The Schafkopf group of card games is a family of mostly German trick-taking games played by three or more players with a pack of 32 or sometimes 24 cards. The most typical variants are for four players in varying partnerships and have the four Jacks and sometimes some or all Queens as the highest trumps. Less typical games in this family include Skat and Doppelkopf. Schafkopf was first recorded in 1811, but in so many variants that it must date back into the 18th century. Modern variants besides Skat and Doppelkopf are still played in Germany (Bavaria, Palatinate), the United States (as Sheepshead, especially in Wisconsin), and in Denmark and on the Faroe Islands (as Sjavs/Sjavsur).
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Many Schafkopf games are played with the 32 cards of a piquet pack consisting of Ace, King, Queen, Jack, Ten, 9, 8, 7 in each of the four well known French suits. In some cases a shorter pack of 24 cards is used, dropping the 8s and 7s. Some games are also, or even exclusively, played with an equivalent German-style pack. In German-style cards there are two kinds of knaves that are distinguished by the position of the suit mark: "Upper" knaves (Ober) correspond to Queens, and "Lower" knaves (Unter) correspond to Jacks. The German suits correspond to French suits as follows: acorns = clubs, leaves = spades, hearts = hearts, bells = diamonds. For simplicity, this article will describe the games in terms of French-style cards throughout.
The cards carry values as shown in the table, for a total of 120 card points. It can be observed that the 12 low cards have no point value at all, while 84 of the game's 120 card points are concentrated in the 8 high cards. Only the 12 court cards have point values close to the average.
Depending on the game variant and sometimes the contract, a certain number of Queens or Jacks form the highest trumps and are considered full members of the trump suit. For this purpose the suits always rank clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds. E.g. if hearts are trumps and the Jacks are the highest trumps, the Jack of clubs is the highest-ranking member of the hearts suit and not a member of the clubs suit.
All games are played clockwise, and in the more typical games of this family all cards are distributed to the players. The players often form two parties, based on an auction and/or the ownership of certain cards. The party of the player who won the auction is known as "the players", the opposing players are known as "the opponents". To win, the players normally need to collect more than half of the card points in tricks, i.e. at least 61 points. The opponents win if they collect 60 points or more. If the opponents win less than 30 points, the players win schneider. If the players win all tricks, they win schwarz.
Regardless of who won the auction, the player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. As in Skat or Whist, players must follow suit if possible but are otherwise unrestricted in what they can play. If the trick contains trumps, it is won by the player who played the highest trump; otherwise it is won by the player who played the highest card of the suit led. The player who wins a trick leads to the next trick.
An early four-player Schafkopf game that is no longer popular is known as German Schafkopf. It is played by four players in fixed partnerships, using a pack of 32 cards. In this game all Jacks, but not the Queens, are the highest trumps. Once all cards have been distributed, the player who holds the Jack of clubs gets to choose the trump suit and forms a partnership with the player sitting opposite.
Like most Schafkopf games, this one has numerous variants. In one variant each player announces how many trumps they would have if they could choose trumps – provided the number is at least five. The player who announces the greatest number chooses the trump suit. If the players lose, the game is counted twice. In another variant the Jacks and black Queens are the highest trumps. In yet another variant diamonds are always trumps.
This variant is still popular in Erfweiler (Palatinate), although German Schafkopf is otherwise unknown in the area. The 32 French-style cards are dealt in batches of two or four. Bidding is restricted to those players who have at least one Jack, and a player may announce a number as low as two. (Starting from the player to the dealer's left, the first player who has a Jack must bid.) The player who bids the greatest number gets to choose the trump suit. A player can also bid a major solo or a minor solo, which rank higher than normal partner play with any number of trumps. In either case the soloist's partner does not participate in the play and the soloist must win all tricks. In the case of a minor solo the soloist and the soloist's partner each passes one card to the other – openly in case it is a Jack. As a special case, a player who holds all four Jacks can choose (only) between playing a major solo and a redeal.
