Perlaggen

With thanks to Hubert Auer for introducing me to the game and the players of the Imster Perlaggengilde in Tarrenz.

Introduction

Perlaggen first appeared in the Tyrol in the early 19th century. The first comprehensive account of the rules was published in 1853, and the basic principles have remained the same to the present day. Now as then, there are many slight variations from region to region and even from village to village, but experienced players find it relatively easy to adapt to the local rules and there have been several matches between players from different parts of the Tyrol, for example between Imster Perlaggengilde and various Perlaggen clubs in South Tyrol.

Like its simpler ancestor Giltspiel, Perlaggen is usually played by four players in partnerships who are dealt five cards each. Points are scored for each of the three 'figures': for having the best set of equal cards (Gleich), for having the best sequence in a suit (Hanger) and for winning the majority of the tricks (Spiel). Players may attempt to increase the score for each of these figures during the play and the opponents may accept the increase or concede. The difference from Giltspiel is that there are several wild cards, known as Perlaggen, which may be used to represent any card that the player desires. This greatly increases the possibilities for making combinations and the complexity of the game. Each Perlagg is 'baptised' (getauft) at the moment when it is played: the player announces what card it represents and this remains fixed for the rest of the deal.

Discussions and signalling between partners are allowed, and in Perlaggen these communications are a major part of the game. They concern not only what card to play and whether to propose or accept an increase in the score for a figure but also how best to deploy any wild cards the players may hold. The play of the cards is frequently paused while players confer over their next move. Because of this Perlaggen has been aptly described by one observer as "not so much a card game as a tactical discussion facilitated by playing-cards".

In March 2016 Perlaggen was recognised by UNESCO as in item of Intangible Cultural Heritage for the Tyrol.

There are two main styles of Perlaggen, the chief difference between them being the set of cards that are wild. The Innsbruck style, known in dialect as 'innspruggerisch', is so called because it is based on the rules agreed at the large Parlaggen Congress in Innsbruck in 1890, and subsequently published in "Das Perlaggen - ein heimisches Kartenspiel" (Bolzano, 1926). This is the form of the game most usually played in South Tyrol. Because it is the most widespread style it will be described first. The other main style is known as Eichelperlaggen (acorn Perlaggen) because three cards of the acorn suit are permanent wild cards. This is played in and around Imst in the North Tyrol, as well as in a few places in South Tyrol.

In his book Watten, Bieten & Perlaggen Hubert Auer has described both styles and some variants. The book Perlaggen in Südtirol mit Watten & Bieten, edited by Josef Plankensteiner and the Förderkreis Perlaggen Südtirol describes the Innsbruck style in detail.

Innsbruck Style

Players and Cards

The best game is for four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite. There are two-player and six-player versions of the game, and it is possible, though much less satisfactory, for three people to play. The deal and play are clockwise.

A 33-card German suited pack is used. The suits are bells (Schell), acorns (Eichel), hearts (Herz) and leaves (Laub). In South Tyrol Perlaggen is played with single-headed Salzburger pattern cards, while in North Tyrol most players use the double-headed William Tell pattern.

The cards in each suit rank from high to low: Ace (Ass, Sau), King (König), Ober, Unter, Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven. The 33rd card is the Six of bells, which is inscribed with its name 'WELI', and is decorated with an acorn a heart as well as the bells, to emphasise its function as a wild card.

There are four permanent wild cards (Perlaggen). These are

  1. The King of hearts, known as Martl
  2. The Six of bells, known as the Weli, or the geschriebene Weli (Weli with writing)
  3. The Seven of bells, known as Schell-Spitz, or sometimes the kleine Weli (small Weli)
  4. The Seven of acorns, known as Eichel-Spitz

In addition there are two or three further wild cards (Perlaggen) taken from the suit that is trumps. These are

  1. The Trump Seven, if hearts or leaves are trumps
  2. The Trump Unter
  3. The Trump Ober

When any of these six or seven wild cards is played, the player should baptise it by stating what rank and suit it represents. If the player fails to baptise it, the card reverts to its face value. For example if someone plays the Eichel-Spitz and says nothing, it counts as an ordinary Seven of acorns.

