Giltspiel

With thanks to Hubert Auer and the players at the Sportcafe Krismer in Fiss for introducing me to this game.

Introduction

Giltspiel is an ancestor of the famous Tyrolean game Perlaggen. It is thought to be very old: a book on Perlaggen published in Innsbruck in 1853 says that the Giltspiel has been played for as long as anyone can remember. Nevertheless, no detailed description of this game was available until Hubert Auer discovered that it is still played regularly in Fiss, Serfaus and Ladis in the upper Inn valley (south of Landeck) and included the rules in the 2015 edition of his book Watten, Bieten & Perlaggen.

Giltspiel is a trick-taking game for four players in fixed partnerships. The object is to be the first partnership to reach the target score of 11 or 15 points. Initially there are three points available in each deal: one for the hand with the best set of equal cards (Gleich), one for the hand with the best sequence (Hanger) and one for the team that takes the majority of the five tricks (Spiel). There is a betting process by which points scored for each of these can be increased during the game. Communication between partners by conversation and signals is allowed throughout.

Players and Cards

A 32-card German suited pack is used (William Tell pattern). The suits are bells (Schell), acorns (Eichel), hearts (Herz) and leaves (Laub). The cards in each suit rank from high to low: Ace (Ass, Sau), King (K├Ânig), Ober, Unter, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven.

There are four players is fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. The deal and play are clockwise.

Before beginning to play, the players agree the target score for winning the game: typically either 11 or 15 points.

The Deal

The dealer shuffles the cards and the dealer's right-hand opponent cuts the pack. The dealer then deals five cards to each player, clockwise in two rounds, either two cards at a time and then three at a time, or three at a time and then two at a time. The dealer turns the next card face up and places it on top of the stack of undealt cards. The suit of this turned up card is the trump suit for the hand.

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

The Play

The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick. A player who has a card of the suit that was led must either follow suit or play a trump. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card. Therefore it is legal to play a trump to any trick, and if a trump is let the other players must play a trump if they have one. There is no obligation to overtake cards previously played.

The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or if no trump was played, by the highest card of the suit that was led. The winner of each trick leads to the next.

When playing to a trick, the cards are not played to the centre of the table but are placed face up in front of the player. At the end of the trick they are not gathered up by the winner as in other card games but remain where they are. When playing to the next trick, the player will play the new card to the right of the card played to the previous trick, so that as the game continues each player will build a row of face up cards from left to right, and everyone can see all the cards that have been played and the order in which they were played.

Gleich, Hanger, Spiel

Points can be scored for each of the three figures Gleich, Hanger and Spiel.

  • Gleich. A Gleich is a set of at least two equal ranked cards in the hand of one player. The player with the best Gleich wins the Gleich point for his or her team. Any set of three equal cards (dritziges Gleich) beats any pair (einfaches Gleich), and any 4 of a kind (viertiges Gleich) beats any 3 of a kind. If two Gleichs contain the same number of cards, the higher beats the lower. For example a pair of Aces beats a pair of Kings and three Sevens beats a pair of Aces. If the two teams have equal pairs as their best Gleich (for example each has a pair of Tens) it is a tie - "Der Gleich steht" (the Gleich stands) - and neither side gets the point.
  • Hanger. A Hanger is a sequence of at least two consecutive cards in a suit. The player with the best Hanger wins the Hanger point for his or her team. A longer sequence beats a shorter one, and between two sequences of the same length the one with the higher cards wins. For example A-K beats K-O and 9-8-7 beats A-K. If the best Hangers of the two teams are equal - for example two opposing players have K-O-U in different suits - the Hanger stands ("Der Hanger steht") and neither side gets the point.
  • Spiel. The team which wins at least three of the five tricks wins the point for Spiel. ["Spiel" just means "game", but throughout this page I will use the German word "Spiel" for this figure, to avoid confusion with "game" used in the general sense.]

A card can be used simultaneously in a Gleich and a Hanger - for example a hand containing 9 of bells, 9 of acorns, 9 of leaves and 10 of leaves has a three-card Gleich and a two-card Hanger.

Betting

Each figure is initially worth one point, but this can be increased by betting. A figure that has not been yet bet on is unseen (ungesehen).

