- Fipsen in Prisdorf
- Fipsen in Großenaspe
- Fipsen in Thedinghausen
- Mecklenburg Fips
Fipsen is the name given of a number of somewhat different but related games played northern Germany. These are plain-trick games with trumps in which each player is dealt five cards, rather like the English game Nap. In the 19th century various versions of Fipsen were popular farmers' games throughout Schleswig-Holstein and also in parts of Pomerania, North Frisia and Mecklenburg. Over the last century Fipsen has declined in popularity, but versions of it are still enthusiastically played in an area north of Hamburg in a triangle roughly between Pinneberg, Neumünster and Bad Oldesloe, and also in Thedinghausen, about 20km southeast of Bremen.
This page is based on a description by Günther Senst of the version played in Prisdorf, which he learned from Jutta Breckwoldt and Inga Schuldt on a cruise with the AIDAdiva from 13th to 27th November 2009, and on subsequent research by Paul Eaton which was published in The Playing Card Vol 49, No 1 in 2020.
Fipsen in Prisdorf
Fipsen is played in and around Prisdorf, a town to the north of Hamburg, Germany. Tournaments are run simultaneously with Skat tournaments. In 2009 Jutta Breckwoldt said that there were generally 2 or 3 Fipsen tables, and the players were mainly of the older generation.
Players and Cards
There are four players, each ultimately playing for themselves. On each deal, the highest bidder will play alone against a team consisting of the other three players. Deal and play are clockwise.
There is a three-player version of Fipsen, but this is played only when it proves quite impossible to find a fourth player. The four-player game will be described first.
A 25-card pack is used. This is made by discarding all the diamonds except the seven from a French-suited Skat pack. The rank of the cards from high to low in clubs, spades and hearts is A (high), K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7.
The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right is entitled to cut the cards, but often chooses not to. A batch of three cards is dealt to each player, then two cards face down to the table, then two cards to each player, so that each player has a hand of five cards. Three cards are left over, and these are set aside face down, and are not used except in the case of the special bid Kieker. The two cards that are dealt to the table are known as the Skat (as in the game of that name).
Bidding and Game Values
The bidding determines which player will play alone against the other three.
Vorhand, the player to the left of the dealer, speaks first. He may bid, undertaking to win at least a stated number of tricks, or he may pass. The number of tricks bid is also the basic value of the game in points. So the lowest bid, which is 2 tricks, has a basic value of 2 points, and a bid to win all 5 tricks has a basic value of 5 points. The actual value of the game is calculated by applying doubles to the basic value, according to the circumstances.
Each of the following causes the game value to be doubled:
- Hand game - the bidder plays without using the Skat (see below).
- Ruten - the bidder chooses diamonds as the trump suit, so that there is only one trump.
- Durch - the bidder wins all 5 tricks (although he may have bid fewer than 5).
- Lost game - if the bidder fails to win as many tricks as were bid, he scores minus twice the amount he would have won if successful.
- 3 - Hand: the value is 3 x 2 = 6, but -12 if the bidder fails to win 3 tricks
- 4 - Ruten - Durch: the value is 4 x 2 (Ruten) x 2 (Durch) = 16 if the bidder wins all 5 tricks. If the bidder wins the first 4 tricks and leads to the fifth but fails to win it, this is a lost Durch worth -32 points.
If Vorhand bids, the game is his unless it is taken away by another player bidding higher. The next player to his left can either bid higher or pass. If the second player bids higher Vorhand can "hold" the bid (undertaking to play an equally valuable game himself) or he can pass (relinquishing the game to the other bidder) or he can bid higher.
A higher bid is a bid for more tricks, or a bid for the same number of tricks with more doubles. In the bidding, tricks always have priority over doubles. An example of an ascending sequence of bids is: 2 - 2 Hand - 2 Ruten Hand - 3 - 3 Hand etc. Some bids are of equal value - for example 3 Hand and 3 Ruten, since Hand and Ruten are each worth one double. Therefore neither of these overcalls the other, and a player who holds 3 Ruten can play 3 Hand and vice versa.
