Dreierles

A card game from central Baden

1 Introduction

Baden is the only region of Germany where the tradition of playing games with Tarot cards has survived. The cards are named after the Tarot game of Cego, which has been described as the national game of Baden. However, two other games are also played with these cards: Vier-Anderle (also known as Strassenwart), which is not a true Tarot game, and Dreierles (also known as Dreierle or Dreier).

Dreierles has more in common with Austrian Tapp Tarock than with Cego. As in both Tapp Tarock and Cego, one player, the declarer, volunteers to play alone against a team consisting of the others. The main difference is in the use of the undealt cards, the talon or blind. Whereas in Cego the blind is almost as large as the player's hand, and the declarer normally discards most of his or her original hand in exchange for the blind, in Dreierles the blind has only 6 cards, like the talon in Tapp Tarock, and the declarer first draws up to three cards from it (hence the name Dreierles - 'three game') and then discards an equal number of cards in exchange. Dreierles is not a simplified variant of Cego as is sometimes claimed but a separate game, probably an ancestor of Cego that has survived alongside it.

Although several sets of rules for Cego can be found on the Internet and in card game books, up to now there has been no complete description of Dreierles. The 2018 Convention of the International Playing Card Society in the Deutsches Spielkartenmuseum at Leinfelden-Echterdingen provided a convenient opportunity to meet with Dreierles players near Rastatt in central Baden. As a result, on 30th September John McLeod and Ulf Martin took part in a Dreierles evening organised by Richard Götz in the restaurant Buon Gusto in Steinmauern. The other players were Otto Fettig and Elke and Martin Becker from Steinmauern, and Anette Hafermann from Iffezheim. We also had correspondence with Thomas Wimmer from Achertal (30 km south of Rastatt) and Walburga Rademacher from Malsch (in the district of Karlsruhe). Many thanks to all these people for teaching us the game and answering our many questions.

We were told that in the Rastatt area, Dreierles is the game usually played with Cego cards, and that Cego itself is more or less unknown. The Achertal area seems to be on the Dreierles/Cego boundary with Dreierles players to the north and Cego players to the south. For example Thomas Wimmer reports that there was a regular Cego round in Oberachern until a few years ago. It would be very interesting to hear from other Dreierles players, to improve our knowledge of the rules and variations and to learn more about the geographic distribution of this historically interesting game.

Compared to related Austrian games, the rules of Dreierles are fairly straightforward with fewer alternative contracts and announcements, so Dreierles may serve as a good introduction to this family of Tarock games.

2 Rules of the Game

We first describe the version played in Steinmauern, followed by notes on the other variations that we know of.

The Cards and their Values

The game is played with a pack of 54 Cego cards consisting of:

  • 22 trumps (Drucks) identified by numbers from the lowest 1 (known as die Pfeife - the whistle or pipe) up to the 21. The highest trump, known as the Stiess or Gstiess, has no number, but functions in all respects as though it were trump 22. The 1, 21 and Stiess together are known as the Droll.
  • 32 suit cards, ranking from high to low:
    • in herz and karo: King, Queen, Cavalier, Jack, Ace, 2, 3, 4
    • in kreuz and pik: King, Queen, Cavalier, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7

The number cards in the suits are called Leere (empty cards). Note that as in most Tarock games, in the black suits the higher numbers beat the lower, but in the red suits the order of the empty cards is reversed, the lower numbers beating the higher. In some places the Kings are known, individually or as a set of four, as Hanore (honours).

The suit cards have no corner indices but the court cards are easy to identify. The Jacks carry halberds, the Cavaliers ride horses, the Queens are female and the Kings wear crowns except for the King of diamonds, who wears a turban.

Players in North America can obtain Cego cards from Taro Bear's Lair. It would also be possible to play with other types of French-suited Tarot cards.

The cards have point values:

Cards Point Value
Stiess, 21, 1, Kings 5 each
Queens 4 each
Cavaliers 3 each
Jacks 2 each
Trumps 2-20 and empty suit cards 1 each

The cards are counted in groups of three, and two points are subtracted from the value of each group of 3 cards. If one or two cards are left over at the end of counting a pile of cards, one point is subtracted from this group. The total value of the cards in the pack is 70 points. If this method of counting is unfamiliar, see the counting points in Tarot games page for further explanation and examples.

