A picture of four Obers of German cards
|Skill(s) required||Tactics & Strategy|
|Card rank (highest to lowest)||EO, GO, HO, SO
EU, GU, HU, SU
HA H10 HK H9 H8 H7
A 10 K 9 8 7 (first played suit)
|Playing time||20 min.|
|Sheepshead, Skat, Doppelkopf|
Schafkopf, also called Schaffkopf, is a late 18th-century German trick-taking card game most popular in Bavaria, but also played in other parts of Germany as well as other German-speaking countries like Austria. Its modern descendants are Doppelkopf, Skat and the North American game of Sheepshead. Its earliest written reference dates to 1803, although it only came to notice by the polite society of Altenburg in 1811. Today Schafkopf is an important part of the Bavarian culture and way of life.
Explanations of the origin of the name Schafkopf vary. One suggestion is that Schafkopf acquired its name at a time when it was played up to nine points, which were marked with a piece of chalk as nine lines on a board, gradually building up to the stylized representation of a sheep's head (German: Schaf = sheep, Kopf = head). Another is that it comes from "Schaffen" and "Kopf", "to work one's brain." A third theory, from the author Wolfgang Peschel, states that in earlier times the game was generally played on the top (head, Kopf) of wooden beer casks (middle high German: Schaff = cask). To this day, such casks are used as tables at beer stands and beer halls.
Schafkopf is played by four players with 32 cards with the German/Bavarian deck of cards which has four different suits (colors): Eichel (acorn), Gras (grass), Herz (heart) and Schellen (bells)), and eight different values: Ober (officer), Unter (sergeant), Ass/Sau (Ace/Pig), 10, König (King), 9, 8 and 7. In a normal round of Schafkopf all Obers and Unters as well as all heart cards are trumps and two people are playing against the other two. All cards have, independently of their trump status, a point value which is always constant in all game modes: Ober=3, Unter=2, Ace=11, 10=10, King=4 while 9, 8 and 7 have zero value, which gives a total of 120 points. The goal of the game is to have the most points, i.e. at least 61 for the offensive and 60 for the defensive players. Schafkopf has a follow suit/trump rule while hearts are counted as trump, not as suit, as long as its trump status is not changed which is the case in some special game modes (Solo, Wenz). In Germany, Schafkopf is not deemed a gambling game and can therefore be legally played for money. Especially in Bavaria it is normally played for small amounts of money to make it more interesting and the players more focused. Normal rates are 10 Euro cent for normal and 50 for solo games.
Rules of Schafkopf
The rules of Schafkopf were officially constituted by the 1st Bavarian Schafkopf Congress on December 17, 1989 in the Hofbräuhaus in Munich, Germany held by the Bavarian Schafkopf organization Bayerischer Schafkopf-Verein e. V. and then revised in recent years by the Schafkopfschule (School of Schafkopf). Also many local variations and additions exists which can differ from village to village or from pub to pub. Therefore the exact rules used on the table should be agreed on by all players at the very beginning of the game.
In a normal round the cards overtrump each other in the given order (from high to low):
- All Obers in the order Eichel, Gras, Herz and then Schellen
- All Unters in the same order
- All Herz/heart cards in the order of their point value, which is: Ace, 10, King, 9, 8, 7
- Non-trump cards overtrump other cards of the same suit in the order of their point value (see above), but not card of other suits. Because of the follow suit rule the first played suit is dominant and the card of this suit with the highest point value takes the trick if no trump is played.
In other game modes a suit other than hearts can be selected as trump ((Suit-)Solo mode) or only Unter (Wenz mode) (sometimes also only Ober (Geier mode)) can be declared trump.
There are three standard modes of Schafkopf which can be selected for each single game:
- The normal/calling/partner mode - where one player (the player) calls a (non-heart) ace which he doesn't hold himself, but in a suit of which he holds at least one other card (i.e., caller must hold at least one card of the same suit as the called ace). The player (the partner) who holds the called ace becomes his partner and plays with him against the two other players (the opponents). The partner is not allowed to reveal himself verbally or by any means other than by the cards he is playing. The called ace must be played when its suit is led, but never before, except for the last trick. While the partner can play the called ace as the first card of a trick, he can't add it to an open trick unless its suit was lead. Because of this rule, a strategy is for one of the opponents to lead a card of the called suit and hope his partner is void in this suit (has no card in the suit) and can thus take the trick (and thereby the 11-point ace) by playing a trump.