The bidding between Vorhand and the next player continues until one of them passes. Only when this happens does the third player speak, either bidding higher than the last bid or passing. The bidding then continues between the third player and the survivor of the bidding between the first two, the earlier bidder always having the right to hold, and when this is resolved the fourth player can bid against the survivor or pass.
It is not necessary to begin with the lowest possible bid, or to make the minimum bid needed to overcall another player during the auction. The first bidder can start with a bid of more than 2 tricks, and this is often sensible. For example, if you expect to win at least 3 tricks you should bid 3, to increase the basic value of your game. The winner of the bidding can score extra doubles by playing without the Skat, making diamonds trumps or winning every trick, but the number of tricks bid and the basic value of the game cannot be increased after winning the bidding.
If all four players pass, the cards are thrown in and the same dealer shuffles and deals again.
If the final bid was a simple number, 2, 3, 4 or 5, the bidder can pick up the two Skat cards, add them to his hand, and discard any two cards face down. He then chooses and announces the trump suit.
Alternatively, the bidder can play without looking at the Skat, which doubles the value of the game (Hand Game), and simply announce the trump suit. The bidder may choose to do this even if "Hand" was not mentioned in the bid, but if the final bid included "Hand", the bidder is not allowed to use the Skat.
Vorhand leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit if able, and a player who cannot follow suit may play a trump or a card of any other suit. The highest trump, or if none are played the highest card of the suit led wins the trick and the winner leads to the next trick.
When the bidder has won the number of tricks that he bid, he can either stop and just claim his points, or if he has not yet lost a trick he can continue the play by leading to the next trick. If he continues, he is considered to be attempting a Durch. He must now take all the tricks to win the double score for Durch. If he loses a trick, he loses the Durch. For example if the bid was 3 and the bidder looked at the Skat, he can stop after winning the first three tricks for 3 points, or he can carry on to win 6 points if he takes all the tricks or lose 12 points if he loses a trick.
If the bid was 5, it automatically includes an announced Durch, so in the absence of other doubles the bidder wins 10 if successful and loses 20 if not.
"Ruten" is the Low German form of "Raute" (=rhombus) and in this context refers to the diamond suit.
If the bidder chooses diamonds, the 7 is the only trump. This makes the game harder to win than a game with an ordinary trump suit, and because of this, a double is applied to the game value. In the bidding, a bid in Ruten is therefore always higher than the equivalent bid in an ordinary suit. So a bidding sequence could be 2 - Ruten 2 - 2 Hand, Ruten - 3 - etc.
Example: 3 Ruten Hand scores +3 x 2 x 2 = + 12 if successful; if lose the score is -24.
It is not necessary to mention Ruten in the bidding in order to play Ruten. If Ruten is bid, diamonds must be the trump suit, but a player who has not bid Ruten may still choose diamonds to increase the value of the game if, for example, he finds the seven of diamonds in the Skat.
A player may even choose diamonds as trumps when he does not hold the 7 of diamonds, and try to win his game with aces in the other suits. This is somewhat risky though, as an ace might be trumped by one of the other players who holds the 7 of diamonds and no cards in the suit of the ace.
Kieker is a special bid that ranks between 4 and 5. The verb "kieken" is a Low German form of "kucken" (to look) and the player who bids a Kieker looks at all five face down cards.
A player is allowed to (but is not obliged to) bid a Kieker if his hand contains no pictures - no kings queens or jacks. If the Kieker wins the bidding, the player must briefly show his cards to another player, usually the opponent to his left, to show that the bid is legal. He then picks up the Skat and the three cards that were set aside at the end of the deal. He now has a hand of ten cards from which he discards any five cards face down and announces the trump suit. In order to win he must win all five tricks.
If the cards the Kieker picked up were so poor that he judges he has no chance of winning, he may give up before the first card is led for -5 points. If he plays he wins 10 points if successful (5 tricks, doubled for Durch) but loses 20 points if he loses a trick.
