Truco is a trick-taking game for four players in partnerships. Versions of it are widely played in many South American countries, including Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay, and Chile. Each of these countries its own unique variant of the game. Truco is one of the most popular games in Brazil, where three different versions of it are played; one of these is the version listed below.
In comparison to most Western card games, a game of Truco is quite rowdy. Many things that would be considered outright cheating are explicitly allowed in Truco, and a game often devolves into raucous (but good-natured) shouting as players attempt to bluff and intimidate one another.
Object of Truco
The object of Truco is to be the first partnership to score twelve points by taking at least two of the three tricks in each hand.
Truco is played with a special 40-card stripped deck. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 8s, 9s, and 10s, leaving a deck of aces, face cards, and 7s through 2s in each of the four suits.
You will also need some method of scoring. Brazilian players traditionally score the game with large, bean-like seeds called tentos. You will need at least 22 beans if you wish to keep score with this method. The tentos are placed in a bowl in the center of the table. One partner removes one tento from the bowl for each point scored, keeping them visible on the table in front of them. You can also score the game with the tried-and-true pencil and paper if you wish.
Players divide into two partnerships and seat themselves so that partners sit across from one another. Usually, partnerships are decided by mutual agreement; if some players are inexperienced at the game, they are often paired with a player that has more experience. Partnerships may also be decided by high-card draw, if desired.
Prior to the first hand, each partnership may retreat to a location where the other team will not overhear them and devise a system of signals to use throughout the game. These signals can communicate anything that the players desire, including the overall strength of their hand, the cards they hold, what they want their partner to play, and so on. Nothing’s off limits! However, verbal discussion of what is in your hand is absolutely prohibited. You can only communicate this information by signals.
Truco has a very particular shuffling and dealing procedure. Only a single riffle shuffle is allowed—the wash and strip shuffle used in the casino shuffling method is not allowed. The player to the dealer’s left performs one to three cuts, although they are required to cut the cards into exactly two stacks. Scarne cuts and other cuts that produce more than two piles of cards are not permissible. The player cutting the cards may then request that the cards be dealt from either the top or the bottom of the deck.
The dealer then deals three cards, face down, to the player to their right, who is called the mão. This player has the option to keep the cards, pass them to their partner, or reject them altogether. What happens next:
- If the mão chooses to keep the cards, the dealer deals three cards to the dealer’s partner, then the mão’s partner, and finally themselves.
- If the mão chooses to pass the cards to their partner, they are dealt another hand of three cards, which they may either keep or reject. The mão may not pass any more cards once their partner has a hand.
- If the mão rejects the cards, they are turned face up and will remain out of play for the remainder of the hand. They then receive another three-card hand, which they may keep, reject, or pass to their partner. The mão may not reject more than three potential hands per deal.
After the deal is complete, the dealer sets the deck stub aside, and it takes no further part in game play.
Truco uses a very unconventional card ranking. 3s, 2s, and aces rank higher than the face cards, and one card of each suit is elevated to rank even higher than the remainder of the pack. The cards rank as follows: (high) 4♣, 7♥, A♠, 7♦, 3, 2, A, K, J, Q, 7, 6, 5, 4 (low).
Play of the hand
The mão leads to the first trick. The next player to the right plays the next card, and so on until all four players have played. Whoever played the highest card, irrespective of suit takes the trick. Players can play any card they wish; there is no requirement to follow suit or play higher than the other cards in the trick.
In the second or third tricks, a player may play their card face down if desired. Face-down cards are unable to win the trick and essentially discarded. This option is not available on the first trick of the hand.
The winner of a trick takes the four cards played to it and puts it face-down on their partnership’s won-tricks pile. They then lead to the next trick.
If two players on the same time tie for high card, that partnership wins the trick, and whichever of the two players played first is entitled to lead to the next trick. If two players on opposing teams tie for high card, the trick belongs to no one. When a trick is tied, whichever team won the first trick that hand is the winner of the entire hand. If it is necessary to play another trick to determine the hand, whichever of the tying players played first gets to lead to the next trick.
The hand ends after the three tricks are complete or the outcome of the hand has been determined. Whichever team wins the hand takes one tento.