Cards that are not Perlaggen will be referred to as natural cards.

A Perlagg can be baptised as any card in the pack, even as a card that a player already holds or a card that is already on the table. If several Perlaggen are played to the same trick and baptised to represent the same card, then for the purpose of deciding who wins the trick they rank as listed above from the Martl (highest) down to the Trump Ober. Any baptised Perlagg ranks higher than the real card that it represents if that is also played to the trick.

Example 1. Suppose that leaves are trumps. Player A leads the Ten of leaves, player B plays the Ace of leaves, player C plays the Unter of leaves and baptises it as an Ace of leaves, and player D plays the Seven of bells and also baptises it as an Ace of leaves. D wins the trick, having played the best Ace of leaves. If D had not played an Ace of trumps C would have won as the Perlagg beats the real Ace of trumps.

Example 2. Leaves are trumps. Player A leads the Ten of leaves. Player B, who is trying to make a set of Obers, plays the King of hearts (Martl) and baptises it as the Ober of leaves. Player C plays the King of leaves. Player D plays the Seven of acorns and baptises it as the King of hearts. Player C wins the trick because the King of leaves is the highest trump played to the trick. Player D could have won the trick if he had used his Perlagg as a King or Ace of leaves, but chose to make it a heart instead, presumably because he needs that card to complete a heart sequence (Hanger).

The Deal

The dealer shuffles the cards and offers them to the right-hand opponent to cut. The opponent lifts the top part of the pack and looks at its bottom card. If it is a permanent Perlagg the cutter shows it to the other players, takes it and looks at the next card. If the next card is another permanent Perlagg, the cutter takes that too and continues taking cards until the bottom card is not a permanent Perlagg.

The dealer then completes the cut and deals clockwise two cards at a time and then three at a time, so that each player has a hand of five cards. If the cutter took any Perlaggen then the dealer deals correspondingly fewer cards to that player. For example if the cutter took one Perlagg, the dealer will deal just one card to the cutter in the first round. A cutter who was lucky enough to find three Perlaggen will receive no cards in the first round of the deal and just two cards in the second round, so as to have a hand of five cards to play with.

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. If a permanent Perlagg is turned up, the trump suit is the nominal suit of the card - for example if the Martl is turned up hearts are trumps and if the Weli is turned up bells are trumps.

If the turned up card is a Perlagg and the dealer has in hand a natural card of the trump suit - i.e. a card that is not a Perlagg - the dealer can take the turned up Perlagg and place the natural card face up on top of the stack as a trump suit indicator in exchange. If the dealer has no natural trump to exchange for a turned up Perlagg, the dealer's partner can exchange in the same way. If neither member of the dealer's team exchanges, the turned up Perlagg remains in place and is out of play. Note that players are not allowed to exchange a lower Perlagg for a higher one. For example a player who holds the Ober of hearts is not allowed to exchange it for the Seven or King of hearts if either of these is turned up. The dealer's opponents are not allowed to exchange a card for a turned up Perlagg.

The Play

The player to dealer's left leads to the first trick, but should not be in too much of a hurry to do so. Before leading it may be wise to get some information about partner's hand, and possibly to bet on one or more of the figures - see below. Also if a Perlagg was turned up the first player must allow time for the dealer's team to exchange it if they can.

Any card may be led. 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. If several equally high cards are played to a trick, some of them represented by Perlaggen, the highest of these Perlaggen beats the other equal cards. This most often happens when one or more Perlaggen are baptised as Aces of trumps. 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.

At the end of each trick some players like to push the winning card slightly forward - towards the centre of the table - to make it clearer which player has won each trick.