A Kieker may choose Ruten (diamonds) as trumps for a score of +20 or -40.
If at any stage - after the deal, after picking up the Skat, or after picking up five cards in a Kieker - a player holds all four sevens and an ace, this is a Siebener Fips. The player announces it lays these five cards on the table and scores +30 points. This outranks all other bids.
The scoresheet has six columns:
- Column 1: number of the current deal
- Columns 2 -5: headed with the player's name. Show each player's running total score.
- Column 6: The value of the game played in that deal.
The bidding, play and scoring remain the same. In the deal eight cards are set aside instead of three, which increases the luck factor.
The procedure for a Kieker is slightly different in a three player game. The bidder throws away his original five-card hand and picks up the Skat and the eight cards that were set aside. From these ten cards he discards another five cards face down. He then names trumps and must win all five tricks as usual.
In a tournament, the players register and are assigned tables and seats, forming four-player tables as far as possible. If the number of players is awkward, there might need to be up to three three-player tables. At the four-player tables 100 deals are played. If three-player tables are needed, these tables play 120 deals.
- Minimum bid
- In home games, players sometimes agree to play with 3 instead of 2 as the minimum bid.
- Kontra and Rekontra
- In home games, people sometimes agree to play with Kontra and Rekontra. After the bidder has chosen trumps, any opponent can say Kontra to double the value of the game. If this happens the bidder can reply Rekontra to double it again. Kontra and Rekontra are not allowed in tournaments.
Fipsen in Großenaspe
This is similar to the version played in Fipsen, but uses a complete 32-card pack when there are four players. The dealer shuffles, and usually the cards are not cut. Five cards are dealt to each player, first a packet of three to each, then two cards face down in the centre (the Skat) then a packet of two each. The remaining 10 cards are stacked face down as the Stock, which is out of play unless a player bids Kieker (see below).
Players bid in clockwise order, beginning with the player to the left of the dealer. Each bid must be higher than the last (there is no 'holding'), and a player who does not wish to bid can pass, saying 'weg' and cannot re-enter the bidding. If any player bids, the bidding continues for as many circuits as necessary until all but one player has passed. If all pass the cards are thrown in and redealt.
A number bid specifies the minimum number of tricks the bidder promises to win, from 1 to 5. In all number bids the final bidder picks up the Skat and discards any 2 of their 7 cards face down. In an ordinary number bid, the bidder can choose any suit as trumps after taking the Skat and discarding, but the bidder can add the word 'Gute' ('good ones') to the bid, in which case clubs must be made trumps. A Gute bid ranks immediately above an ordinary bid at the same level.
There are two special bids:
- Kieker (also known by the high German equivalent Gucker) can only be bid by a player who has no picture cards (King, Queen, Jack). In the bidding it ranks between 4 Gute and 5. The bidder discards their original hand, picks up both the Skat and the Stock, discards any 7 of these 12 cards, chooses the trump suit, and must win all 5 tricks to succeed.
- Fips. The bidder chooses trumps and must win all 5 tricks with their original cards, without looking at or exchanging the Skat. Fips ranks higher than 5 Gute and Fips Gute (win all 5 tricks with your original cards with clubs trump) is the highest bid of all.
Note that in this version of Fipsen there are no 'Hand' bids. In all bids except Fips the Skat is used.
The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick and players must follow suit. The winner of each trick leads to the next.
- If the bidder succeeds in winning the number of tricks required by the bid, normally the play ends at that point and the bidder scores the points equal to the number of the bid, or twice that number if clubs were trumps.
- Having taken the required number of tricks the bidder can opt to continue playing and try to win all the tricks, saying for example 'ich spiele durch' (I'll play on) or 'ich will alles' (I want them all). In this case the hand is scored as though the bid were 5.
- If the bidder wins at least one trick, but not as many tricks as required by the bid, the bidder is said to be beet each of the three opponents scores the bid number, or twice that number if clubs were trumps.
