Schnapsen is an Austrian two-player game where players score points both by melding and by taking tricks. It’s a cousin of the classic American game Pinochle, having likewise descended from the German game Sixty-Six. Thus, like its parent game, it plays a lot like a pared-down version of Pinochle.
Schnapsen forces players to rely on their memory of cards they’ve won—a player can go out when they have scored 66 points over the course of a hand. However, a player has to keep a mental tally of what they’ve scored to know when they’re able to go out. Schnapsen can be a very exciting game because a player is rarely completely out of the game—big come-from-behind wins are always possible!
Object of Schnapsen
Schnapsen is played with an absolutely tiny deck of cards—only 20 cards are used in a Schnapsen deck! You’ll only need the aces, face cards, and 10s in each of the four suits. To ensure your cards last as long as possible and never become too damaged or dirty to play with, always make sure you start with a deck of Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You will also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper, or a scorekeeping app.
Shuffle and deal three cards to each player, then deal one card face up. The suit of this card, the upcard, determines the trump suit. Then, deal each player two more cards. Place the stub on top of the upcard at right angles, so its indices can easily be seen. The stub then becomes the stock.
In Schnapsen, 10s are the second-highest ranked card, just below the ace. The rest of the cards rank in their usual. This means the full card ranking is (high) A-10-K-Q-J (low).
The non-dealer goes first by leading a card to the first trick. The dealer then replies by playing any card they wish. There is no requirement to play a card of the same suit, even if the dealer has one. Whoever plays the higher card of the trump suit, or the higher card of the suit led if no trumps are played, wins the trick. That player takes both cards and places them in a won-tricks pile in front of them. The winner of the trick then draws one card from the stock to restore their hand to five cards, after which the other player does as well. The winner of the trick then leads to the next one.
After winning a trick, but before leading to the next one, a player holding the jack of trumps (the lowest trump) may exchange it for the upcard. A player does not necessarily have to do this on the first trick they win after they draw the jack; they may hold it until later, and exchange it upon winning a later trick.
Before leading to a trick, a player may meld a marriage, a king and queen of the same suit. To do so, they reveal the two cards, then lead one of them to the trick. The next time they win a trick, they score 20 points for the marriage, or 40 points for a royal marriage (a marriage in trump). If a player melds a marriage and goes the rest of the hand without capturing another trick, they do not score for the marriage.
Closing the stock
After drawing but before leading to a trick, a player may close the stock. To do so, they take the upcard and turn it face down on top of the stock. For the remainder of the hand, neither player may draw cards; instead, the rest of the hand is played with only the five cards in the players’ hands.
After the stock is closed, special rules apply. The player who does not lead must follow suit if possible. Further, they must play a card that will take the trick (head the trick) if they can. This means if a player has a higher card of the same suit as the lead, they must play it. If they cannot follow suit, they must play a trump. The player who did not close keeps any cards they capture after the close separate from the other cards in their won-tricks pile.
If the stock is exhausted before either player closes it, the same rules apply as if the stock were closed.
Ending the hand
When a player believes they have scored 66 points for the hand in melds and tricks taken, they may declare this immediately after winning a trick, ending the hand immediately. Each player then adds to their scores for the marriages the total of the cards in their won-trick pile, as follows:
- Aces: 11.
- Tens: 10.
- Kings: 4.
- Queens: 3.
- Jacks: 2.
If the player who went out did in fact score 66 or more points, they win the hand. The number of victory points they score depends on the opponent’s hand score. If the opponent…
- …scored 33 or more, the player who went out scores one victory point. (If the opponent also scored more than 66 points, they simply missed the opportunity to go out first.)
- …scored 32 or less, it is a schnieder, and the winning player scores two victory points.
- …didn’t win a single trick, it is a schwarz, and the player scores three victory points.
If the player who went out captured 65 or fewer points, the opponent scores two victory points, or three if the opponent had nothing in their won-cards pile.
In the event the hand ends with neither player having closed and neither player going out, instead simply exhausting their hands, the winner of the last trick scores one victory point.
When the stock has been closed, if the player who closed it successfully went out with 66 or more points, they score the same number of victory points as described above, but counting only the cards the opponent captured before the close. If the closer does not go out, or their opponent goes out before they do, the opponent scores two victory points, or three if they had not captured any tricks. It’s important to note that a player can only go out upon winning a trick. If the closer plays to the last trick without going out, and loses that last trick, they can no longer go out; the opponent wins the hand and scores appropriately!
Ending the game
After the hands have been scored, the non-dealer collects the cards and deals the next hand. Game play continues until one player scores seven or more victory points. That player wins the game.