Palatinate Schafkopf

Introduction

The rules on this page are based on information from Gerhard Zwick and his card-playing group in Erfweiler, near Dahn in the German Palatinate. According these players, Schafkopf is the most popular card game in the Palatinate. In this region, the name Schafkopf refers to the local version of the game for three active players. There is also a four-player version locally known as Asserufen because the partnerships are determined by calling an Ace. Asserufen is a close relative of Bavarian Schafkopf: hearts is the default trump suit but solos in other suits can be bid. There is, however, the difference that in the Palatinate, both Asserufen and Schafkopf are played with French-suited cards, the same standard design that is used for Skat and other games in this region and throughout northwest Germany.

Before explaining the specific rules of three-player Schafkopf and four-player Asserufen, we will give the general rules of Palatinate Schafkopf that apply to both games.

On other pages we describe Bauernstoss, a descendant of an older version of Schafkopf played so far as we know only in Erfweiler and one other village, and Palatinate Ramsch, a variant of Schieberamsch played in the Palatinate.

General Rules

Overview

Schafkopf and Asserufen are point-trick games with trumps. These general rules are common to both games.

Deal and play are clockwise, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

After the deal, the players bid to select the declarer, who will choose the trump suit and type of game. Then the cards are played and the hand is scored.

Cards, their Ranking and Values

A normal French-suited Skat pack of 32 cards is used. Each of the four suits clubs, spades, hearts and diamonds has eight cards with card point values as in Skat:

Each Ace (Ass: A): 11 points
Each 10: 10 points
Each King (König: K): 4 points
Each Queen (Dame: D): 3 points
Each Jack (Bube: B): 2 points
Each 9, 8, 7: 0 points

making a total of 120 card points in the pack.

All the Queens and Jacks are permanent high trumps, counting for the purposes of play as belonging to the trump suit, not to the suits printed on them. Queens beat jacks and among themselves Queens and Jacks rank in suit order clubs (highest), spades, hearts, diamonds. So there are 14 trumps ranking from high to low:

clubD-spadeD-heartD-diamondD-clubB-spadeB-heartB-diamondB-A-10-K-9-8-7

and six cards in each non-trump suit ranking from high to low:

A-10-K-9-8-7

Rules of Play

Vorhand, the player to dealer's left, leads to the first trick.

Any card may be led to a trick. The other players in clockwise order must play a card of the suit that was led if possible. For this purpose, all Queens and Jacks belong to the trump suit, not to the suits printed on them. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card.

There is no requirement for players to overtake previously played cards, or to trump when having no card of the suit led.

If there are any trumps in the trick, it is won by the highest trump played. A trick without trumps is won by the highest card of the suit that was led.

The winner of a trick leads to the next trick.

Outcomes

In each hand there are two teams: the declarer's team and the opponents. The declarer is the player who chose the game - the declarer may play alone but in Asserufen will usually have a partner. The opponents' team consists of the other two or three players.

The declarer's side wins if they take at least 61 card points in their tricks, in other words more than half of the 120 card points in the pack. The opponents' team need only 60 or more points to win.

A team that has less than 30 points in their tricks is Schneider, and this increases the score for the winners. (Skat players should note that in Palatinate Schafkopf games a team that has exactly 30 points is out of Schneider. A team requires at least 91 points to win with Schneider.)

A team that takes no tricks at all loses with Schwarz, which further increases the score for the winners.

If one team has the top three trumps (Queens of clubs, spades and hearts) at the start of the play, they are said to be "hoch" (high), and this increases the score for the game, whether won or lost. In this case the score is increased by 1 unit for the each top trump in sequence held by the same team. For example if one team's highest trump is the Jack of spades, the other team is "5 mal hoch" (5 times high) and the game score is increased by 5 units. (The principle is similar to Skat scoring except that in Palatinate Schafkopf top trumps only count when a team is with or without at least 3.)

An opponent of the declarer can double the score for the game by saying kontra (also known as spritzen) at any time until they play their card to the first trick. In case of a kontra the declarer (or declarer's partner in Asserufen) can redouble the score by saying rekontra (gegenspritzen). The teams can continue to double alternately and in principle this can continue indefinitely though in practice the process rarely goes beyond rekontra. The play is paused until players have finished doubling and redoubling. Players are allowed to double or redouble even if they passed the opportunity to bid a contract themselves.

Schafkopf (3 active players)

Deal

The dealer shuffles, passes the cards to the player to the right to be cut, and then deals each player a hand of 10 cards face down, and two cards (the skat) face down to the centre of the table. First a packet of 3 cards is dealt to each player, then the 2 cards to the skat, then 4 to each player and finally 3 to each player. The players pick up their hands and look at them.