A bet is a proposal to raise the value of one of the figures by one point. For example a player may say "I bet on the Gleich" ("Ich biete das Gleich" or "Das Gleich geboten"), proposing to increase the value of the Gleich from 1 point to 2. For a bet to be valid the player must use the word "bet" (bieten, geboten) and name the figure (Gleich, Hanger or Spiel).

When a player bets, the play is suspended: no further cards can be played until the bet is answered by the opposing team. There are three possible answers.

  1. "Good" ("gut") (equivalent to "fold" in Poker). The opponents reject the proposal and concede the figure. The betting side automatically wins the figure but only for the old (lower) value.
  2. "Hold" or "See" ("halten" / "anschauen" / "heben") (equivalent to "call" in Poker, even though "heben" literally means "lift"). The opponents accept the bet, and the value of the figure is increased as proposed for whoever wins it.
  3. Make a counter bet (equivalent to "raise" in poker) (for example "einen Dreier geben" - to bet 3 in response to a bet of 2). The opponents accept the proposed increase and in their turn propose to increase the value by one point more, and the other team must answer the raise by conceding, holding or raising again, and so on.

Any player may bet on an unseen figure at any time after the deal is complete (even in the middle of a trick). Either member of the opposing team may answer on behalf of their team. If a bet on a figure has been accepted (held / seen), then either member of the team that accepted the bet can later propose a further increase in the score by betting on the same figure again.

On any particular figure the teams bet alternately. A team whose bet is seen cannot bet on the same figure again until the other team has bet on it. Also, once a figure has been conceded (called good), it can of course no longer be bet on.

If, though a series of bets by alternate teams, the value of a figure reaches 7, the next bet on that figure is 'Spiel aus'. If a bet of 'Spiel aus' is accepted, then whoever wins that figure wins the whole game (11 or 15 points as agreed). If the 'Spiel aus' bet is conceded the betting team scores 7 points.

A team may concede a figure at any time, even if it has not been bet on. This is sometimes worthwhile for tactical reasons, especially for the Spiel: a team may announce "the Spiel is good" ("das Spiel ist gut"): play of tricks immediately ceases and the game moves into the showdown phase.

A figure is always bet or seen by an individual player on behalf of the player's team. If a bet on the Gleich or Hanger is accepted, the points are won by the team of the player who has the best Gleich or Hanger. This need not be the player who bet or saw the Gleich: it could be one of the other two players. Nevertheless the individual player who bets or sees a Gleich or Hanger must have an example that figure in their hand - at least two equal cards if betting or seeing a Gleich, or at least two consecutive cards of a suit if betting or seeing a Hanger.

If the teams have won two tricks each and a card has been led to the fifth trick, it is still possible to bet on the Spiel. However, in these circumstances a player is only allowed to bet on the Spiel if his or her fifth card is a card of the suit that was led or a trump. If such a bet is conceded, it is customary to say "gut bei Farbe" meaning that the bet is conceded provided that the bettor shows that he can follow suit or trump with his last card. Note that a player is allowed to bluff by betting in the fifth trick with a card that cannot win the trick, hoping that the opponents will concede, provided that this card is of the required suit or a trump, however small.

Example 1 - the two teams are North and South playing against East and West.

  • South deals.
  • Trick 1. West leads a card. Before North plays, South bets on the Gleich. East sees South's bet. North plays a card, East plays. South bets on the game, and East sees South's bet. South plays a card and wins the trick. At this point the Spiel and Gleich are worth 2 each and the Hanger is worth 1. North and South cannot bet on the Spiel or Gleich since they bet on them most recently. Anyone can bet on the Hanger.
  • Trick 2. South leads a card. West bets on the Gleich. South sees West's bet. West plays a card. North plays a card. East plays and wins the trick. The Gleich is now worth 3 points. It is North/South's turn to bet on the Gleich and East/West's turn to bet on the Spiel. Anyone can bet on the Hanger.
  • ... and so the play continues

As soon as the Spiel figure is decided the play stops and if the Gleich and Hanger are not both already settled there is a showdown to decide who wins the remaining figures. There are two ways in which the Spiel can be decided before all the cards have been played:

  • when a team concedes the Spiel, either in response to a bet or spontaneously, or
  • when a team has won three tricks. The team's third trick is considered won only when all four cards have been played to it.