Since Perlaggen are wild, they can be played to any trick, but a player is never forced to play a Perlagg to a trick unless holding no natural cards. When playing a Perlagg the player should announce the rank and suit that it represents, and this remains fixed until the next deal. If a Perlagg is led to a trick, the suit it is baptised as determines the suit that must be followed. For example if a Perlagg is led and baptised as a trump, the other players must play trumps if they have them.

There is one restriction: a player who holds a natural card of the suit that was led but chooses to play a Perlagg instead must baptise the Perlagg as a card of the suit led or as a trump. It cannot be baptised as a non-trump of a different suit from the lead. For example if bells are trump, the Ace of bells is led and you hold the King of bells, but choose to play your Seven of acorns (Perlagg), you must baptise it as a bell, not as some other suit. In practice this restriction rarely prevents players from using their Perlaggen as they wish.

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), any 4 of a kind (viertiges Gleich) beats any 3 of a kind, and a 5 of a kind (fünftiges Gleich), which can of course only be made with the help of Perlaggen, beats any 4 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 sets as their best Gleich (for example each has three Kings) it is a tie - "Der Gleich steht" (the Gleich stands) - and neither side gets the point. When comparing Gleichs, Perlaggen rank as equal to the cards they represent - for example any set of three Kings is equal to any other set of three Kings, no matter how many or which Perlaggen are included.
  • 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. As with the Gleich, a baptised Perlagg is a Hanger is exactly equal in value to the natural card it represents.
  • Spiel. The team which wins three of the five tricks wins the point for Spiel. As soon as a team has won three tricks the play stops and if necessary there is a show to determine who has won the Gleich and Hanger. ["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. Note, however, that a Perlagg can only be baptised once, so if it is to be used both in a Gleich and in a Hanger it must represent the same card in each.

Betting

Each figure is initially worth one point, but this can be increased by betting. A figure that has not yet been 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 (normally 18 points). 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 show 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. The best Gleich or Hanger need not be held by the player who made or the saw bet: the figure could be won by one of the other two players on behalf of their team. 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 a bet is conceded, the betting team wins the figure provided that the bettor can produce an example of that figure, even if a member of the conceding team in fact turns out to have a better figure of that type.

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 or a Perlagg. 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 or a Perlagg. Note also that a player who bets on the Spiel during the fifth trick with a Perlagg is not thereby constrained to baptise this Perlagg as a trump or a card of the suit led: it can be baptised as any card that the player chooses.

Example 3 - 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 Show

When the Spiel figure is decided, the play stops immediately. This can happen in the middle of a trick if a team calls the Spiel good at that point, in which case no more cards are played to that trick.

If 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 show, 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 (only if it is unseen, or if it is their turn to bet on this figure having seen the previous bet on it).

In case 2, if a Perlagg is revealed it must be baptised at that point, fixing the card that it represents.

If the showing team bets 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 on 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 show

During the show, 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 4

  • 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. If West (for example) 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. A bet can be validated by showing a Perlagg from hand and baptising it appropriately. However, it is tactically better if a player making or holding the bet has a natural Gleich or Hanger ("Gleich in natur", "Hanger in natur") so that the team remains free to use their Perlaggen as they wish. If a player bets or sees a bet but cannot show an example of that figure, the player's team suffers a penalty - see scoring below.

Example 5 - continuation of Example 4

  • 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 the 7 of bells (Perlagg) and baptising it as a 9.
  • Stage 3. It is East/West's turn and West bets on the Gleich. It looks as though West probably has a Perlagg or 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". For the purposes of Gleich and Hanger the suits are of equal value, and the Perlaggen are equal to the cards they represent, so for example the Gleich would be tied if a player from one team has three natural Kings, a player from the opposing team has a King and two Perlaggen baptised as Kings, and no one has three Aces or four 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 show, 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 6