Contracts

In each deal one player, the declarer, plays a contract against a team consisting of the other two players, the opponents. The possible contracts, in ascending order of priority, are as follows.

Simple Game
The declarer picks up the skat and adds the two cards to his or her hand without showing them to the other players. The declarer then discards any two cards (possibly including one or both of the cards that were picked up) and announces the trump suit. The values of the two discarded cards count towards the point total of the declarer's tricks.
Solo
The declarer announces the trump suit and plays with the cards he or she was originally dealt. No one looks at the skat until the end of the play but the values of the cards in it count towards the declarer's card point total, and the two cards count as belonging to the declarer for the purpose of determining who had the top trumps when scoring.
Heart Solo
The same as a Solo, but the trump suit must be hearts.
Solo Du
A Solo in which the declarer undertakes to win all 10 tricks. If the opponents take a trick the play ends immediately and the declarer has lost.
Heart Solo Du
The same as Solo Du, but the trump suit must be hearts.

Note: The use of "Du" to describe a contract in which the declarer must win every trick is derived from the French "tout" meaning "all".

Bidding

After the cards have been dealt the players bid for the right to be declarer. The player to dealer's left speaks first, followed by the others in clockwise order.

In the first round, the players say whether or not they wish to play a Solo of any kind. The the type of Solo and the proposed trump suit are not mentioned when bidding, but in the rare case where two players want to play Solo, a Heart Solo outranks an ordinary Solo and a Solo Du outranks both.

If all pass in the first round of bidding, no one wishing to play a Solo, there is a second round in which players say in turn, beginning with the player to dealer's left, whether they wish to play Simple Game. No trump suit is mentioned when bidding and in contrast to Solo, a Simple Game with hearts as trumps does not have priority. Trumps are not chosen until after the declarer has seen the skat. As soon as someone bids a Simple Game, the bidding ends with the bidder as declarer, the bidder picks up the skat, discards two cards and names trumps.

If all pass in the second round, no player wishing to play even a Simple Game, the cards are thrown in, there is no score, and the next dealer shuffles and deals.

Giving Up

After the declarer has named trumps, the opponents can offer to surrender (Schenken). The declarer can accept the surrender to win the game without play, but thereby forgoes the chance to win with Schneider or Schwarz. Alternatively the declarer can refuse the surrender and insist on playing the cards, but this is an undertaking to make the opponents Schneider. If the opponents take 30 points or more in tricks, the declarer loses the game.

Scoring

Schafkopf is normally played for small stakes, for example 10 cents per game point (stakes of 20 or 50 cents per point are also common). Game points are scored as follows:

For the game itself, won or lost: 1 game point
When hearts are trumps: 1 game point extra
For Schneider: 1 game point extra
For Schwarz: 1 game point extra
For playing Solo: 1 game point extra
For three or more top trumps (hoch): 1 game point each
For Solo Du: score is doubled
For each spritzen (Kontra, Re, etc.): score is doubled

Example: Solo Du in hearts with four Queens and both black Jacks but the heart Jack held by an opponent would be scored as follows: game 1, hearts 2, Schneider 3, Schwarz 4, Solo 5, 6 top trumps 11, doubled for Du 22. So playing for 10 cents per point the declarer would win 2.20 Euro from each opponent if successful, or pay the same amount if a trick was lost.

Note. Theoretically the maximum scores for top trumps are 'with 12' when the declarer has 10 trumps, there are 2 trumps in the skat, and only the 7 and 8 are with the opponents, or 'without 14' if there are no trumps at all in the declarer's hand or in the skat.

Schafkopf with a fourth player

Below we will describe Asserufen, a version of Schafkopf for four active players. However, the three-player game described above can also accommodate a fourth player at the table. In this case the players take turns to deal cards to the other three players, taking no part in the bidding and play. The non-playing dealer scores as a member of the opponents' team who pays if the declarer wins and is paid if the declarer loses.

Asserufen (4 active players)

Deal

The dealer shuffles, the player to dealer's left cuts, and the dealer deals out all the cards face-down to the players in packets of 4, so that each player has a hand of 8 cards. There is no skat.

Contracts

The possible contracts in ascending order are as follows.

Assrufen
This is the basic contract - Assrufen means "calling an Ace". Hearts are automatically trumps and the declarer's partner is the holder of a non-trump Ace called by the declarer before the start of play.
Solo
The declarer chooses the trump suit and plays alone against a team of three opponents.
Heart Solo
The same as Solo, but with hearts are trumps.
Solo Du
The declarer chooses the trump suit and must win all 8 tricks, playing alone.
Heart Solo Du
The same as Solo Du, but with hearts as trumps.