In any case the four Jacks are the highest trumps. In addition to the standard trick-playing rules, a player who cannot follow suit must play trump if possible. If a trick contains a Jack, a higher Jack must be played if possible according to the other rules.
Scoring is peculiar. After each play a certain number of points are scored, and the first party to score 20 wins the game. In the first play the party that holds the Jack of clubs is privileged. In all subsequent plays the party that won the previous play is privileged. The privileged party wins a partnership play with 42 or more card points, i.e. the non-privileged party needs 79 points or more to win. In any case a party scores 1 point for winning partner play, 2 points for winning schneider or 3 points for winning schwarz. A minor or major solo scores 8 or 12 points, respectively.
This game is popular on the Faroe Islands, which are located in the North Sea between Scotland and Iceland. It is played by four players in fixed partnerships, sitting crosswise.
Starting with the player to the dealer's left, each player must announce how many trumps they would have if they could choose trumps – provided the number is at least five and is more than any number announced before. As a special case, a player who can announce exactly the highest number that has been announced so far must say so if it is in clubs. If no player can announce a number, the same dealer deals again. Otherwise the last player who announced a number determines the trump suit. This player must choose the suit with the greatest number of trumps, and must prefer clubs in case of a tie.
If both parties win 60 card points, the value of the next game is increased by 2 points. Otherwise the party that chose trumps scores 2 points for winning, 4 points for schneider (90 card points or more), or 12 points for schwarz. If the opponents win, they score 4 points. If clubs is trumps the scores for winning or schneider are doubled, and the party that chose trumps scores 16 points for schwarz. The game is for 24 points.
In one variant the party that chose trumps scores 16 points if a single player wins all tricks, or 24 points in the case of clubs. In another variant the opponents win 4 points for schneider or 12 points for schwarz, increased to 8 or 16 points, respectively, if clubs are trumps.
The following game appears to be played locally in Illinois. Apart from the fact that it is played with a pack of 24 cards, it seems to be situated about half way between German Schafkopf and Wendish Schafkopf / Sheepshead as these games are described here. Diamonds is trumps, and the Jacks and the black Queens are the highest trumps. The players who hold the black Queens are partners against the party consisting of the opponent players. A player who happens to hold both black Queens can choose between a solo and calling an Ace of a non-trump suit. (See Sheepshead or Bavarian Schafkopf.)
Any time before the second trick starts, a player in the party that holds the black Queens may announce schwarz by knocking on the table. An opponent who expects to win a trick may respond by knocking as well.
Scoring is somewhat untypical. If the two players holding the black Queens win, they score 2 points, or 4 for schneider (91 points or more), or 6 for schwarz. The amounts are tripled for a winning soloist. If the opponents win by winning exactly 60 card points, they score 2 points. If they win at least 61 card points they score 4 points, and if they win schneider (91 points or more), they score 6 points. For a party of three opponents who win against a soloist the respective scores are 4, 6 or 12 points.
If the players knocked, they must win schwarz for a score of 12 points; if the opponents win a trick they score 12 points. These scores are doubled if the opponents knocked as well. A soloist who knocked scores 30 points if winning schwarz; if the three opponents win a trick they score 30 points. The game is played for 30 points.
This four-player game is named after the Wends, a historical term that refers generally to all Slavs living in close contact with Germans. All 32 cards are dealt in batches of four. The Jacks and Queens are the highest trumps. Clockwise starting with the player to the dealer's left, the players get the chance to play a solo against the three opposing players and choose the trump suit. If no player wishes to play a solo, diamonds are trumps and the players who hold the highest trumps (Q♣ and Q♠) play together against the two opposing players. A single player who happens to hold the two highest trumps usually announces the fact and forms a partnership with the first other player who wins a trick. Alternatively, the player may keep the fact secret and play a quiet solo against the other three. The base value of a play is 1 point if two play against two, 2 points if a soloist wins or 3 points if a soloist loses. The base value is doubled or tripled in case of schneider or schwarz.