- The (suit-)solo mode - where one player decides that his cards are so good that he can beat the other three players alone. For this he is allowed to declare which suit will be trump for the round, the other three suits being non-trump suits. The heart suit is reduced to non-trump and so is a normal suit if not (re-)declared as trump by the solo player. The game is then called after the selected trump-suit: Eichel-Solo, Gras-Solo, Herz-Solo or Schellen-Solo.
- The Wenz solo mode - where only Unters (also called Wenzen) are trump. The Obers are non-trump and now between the King and the 9 because of their value of three points. The offensive player also plays against the other three.
There are also some non-standard modes which are only played in some regions of Bavaria:
- The Geier mode - identical to the Wenz except that only Obers not Unters are trump. The Unters are non-trump and now between the King and the 9 because of their value of two points.
- The Farb-Wenz (Suit-Wenz) mode which is like the Wenz except the solo player can declare one suit as trump like in the normal suit-solo.
- The Farb-Geier (Suit-Geier) mode which is like the Farb-Wenz only with Obers except Unters.
- And still others.
In addition to this, all solo modes can be declared as "Tout", which doubles the value of the game and means that the solo player declares that he will take all tricks (not just all 120 points!). If any of the three opponents takes a trick, the solo player loses.
Course of the game
The four players sit crosswise on a table. The dealer shuffles the cards and places the shuffled card deck before the player to his right. This player has to cut the deck one or several times, without looking at any card.
After the cut, the dealer gives out cards in sets of four cards at a time, clock-wise starting with the player on his left. Every player receives eight cards, face down. The first set is the first hand, the second is called the second hand.
All players now declare, in turns, whether they want to play (try to make 61 points) or not, i.e. play offensive or defensive. The choice of whether to play or not depends mainly on the number of trump and high points cards received. The player who received his cards first (left of the dealer) can announce first whether he will play, and if so, in which game mode. If he chooses not to play (defensive) then he says "Weiter" ("onwards", "go ahead"), which gives the next clock-wise player the chance to announce a game. If two or more players both declare willingness to play, the following order priority exists (highest to lowest): Solo Tout, Wenz Tout, Solo, Wenz, normal/partner mode. The declared trump suit in suit solos has no impact on precedence of play. If two players both want to play the same mode, the player who declared first has priority. If none of the four players wants to announce a game, all cards are thrown together and shuffled again (see below).
If a player declares intention to play (and mode of choice), play commences by the player to the left of the dealer playing the first card, face up. The other players play one card each, clock-wise following the led suit if they have it. If a trump card is led, then players must follow by playing trump if they have it (again: heart is normally trump, not a suit!). The player who plays the highest card (see "Card Order" above) takes the trick and receives all points of the four cards in that trick. He then leads the next trick by playing another card.
When all tricks are taken, the points of each team's accumulated tricks are totaled. The offensive team (player plus partner, or the solo player) must have more than half the total point count, i.e. at least 61 points, to win. This means that the defensive team needs only 60 points to win.
A round where the offensive team or solo player takes more than 90 points is called "Schneider" (tailor), and has greater value. When one team doesn't take any trick (not even one with zero points) it also loses "Schwarz" (black).
After the winning team is declared it has to demand the correct game value (amount of points or money) from the opponents. Schneider and Schwarz normally add a pre-defined amount of one base unit (10 euro cents) each. The losing team must declare whether they are "Schneider-frei" (have 30 or more points), but if an offensive team has taken all tricks, they must declare Schwarz in order to get credit for it. Also one base unit is paid for each card in a run of trump, i.e. one team holds all top trumps, starting from three trump (Eichel-, Gras- and Herz-Ober) or two in the case of Wenz (Eichel- and Gras-Unter) up to 8 (all Obers and Unters) or 14 (all trump), or 4 (Wenz). In the case of Tout, where the offensive players pre-declare a Schwarz win, neither Schneider nor Schwarz is paid but the whole game counts double. In non-tournament play for money, the winnings for the hand are commonly exchanged between the winners and losers at the end of the hand before the next shuffle.