Bidding

The players speak in turn, in clockwise order, beginning with Vorhand, the player to dealer's left.

A player who does not want to be declarer passes by saying "weg" (away) and takes no further part in the bidding.

If no one has yet bid a contract, a player who wants to be declarer in the basic contract (Assrufen: hearts trumps, call an Ace) says "ich hänge an" (I hang on). If a previous player has bid "ich hänge an" and no one else has bid, a second player may offer to take over the basic contract by saying "darf man?" (may I?) - this is known as Abhängen (hanging off). If there are no other bids the first bidder may either refuse the offer and call an Ace, or accept the offer and allow the second bidder to be declarer.

There is a restriction on hanging off: players may only say "darf man?", offering to take over a basic contract, if they have at least one non-trump suit without an Ace. A player who either holds the Ace or is void of all three suits other than hearts is not allowed to make the offer.

The idea behind hanging off is that the first bidder will accept the offer if holding at least one and ideally more than one Ace, and the second bidder will then hope to call an Ace held by the first bidder so that these two players with relatively strong hands can play as partners. The second bidder will typically have a hand with good trumps but lacking Aces: holding Aces the player would usually not attempt to take over as declarer but just wait to be called as a partner by the first bidder.

A player who wants to play a Solo of any kind names the contract (but not the trump suit) at their turn to bid. A Solo overcalls hanging on or off, a Heart Solo overcalls an ordinary Solo and a Solo Du outranks all other bids.

Calling an Ace

The declarer calls the Ace of a non-trump suit, i.e. not the Ace of hearts. This must be an Ace that the declarer does not hold, and if possible it must be the Ace of a suit in which the declarer has at least one card. Whoever has the called Ace is the declarer's partner.

Note that if the declarer is the second bidder (hanging off), the declarer will always holds a card of the called suit, since a player is not allowed to hang off unless they have such a suit.

If the declarer is the first bidder (hanging on) it is possible that they have the Aces of all their non-trump suits. In this case it is legal to call a suit in which the declarer has no cards at all. If the declarer holds all three non-trump Aces, and only then, it is legal to call a Ten that the declarer does not hold, and in this case the holder of the called Ten becomes the declarer's partner.

Note that in this game it is not legal to play a "secret Solo" by calling a card in the declarer's own hand so as to play alone.

The holder of the called card plays for the declarer's team but must not say or do anything to reveal that they are the partner other than through the normal course of play. The partnerships will of course become known when the called Ace is played, or if the partner replies with a rekontra to an opponent's kontra. Until the partnerships are revealed each player must keep their tricks separately. At the end of the declarer's and partner's tricks are combined and the two opponents combine their tricks.

Play of the Cards

When an Ace is called to determine the partnerships, there are some extra restrictions on the play.

  1. If a player other than the declarer's partner is the first to lead the called suit, the declarer's partner must play the called Ace to the trick.
  2. If the declarer's partner is the first player to lead the called suit, the Ace must be led unless the partner holds at least 4 cards of the suit.
  3. If a suit other than the called suit is led and the partner has no card of the suit led, the called Ace cannot be played to the trick.
  4. If the called partner has at least 4 cards of the called suit, it is legal to underlead the Ace, leading a smaller card of the called suit instead. So when the called suit is led for the first time, if the Ace is not played to the trick everyone knows that the player who led to the trick is the declarer's partner and holds at least three more cards of the suit. After underleading the Ace, the partner is released from the other restrictions, in particular (c) above, and is now allowed to throw the called Ace on a trick if unable to follow suit.

Scoring

The scoring system is essentially the same as in three-player Schafkopf, with the following modifications.

When an Ace is called there is no extra point for hearts being trumps. Each member of the losing team pays the amount scored, and each member of the winning team receives that amount. For example in an Assrufer if the declarer's team held the top four trumps between them and took 94 cards points (Schneider) the score is 6 game points and if playing for 10 cents per point each opponent pays 60 cents and the declarer and partner receive 60 cents each.

In a Solo the extra point is scored if hearts are trumps and the declarer pays or is paid by all three opponents. For example for a Solo in hearts holding the top two trumps but not the Queen of hearts and taking 65 card points the declarer will win 2 game points from each opponent (1 for game plus 1 for hearts). At 10 cents per point each opponent pays 20 cents and the declarer wins 60 cents.