Gaigel

Introduction

Gaigel is a relative of 66 played in Swabia in Southwest Germany with a special pack of 48 cards. It is normally played by four people in teams, two against two, but it is also possible for six people to play. The aim of the play is to take tricks containing valuable cards, and the first team that reaches 101 or more points wins. Since there are 240 points in the pack, this will usually happen before the end of the play, at which point the winning team must stop the play to claim their win.

I would like to thank Richard Pfeiffer, Gerd Wieler, Erhard Steegmüller, Rolf Mögle and Manfred Alber for the Gaigel session at the IPCS Convention in Leinfelden in September 2018. This enabled me to revise and correct this page, which was originally based mainly on the description by Claus D Grupp in his book Doppelkopf, Schafkopf.

Players and Cards

Gaigel is normally played by four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. Deal and play are counter-clockwise.

A 48-card pack is used. Traditionally this is a German suited pack of the Württemburg pattern with suits of hearts, bells, acorns and leaves. The cards in each suit, in rank order from high to low, are Ace, 10, King, Ober, Unter, 7, with two copies of each card. Packs of this composition are sold as 'Gaigel / Binokel' decks because they can also be used for Binokel, a Southwest German relative of the well-known American game Pinochle.

Players in North America can obtain Gaigel / Binokel decks from TarotBear's Lair. If the authentic cards are not available it is of course possible to construct a substitute deck by putting together two 32-card or two 52-card decks and removing the 9's, 8's and if necessary also 6's, 5's, 4's, 3's and 2's, or even a 48-card Doppelkopf or Pinochle pack if you don't mind using 9's to represent the 7's.

The cards have point values as follows:

Ace (Ass / Daus / Alte / Sau) 11 points
Ten (Zehner) 10 points
King (König) 4 points
Ober 3 points
Unter 2 points
Seven (Siebener, Nixer, Dissle) 0 points

Since the pack contains eight cards of each rank, there are 240 points in the pack altogether. Additional card points can be scored by a player who has the King and Ober of a suit in hand and declares them. The King-Ober of trumps is worth 40 points while the King-Ober of a non-trump suit scores 20 points.

Deal

The partnerships and first dealer may be chosen by dealing cards to the players from the shuffled pack one at a time face up until an Ace appears. The player who receives the first ace will be the first dealer. Then further cards are dealt to the other three players until a second Ace appears, and the player who receives it is the partner of the first dealer. The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts and the dealer deals counter-clockwise a hand of five cards to each player and a card face up in the centre to indicate the trump suit. The remaining 27 cards are stacked face down crosswise on top of the trump indicator card so that its value remains visible. This stack of cards is known as the talon.

The cards are dealt to the players in packets of three and two, but the exact method varies from place to place: three each, two each, then the trump indicator or three each, then the trump indicator, then two each. The player to dealer's left has the option to knock on the pack of cards instead of cutting. In this case the cards must be dealt in a single round of batches of 5 instead of in 3's and 2's.

Play

First Trick

The first trick is played according to special rules. The player to dealer's right (Vorhand) leads the first card and normally has three possibilities.

  1. Ge-Elfen (eleven). Vorhand leads a non-trump Ace face up. Each of the other players in turn plays a card face up. No matter what cards they play, Vorhand wins the trick.
  2. Tauchen (diving). Vorhand leads a card face down, announcing 'Höher hat' (higher has). The led card cannot be a trump or an Ace. Each of the other players in turn plays a card face down. All the cards are then exposed and whoever has played the highest card of the suit that was led wins the trick (in case of a tie the first played of the equal cards wins).
  3. Zweite Alte (second Ace). Vorhand leads a non-trump Ace face down announcing 'Zweite Alte'. Each of the other players in turn plays a card face down. If anyone has played the same Ace as Vorhand, that second Ace wins the trick. If not, Vorhand wins the trick.

In the first trick no one is allowed to play a trump unless their hand consists entirely of trumps. If anyone is forced to play a trump, having nothing else, the trump has no effect and cannot win the trick.