Note on etymology. The terms "Drock" and "Druck" are Baden dialect forms of Tarock. Some other terms are of French origin: "Hanore" from "honneurs", "Drull" or "Droll" from "tous les trois" (meaning "all three" like the equivalent Austrian term "Trull") and "Stiess" or "Gstiess" from "excuse".

Players and Objective

There are three active players. It is possible, though unusual, for four people to play. At a four player table players take turns to deal and sit out. The direction of play is anticlockwise.

With the help of some cards from the blind, one player, the declarer, plays against two opponents. The declarer's main goal is to take more than half of the card points in tricks (36 points or more). The fewer cards taken from the blind and the more card points won, the higher the value of the game. There are additional scores for certain card combinations and events.

The scoring is in units known as Fach, which will be rendered in English as 'game points'. In each deal the number of game points won or lost by the players add up to zero. If there are four players at the table, the non-playing dealer is included in the scoring.

Usually the game is played for small stakes, typically 10 cents per game point. Wins and losses can be paid in cash after each hand, or can be noted on paper and settled at the end of the session.

Deal

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's left cuts the cards. The dealer places the top 6 cards from the pack face down in the centre of the table, without changing their order, to form the Blinden (blind). The remainder of the cards are then dealt to the players in batches of 8, beginning with the player to dealer's right, so that everyone has a hand of 16 cards. To make sure of dealing the right number of cards, some dealers prefer to deal in batches of 4 cards, giving the first two batches of 4 to the player to the right, the next two to the next player and so on.

The turn to deal passes to the right after each hand.

Bidding

Players bid to be the declarer by specifying how many cards they want to draw from the blind - the fewer the number of cards drawn, the higher the bid. The possible bids are Dreier (= 3 cards), Zweier (= 2 cards), Einer (= one card) and Solo (= no cards). The players speak in turn, beginning with the player to dealer's right. Each player has just one chance to bid, and each bid must be higher than the last. A player who does not want to play alone passes by saying "weg". The last and highest bidder is the declarer. If all three players pass, a Räuber is played (see below).

Card Exchange

One of the opponents of the declarer takes from the top of the blind the number of cards that the bidder asked for and places them face up on the table. When everyone has had a chance to look at them, the declarer picks them up and adds them to his or her hand. The declarer then discards an equal number of cards face down without showing them. Kings and trumps cannot be discarded. Meanwhile the opponents pick up the remainder of the blind cards and look at them, without showing them to the declarer. They are not allowed to exchange any of these cards, only to know what they are. Having seen them they lay the cards face down on the table again. The cards discarded by the declarer are counted with the declarer's tricks. The remaining cards of the blind are counted with the opponents' tricks.

Notes:

  • The custom that the cards the declarer draws from the blind are exposed by an opponent, not by the declarer, is strictly observed.
  • Theoretically a declarer might be unable to discard, having nothing but trumps and Kings. In practice this never happens, because a player with such a strong hand would bid Solo, in which no cards are discarded.

Card Combinations

Extra game points can be scored for certain card combinations held in the hand of a player before the start of the play:

  • Zehn Druck = 10 or more trumps;
  • Drull or Druckrolle = 1, 21 and Stiess;
  • Vier Könige or Königsrolle = all four Kings.

Each of these combinations scores 1 game point for the holder, paid by each of the other players. In order to score for 10 or more trumps, the declarer must announce it before the play begins. The trumps are not shown, and the declarer does not announce exactly how many are held, only that there are at least 10. Note that it is not compulsory to announce 10 trumps if one has them: the declarer may sometimes prefer for tactical reasons to suppress the announcement and forgo the payment for it.

All the other combinations - 10 or more trumps held by an opponent or a Druckrolle or Königsrolle held by any player, are not announced in advance but simply claimed at the end of the play ("nachgemeldet") when the scores are being calculated.