- If the bidder loses every trick, the bidder is pott beet and each opponent scores 5 points, or 10 if clubs were trumps.
A Kieker scores 10 points, or 20 if clubs were trumps and each opponent scores this amount if it fails. However a Kieker bidder who sees no chance of winning can surrender before the first lead instead of naming trumps, in which case each opponent scores just 5 points rather than 10.
A Fips scores 20 points, or 40 if clubs were trumps.
In informal games, an opponent of the bidder can kloppen (knock) before playing to the first trick. This doubles the score for the hand.
Three-player Fipsen. We have only brief details of this version, also known as Karo Fipsen (Diamond Fipsen). All diamonds except the Seven are removed, leaving a 25-card pack. There is no doubling of the score when clubs are trumps, but maybe bids with diamonds trump count double instead, as in Prisdorf Fipsen.
Five-player Fipsen. This can either be played with four active players and dealer sitting out, or with 5 cards dealt to each player so that there are only 5 in the Stock.
Fipsen in Thedinghausen
The version of Fipsen played in Thedinghausen is markedly different from the above games. It is a 5-player game without bidding, in which the trump suit is determined by turning up a card. It is customarily played on the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Bauernkör, which was originally a self-governing body of farmers but is now primarily a social club.
The game is traditionally played for locally baked currant buns known as Hedewigs. At the start of each game, each of the 5 players contributes 80 cents, the price of one bun. The winner of the game receives a slip of paper which can be used to claim the 5 buns financed by the initial contributions. These buns are usually eaten on the spot, slathered in butter, or may be taken home to enjoy later.
A 32-card Skat pack is used. The dealer shuffles and then deals a packet of three cards to each player, turns up the next card to determine the trump suit, and then deals another packet of two cards each. The remaining 6 cards are set aside and not used. If the turned up trump is an Ace, the holder (if any) of the Seven of trumps may exchange it for the Ace.
The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. Players must follow suit and the winner of each trick leads to the next. When all five tricks have been played the cards are gathered and the turn to deal passes to the next player in clockwise order.
The aim of the game is to win ten tricks over however many deals that takes. An account is kept of the number of tricks won by each player, and as soon as a player wins their tenth trick, play ceases and the player claims their prize. If another game is to be played everyone's score starts again from zero.
If there is a deal in which a player wins all 5 tricks, those tricks do not count towards the ten required to win the game. Instead the player who won all the tricks receives an extra prize of 5 Hedewigs, paid for by an extra contribution of 1 Euro from each of the other four players. The game then continues with the players' cumulative scores unchanged.
Two versions of Fipsen are briefly described in a Mecklenburg dialect dictionary: Wossildo-Teuchert Mecklenburgisches Wörterbuch Vol 2 pp 919-920 (Neumünster: Wachholtz, 1957). They are played by four players with a 25-card pack made by removing all the diamonds except the Ace from a Skat pack. Five cards are dealt to each player and the remaining 5, known as the Dutt, are stacked face down.
The first, Ansegger Fips ('Auction Fips'), looks like an ancestor of Prisdorf Fips. The possible bids are numbers from 1 to 5, which can be overcalled by a bid for the same number of tricks with diamonds (Ruten) as trumps. If all pass the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal. A bid of 5 is also known as Fips, which can be overcalled by Rutenfips. Apparently the Dutt cards are not used.
In the second, Duttfips, if no one bids, the player to dealer's left, takes the 5 Dutt cards, discards any 5 cards, chooses trumps, and must make most tricks to win (presumably this means more than any other single player). Another player may bid “Ruten oewer!” to take over the right to use the Dutt and the obligation to win most tricks, but must play with diamonds as trumps. Or any player may bid Fips undertaking to win all 5 tricks, or the highest bid Rutenfips to do the same with diamonds as trumps (it is unclear whether the Dutt can be used for Fips or Rutenfips).
Unfortunately Wossildo and Teuchert do not explain the scoring in these games.