A three-player variant is known as Dreiwendsch and seems to be closely related to Skat. Each player receives ten cards; two cards face down in the middle of the table form the skat. Starting with the player to the dealer's left, the players get the chance to take up the skat, discard two cards face down, choose the trump suit and play a solo against the two opposing players. In a variant, the player who holds the Queen of clubs must play the solo. If no soloist is found, the cards are dealt again.
In the United States, Schafkopf is known as Sheepshead and typically played by three to five players. It appears that the most popular variants are for three or five players and are closely related to Dreiwendsch, the three-player variant of Wendish Schafskopf.
The game is played with a pack of 32 cards. Diamonds are trumps, and the Queens and Jacks are the highest trumps. Most cards are dealt to the players in batches of two or three. A widow of two cards (four cards in case of four players) is dealt face down to the middle of the table in between batches. Starting to the dealer's left, players get the chance to pick up the widow, discard the same number of cards face down, and play as a soloist (three or four players) or with a single partner (five players). The partner in the five-player game is determined either as the player who holds the Jack of diamonds or by calling a specific ace as in Bavarian Schafkopf.
Any card points in the discard are counted along with the tricks won by the party of the player who picked up the widow. This party scores 1 point for winning, 2 points for schneider or 3 points for schwarz. If the other party wins, they score 2 points for winning, 4 points for schneider or 6 points for schwarz.
If no player picks up the widow, depending on the variant played deal passes on, there is a redeal with double stakes, or a version of ramsch is played.
This four-player game is similar to Wendish Schafkopf and Sheepshead and is probably related to Avinas. Diamonds are always trumps, and the Queens and Jacks together with the 7 of diamonds (the spitzer) form the nine highest trumps. The 7 of diamonds is the second highest trump, ranking between the Queen of clubs and the Queen of spades. The game is popular in an area in Michigan.
Once all cards have been dealt, each player in turn gets the chance to announce a solo. A soloist may also announce schneider or schwarz. If no solo was announced, the players who hold the black Queens play together against the other two. A player who happens to hold both black Queens may, instead of announcing a solo, call for a partner. The normal method is by calling for an Ace in a suit other than diamonds. If possible this must be a suit in which the player holds at least one card. A player who holds all three plain suit Aces in addition to the black Queens may instead call for the winner of the first trick that the player does not win themselves. Instead of calling for a partner or announcing a solo, a player who holds both black Queens may also play a quiet solo.
All scores are divisible by 3, but in the following description they have been divided by 3 for simplicity. After normal partnership play a party scores 1 point for winning, 2 points for schneider or 3 points for schwarz. There is a bonus of 1 point for winning against the black Queens or the quiet soloist, or a bonus of 2 points for winning a quiet solo. An announced solo is worth 6, 9 (schneider) or 12 (schwarz) points if won, and 3, 4 (schneider) or 5 (schwarz) points if lost. A solo with schneider announced scores 12 points if won schneider, and 13 points if won schwarz. A solo with schwarz announced scores 14 points if won. If the opposing players prevent an announced schneider or schwarz, they win 6 or 9 points, respectively, and even more if they actually win the play, or win it schneider or schwarz. The game is played for 14 points.
Avinas is a Lithuanian game for four players in fixed partnerships, sitting crosswise. It seems to be based on Schafskopf but has a number of peculiar features. The Queens and Jacks together with the 7 of trumps form the nine highest trumps. The 7 of trumps is the second highest trump, ranking between the Queen of clubs and the Queen of spades.
The 32 cards are dealt in batches of four. The dealer exposes the top card of each batch dealt to an opposing players and also looks at the top card of each batch dealt to the dealer's party, exposing it in case it is a 7. The last 7 that has been exposed determines the trump suit. If no 7 has been exposed there is an auction for trumps similar to that in German Schafkopf. Starting with the player to the dealer's left, each player passes or announces how many trumps they could have if they could choose the trump suit. The player who announced the greatest number chooses the trump suit.
