange three cards with the table
- (first round only) Pass
- (second round onward only) Announce “stop”
If the cards on the table are all of the same suit, this is called an offer ("Offerte") and in this case it is not permitted to exchange only one card: if this occurs after the first round, the player must either exchange all three cards or call "stop".
As usual, the game ends immediately if someone manages to collect 31 points: this is called out as “Hosa aba!”. Otherwise it continues until someone has called “stop”, after which everyone else gets one more turn if there is no call of “Hosa aba!”.
There is no “Feuer”. Three Aces count as 30.5 points, the same as any other three of a kind.
There is no tie-break: everyone who has the least amount of points loses a life. Suits are irrelevant.
Si-lam Choy describes this variant for 2-10 players in which each player is dealt four cards from a standard 52-card pack and there are four cards face up on the table. Therefore the maximum hand value is 41, and the lowest is 2. At each turn, the player has four options:
- Swap a card from his hand with one of the face up cards.
- Swap all four cards with the four face up cards.
- Discard all four face up cards, and replace them with four cards from the deck. At this point the player must swap one card from his hand with a face up card.
- End the game. This can only be done at the beginning of the turn, as an alternative to exchanging. The game ends immediately and the player with the highest hand value wins.
If the face down deck runs out, the discarded cards can now become the deck with or without a shuffle.
Si-lam Choy suggests the following scoring system: The winner gains in points equal to the value of his winning hand. The losers lose in points the difference in value between their hands and that of the winner. The biggest loser gets to go first next round. Any ties with the winner are also considered winning hands.
Notes on tactics. At 4 players, it gets interesting because invariably you have competition for a particular suit. For a two person game, the person who goes first has a distinct advantage. Although you can end the game at the beginning of your turn any time, you should have a high degree of confidence in winning. Another strategy if scoring is kept is to minimize your losses by giving up earlier. It pays to pay attention to the cards picked up by your opponents. And if they swap four cards, you instantly know what point total they have in their hand, probably for the rest of the game. You can play defense by choosing a card of great value to an opponent who has the next turn if you are forced to choose a card (in option 3). Misdirection is possible by choosing high value cards of an unwanted suit.
Tri Palki (три палки)
Alexander Tvaladze describes a Russian version of the game known as три палки (Three Sticks)
It works well 3 or 4 players and can be played by any number of players from 2 to 8. A standard 36-card pack is used: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6 of each suit. As in other games of this type, Aces count 11 points, pictures 10 and other cards face value. The aim is to collect cards of one suit scoring as many points as possible (ideally 31) or one of the special hands.
The loser(s) of each hand receive(s) a stick. Any player who has three sticks and loses again is eliminated from the game, and the last surviving player wins.
Deal and Play
The dealer deals clockwise one card to each player then one card face up in the middle of the table, then again one each and one face up, then again the same, so that each player has 3 cards in hand and there are 3 cards face up on the table. If the three face up cards are all of the same suit they are immediately removed from the table and replaced with three new cards from the undealt pack. This action is known as "washing out" (see below for more details).
The dealer always takes the first turn, and then the turn to play passes clockwise until the play ends. A turn consists of doing one of the following:
- exchanging one card from hand with one of the face up cards on the table, or
- exchanging all three hand cards for the three cards on the table, or
- passing (doing nothing).
Washout rule. If all three cards on the table are of the same suit, the cards are "washed out": they are discarded out of the game and replaced by three new cards from the undealt part of the deck. This may happen after any player has completed their turn or immediately after the deal. If the three new cards dealt after a washout are also the same suit these too are discarded and three new cards are dealt, and this is repeated until there is more than one suit on the table. If a player's turn results in a washout, the same player takes another turn after three new cards of at least two suits have been successfully dealt.
As in Schwimmen the goal is to make the best combination. The scoring system is similar - the point of cards in one suit are added. If two or more players have equal scores there are the following rules to determine which hand is better:
- First compare the card ranks in order from highest to lowest. For example A-K-10 is higher than A-Q-J because King is higher than Queen and it doesn't matter that 10 is lower than Jack. Another example: A-10-6 is higher than A-9-7 (both combinations have 27 points in total).
Second, if two players have identical card sets in different suits then the suits are compared. The suit ranking is the same as in Russian Preferans: hearts (highest) - diamonds - clubs - spades (lowest).
A player who has a 31-point hand at the end of their turn may close the game by announcing "last round". After this each of the other players takes one more turn and then the play ends. Note that a "washout" of the table cards is still possible during this final round, and in that case the player who causes the washout takes an extra turn. Therefore it is possible for a player to have more than one turn during the last round - they may even "wash out" the table several times in a row.