Pfeife in the Last Trick

If the declarer holds the Pfeife (trump 1) and succeeds in winning the last trick with it, the declarer wins 1 extra game point from each opponent. If the declarer plays the Pfeife to the last trick and it loses to a higher trump, the declarer pays 1 game point to each opponent.

The declarer can announce the intention to win the last trick with the Pfeife before the start of the play by placing the card face up on the table - this is known as "Pfeife raus". After this announcement, winning the last trick with the Pfeife is worth 2 game points from each opponent instead of 1, but if the Pfeife loses the last trick the declarer has to pay 2 game points each. A Pfeife raus announcement can also fail if the declarer is forced to play the Pfeife earlier than the last trick. In this case not only does the declarer have to pay 2 game points to each opponent for the failed announcement, but also the trick to which the Pfeife is played and all subsequent tricks are forfeited to the declarer's opponents.

Pfeife in the last trick only scores when the declarer holds the Pfeife. Unlike the corresponding 'Pagat ultimo' bonus in Austrian Tarock, in Dreierles there is no extra score when an opponent plays the Pfeife to the last trick.

Knocking: Kontra and Re

After discarding the appropriate number of cards making any announcements (10 trumps or Pfeife raus), the declarer says "fertig" (ready) to indicate that play may begin.

At this point there is a pause to give the opponents the opportunity to knock. An opponent who does not think that the declarer's game will succeed can give "kontra" by knocking on the table. This doubles the game point score for the game (but does not affect the extra scores for combinations and Pfeife). A knock by one opponent doubles the payment to or from both opponents.

An opponent who had the opportunity to bid Dreier but passed instead is not allowed to knock. So for example if the players in order are A, B and C (dealer) and the bidding was A: weg, B: Dreier, C: weg, then B is the declarer, C is allowed to knock but A is not. If the bidding was A: weg, B: weg, C: Dreier then neither of C's opponents can knock.

If an opponent knocks the declarer can "rekontra" by knocking to double the score again. In that case an opponent can knock again to double the score and in theory the knocking can go back and forth between the declarer and opponents any number of times up to a previously agreed limit, doubling the score each time. In practice there are seldom more than one or two knocks.

Play of the Cards

After the declarer has said "ready" and there is no further knocking, the declarer leads any card to the first trick. Each of the other players in turn plays a card. Players must follow suit if able to. A player who has no card of the suit led must play a trump if they have one. If a trump is led the other players must play trumps. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card. The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if it contains no trumps by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of the trick gathers the three cards, stores them face down, and leads any card to the next trick. Tricks won by the declarer are stored along with the cards the declarer discarded, while the tricks won by the opponents are stored in a single pile along with the unused part of the blind.

Note that unlike some other Tarot games, in Dreierles there is never any obligation to beat the cards previously played to the trick. For example when a trump is led, the next player can play a higher or a lower trump as they wish.

Scoring

When all the cards have been played, each side counts the value of the cards in their trick pile. The values of the two sides should add up to 70. The difference between the winning side's card points and 35 is divided by 5, ignoring the remainder, and 1 is added. So for example 48 card points gives 2+1=3 and 36 points gives 0+1=1. This result is then multiplied by a factor that depends on the bid: ×1 for Dreier, ×2 for Zweier, ×3 for Einer or ×4 for Solo to give the game point score.

Note that the unused cards in the blind always count for the declarer's opponents, even if the declarer wins all the tricks. Therefore the opponents always have at least 1 card point and the declarer cannot have more than 69, for a game point score of 7×(bid value) because 69-35=34, 34/5 ignoring the remainder is 6, and 6+1=7.

The following table gives a list of all possible results.

Declarer's
card points
Declarer's game point score
Dreier Zweier Einer Solo
Declarer
wins
65–69 +7 +14 +21 +28
60–64 +6 +12 +18 +24
55–59 +5 +10 +15 +20
50–54 +4 +8 +12 +16
45–49 +3 +6 +9 +12
40–44 +2 +4 +6 +8
36–39 +1 +2 +3 +4
Declarer
loses
31–35 −1 −2 −3 −4
26–30 −2 −4 −6 −8
21–25 −3 −6 −9 −12
16–20 −4 −8 −12 −16
11–15 −5 −10 −15 −20
6–10 −6 −12 −18 −24
1–5 −7 −14 −21 −28
0 impossible −24 −32

The game points in the above table are doubled for each knock, and paid by each opponent to the declarer or vice versa. In a four-player game the dealer is treated as a third opponent, paying or receiving the same amount as the declarer's active opponents.