If Vorhand has 5 trumps, none of the normal opening plays is possible. In this case Vorhand leads a trump face up, and since none of the other players is allowed to play a trump Vorhand will win the trick in the same way as in 'Ge-Elfen'. The only exception would be in the extremely rare case where Vorhand and another player were dealt five trumps each: in that case the higher trump would win.

Anyone who plays a trump to the first trick must briefly show their hand on request to prove that they had no other option.

Subsequent Tricks

After each trick, each of the players in turn, beginning with the player who won the trick, draws a card from the top of the talon and adds it to their hand so that they have 5 cards again. Then the winner of the trick leads any card (face up) to the next trick, and each of the other players plays a card face up.

So long as there are cards in the talon, any card may be played to a trick: there is no obligation to follow suit or to trump. If any trumps are played, the trick is won by the highest trump. If no trumps are played it is won by the highest card of the suit led. If two equally high cards are played, the card played earlier wins.

When there are only four cards left in the talon, these are drawn as usual, the last being the face up trump indicator card which is drawn by the left hand opponent of the trick winner. After this the rules of play change. When there are no cards in the talon players must follow suit if possible. If they have no card of the suit led they must trump. Subject to those rules they must beat the highest card so far played to the trick if possible.

Declaring King-Ober Pairs

A player who holds the King and Ober of the same suit in hand may declare them for 40 points if they are trumps, or 20 points if they are a non-trump suit, provided that the holder's team has won at least one trick. The holder of the King-Ober combination says "20" or "40" and shows the cards. A King or Ober cannot be reused for a second declaration in the same suit: to score a second pair the player would need to show the second King and the second Ober.

If two K-O pairs are held they can be declared at the same time.

A King or Ober that has been played cannot be used in a declaration. So for example if your team has won no tricks so far and you hold the King and Ober of trumps, you cannot use one of these to win the trick and then also declare them as a pair. On the other hand if your partner plays an unbeatable card, guaranteeing that your team will win the trick, you can declare your pair immediately even if this is your team's first trick and you subsequently play a card of your pair to the trick.

After declaring a pair, it is customary for a team to turn one card of that suit in their trick pile face up as a reminder.

Exchanging the Seven of Trumps

A player who is dealt or acquires a Seven of trumps (Diß) and whose team as won at least one trick can place the Seven face up under the talon, claiming the right to take trump indicator card in exchange. If the second Seven of trumps has not yet been played, the player normally leaves the trump indicator under the talon alongside the Seven rather than taking it into hand immediately. This prevents an opponent from exchanging a Seven of trumps, but if the player's partner subsequently acquires the second Seven of trumps, the first player can take back the first Seven and allow the partner to take the trump indicator. This procedure can be useful if the indicator card is a King or Ober and the partner with the second Seven can use it to declare a trump pair.

If two opponents draw Sevens of trumps after the same trick, priority goes to the player who drew first - i.e. the one whose turn to play to the next trick comes earlier.

A Seven that is picked up as one of the last four cards of the talon cannot be exchanged.

End of the Play

Each team tries to be the first to collect 101 or more points, counting cards taken in tricks plus points for declared King-Ober pairs. A team that reaches this total - either by winning a trick or by declaring a pair - announces "Aus!" (out) to end the play. If their declaration is correct they win a single game if their opponents have taken at least one trick, or a double game (Gigackel) if the opponents have taken no tricks. Usually one player from each team takes responsibility for collecting all tricks won by the team and keeping count of their value.

If a team declares "Aus!" and it turns out that they have fewer than 101 points, play still ends and the opponents win a double game. This is called "untergaigeln" (undergaigling).

If a team has 101 or more points and fails to declare "Aus!" but instead plays a card to the next trick, they are guilty of "übergaigeln" (overgaigling). If the opponents notice this and correctly accuse them of it, the overgaiglers lose a double game.

Note that since there are 240 points in the pack, plus possible points for King-Ober pairs, one team or the other will always reach 101.

Scoring

The score can be kept using tokens, such as beer mats, which begin in a central pool. The number of tokens, for example 10, will determine the length of the game. In each deal, the losing team is given a token, or two tokens for a double game. When all the tokens have been distributed, the winners of each subsequent game put a token back into the pool, or two tokens for a double game. The first team to get rid of all its tokens in this second part of the session is the overall winner.