  • 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 10 and heart 10 for the Gleich and adds the leaf 9 to make a Hanger in leaves.
  • Stage 2: North shows the 10's of acorns and bells and South shows the Ober and Unter of acorns, so at the moment the Gleich stands and N/S are winning the Hanger.
  • Stage 3: West now shows the heart Ober and Unter, so the Hanger is standing. East shows the 7 of leaves, which is a Perlagg since leaves are trumps, and baptises it as the 10 of leaves, so now E/W are winning the Gleich with three tens.
  • Stage 4: South adds the King of acorns, so that N/S win the Hanger. North adds the Weli and baptises it as another 10 of leaves so that the Gleich is standing again. Because N/S lost the Spiel they are allowed to improve their Gleich even though they left it standing before.
  • Stage 5: West produces two more Perlaggen: the King of hearts and the 7 of acorns. These cannot be baptised as the Ace and King of hearts to win the Hanger: E/W left the Hanger satnding last time and since they won the Spiel they are not allowed to improve their Hanger. Therefore West baptises both Perlaggen as Obers of leaves so that E/W are now winning the Gleich.
  • Stage 6: N/S have already won the Hanger. If North has a second Perlagg he can baptise it as yet another 10. In that case N/S will win the Gleich as well with North's four 10's, unless East has the Ober of leaves or East or West has another Perlagg.
showdown

In the above example, in a real game there would almost certainly have been betting during the show. For clarity the bets were omitted in the above description.

Based on the cards shown above, by using their Perlaggen differently E/W could have won the Hanger and left the Gleich standing rather than winning the Gleich and losing the Hanger. Which would have worked out better depends on the final values of the Gleich and Hanger, as deteremined by the betting.

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 (in South Tyrol normally 18 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 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 18 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 17 points in an 18-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 incurs a penalty of 2 points deducted from their score and cannot score any points in that deal. 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 a team to reach the target, that team cannot bet on that figure.

Example 7
The target for winning the game is 18 points. N/S have 15 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, the 2 points for the Gleich would be enough to take N/S to a winning total of 18 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 only 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 17 points each with a target of 18) 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, and similarly if the Gleich stands the best Hanger wins.

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 18-point game the score is 17-16 and the team with 16 points bets of the Spiel. If the 17-point team call the Spiel good, the score is 17-17 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 17-16 in an 18-point game the team with 16 points bets on (say) the Gleich and the 17-point team concedes, the score is 17-17 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 an important 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. The books by Auer and Plankensteiner mentioned in the introduction give examples of commonly used signals, as set out below, but their systems differ in some respects. Since there is no univerally agreed code, some prior discussion of signals is advisable if playing with a new partner or with an unfamiliar group of players.

Meaning Signal (Auer) Signal (Plankensteiner)
Martl (King of hearts) Look upward Look upward
Weli Form kiss or show tip of tongue Form lips into kiss
Seven of bells Blink with right eye Raise right shoulder
Seven of acorns Blink with right eye Raise left shoulder
Trump Perlaggen Blink with left eye (once for each) Blink (once for each)
Ace of trumps Tap table with middle finger to indicate
how many ordinary trumps
Stretch out thumb
Small trumps Inconspicuous drumming with fingers
No trumps or Perlaggen Gentle shake of head Shake head or wrinkle nose
Four-card or better Gleich Pass hand from right corner of mouth to right ear Move head to the right
Four-card or better Hanger Pass hand from left corner of mouth to left ear Nod head

Playerrs may start signalling as soon as the first cards are dealt. Visual signals are obviously best given when one's partner is paying attention and the opponents are not looking. On the other hand it is entirely legal to signal a card that you don't have in order to mislead the opponents if they are watching you, though of course this also risks misleading partner.

Players may also ask each other questions, which can be associated with signals (such as "do you have?" combined with the signal for the desired card). Players may also discuss what card to play, whether to bet, how to react to a bet and so on.

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.

In the play it is usually best to save Perlaggen for the later tricks, keeping the flexibility to deploy them as necessary to help win whatever figure is most valuable.