Raising the stakes
Any player may call “truco” prior to winning a trick in order to raise the stakes for the current hand to three tentos. This player, the trucador, must then wait for their opponents to respond to the truco before playing a card. The opponents have three options:
- Run away. The opposing team rejects the raised stakes. The trucador’s team immediately wins the hand for one tento.
- Accept. The opposing team accepts a stake of three tentos.
- Raise (retruco). The opposing team wishes to raise the stake further, to six tentos. The trucador’s team then has the option to run away, accept the six-tento stake, or reraise to nine tentos. If they propose a stake of nine tentos, the opponents may then reraise to queda, i.e. a stake of twelve tentos, the amount necessary to win the entire game.
Either of the trucador’s opponents may give the answer to the truco, but whichever one speaks first is binding. The opponents may consult with each other verbally and/or through signals before giving a final answer.
You are not allowed to raise the stakes beyond that which would be required to win the game. If you have a score of six, you can truco (raising the stakes to three tentos, which would give you a score of nine if you won). If your opponent retrucos, raising to six, accepting this and winning would give you a score of twelve, enough to win the game. Therefore, you cannot raise again to nine, since accepting the six-tento stake is enough for the win.
If a truco is accepted, the trucador and any players after them play to the trick. Whichever team wins the trick wins the hand at the stake agreed upon.
A team gains one tento if their opponents violate any of the following rules:
- Shuffling, cutting, or dealing against the procedure described above.
- The mão attempts to reject cards when not allowed to do so.
- Disclosing the content of one’s hand, either by discussing it verbally or by showing cards. (Signals are okay.)
- Raising the stakes beyond the amount needed to win the game.
You cannot score your twelfth tento as a result of your opponents breaking the rules. Instead, they lose one tento and you remain at a score of eleven.
A score of eleven
When a team reaches a score of eleven, one less than needed to win the game, special rules apply to them. First, the dealer simply deals a hand of three cards to each player, and the mão is no longer permitted to pass or reject cards. Before actual game play starts, the players on the leading team pass their hands to one another, briefly look at them, and return them to their owners. They then have the option to run away (end the hand) at a cost of one tento, or play the game for a stake of three tentos. If they play the hand, neither team is allowed to truco. If the leading team wins this hand, they win the game.
Should both teams reach a score of eleven, an iron hand is played. The game considers teams in this situation to have only gotten there due to luck, since they apparently cannot pull off an indisputable win. The dealer deals three-card hands to each player, and they cannot look at their cards. The hand is played by turning cards up, one at a time, and awarding the tricks as appropriate. Therefore, the iron hand is determined entirely by luck. If an iron hand results in a tie, additional iron hands are played until the outcome of the game is determined.
Buried Treasure is a unique game invented by Ronald Corn. Players secretly “bury” three cards from their initial hand, then build up piles of cards for each suit, hoping to maximize the value of the piles representing the suits of the cards they buried. Buried Treasure can be played by two to eight players.
Object of Buried Treasure
The object of Buried Treasure is to play cards that increase the value of the suits of the cards in each player’s buried treasure pile.
For two to five players, Buried Treasure requires one standard 52-card deck of playing cards; for six, seven or eight, use two 52-card decks. Since some of these cards are going to be your treasure, be sure to use cards up to the task: Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, of course. You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper, or an app on your smartphone.
Shuffle and deal eight cards to each player. Place the remainder of the deck in the center of the table, forming the stock.
Each number card is worth its face value. Aces are worth one point. Face cards have no intrinsic value, but they allow special plays, as described below.
Burying the treasure
At the beginning of the hand, each player selects three cards from their hand and places them face down in front of them. These cards are their buried treasure. The buried treasure remains secret until the end of the hand. However, it is critical to the players’ strategy for the rest of the hand. For each card a player buries, the player will score the total point values of all cards of the same suit played throughout the hand.
Play of the hand
Once everyone has buried their treasure, actual game play begins with the player to the dealer’s left. They draw one card from the stock, then play any card from their hand to the center of the table. The player to their left now does the same thing. If they play a card of the same suit, they place it on top of the previously-played card, leaving the index of the previous card visible.
If a player has a face card, they have two different ways to play it. The first option is to play the card face-up in front of them, then remove any single card from any one of the piles. Then, they place the face card and the card removed face up in a discard pile. The other possible play is to simply place the face card on the pile of the same suit. No player can remove that face card or any of the cards underneath it. (Any cards placed on top of the face card on later turns could still be removed, of course.)
There is another way of removing cards without using a face card. To do this, play a card face up in front of you that totals eleven when its value is added to that of the top card of one of the piles. You then discard the two cards. (Note that a card may be added to the appropriate pile at any time, even if it and the top card of the pile equal eleven.)
Ending the hand
When a player draws the last card of the stock, each player buries one more card. In the two-player game, the players bury a card when ten cards have been played to the piles, or when the stock runs out, whichever comes first. The players then continue as usual until they have depleted their hands.
The value of each suit is determined by totaling the values of the cards in its pile. The players then reveal their buried treasure. Each player then scores the value of the appropriate suit for each card in their buried treasure. For example, if the values of the suits are 26 for spades, 19 for clubs, 38 for diamonds, and 23 for hearts, then a player with two diamonds, a club, and a spade in their buried treasure would score 38 + 38 + 19 + 26 = 121 points for the hand.
Game play continues until one or more players have scored 300 points, or 500 points in a game with more than six players. The player with the highest score at that point wins. If more than one player ties for highest, play a tiebreaker hand.
What does “According to Hoyle” mean?
You might have heard the phrase “According to Hoyle”, meaning “by-the-book” or “in the proper manner”. But who the heck is Hoyle, anyway, and why should we do things according to what he says?
The life of Hoyle
The Hoyle in question is Edmond Hoyle (also sometimes spelled Edmund Hoyle), an English writer who was born in 1672. While we don’t know a lot about his personal life, we do know a lot about cards from him. The earliest that we know of him was that he was tutoring the English aristocracy at Whist by 1741.
The following year, Hoyle expanded the notes he sold to his Whist students into A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist, which was not much more than a small pamphlet. Despite its high price of one guinea, it quickly sold out. Rather than reprint the pamphlet himself, Hoyle sold the rights to the pamphlet to Francis Cogan for 100 guineas. Meanwhile, pirates began publishing copies of A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist under the name “A Gentleman”. To distinguish the genuine article from the pirated copies, Cogan paid Hoyle twopence to autograph each copy he printed. This probably worked pretty well for Hoyle, but Cogan couldn’t make much money off of it, especially after having been forced to lower the price to compete with the pirates.
Hoyle then began to write about other games. In 1743, he published A Short Treatise on the Game of Backgammon. Later that year, he followed his first treatise up with An Artificial Memory at the Game of Whist in 1743. Cogan began publishing collections that included all three of these works. Hoyle continued writing about new games, including treatises on Piquet, Quadrille, Brag, and even Chess. He continued to revise his earlier works as well; A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist went through fourteen editions in his lifetime.
Edmond Hoyle died in 1769. Despite that, the publishers continued on printing Hoyle’s work, even revising and augmenting it. A Short Treatise on the Game of Whist remained the gold standard of Whist rules until well into the nineteenth century. Despite that, there were some that were beginning to question Hoyle’s strategic advice. Whist was still in its early days when he had written about it. As the game matured and its players concocted new strategies, Hoyle’s axioms weren’t aging well. Thomas Mathews went so far in his 1804 book Advice to the Young Whist Player as to write “[Hoyle] himself, so far from being able to teach the game, was not fit to sit down even with the third-rate players of the present day.”
Hoyle books began to be published that contained more games that Hoyle had never written about. The Hoyle brand was so strong that some authors even began writing books with “Hoyle” in the title that consisted entirely of original content, and nothing written by Hoyle at all. As this practice continued, Hoyle books began including games that hadn’t even been invented yet when Hoyle died. This seemed to irritate John Scarne, who titled a chapter of Scarne on Cards as “Poker—Not According to Hoyle”. In it, he writes:
“It seems as intelligent to me as some research engineer’s publishing a monograph titled ‘Fulton on Diesel Engines’ or ‘William the Lion-Hearted on Atomic Energy.’ With this exception: the writers on Poker who have put on the mantle of Hoyle and handed down their own private prejudices about the game have simply reduced Poker rules to utter confusion. Poker players, confronted by a shelf of Hoyles who don’t know what they’re talking about, have been compelled to formulate and live by their own regional, village or house rules. It has created a not-too-healthy atmosphere in which to play for money.”
Scarne suggested that poker instead be played “according to Scarne” rather than “according to Hoyle.” Unsurprisingly, it didn’t take: the governing rules of modern poker are Bob Ciaffone’s “Robert’s Rules of Poker”, not Scarne’s. Adding insult to injury, Edmond Hoyle was posthumously inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.
Briscola (pronounced with all long vowels, like breeze-cola) is a simple Italian trick-taking game for two to four players. When four play the game, they play as two-player partnerships; in two- and three player games, each player plays for themselves.
Object of Briscola
The object of Briscola is to take tricks containing the most point-scoring cards as possible.
The composition of the deck in Briscola depends on the number of people playing. The two- or four-player game uses the same 40-card Italian pack used in Scopa. To prepare such a deck, take a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards and remove the 10s through 8s, leaving ace through jack and 7 through 2 in each of the four suits. The three-player game uses a 39-card deck, prepared the same way, but removing one of the 2s (which one doesn’t matter, but it should be communicated to all of the players).
You’ll also need something to keep score with. Scoring is not too complicated in this game (at the most you’ll be playing three hands), so while pencil and paper will work, you can also use a smartphone application, a small dry-erase board, or even memory if you trust everyone not to fudge the numbers.
In the four-player game, the players should either mutually agree to partnerships, or else draw cards from a shuffled deck to determine who is on which partnership (the two players drawing higher cards play against the two drawing lower cards). Partners should sit opposite one another, such that when proceeding around the table, each player is from alternating partnerships.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player. Turn up the next card of the deck. This card, the upcard, fixes the trump suit for the hand. Place the deck stub in the center of the table; it will form the stock.
Briscola uses an idiosyncratic card ranking, elevating the 3 to the second-highest card, just below the ace. All other cards rank in their usual order. Therefore, the full card ranking is (high) A, 3, K, Q, J, 7, 6, 5, 4, 2 (low).
The player to the left of the dealer leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding around the table to the left, then plays one of their cards to the trick. There is no obligation to follow suit; a player may play any card they please. The player who played the highest trump, or the highest card of the suit led, if there is no trump, wins the trick. That player adds it to a face-down won-tricks pile in front of them (in the four-player game, partnerships share a common won-tricks pile). There is no need to keep the tricks separated in the pile.
After each trick, the players each draw a card, starting with the player who won the trick, then proceeding clockwise. The player that won the trick then leads to the next one.
After the stock has been depleted, the next and final player to draw takes the upcard. In the four-player game, the players now briefly exchange hands with their partner, look at their partner’s last three cards, then switch back. Then, the last three tricks are played as usual.
When all of the tricks have been played, the hand is scored. Players turn up their won-trick piles and total up the number of points found in it according to the following list:
- Aces: eleven points.
- 3s: ten points.
- Kings: four points.
- Queens: three points.
- Jacks: two points.
- 7s–2s: zero points.
In the two- and four-player games, one more hand is played, with the deal passing to the left (to the first hand’s non-dealer in the two-player game). In the three-player game, each player deals one hand, for a total of three hands. Whichever player or partnership scored the most points across all of the hands is the winner (in the event of a tie, the winner of a tie-breaker hand wins the game).
Skat is a three-handed trick-taking game, derived from another German game, Schafkopf. Skat originated in Altenberg, Germany around the year 1810. Skat then spread throughout the country, and is now described as the national card game of Germany.
Skat is universally acclaimed as one of the best card games for three players. Unusual among card games, it was specifically created to be played by three, rather than being an adaptation of a game created for two or four. Nevertheless, Skat can be played by four, though only three play at any given time; in the four-player game, each player sits out on their turn to deal.
Object of Skat
The object of Skat is to accurately judge the possibilities of one’s hand, select a game type that plays to its strengths, and then fulfill the resulting contract in order to score points. Depending on the game chosen, fulfilling the contract may mean taking 61 card points, taking the least number of tricks, or taking no tricks at all.
Skat is played with a 32-card pack common to many German games. Starting from a standard 52-card deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove the 2s through 6s, leaving 7s through aces in each of the four suits. You will also need pencil and paper to keep score with.
Shuffle and deal out the whole pack according to the following order: a set of three cards to each player, two face down to the center of the table, a set of four cards to each player, then a set of three cards to each player. Each player will have ten cards, with the two-face down cards forming a widow called the skat.
Skat uses a somewhat complex card ranking when there is a trump suit. The 10 ranks above the king and below the ace. Complicating matters, all four jacks are part of the trump suit, ranking above the ace, and they always rank in the same order regardless of which suit is trump. The complete ranking of the trump suit is (high) J♣, J♠, J♥, J♦, A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low). In the non-trump suits, the ranking is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 9, 8, 7 (low). It is important to note that jacks are not considered part of their native suits. For example, if diamonds are led, playing the J♦ would not be following suit unless diamonds are the trump suit.
In hands where there is no trump suit (those played as a null game, as described below), cards rank in their usual order, with ace high: (high) A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7 (low).
The player to the dealer’s left is the most senior player in the game and is called forehand. The player to forehand’s left is called middlehand, and the player to the middlehand’s left (who is the dealer in a three-player game and sitting to the right of the dealer in a four-player game) is called rearhand or endhand.
Skat uses an unusual bidding system where only two plays bid against each other at once. Bidding is opened by middlehand, who, rather than stating a trump suit or type of game that they wish to play, states a point value of at least eighteen. If they win the bidding, they must choose a game type that puts at least that point value at stake. The forehand then has the option to agree to play to these stakes by saying “yes” or pass. If forehand says “yes”, the middlehand must name a higher point value (traditionally the bid is raised by two each time). This continues until either the forehand or middlehand passes. The player that did not pass then completes the same procedure with rearhand, who must name a value higher than the last bid (if any) placed by middlehand or pass.
The player who successfully won the bidding becomes the declarer and must now select a game to play. The other two players become the defenders. If all players pass but the forehand, they may become the declarer with a bid of eighteen. If not, they may pass as well, and a Ramsch game is declared (see below).
Selecting a game
After a declarer has been determined, they must decide on which game to play. This is where the main opportunity for strategic play is to be found in Skat; an experienced player can mix and match a game type and multipliers to maximize the amount their hand can score.
There are two basic types of games: hand games and skat games. A hand game is played with just the cards in the declarer’s hand. In a skat game, the declarer picks up the two cards in the skat, then discards two cards from the hand. In both cases, the two cards in the skat count toward the declarer at the end of the hand, as if they had been captured in tricks.
The declarer must choose a game with a value that meets the amount that was bid. In most cases, this is fairly straightforward. Note, however, that the value of a game can change after it is declared, as described below. If the game’s value ends up falling below the bid made, then it is counted as a loss for the declarer, even if they manage to fulfill the contract.
In suit and grand games, the value of the game depends on how many matadors the declarer is with or against. A matador is each card in an unbroken sequence of the highest trumps. If the declarer holds the J♣, they are with one matador; if they hold J♣-J♠, they are with two matadors, and so on. Each card is counted until one of the trumps is missing (because it is found in one of the opponents’ hands).
If the declarer does not hold the J♣, they are against at least one matador. In this case, the number of missing trumps between the J♣ and the declarer’s highest trump is counted. For example, if the highest trump the declarer held was the J♥, they would be against two matadors (the J♣ and J♠).
Because the number of matadors a player has affects the value of the game, finding matadors in the skat (which will remain unknown until the end of a hand in a hand game) can radically change the value of a game. The number of matadors a player holds may also be affected by which suit is chosen as trump, of course.
In a suit game, the declarer chooses which suit they wish to become trumps. To make the contract, the declarer must take at least 61 card points in tricks.
The value of the game is determined by multiplying the base rate with the game level or multiplier. The base rate of the game depends on which suit is chosen as trump:
- Diamonds: nine points.
- Hearts: ten points.
- Spades: eleven points.
- Clubs: twelve points.
The multiplier is determined by taking the number of matadors into consideration, as well as any special circumstances or declarations that the player chooses to make. Note that the points are cumulative and will add all of the points above it as well; declaring schwarz also adds the points for undeclared schwarz, declared schneider, and so on. This is the possible multiplier list for a hand suit game:
- Matadors: +1 for each matador the declarer is with or against.
- Game: +1 for being the declarer.
- Hand: +1 for not using the skat. (Every hand game reaches at least this point in the list.)