The holder of 31 is not forced to close the game, but may prefer to continue playing, for example in the hope of collecting three Aces.
The play continues until one of the following conditions occurs:
- If one of the players announces "last round", when all the other players have taken their final turns the play ends.
- If all players pass in succession the play ends.
- If there is a washout and there are no more cards left in the deck the play ends.
At the end of the play everyone shows their cards and the player who has the lowest score is the loser and receives 1 stick.
There are three kinds of special hand
- Three Sixes: the holder of this hand is safe and does not receive a stick no matter what the other players have.
- 6-7-8 of one suit: same as three Sixes - the holder is safe and cannot receive a stick.
- Three Aces: all players who do not have a special hand lose and receive one stick.
Note: other sets of three equal cards have no significance - for example K-K-K is just an ordinary hand worth 10 points.
A player cannot have more than three sticks. Any player who already has three sticks and receives another stick must drop out of the game. If there are still two or more players in the game, the next hand is dealt by the player who had the highest score in an ordinary hand.
Note that a special hand does not allow a player to call "last round" and does not entitle the holder to deal the next hand.
Example with three players: one of them has 6-7-8 of a suit, one has 6-6-6 and one has 31. The player with 31 has both the lowest and the highest score in an ordinary hand, so will get a stick and will also deal the next hand.
Example with 4 players: A has 6-7-8, B has A-A-A, C has J-10-9, D has K-Q-8. Both C and D get sticks (because of the Aces) and C (with 29 points) deals next.
There are a couple of unusual special cases.
- If everyone has a special hand, no one gets a stick and the player who dealt the hand deals again.
- If the player with the highest score in an ordinary hand is eliminated (because they already had three sticks and either someone had A-A-A or all the other players had special hands) then the next surviving player in clockwise order deals the next hand.
The game lasts until all players but one have dropped out. The last survivor is the winner.
Tuppenny Ha'penny Loo
This British variant played in the mid 20th century was described to me by Francis Voisey of Exeter, Devon. The name refers to the fact that each player begins the game with five old halfpennies (worth 2½d - any coins or tokens could be used instead). It has no connection with the trick-taking game Loo played in earlier centuries beyond the coincidence that both are played with 3-card hands. Presumably the name Loo was trandferred to this game when the original game was forgotten.
This game is played with a 28-card pack made by removing all the cards from 2 to 7 from a standard 52-card pack. As usual Aces count 11, picture cards 10 and all other cards face value. The value of a hand is the sum of the values of the cards in whichever one suit gives the highest total. The maximum hand value is therefore 31, and in this game any three of a kind (a hand of three equal cards such as 8-8-8 or Q-Q-Q) is equal in value to a 31.
Three cards are dealt to each player and three face up to the table. The player to dealer's left begins and play continues clockwise. Each player at their turn has the following options.
- Exchange one card from hand with one face-up card from the table.
- Exchange their whole three-card cand with the three cards from the table.
- Call 'stick' and do not exchange any cards.
After options 1 and 2 (exchanging cards) play continues as usual unless the player has collected a hand of three cards of the same suit worth 31 (an Ace and two 10-value cards of the same suit). As soon as a player has 31 points in one suit they call '31' and the play ends immediately.
A player who called 'stick' (option 3) must keep the three cards they have in their hand until the end of the play. If there are at least two players who have not yet called stick, those players continue playing, skipping the turns of those who have called 'stick'. If there is only one player who has not called 'stick', that player has one more turn in which they may exchange one or three cards or stick, and then the play ends.
When the play ends, everyone shows their cards. The player with the lowest score loses and pays one coin to the pool. In case of a tie for lowest score between two or more players no one pays. A player who has lost all their coins is "on trial". A player who loses when they are on trial and therefore has no coin to pay is eliminated from the game.
Note that a player who has 3-of a kind cannot stop the play - only a player with 31 in one suit can do that. A player who has 3-of-a-kind simply sticks and the others continue playing. At the end of the play if everyone has either 3-of a kind or 31 it is a tie and no one pays.
If there is more than one player still in the game, a new hand is dealt by the nearest surviving player to the left of the previous dealer, and the game continues until there is only one survivor. This last player wins the game collects the pool - Francis Voisey comments that in a 7-player game the winner walks away with the princely sum of 1s 5½d, equivalent to about 7.3p in modern decimal currency.
Several computer versions of Schwimmen are available: