Saskop

This page is based on information from Eik Hermann.

Introduction

Saskop or Sasku is an Estonian partnership game for four players. It belongs to the Schafkopf group and is sometimes known as Lambapea, which like the German word Schafkopf literally means sheep's head and is a mild insult similar to the English 'blockhead'.

Like other Schafkopf games, Saskop is a point-trick game in which some picture cards are permanent trumps. In Saskop, all the picture cards - not only the Jacks and Queens, but also the Kings - are high trumps, but highest trump of all, as in some other Estonian games, is the 6 of the chosen trump suit.

The game begins with an auction to find out who holds the longest potential trump suit, and in principle this player is entitled to choose that suit as trumps. However the diamond suit has a special status: diamonds are the default trump suit if everyone passes, diamonds can always be declared to override the final bid even if it is not the longest available suit, and when diamonds are declared the value of the game is doubled.

Eik Hermann writes: "This game doesn't suit a quiet company all sitting around the table with poker faces. A lively atmosphere is important and that's why I really love it. A great deal of the game depends on chance, but a skillful player can extract more from her cards than an unskilled one - as is the case with almost every card game I know. We used to play it among my relatives, grandfather and grandmother and uncle and me, there was always a bit of mocking going on between the teams."

Players and Cards

Saskop is a game for four players playing in fixed teams, two against two. Each player sits opposite their partner. Deal and play are clockwise.

The game is played with a French suited 36-card pack, the lowest numeral card in each suit being the 6.

In each deal there is a trump suit chosen by bidding. The highest trump is always the 6. After this come all four Kings, which are permanent trumps ranking according to suit: clubs (highest), spades, hearts, diamonds (lowest). After the Kings come the four Queens ranking in the same suit order, and then the four Jacks. Below the Jack of diamonds are the remaining cards of the chosen trumps suit in the order Ace, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low). So there are 18 trumps: half the cards in the pack. For example if hearts are trumps the trump suit from high to low is

heart6, clubK, spadeK, heartK, diamondK, clubQ, spadeQ, heartQ, diamondQ, clubJ, spadeJ, heartJ, diamondJ, heartA, heart10, heart9, heart8, heart7.

The three non-trump suits have just 6 cards each ranking in the order Ace (high), 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 (low).

The cards have point values as follows:

Each King 4 points
Each Queen 3 points
Each Jack 2 points
Each Ace 11 points
Each Ten 10 points
Each 9, 8, 7, 6 0 points

The total value of the cards in the pack is 120 points, and the aim of a team, is to collect more than half of these points in the tricks that they win.

The Deal

The whole pack is dealt out: 9 cards to each player. The first dealer is chosen by any convenient method, and the turn to deal passes to the left after each hand.

The dealer shuffles the cards and offers them to the opponent to the right to cut. While cutting, this opponent also has the right to specify how the cards will be dealt.

  • If the cards are just cut normally with out comment, they must be dealt in batches of 3 at a time. This is the most usual method.
  • The cutter may instead demand that the cards should be dealt "one at a time", clockwise.
  • The cutter may ask for "9 at a time": then the first 9 cards are dealt to the player to dealer's left, the next 9 to dealer's partner, the next 9 to the cutter, the last 9 to the dealer.
  • The cutter may ask for "covers to us". The first 9 cards go to the player to dealer's left, the next 9 to dealer's partner, the next 9 to the dealer and the last 9 to the cutter.
  • "Content to us" specifies that the first 9 cards must be dealt to dealer's partner, the next 9 to the left, the third 9 to the right and the last 9 to the dealer.
  • "Up to X", where X is a specific card chosen by the cutter, requires the cards to be dealt face up until the specified card appears. The cards are dealt one at a time in a pile to each player: the first 9 cards are dealt to the player to dealer's left, the next 9 to the dealer's partner, the next 9 to the cutter, and the last 9 to the dealer. After the card named by the cutter appears the remaining cards are dealt face down.