The Showdown

When the Spiel figure is decided, the play stops immediately. This often happens in the middle of a trick when a team calls the Spiel good, in which case no more cards are played to that trick.

If either the Gleich or the Hanger or both are still unresolved, these must now be decided by a showdown. This happens in stages, the teams taking alternate turns to show, beginning with the the team that won the Spiel. (The obligation to show first is a disadvantage, which is why a team that has no hope of winning the Spiel will often concede it spontaneously.)

At each stage of the showdown, for each figure that is not yet decided, the showing team must do one of the following:

  1. concede the figure, or
  2. contest the figure, by revealing sufficient additional cards from their hands to show that they have an instance of that figure that is at least as good as either opponent has so far shown, or
  3. bet on the figure (if it is unseen, or it is their turn to bet on this figure having seen the previous bet on it).

If they bet on either figure, the other team must answer each bet as usual (concede by saying it is good, accept by saying that they hold or see it, or make a counter bet, which in turn must be answered). If a bet is seen, the showing team must now either concede the figure or contest it by showing more cards if needed, as in options 1 and 2 above.

When a team has completed its turn to show, if either figure is still being contested it is now the other team's turn to show. They have the same options: to concede contest or bet each figure that is not yet settled.

This continues, with the teams alternately adding more cards until the Gleich and Hanger are settled. Once all figures are resolved, the scores are recorded and the cards are shuffled for the next hand.

Betting during the showdown

During the showdown, members of the showing team can bet. If both the Gleich and the Hanger are unresolved and a member of the showing team bets on one of these figures, the showing team must also concede, contest or bet on the other figure before the other team has to answer the bet.

Example 2

  • At the start of the play North bets on the Gleich and East sees it. At the end of the first trick East/West announce 'das Spiel ist gut', conceding the Spiel point. So now it is North/South's turn to show, since they won the Spiel.
  • Stage 1. South decides to bet on the Hanger. North/South are not allowed to bet on the Gleich at this point: it is not their turn to bet on the Gleich because East has already seen North's bet. However, they must show a Gleich (or concede it for 2 points) before they can require East/West to answer the Hanger bet. So North, who played a 9 to the first trick, shows another 9 beside it. Now East/West have to answer the bet on the Hanger. For example if West sees the Hanger, North/South must show a Hanger (or concede it) to complete their turn to show. On the other hand if East/West concede the Hanger point, North/South's turn to show ends immediately, and it is East/West's turn to show or bet on the Gleich.

During the showdown a bet may as usual be answered with a raise, which in turn must be answered, and players can continue to raise alternately until a bet is conceded or held. If the showing team bets on both the Gleich and the Hanger, the other team must answer both bets before the show can continue.

The opponents of the showing team cannot bet, except by responding with a raise to a bet by the showing team. If the showing team does not bet, the other team must wait to bet until it is their turn to show.

Showing cards to validate bets

At the end of the showdown, before the scores are recorded and the cards thrown in, any player who has bet on or seen a figure must show an example of that figure - at least two equal cards for a Gleich and at least two consecutive cards of a suit for a Hanger. Even if the figure is won by the player's partner, the player who bet or saw a bet must also show an example of the figure, however small. If a player bets or sees a bet but cannot show that figure, the player's team cannot win that figure and suffers a penalty - see scoring below.

Example 3 - continuation of Example 2

  • East/West concede the Hanger and West puts down two Unters to beat North's two 9's. That completes stage 1.
  • Stage 2. Now it is North/South's turn: North contests the Gleich by putting down a third 9.
  • Stage 3. It is East/West's turn and West bets on the Gleich. It looks as though West may have a third Unter, so if North/South believe this and cannot beat three Unters they may call the Gleich good for 2 points. Alternatively they may see it in the hope of winning 3 points if West is bluffing. Either way, before the scoring can be done, East must also show a Gleich - a pair of 7's would be enough - since it was East not West who saw North's first bet. Also South must show a Hanger since he bet on it.

Dealing with ties

If both teams have an equally high Gleich or Hanger, the figure is tied (standing) and neither team scores for it. The German expression is "Der Gleich steht" (the Gleich stands) or "Der Hanger steht". The suits are of equal value, so for example the Gleich would be tied if one player from each team has two Kings and no one has two Aces or three of a kind. The Hanger would be tied if one player has 10-9-8 of hearts and an opponent has 10-9-8 of acorns and no one has a better Hanger - even if either hearts or acorns are trumps.