- Schneider: +1 for either the declarers or the defenders scoring 30 or more points in tricks. (Note that if the defenders schneider the declarer, this multiplier will increase the amount of points the declarer loses.)
- Schneider announced: +1 for the declarer announcing before play begins that they will schneider the defenders.
- Schwarz: +1 for either the declarers or the defenders taking every trick. (As with schneider, if the defenders pull this off, they will increase the amount of points the defender loses.)
- Schwarz announced: +1 for the declarer announcing before play begins that they will schwarz the defenders.
- Open: The declarer plays with their hand exposed and must schwarz the defenders.
When the game is declared, the theoretical value of the game is typically announced at the time. For example, if the declarer is with three matadors, wishes to play a hand game of spades, and intends to schneider the defenders, it would be stated like this: “With three, game four, hand five, schneider six, schenider announced seven, times spades [eleven points] is 77”.
Again, since the player does not know the composition of the skat, the actual value of the game may change if there are further matadors in the skat. It may also be increased if the declarer schneiders or schwarzes the defenders without declaring it ahead of time.
For a skat suit game, fewer multipliers are possible:
- matadors (+1 for each)
In a grand game, the only trumps are the four jacks. Other than this, the game is played exactly the same as a suit game. The game value is calculated the same way, but with a base rate of 24.
In a null game, there are no trumps at all, and the declarer must lose every trick. If the declarer takes a trick at any point in the hand, play is stopped and it is scored as a loss for the declarer. A null skat game is always worth 23 points and a null hand game is worth 35 points.
There is also the option to play null ouvert. This is the same as a null game, but the declarer plays with their hand exposed. A null ouvert skat game is worth 46 points, and a null ouvert hand game is worth 59 points.
The point values for null games seem kind of weird, but they were specifically chosen to avoid duplicating the point values for other bids. The declarer does not have the option to choose a null game if the game would not meet the amount bid.
A declarer cannot choose Ramsch; it is only played when all players pass in bidding. In Ramsch, all players play alone, simply trying to collect the least number of points possible. The four jacks are the only trumps.
Play of the hand
Forehand leads to the first trick. Each player, proceeding clockwise, plays a card of the same suit, if possible, or any other card if they don’t hold a card of the suit led. The player who contributed the highest trump to the trick, or if nobody played any trumps, the highest card of the suit led, wins the trick. Remember: In suit and grand games, jacks belong to the trump suit, not the suit printed on the card! Playing the J♣ to a club trick is not following suit unless clubs are trumps! (In grand and Ramsch games, the four jacks form a suit unto themselves.)
Players do not add won tricks to their hand, but instead to a won-tricks pile in front of each player. (In suit and grand games, the defenders may share a common won-trick pile if desired.) The individual player who won the last trick leads to the next one.
After all ten tricks have been played, or the declarer takes a trick in a null game, the hand ends and is scored.
Scoring suit and grand games
The skat is turned up, noting any matadors included in it. The actual value of the game is then calculated, incorporating the revised number of matadors and any undeclared schneiders or schwarzes that occurred during the play of the hand. If the actual value of the game was less than what the declarer bid, it is determined what the lowest value of that game possible that would have exceeded the bid. The declarer loses twice that amount of points.
If the game exceeds the bid, the card points the declarer took in, plus the two cards in the skat, are totaled, using the following values:
- Jacks: two card points
- Aces: eleven card points
- 10s: ten card points
- Kings: four card points
- Queens: three card points
- 9s, 8s, 7s: no value
These card points are only used to determine whether the declarer made their contract or not. They do not affect the score in any way.
The declarer broke their contract if any of the following conditions are met:
- The actual value of the game was less than the bid
- They failed to collect 61 card points during the hand
- They did not schneider an opponent when schneider was announced
- They did not schwarz an opponent when schwarz was announced
If a player fulfills their contract, they score (to the game score) the value of the game they just played. If they broke contract, they lose twice the value of the game played.
Scoring null games
Scoring null games is fairly simple. If the declarer took no tricks, they score the value of the game. If they took a trick, they lose twice the value of the game.
Each player calculates the value of card points in their hand according to the values used when scoring suit and grand games. The player who collected the fewest card points scores ten game points. If they took no tricks during the hand, not even cards worth zero, they score 20 points.