After the deal any player who has only one picture card (King, Queen or Jack) may place it face up on the table. The player's partner takes this card and passes one card from hand face down across the table in exchange.

A player who is dealt no picture cards at all is said to have a "roof". Some allow this to be signalled to partner by placing the fingertips together to form a roof shape, if possible when the opponents are not looking. This signal is generally understood but in some groups it is considered illegal and would incur a penalty if discovered.

Bidding

Beginning with the player to dealer's left and continuing clockwise, players bid for the right to determine the trump suit. The bids do not mention any specific suit but are simply numbers from 5 to 9, relating the length of the bidder's proposed trump suit including pictures. Each bid must be higher than the last, and a player who does not wish to bid may pass. A player who has passed cannot bid again during the current deal.

In order to bid a number, a player must have a possible trump suit with at least as many cards as the number bid. 5 is the minimum bid, so in order to be allowed to bid at all it is necessary to have a potential trump suit of at least five cards. However, a player does not have to bid the full length of their longest possible trump suit: they may bid a lower number. For example, a player whose hand is spadeK, clubQ, spadeJ, heartJ, clubA, club10, club7, diamond10, diamond9 has a potential 7-card trump suit (4 pictures plus 3 clubs) if clubs are trumps, so is allowed to bid 5, 6 or 7.

In any deal, at least one player will have a potential trump suit of at least 5 cards, and therefore will be able to bid. Nevertheless it sometimes happens that all four players choose to pass. In that case diamonds are automatically trumps.

If at least one player bids, the bidding continues for as many circuits as necessary until three players have passed, after which the final and highest bidder announces a trump suit, which must have at least as many cards as their bid.

If the announced trump suit is not diamonds, any other player, including the partner of the final bidder, is allowed to override the final bid and change the trump suit to diamonds. This can be done even by a player who has passed in the auction, irrespective of the number of trumps they hold.

The effect of this rule is that a player with strong diamonds sometimes does not bid them immediately, but wait to find out the strengths of the other players before overriding the final bid: in this case there is however the risk that everyone will pass. Also a player who fears that the opponents are too strong and might take all the tricks - a result known as 'lambapea', which immediately wins the entire game - might avoid that by overriding the bid with diamonds even if they did not expect to win.

Any player who is sure that they want diamonds as trumps is allowed to announce it as soon as they wish to after the deal, terminating the auction or avoiding the auction entirely.

Play

After the trump suit has been determined, the play can begin. The player to the left of dealer leads to the first trick, each of the other players in turn plays a card, and the trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trumps were played by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next. The rules of play are as follows.

  • Any card may be led.
  • Players must follow suit if possible, bearing in mind that all picture cards belong to the trump suit and not to the suits printed on them.
  • A player who has no card of the suit led must play a trump if possible.
  • A player who has no cards of the suit led and no trumps may play any card.
  • Subject to the above rules, each player must play a card that beats the highest card so far played to the trick if able to do so.

Some consequences of these rules:

  • If a trump - either card of the trump suit or any picture card - is led to the trick played you must play a trump if you have one, if possible higher than any trump so far played to the trick. If you cannot beat the highest trump in the trick, you must still play a trump if you have one.
  • If a non-trump - a card of a non-trump suit that is not a picture card - is led to a trick you must play a card of that suit if you can, beating the highest card played to the trick if you can. For example suppose that diamonds are trumps and the club8 is led, the second player plays the club10 and the third player plays the club6. If you have the clubA you must play it, since it beats the 10. If you do not have the clubA you must still play a club if you have one - for example if you have club9 and club7 you may play either of these. If you have no clubs (except possible for club pictures, which do not count as clubs since they are trumps), you must play a trump, even though your partner is currently winning the trick. For example you could play the diamond7 or the clubJ or the spadeQ, any of which would win.
  • Suppose now that the the club8 is led, the second player plays the club10 and the third player, having no clubs, trumps with the the clubJ. If you have a club you must play one. If your only club is the clubA you must play it, giving the opponents a 23-point trick. If you have for example the clubA and the club7 you can play your 7 and save your Ace for later, since neither card beats the third player's trump. If you have no clubs you must play a trump, beating the third player's clubJ if possible. For example if your only trumps are heartK, diamondJ, diamondA you must play the heartK and take the trick, since that is the only one of your trumps that beats the clubJ. If your only trumps are spadeJ and diamondA you must play one of these, even though neither wins the trick. If you have no clubs and no trumps you can throw any card, preferably a worthless one since the opponents are winning the trick.

One member of each team keeps the tricks won by their team in a face down pile until the end of the play, when the values of the cards taken by each team are counted and totalled.

Signals

There are two types of situation during the play in which partners are allowed to communicate by word or gesture.

  1. Blinking. If you are the second player to a trick you may have a choice of plays, and your choice may depend on what cards are held by your partner, who will play last to the trick. If you expect your partner to win you will contribute a valuable card; if not you will play a worthless card. In such a case, before selecting you play you may look at your partner for guidance. If your partner blinks, that indicates that she expects to win the trick. If a non-trump was led, the blink could indicate that your partner holds the Ace of the suit, or perhaps has no cards of that suit and plans to trump. If a trump was led you partner's blink would indicate that she has a high trump with which to win the trick. Conversely if your partner does not blink it indicates that she does not expect to win the trick. The opponents may of course intercept this signal and try to use the information to their own advantage.
  2. Emergency. If you are playing after your partner, and your only remaining trump is the Ace or Ten, you may inform your partner of this by saying "emergency" (in Estonian "h├Ąda"). This is a request to your partner to play her highest trump, on which you can save your Ace or Ten.

Scoring

When all nine tricks have been played, each team counts the card points they have taken in tricks. There are altogether 120 card points in the pack, and the team that has the majority of these points - more than 60 points - wins one or more strokes. The first team that wins 16 strokes wins the game.

The score sheet has a column for each team. The first two strokes for a team are drawn as vertical lines, and the next two as horizontal lines across them, so that at score of four strokes looks like this: #. Further strokes are recorded in the same way, so that a winning score of 16 strokes looks like this: ####. Normally a series of games is played, so when one team reaches 16 points a horizontal line is drawn across the score sheet and a the next game is scored below this line.

If one of the players chose the trumps, the number of strokes marked by the winning team depends on the trump suit and the number of card points taken as follows:

Card points taken by
trump maker's team
Card points taken by
trump maker's opponents
Trump suit: Diamonds Clubs, Spades
or Hearts
all tricks no tricks Trump makers win whole game
91-120 0-29 6 strokes 4 strokes
61-90 30-59 4 strokes 2 strokes
60 60 Tie - cards redealt with same trumps - see below
30-59 61-90 Trump makers'
opponents win
6 strokes 4 strokes
0-29 91-120 8 strokes 6 strokes
no tricks all tricks whole game

If one team wins all 9 tricks they win the whole game (effectively they score 16 strokes), irrespective of the trump suit and who chose it. This situation is known as lambapea (sheep's head) and is considered a shameful result for the losing team. A 16-0 game in which one team scores no strokes is also considered shameful for the losers.

If the result is a tie, with each team taking 60 points, the cards are shuffled and redealt by the same dealer and the hand is replayed. In this replay there is no bidding and the trump suit is the same as in the tied hand. The replay is scored in the same way that the tied hand would have been scored, with the same team being considered as the trump makers.

If all four players passed, so that the trump suit is diamonds by default, the winning team scores just 1 stroke, even if they take more than 90 card points. However if one team takes all the tricks in a passed hand the result is a lambapea as above, and the winners win the whole game. In case of a tie the hand is replayed as above with a score of just one point for the winners.

Variations

There are said to be many variants of this game, and I would like to hear from players who can provide further information about these.