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

If a the opponents bet on the Gleich or Hanger early in the play, it is often worthwhile to hold the bet even if you do not expect to be able to win the figure. For example, if they bet on the Gleich and you hold, they may need to devote some of their Perlaggen to winning the Gleich, meanwhile allowing you to win the Hanger and maybe the Spiel. If you had conceded the Gleich, they would only have needed to show a small natural Gleich (such as a pair of 8's) to collect the point, leaving them free to deploy their Perlaggen to help them win the Spiel and Hanger.

Beginners are often tempted to give more information than is necessary through conversation and signals. It is better only to give the information that partner really needs. In particular, a player with a strong hand should usually not signal cards, but instead ask the weaker partner for information and then take charge of the play. Players 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.

Often it will be important to find out whether partner has a natural Gleich or Hanger in order to bet on this figure without committing the team to use its Perlaggen to validate the bet should the other team surrender.

Eichelperlaggen

This game differs from the "Innsbruck" version in that there are five permanent Perlaggen rather than four. The 7, Unter and Ober of acorns (eichel) are always wild, and acorns cannot be trumps. This version is played in the district of Imst, west of Innsbruck, and in some places in South Tyrol.

There are always eight Perlaggen, ranking from high to low as follows:

  1. The King of hearts, known as Martl
  2. The Six of bells, known as the Weli
  3. The Trump Seven, known as the Spitz
  4. The Trump Unter
  5. The Trump Ober
  6. The Seven of acorns
  7. The Unter of acorns
  8. The Ober of acorns

Note that in this style the Seven of bells is a Perlagg only if bells are trumps.

The basic structure of the game - the play, betting and scoring are the same as in the Innsbruck style. There are a few differences affecting the determination of trumps at the start of the game, the endgame and the signalling, which will be explained below.

The Deal

As usual the dealer shuffles, the player to the right cuts, keeping any permanent Perlaggen found, and the dealer deals so that each player has five cards. The dealer then turns the next card face up. If it is not an acorn, the suit of the turned up card is trumps. If the turned up card is an acorn, the dealer turns up another card, and continues to turn up cards until a non-acorn is found. As usual the trump is placed face up on top of the undealt part of the deck, and any acorns that were exposed in the process are placed alongside. There are now the following exchange possibilities.

  1. As usual if the turned up trump card is a Perlagg and the dealer has a natural card of the trump suit, the dealer can exchange this for the turned up card. If the dealer has no natural trump the dealer's partner may exchange. As usual a natural heart can be exchanged for the Martl or a natural bell for the Weli.
  2. If the turned up trump is a Perlagg and neither the dealer not the dealer's partner has a natural card of this suit, but the dealer has an acorn Perlagg (the 7, Unter or Ober), the dealer can "upgrade" this Perlagg by exchanging it for the turned up trump. If the dealer has no acorn Perlagg, the right to upgrade passes to dealer's partner.
  3. If any acorn Perlaggen were exposed during the trump making process or were upgraded and the dealer has any natural acorns, these can be exchanged for the exposed acorn Perlaggen. If after this any acorn Perlaggen remain and dealer has no more natural acorns, the right to exchange natural acorns for acorn Perlaggen passes to dealer's partner.

Variant. In Imst and Tarrenz, if any Perlaggen remain after the dealer's team have exhausted their exchange and upgrade possibilities, the right to exchange or upgrade passes to dealer's left-hand opponent, and then to the right-hand opponent. In other places the dealer's opponents are not allowed to exchange or upgrade.