Additional game points for Pfeife in the last trick and for combinations are not affected by knocks or by the type of game. Combinations claimed by an opponent are paid for by all the other players at the table: by the declarer, by the other opponent, and at a 4-player table also by the dealer .

For the declarer only Pfeife in the last trick +1 / −1 game point
Pfeife laid out +2 / −2 game points
For all players individually Card combinations 1 game point each

Example of Scoring. Anne plays a Solo, lays out the Pfeife, fails to win the last trick with it, takes 42 card points, and claims 4 Kings at the end of the play; Bert claims 10 trumps. Anne receives 4 (Solo) × 2 (for card points) + 1 (4 Kings) – 2 (Pfeife raus) = 7 game points from each opponent, and Bert receives 1 game point from each other player. If there are four players at the table playing for a stake of 10 cents per game point, the net result is as follows:

  • Anne wins 2.00€ made up of 3 × 0.70€ = 2.10€ less 0,10€ paid to Bert
  • Bert loses 0.40€, paying 0.70€ - 0.10€ = 0.60€ to Anne and receiving 0.10€ from the other two
  • Anne's other opponent and the dealer each lose 0.80€, paying 0,70€ to Anne and 0,10€ to Bert.

Räuber

If all three players pass, the blind is set aside and not used or counted and a Räuber (robber) is played, in which the player who takes most card points loses. The last player who passed (the dealer at a 3-player table or the player to dealer's left at a 4-player table) can double the score for it by knocking and each of the other players in turn can do the same. The dealer at a 4-player table is allowed to knock and should always do so, since it will always be profitable. After everyone has had a chance to knock, the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick.

The rules of play are the same as in the other contracts, with some extra restrictions on the cards of the Drull. These restrictions vary from place to place, but in Steinmauern the rule is that the Pfeife must be played if possible to the third trick to which a trump is led. It may fall earlier if the Pfeife holder is required to play a trump and has no others left to play. In addition the 21 cannot be played to a trick that already contains the Stiess unless the holder of the 21 has no alternative trump to play.

At the end of the play everyone counts their card points, and the player with most card points pays 2 game points (doubled for each knock) to each of the others, including the non-playing dealer if there are four players. In case of a tie for most points, the principle is that the players not involved in the tie should still receive 2 game points each (doubled for each knock). So if two players tie for most points the loss is shared between the two losers, and each pays 1 game point (doubled for each knock) to the third player and to the non-playing dealer if present. In the extremely rare case where all three players tie, there is of course no payment at a 3-player table. At a 4-player table the dealer would still be entitled to collect the appropriate amount and the active players would have to share the payment somehow between them.

Irregularities and Penalties

In case of a misdeal (incorrect number of cards, exposed card, etc.) the cards are redealt by the same dealer.

In case of an incorrect discard or an illegal play, the play ends immediately and the offender pays 4 game points multiplied by the bid factor (×1 for Dreier, ×2 for Zweier, ×3 for Einer or ×4 for Solo) and doubled for each knock. However, a player may correct an accidental revoke without penalty, withdrawing the incorrect card and substituting a legal card, provided that this is done before any further cards have been played or in the case of the last card of a trick before the cards have been turned face down.

In friendly games the penalties above are usually not enforced, and with the agreement of all at the table players are allowed to correct accidental mistakes.

Ending a Session

A round consists of one deal by each player. A session can end by mutual agreement at the end of any round, so that each player has dealt an equal number of times.

Often the last round of a session is played as "Räuber or Solo", which means that only these two types of game are allowed. If no one is willing to bid a Solo, Räuber is played. Often the players agree to increase the basic value of a Räuber from 2 to 4 game points in this round. When playing a Räuber or Solo round, an opponent of a Solo bidder can only knock if their turn to bid was after the Solo player, in other words only an opponent who has no opportunity to bid their own Solo can knock.