The player who holds the exposed 7 that determined the trump suit, or the player who chose trumps, is considered to be the declarer. Declarer always leads to the first trick, and must lead a trump. The winner of the first trick must also lead a trump to the second trick. If this is impossible, the player leads any non-trump and can choose to do so face down and try to pass non-verbal information to their partner. The other players must follow suit as if the card led was a trump. The highest trump played wins the trick. The remaining tricks are played normally.
The word "Schafkopf" without further qualification usually refers to Bavarian Schafkopf, which is the most popular card game in the German state of Bavaria. It may have started as a variant of Wendish Schafkopf which found its way from Erzgebirge or Thuringian Forest to Bavaria in the early 19th century. The official Laws of Schafkopf were adopted by the Bayerischer Schafkopf-Verein at the First Bavarian Schafkopf Congress in 1989. They are based on rules that were printed in 1895. In Bavaria the game is played with German-style cards. According to the official rules, the game is played with 32 cards, dealt in batches of four.
There are three basic modes of play. In partner play, hearts are trumps and the eight Jacks and Queens form the highest trumps. A player who won the auction can recruit a partner by calling a specific Ace. The owner of that Ace is subject to certain restrictions when playing cards of that suit. Wenz is a solo game in which only the four Jacks are trumps, similar to grand in Skat. Suit solo is a solo play in which the soloist chooses the trump suit and the Jacks and Queens from the highest trumps.
In the auction, the highest contract is Sie – a rare play that can only be played by a player whose hand consists of the eight Jacks and Queens, and which is automatically won. Suit solo tout is suit solo with an undertaking to win all tricks. Wenz tout is wenz with an undertaking to win all tricks. The hierarchy of plays continues with suit solo, wenz and partner play. In case of a tie the player to the left of the dealer takes precedence over the following player etc. The right to choose the contract is auctioned in a way that attempts to minimize the flow of information. If no player bids, then according to the official rules the cards are thrown together and the deal passes to the next player.
Before the second card has been played, an opposing player may double the value of a game by calling contra. The playing party may immediately double once more by calling re.
Variations and extensions
There are numerous variations of the basic rules. In some regions the game is played with 24 cards, dealt in batches of three. In the Palatinate, which was part of Bavaria from 1816 till 1946, Bavarian Schafkopf is played with 32 French-style cards.
Geier and geier tout are like wenz and wenz tout, except that the Queens rather than the Jacks are the only trumps. Occasionally one also permits variants in which the Kings or the Tens are the only trumps. Sometimes the basic suit solo play can be combined with wenz into suit wenz, i.e. the soloist can choose a trump suit and the four Jacks are the highest trumps. Suit geier is formed similarly.
As in Skat, if no player bids it is customary to play ramsch, a negative game in which all players are on their own. Trumps are as in partner play: All Queens, all Jacks, and diamonds. The player who accumulates the greatest number of card points in tricks loses. The value of the game is doubled or quadrupled if one or two players do not win a single trick. But as a special exception, a player who wins all tricks wins the play. In other variants, instead of a ramsch the player who holds the Queen of clubs may have to announce a play, or a partner play is played in which players sitting opposite form a partnership.
Also as in Skat, players may have the option to announce a nullo. In this play there are no trumps and the Tens rank between Jacks and Nines. The soloist must not win a single trick.
In the case of five players the dealer pauses. In the case of three players one always plays with 24 cards and there are no partnership plays.
- Queens and/or Jacks may form the highest trumps regardless of their natural suit. In this case they rank above the Ace of trumps.
- These cards are not included in a pack of 24 cards.
- Tie-breakers: The sum of all card-point values in trumps, or as a last resort the ranking of suits: clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds.
- Tie-breaker: The rank of the lowest prospective trump.
- As in Bavarian Schafkopf, so long as the partner holds the ace they are restricted as to what cards they may play in the suit in question.
- This play appears to have arisen as a word game. Tout is sometimes pronounced like Du, the informal German second person singular pronoun. Sie is the formal second person pronoun.
- Tie-breakers: The number of tricks, the number of trumps in the tricks, the highest trump in the tricks.