During the showdown, if the winners of the Spiel leave a figure standing (tied) at the end of their turn to show, they are not allowed to improve this figure in a later turn to show. On the other hand the losers of the Spiel do not have this constraint. They can leave a figure standing and add a card to improve it at their next turn to show.

Example 4

  • After the deal and before the first lead, North/South say the Spiel is good so East/West win the Spiel point and must show first.
  • Stage 1: East puts down the leaf 8 and acorn 8 for the Gleich plus the acorn 7 to make a Hanger in acorns.
  • Stage 2: North shows the 8's of hearts and bells and South shows the Ober and Unter of leaves, so at the moment the Gleich stands and N/S are winning the Hanger.
  • Stage 3: West now shows the heart Ober and Unter and the acorn Ober, so now E/W are winning the Gleich and the Hanger is standing.
  • Stage 4: North shows two Kings and South adds the 10 of leaves. Now N/S are winning both the Gleich and the Hanger. North's Kings are allowed even though N/S left the Gleich standing before because N/S lost the Spiel.
  • Stage 5: East/West are not allowed to improve their Hanger, since they won the Spiel and they left it standing at stage 3. If West has the King of hearts he should have shown it last time - it is now too late. However, West can still put down the bell Ober if he has it to win the Gleich.
showdown

In the above example, in a real game there would almost certainly have been betting during the showdown. For clarity the bets were omitted in the above description and only the cards shown were listed.

Scoring

After all the figures have been resolved, the points scored by each team are recorded. The team which, over several deals, achieves the agreed target score (normally 11 or 15 points) wins the game.

On the scoresheet the target score is written at the top and below it are two columns, one for each team. After each deal, the points scored by each team are recorded. For example suppose E/W bet on the Gleich and N/S saw (held) the bet, E/W bet on the Spiel and N/S called it good (conceded) and in the showdown N/S won the hanger without bets. The the scorer will write 1 in the N/S column for the Hanger and 3 in the E/W column (1 for the Spiel plus 2 for the Gleich).

scoresheet

Traditionally, the scores are not totalled as the game proceeds. The scoresheet to the right shows a game played to a target of 11 points in which after 3 deals the left-hand team has scored 6 points and the right-hand team 5.

If a team has a score that is just one point short of the target - for example 10 points in an 11-point game - a vertical line is drawn through their column of scores: they are said to be "gestrichen" and special rules come into play - see Endgame below. Since it is possible to win several points in a deal, a team can reach the target and win the game without previously having been gestrichen.

In a close game, where both teams could potentially have enough points to reach the target on the final deal, the winners are decided by scoring the figures in the following order:

  1. Points for figures that have been conceded, in the order in which they were called good.
  2. Points for figures that have been bet and held, in the order in which they were first bet on.
  3. Points for unseen figures in the order Gleich, Hanger, Spiel.

Sometimes two or three figures are bet simultaneously. For example in the showdown a team may bet on both the Gleich and the Hanger, or if all three figures are unseen a confident player may bet on them all at once. In such a case the figures are scored as though the bets were in the order Gleich, Hanger, Spiel.

If a player who has bet on or seen the Gleich or Hanger fails to show an example of that figure, the player's team suffers a penalty of 2 points deducted from their score and cannot win that figure. In addition if the other team can show an example of that figure they win the points for it.

The Endgame

A team that is gestrichen, needing just one more point to win, is not allowed to bet on any figure. More generally, if a figure has already been bet and held for a score that would be sufficient for you to reach the target, you cannot bet on that figure.

Example 5
The target for winning the game is 15 points. N/S have 12 points and E/W have 9. E/W bet on the Gleich and N/S see the bet. Later N/S bet on the Spiel and E/W concede. With the point for the Spiel already won, winning the Gleich would be enough to take N/S to a winning total of 15 points. Therefore N/S are not allowed to bet on the Gleich. N/S are however free to bet on the Hanger, which is currently worth only one point (unseen).

In fact, if you are gestrichen, it would rarely be in your interest to bet even if it were allowed. The opponents cannot afford to call your bet good, since that would lose them the game. So the effect of your bet would be to give your opponents more points should they win the figure. Another way to state the above rule is that you are only allowed to bet if the opponents have room to concede without automatically giving you the game.