If two players tie for least points collected, whichever one least recently took a trick wins the hand and scores the ten points. If all three players tie, forehand wins the hand. If one player takes all the tricks, that player scores –30 and the other two players score nothing.
Ending the game
The game ends when a pre-specified number of deals take place. (For the sake of fairness, every player should have dealt an equal number of times.) Whoever has the highest score at this point is the winner.
Mate is an obscure two-player game that was originally created in Germany. Like Gops, it is a game with a heavy emphasis on strategy. Unlike Gops, however, which eliminates luck by removing all but a small element of randomness from the game play, Mate mitigates the naturally-occurring randomness from the deal of the hands by requiring players to play each deal twice, swapping hands with their opponent after the first playthrough.
Mate appears to have first been published in a German-language pamphlet called “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (in English, “Two New War Games!”) published in Hanover in 1915 by one G. Capellen, apparently the inventor of the game. It remained relatively unknown until Sid Sackson, an avid game collector and author best known for creating the board game Acquire, purchased a copy of “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!”, despite knowing little German at the time. Sackson was quite taken by the game, and later spread it to a wider audience by including it in his 1969 book A Gamut of Games. Sackson theorized that “Zwei neue Kriegspiele!” (and therefore, Mate) never took off because of the concept of war games simply didn’t appeal to the populace of a country engaged in World War I when the booklet was published.
Object of Mate
The object of Mate is to force an opponent to be unable to play a card matching the card led in suit or rank, but allowing as many turns to pass as possible before then.
Mate is played with a stripped pack of only 20 cards. Starting from a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards, remove all of the jacks, 9s, 8s, and 6s through 2s, leaving a deck composed of A, K, Q, 10, 7 in each of the four suits. You’ll also need something to score with, such as pencil and paper.
Shuffle and deal the whole pack to both players, five at a time. Each player will have a hand of ten cards.
Mate more or less follows the standard card ranking, except for 10s, which rank between aces and kings. Aces are high. Therefore, the full rank of cards is (high) A, 10, K, Q, 7 (low). The suits also rank relative to one another: (high) clubs, spades, hearts, diamonds (low).
Unlike most two-player games, the dealer gets the first move. They begin by deciding whether not they wish to foreplace (i.e. discard) a card. If so, they place it face-down in front of them. The non-dealer then has the option to foreplace a card. Foreplacing a card increases the score if the player wins the hand (see below).
The dealer then leads the first card. The non-dealer must then respond by playing a card of the same suit, if possible. If they cannot, they must play a card of the same rank as the card led. These two cards constitute one move. The higher-ranked card wins the move; if both cards were of the same rank, the card of the higher suit wins. Whoever played the higher card then leads to the second move.
Game play continues in this fashion, with each player placing their cards to separate face-up piles in front of them, being careful not to mix the cards between the hands. If a player is at any time unable to follow the lead in suit or rank, the leader of that move is said to have given mate to their opponent. The player giving mate scores the value of the card they played to give mate, multiplied by one for each move played (e.g. a mate on the fifth move would score the value of the mating card times five). If a player foreplaced a card, this foreplacement is counted as move one for that player, so the number of moves is effectively increased by one.
The values of the cards for scoring is:
- Ace: eleven.
- Ten: ten.
- King: four.
- Queen: three.
- Seven: seven.
So for example, if a player gave mate with a queen in the fifth move, they would score 3 × 5 = 15 points. If they foreplaced a card, this would be counted as the sixth move, so they would score 3 × 6 = 18 points.
In the case where one player foreplaced and the other did not, the player who foreplaced is considered to play the same card to both the ninth and tenth moves. If this card gives mate to the opponent, it is called an overmate and scores double. An overmate with an ace is the highest possible score for one game: 11 (for the ace) × 11 (for the tenth move, plus one through foreplacement) × 2 (for the overmate) = 242.
If both players manage to play out the entirety of their hands without either player being mated, it is considered a draw. Neither player scores in this situation.
After the game, the two piles of cards are swapped. The same hands are then played again, but with each player playing the hand that previously belonged to their opponent. The original non-dealer leads off. This pair of games played with the same hands is called a round.
After completing the first round, the original non-dealer collects the cards, shuffles, and deals fresh hands to each player. These hands are used to play a second round. Two rounds make up one match; the winner of the match is the player with the higher score after its conclusion.