Finally all cards are shuffled again, this time by the player to the left of the last shuffling player. Following this rule all players have the opportunity to shuffle, cut and announce first. All financial demands from the last game are final and binding when the card deck is cut.
If no one declares a game
If no player announces their intent to play (all say 'Weiter'), there are several possibilities, which should be agreed upon before the start of play:
- The cards are reshuffled and game play simply continues with the next clockwise player dealing the cards.
- The cards are reshuffled and game play simply continues with the next player dealing the cards but the value of the next hand is doubled (Bockspiel).
- The cards are reshuffled and game play simply continues with the next player dealing the cards but each play puts one base unit (10 euro cents) into the "Pot" (Stock). Subsequently, the player that declares the next game in the next hand, has the chance to win the contents of the pot. If they win their declared game, the declaring player alone and not their partner receives the "pot" in addition to the normal winnings shared with their partner. If the player loses their declared game, then they alone must double the contents of the pot and play continues with the next player declaring a game having the chance to win (or double) the pot on the next hand.
- In tournament play, a hand must be played and either the player with the Eichel-Ober (dem Alten) must declare a game or cross-seated players automatically play the hand together.
- 'Ramsch' is played meaning that the goal is to make as little points as possible and all players are playing against each other.
After the players receive the first hand of cards (four cards) and before they take the second hand they can double the value of the game either by knocking on the table or calling "doppeln" (to double). Normally a specific token (e.g. match box, special coin) is then placed on the table to indicate this. Depending on the exact local rules only the first, only one or all players can double the game. If more than one player doubles the game the factors get multiplied, i.e. one player 2x, two players 2*2=4x, three players 8x and four players 16x. These factors take effect after all other bonuses are added. In the case of Tout the game cost (again) double but no Schneider or Schwarz bonus is paid. The value of the game can be doubled further by Contra.
Contra and Re
At the beginning of the game any opposing player, but normally one with very good cards, can give the offensive player "Kontra" (Contra) which means that he declares his team will win even when they didn't announce a game. This doubles the value of the game. Only one Contra is allowed, so they can't be accumulated like the normal doubling. However any one of the offensive players (player or partner) can answer a Contra with "Re(-tour)" (return) which declares that the player still thinks that his offensive team will win. This doubles the value of the game again. Depending on the exact local rules used another round of Contra and Re, now called "Sub" and "Re-Sub", or even more can be allowed, which further doubles the value of the game. Contra and Re can normally only be called as long as none or only the very first card has been played. Different rules also exist which allow opponents to give Contra before they play their own very first card or that Re etc. can be given up to one card after Contra.
A popular variant in some parts of Bavaria is the "short" Schafkopf which is played with only 24 cards where the '7' and '8' cards of all suits are removed. Every player only receives six cards (2x3). This makes the game faster and changes some playing tactics because of the changed probabilities.
Also a variant for only three players exists where also the short card deck with 24 cards is used but all players still receive eight cards. Only solo games are allowed in this variant. This variant is normally only played when lacking a fourth player.
- Foster's Skat Manual, p. 3, R. F. Foster - Averill Press 2008 ISBN 1-4437-2151-4
- Oxford Dictionary of Card Games, p. 246, David Parlett - Oxford University Press 1996 ISBN 0-19-869173-4
- Schafkopf history from BR-online
- Rules and Regulations of Bavarian Schafkopf
- Wolfgang Peschel: Bayerisch Schaffkopfen - Wissenswertes, Humoriges; mit den offiziellen Regeln des Bayerischen Schaffkopf-Vereins. ISBN 3-924012-31-8
- Official Schafkopf Regulations
- http://www.sauspiel.de Play Schafkopf online for free (in German)
- http://www.schafkopfschule.de The School of Schafkopf with the official rules (in German)