If both teams are gestrichen (they have 10 points each with a target of 11 or 14 points each with a target of 15) no bets are allowed, and a special rule comes into effect. If any player has a Gleich or Hanger of at least 3 cards the game is won by the best Gleich or Hanger. For this purpose a figure with more cards is always better, so for example a 4-card (viertiges) Hanger is better than a 3-card (dritziges) Gleich. If the figures have equally many cards a Gleich beats a Hanger. If the Hanger stands (for example two opposing players have equal 4-card Hangers, such as U-10-9-8 in different suits) then the best Gleich wins, even if it only has 3 cards.

If both teams are gestrichen and no one has a Gleich or Hanger of more than 2 cards then the cards are played and the team that takes 3 tricks scores the Spiel point wins the game. The same happens if there is a tie - for example two opponents have equal 3-card Hangers and no one has a 3-card Gleich.

It is possible for both sides to become gestrichen during the play. If the Gleich and Hanger are both unseen at this point, the above rule comes into play and a 3-card Gleich or Hanger is needed to win. For example in an 11-point game the score is 10-9 and the team with 9 points bets of the Spiel. If the 10-point team call the Spiel good, the score is 10-10 and no one can bet. The best Gleich or Hanger of at least 3 cards wins the game. If neither side has one or there is a tie, neither team scores and since the Spiel point has already been awarded there must be a new deal with both teams gestrichen.

On the other hand, if at a score of 10-9 in an 11-point game the team with 9 points bets on (say) the Gleich and the 10-point team concedes, the score is 10-10 and the best Hanger will win. A 2-card Hanger is sufficient in this case. If no one has a Hanger or the Hanger stands, then the team that wins 3 tricks wins.

Communication and Signals

Communication between partners is allowed throughout the game by talking and by means of visual signals. Players are not however allowed to show their cards to their partner. Players are under no obligation to tell the truth, and misleading the opponents in order to support a bluff is definitely a part of the game.

All conversation and signals should be in principle observable by the opponents. For example, it would be illegal to take your partner aside for a discussion out of earshot of the opponents.

It is usual to agree a system of visual signals representing particular cards or states of play. This system and the meanings of your signals do not have to be disclosed to the opponents. However, because players do not always play with the same partner, it is useful to have a commonly understood range of signals that can be used without needing an extensive discussion before the game.

In his book Hubert Auer gives the following system for showing cards:

  • trumps: thumb for the ace, index finger for the king, etc.
  • small trumps: little finger
  • Gleich: extend the mouth from side to side
  • Hanger: distort the mouth upwards towards one eye

but other signals may be used, for example to indicate suits (look up for leaves, down for acorns, indicate your heart for hearts, puff up your cheek for bells), or to show a bad hand (shake head).

Notes on Basic Tactics

It is rare for a whole deal to go by without any betting. The most advantageous time to bet is generally just before you or your partner play a card - at any other time it pays to wait and see what the opponents will do next. When it is your turn to play, don't overlook the possibility that it may be worth betting on something before showing your card.

It can be advantageous to concede the Spiel if you think your team is unlikely to win it. This forces the other team to begin the showdown and you have the advantage of seeing some of their cards before showing (or betting on) your own.

Beginners are often tempted to give more information than is necessary through conversation and signals. It is better only to give the information that your partner really needs. In particular, a player with a strong hand should usually not signal his cards, but ask his partner for any information he needs and take charge of the play. You should also bear in mind the possibility of occasionally lying or giving a false signal, to support a later bluff or to keep the opponents in some uncertainty about the real situation. It can be profitable to feign a poor hand when you have a good one, tempting the opponents to bet so that you can raise.

Variations

It has already been mentioned that the target score can vary according to what the players agree in advance. It is usual to play to either 11 or 15 points.

In the early 19th century some Giltspiel players had the idea of making the game more challenging by designating one or more cards as wild cards, which could be used to represent any needed card. For example a recently discovered manuscript describes 'Giltspiel mit 3 Perlique', the wild cards or 'Perlique' being the 7, Unter and Ober of trumps, which can be transformed into any desired card at the moment when they are played. The number of wild cards was gradually increased, and the game with wild cards became known as Perlaggen, which will be described on a separate page.