3 Variations

Steinmauern Tournament Rules

At tournaments in Steinmauern:

  • Knocking is not allowed.
  • Räuber scores either 3 or 4 game points as specified by the organiser.
  • There is a penalty of 3 game points for an incorrect deal.
  • The penalty for an illegal discard or play is 8 game points multiplied by the bid factor.
  • The number of rounds to be played is specified by the organiser.

Iffezheim

Terminology
The Stiess is called der Alt’ (the old man), the 21 is called Eisen (iron) and the 1 is the Pfiff.
4-Player Scoring
At a 4-player table only the three active players score. The dealer neither wins nor loses anything, and is not allowed to knock in a Räuber.
Card Combinations
Only the declarer can score for card combinations: 10 Druck is declared before the play and Druck- and Königsrolle are claimed at the end. The opponents cannot claim any points for combinations they hold.
Play Restrictions in Räuber
If possible trumps must be led to the first three tricks. The Alt (Stiess) and Eisen (21) must be played in the first two tricks but not both in the same trick. In other words, if you hold either of these two top trumps you must play it at the first opportunity unless the other top trump has already been played to the same trick. In the third trick the Pfiff (1) must be played. A player with fewer than three trumps may be forced to play a Drull card earlier than these requirements imply, having no other trump to play.

Achertal

In the regular Dreier tournaments organised by Herr Wimmer the rules are as follows.

Terminology
The Pfeife is called "der kleine Mann" (the little man). Pfeife in the last trick is "Kleiner Mann am Schluss" and Pfeife raus is "Kleiner Mann am Schluss herausgelegt". The name of the game has high German form Dreier.
Solo Du
This is an additional possible bid, higher than Solo. The declarer undertakes to win all 16 tricks without any help from the blind. Solo Du is practically never bid (not in the last 40 years, according to Herr Wimmer), so some details are uncertain. Presumably if the opponents win a trick the play is over and counts as lost with 70 card points. In this bid, as in the equivalent bid in Bavarian Schafkopf, "Du" is derived from the French "tout" (all).
Scoring
The scores are not recorded as balancing wins and losses. Instead the points are recorded as a positive or negative score only for the relevant player (as in a Skat tournament). The total points scored by each player are compared to determine the result of the tournament.
  1. The card points are not divided by 5. Instead the exact difference of the card point total from 35 is multiplied by the bid factor.
  2. The bid factor for Solo Du is ×8.
  3. The declarer scores an extra +5 for a won game or –5 for a lost game. These points are not multiplied by the bid factor.
  4. The card combinations 10 trumps, Drull (here simply known as "Stiess, 21, kleiner Mann") and 4 Kings score +5 points each.
  5. Kleiner Mann am Schluss scores +10 if won, –20 if lost. If the Kleiner Mann is laid out, the scores are +20 if it is won or –40 if it is lost.
  6. Räuber is called Ramsch. There are no restrictions on playing the Stiess, 21 and 1, and each loser scores –20 points.
  7. There is no penalty for an incorrect deal. The penalty for an illegal play is 20 points, but the play continues. In case of an incorrect discard the play is abandoned and the declarer is charged a penalty of 20 points (probably in addition to a game lost with 35 points difference).
  8. At the end of a session, additional points are scored for won and lost games. This is similar to the practice in Skat tournaments. Players score +30 for each game won as declarer. For each lost game the declarer scores -30 and the opponents score +20 each at a 3-player table. For a lost game at a 4-player table the declarer scores -30 and the opponents and the dealer score +15 each.

Dreierles for Four Active Players

Herr Wimmer also describes a Dreierles variant for 4 active players. They are dealt 12 cards each (presumably in batches of 6). Apart from this the rules are the same as in 3-player Dreierles: the declarer takes at most 3 cards from the talon and plays alone against a team of three opponents. Since winning against three opponents is more difficult than against two, Ramsch is played much more often in this game than in the three-player version.

Walburga Rademacher has described the game of Dreierles as she remembers it from her childhood on the website of the Heimatfreunde Malsch.

Rules provided by Karlheinz Hornung from Muggensturm can be found on Achim Labers Cego Website.