Signals

The extra Perlaggen require a different system of visual signals. In his book, Hubert Auer gives the following:

Meaning Signal
Martl (King of hearts) Look upward
Weli Form kiss
Seven of trumps Show the tip of the tongue
Unter, Ober of trumps Blink with right eye (once for each)
Acorn Perlaggen Blink with left eye (once for each)
Ace of trumps Stretch out thumb
King of trumps Stretch out index finger
Small trumps Drum the table inconspicuously with the other three fingers
No trumps or Perlaggen Gentle shake of head, widen eyes
Four-card or better Gleich Raise right shoulder or move head to right
Four-card or better Hanger Raise left shoulder or move head to left

Scoring and Endgame

The game is usually played to a target score of 15 points - sometimes 11.

When both teams are gestrichen - for example a score of 14:14 in a 15-point game - a Gleich or Hanger of at least four cards is needed to win. If no one can make a Gleich or Hanger of more than three cards, the Spiel decides.

Two, Three or Six Players

It is possible for two people to play Perlaggen under essentially the same rules as the four-player game. Although the important element of communication between partners is lost, the other features of the game - the play of the cards, the betting and bluffing and the deployment of wild cards remain.

Perlaggen can also be played by six people, forming two opposing teams of three, with each player sitting between two opponents.

A three-player game with each player playing for themselves is also possible but not very satisfactory.

Variations

There are numerous variations of Perlaggen. The complexity of the game and the variety of local interpretations of the rules have led to many discussions. The word Perlaggerstreit was coined for an argument about Perlaggen, and became the title of a long running series of articles in the Bolzano newspaper Dolomiten in which rulings were given on rules disputes submitted by readers. Writers on Perlaggen are fond of quoting the proverb "Gottes Wort und Perlaggerstreit währen fort in Ewigkeit" (The word of God and arguments about Perlaggen continue for eternity).

Some variants relate only to the target score, which can vary from 11 to 24 points. Some relate to the intricate detail of the rules for the show and the endgame.

In some places, after turning up a card to determine the trump suit, the dealer must show the other players the top and bottom cards of the remaining pack of undealt cards. This is simply so that everyone knows that these two cards, known as "Luck und Boden" are out of play. After they have been shown they are replaced on the top and botoom of the deck and cannot be looked at again until the play and show are finished.

Some versions have different selections of cards used as Perlaggen or different ranking among these.

  • The version of Eichelperlaggen played at the Schlanders Perlaggen Club and described on their website uses a 32-card pack without the Weli, whose place as the second highest Perlagg is taken over by the 8 of acorns. Also the ranking as Perlaggen of the Ober and Unter in both trumps and acorns is reversed, the Ober outranking the Unter in each case. The target score is 24 points.
  • In Deutschnofen in South Tyrol they play to 18 points with 33 cards, the 6 of bells here being called 'Welli'. There are 10 Perlaggen, in descending order: Welli, King of hearts, King of bells, 7 of hearts, 7 of bells, 7 of leaves, 7 of acorns, trump King, trump Ober, trump Unter. The signals are: Welli - kiss; King of hearts or bells - look up; 7 of hearts or bells - right blink; 7 of leaves or acorns - left blink; trump Perlaggen - shrug; bad cards - shake head or wrinkle nose.

In historical accounts, there is considerable variation in the cards used as Perlaggen while the mechanics of the game remain fairly contant. It is clear that the evolution of Perlaggen from its ancestor Giltspiel consisted largely of the gradual introduction of extra wild cards, because it was found that the choice of how to deploy these led to more interesting tactical decisions.

A recently discovered 19th century manuscript describes 'Giltspiel mit 3 Perlique' in which the only wild cards or 'Perlique' were the 7, Ober and Unter of trumps. The 1853 book Das Tiroler National- oder Perlagg- Spiel mentions several regional variants. The most widespread version is said to use four Perlaggen, the King, Seven, Ober and Unter of the trump suit, in that order. But in some places there was only a single permanent Perlagg, either the Seven of bells ("Schello bello") or the King of hearts ("Radetzky"). In other places this permanent Perlagg was followed by the Seven, Ober and Unter of trumps. The author says that in some places they used as many as seven Perlaggen, but does not specify which cards these were.