Alternatively, the score can be kept on a slate or on paper. Two lines are drawn, one for each team, extending outward from a central circle. The losers of each game draw a short stroke I across their scoring line, or a V for a double loss (Gigackel). Then, after the agreed number of losses have been recorded, the winners of each game erase one stroke or one arm of a V, or erase two strokes for a double game, until one team wins by clearing their scoring line. On paper strokes are 'erased' by adding a further small mark across them. In the diagram below, played to 10 strokes, the left team has erased 3 of its strokes and the right team 4. The left team needs only one more game to win the match.

score sheet

Note that if 9 tokens have been given or 9 strokes marked, the next deal cannot be a double game. The losers will only be given one token or stroke for this game even if they take no tricks.

Signals

Traditionally, players may be allowed to use visual signals to communicate with their partner, for example to indicate which suit they would like partner to lead. These vary from place to place. Typical signals are:

  • Bells: tongue in cheek
  • Acorns: scratch shoulder
  • Hearts: hand on heart
  • Leaves: show tongue between lips
  • Ace of trumps: blink

These signals are best used sparingly and discreetly, when the opponents are not paying attention. For example Vorhand's partner, if holding an Ace, might signal its suit so that Vorhand could lead it face down. This will of course go badly wrong if the second player to the trick has the other Ace of that suit and manages to intercept the signal.

Six Players

There are two teams of three players, each player sitting between two opponents. The rules are exactly the same as with four players, but the play feels very different and it is quite possible for a team to win just by taking the first two tricks. Since there are only 18 cards in the talon, the talon is exhausted after the third trick. With only three opportunities to draw, it is rarely worth hanging onto a King or Ober of trumps in the hope of completing a 40-point pair: it is more generally profitable to use it to win a trick if the opportunity arises.

Variations

Scoring

Other options are available for a shorter game. For example it may be agreed that the first team to give 5 tokens or strokes will win the game, or that the players will start removing tokens or strokes as soon as a team has reached 5.

Five Sevens

Some allow a player who is dealt a hand of five Sevens to show them and claim an immediate win. The cards are not played. The player's team scores a single game and the turn to deal passes to the next player.

Some allow a player who is dealt four Sevens to announce "auf Siebener" and hope to draw a fifth Seven before the opponents win the game with 101 points. The player plays his or her fifth card (the card that is not a Seven) to each trick. The Sevens player cannot win a trick: this player's cards have no trick-taking power even if they are trumps.

Some allow a player to try to collect five Sevens without previous announcement. In this variant the Sevens player may win tricks if the card that they play happens to beat the other played cards. This version of the rule is easy to understand: the rule is just that any player who at any stage in the game has a hand of five Sevens can stop the game and win.

The Wikipedia Gaigel page gives a five Sevens (fünf Siebener) rule as in the main description above, but also another version called "Auf Dissle" which is listed as though it were only an option for Vorhand, though there seems to be no reason why other players should not attempt it. The player who announces "Auf Dissle!" has four Sevens, plays the fifth card to each trick and this card has its normal power, but the player must not win any tricks. So if the Auf Dissle player unluckily draws a high trump and wins a trick with it, his or her team has immediately lost the game. Although the Wikipedia page does not say so, presumably fünf Siebener and auf Dissle are alternative variants - it would make little sense to have both options in the same game.

Five of a Suit

Grupp mentions a variant in which a player can announce "Auf Farbe!" and try to collect five cards of the same suit, winning a single game for the team if successful. The suit does not need to be announced. My impression is that this would be too easy to do: there are 12 cards in each suit as compared to just 8 Sevens, and moreover four suits to choose from. It would however solve the five trumps problem in that the player who was dealt five trumps could claim an immediate win for auf Farbe.

Three players

Many sources indicate that a three-player game is possible, but it is not completely clear how to score. Presumably in the first part of the match if one player is "Aus" the other two each get a stroke on their scoring line (or two if they have no tricks) while in the second part only the winner erases a stroke. It can happen that in some hands none of the players reaches 101 points. In that case maybe the player with most points wins than the other two lose a single game, or maybe the game is considered undecided and no one scores.