From the history of the card game of Skat

The card game of Skat was created in Altenburg in Thuringia at the beginning of the 19th century. Of all the stories and anecdotes associated with the origins of Skat, the one reported by Skat researcher Stein appears the most credible. He says that an Altenburg coachman who travelled frequently to neighbouring states brought the game of Schafkopf (Sheepshead) home with him from the Saxon-Bohemian Erzgebirge mountains, from where it originated. A member of the "Bromme Tarot Society" learned this Wendish game of Schafkopf from him and it was subsequently often played in Altenburg. Between 1810 and 1817, the game of Skat developed from this Schafkopf, L'hombre, Solo and Tarot.


The name of Skat is far older than the game itself. In the Italian game of Tarocchi, the cards laid on one side are called the Skat, corresponding with the original meaning in Italian, namely scartare = lay aside. The card game of Skat is mentioned for the first time in 1818 in the "Osterländische Blättern", published by Friedrich Ferdinand Hempel in Altenburg. Together with some friends, namely Medical Director Dr. med. Schuderoff, Dictionary Publisher Brockhaus and Council Copier Neefe - to list only the best known names -, Hempel gradually developed the game of Skat. In 1817, Carl Neefe introduced so-called matador counting, thus creating the basis for the bidding typical of Skat. Initially, Skat was often played alongside Tarot. Since it was played with three people, there were two cards left over from the 32 Schafkopf cards, which the dealer was given as an eleventh and twelfth card. Thus he became a "Loner", regardless of whether he had a chance of winning with his cards or not. Neither was he able to choose which suit was trumps, since in the early days of the game the jacks were always trumps, although a suit as trumps, namely diamonds, was also known by then. The only benefit that the dealer enjoyed as a Loner was being able to discard two cards which he did not want, as the so-called Skat. Later, the suit of trumps was decided by the card at the bottom after cutting. In this way, the dealer, who was the Loner, had at least one trump. Since the Loner lost most games under these rules, he was later allowed to decide for himself whether he wanted to be the Loner or not. This inevitably led to the two extra cards being discarded immediately after dealing so that they could be given to the Loner who then, of course, also had to discard two unsuitable cards. The suit of trumps was then that of the bottom Skat card. In the order of Forehand, Middlehand and Posthand, the players were asked whether they wanted to name the game.


This order for bidding is still the same today. The system of deciding trumps by choosing a particular card was dropped and the Loner himself chose the suit of trumps. By this time, the game was also already played without taking up the Skat, i.e. in the same way as our hand games today, and different scoring for the four suits was introduced. There were then eight different games, namely the four bid games and the four solo games without using the Skat.
The following basic values were established: diamond bid = 1, heart bid = l, spade bid = 3, club bid = 4, diamond solo = 5, heart solo = 6, spade solo = 7, club solo = 8. Thus the raising of bids in the game developed automatically, with the order of asking or bidding being kept the same as familiar in the bid games.


Null and Ace games were already played in the last century too. Whereas the Null games were then already purely games with tricks, meaning the aim was for the player not to win any tricks, the Ace games were without trumps. They are comparable with the Grand games of our times, with the jacks being part of the suits. It was at this time, too, that the playing of "Schwarz" began; the open ace games, the tourné games and the Grand games were added and 1870 saw the playing of "Schneider". With the introduction of the tourné games, basic values had to be allocated and since the aim was to value the hand games more highly, the tourné games were given the values 5 to 8 and values continued upwards for the hand games, so that the values 9 to 12 were set, in the order of diamonds to clubs. In this way, the basic values for the suits developed with which we are familiar today. The game of Skat spread in the years from 1825 to 1830 and it was primarily students who made it well-known. Skat first spread to the Saxon and Thuringian universities of Leipzig, Halle and Jena and from there to the other regions in Germany. With this spread, hazard-oriented types of the game developed which saw their peak in the years between 1870 and 1880. Perhaps this was why there were many promoters of good and meaningful Skat at this time, who worked to curb the many different varieties of the game. The first Skat Congress was held in Altenburg from 7th to 9th August 1886. At this congress, the General German Skat Code prepared by Karl Buhle was accepted, thus creating clear and uniform rules for Skat which were generally recognised.


In his book entitled "The Art of Playing Skat", Arthur Schubert, a recognised Skat theoretician and practitioner, still saw a drawback in bidding with numbers in 1922, whereas we see it today as making the game into an entertaining leisure pastime. What Schubert saw as a drawback was that bidding with numbers enabled the discovery of who had which cards - particularly the jacks. Today, we believe that such bidding allowed the development of an attractive game which calls for logical thought in a way unrivalled by any other card game. In 1924, Schubert issued fixed rules for so-called "Guckiskat" with bidding by values, aiming to curb further uncontrolled proliferation, which had benefited from the First World War. At that time, Schubert was the Books Officer for the German Skat Society. Bidding by numbers or values quickly became established and was recorded in the "1928 New German Skat Code" which was approved at the 12th Skat Congress in Altenburg.


The way that Skat had spread by this Skat Congress is shown by the fact that twelve Congresses had already been held between 1886 and 1928. At the 3rd German Skat Congress in Halle in 1899, the German Skat Society was founded by Altenburg-born Robert Fuchs. At the 11th Skat Congress held in Altenburg in 1927, the Skat Tribunal was founded, an institution which is still recognised all over the world. Its existence soon became known internationally and people appealed to the Skat Tribunal from everywhere where Skat was played when they wanted a solution to a disputed case. The Skat Tribunal also worked successfully to prevent all kinds of uncontrolled proliferation in the game of Skat. This development came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the Second World War. Nevertheless Altenburg's reputation as a Skat town was not forgotten by Skat lovers through the war years and the first post-war years. From 1960 onwards, a constantly increasing number of enquiries were addressed to the Altenburg Town Council, wanting definitive information on the rules of a sporting game of Skat. At the end of 1962, the Altenburg Town Council was obliged to appoint a group of five Skat players as a Skat Tribunal. It was confirmed as being active by the Permanent Committee for Mass Cultural Work.


The Skat Tribunal has been extraordinarily successful since 1963. Many enquiries, of which a high percentage relate to disputed cases, have come from all over the world, showing that the Skat Tribunal in Altenburg has met with international recognition throughout the world. But it is not only in this field that the Skat Tribunal has done valuable work, since it was and is responsible for the organisation of large-scale Skat tournaments. The first Skat Tribunal open to the whole of the GDR was held in Altenburg in 1963. Other large Skat tournaments were and are held in our federal states.
No historic overview of Skat can be complete without paying a tribute to the Castle and Playing Card Museum and without mentioning the Skat Fountain in Altenburg.


In 1922/23, the so-called Skat Home was set up in Altenburg's Castle and Playing Card Museum. It was the first room in what was later to become the museum. Founded by Julius Benndorf and decorated by the well-known Skat painter »Pix«, Otto Pech, the Skat Home was extended to become an internationally recognised collection.
Visitors to today's Castle and Playing Card Museum at Altenburg Castle are offered an overview ranging from the medieval craft of making playing cards through to industrial large-scale production. Playing cards and card games from all over the world give an insight into the wide variety of playing card designs.


Altenburg presents visitors from all over the world with a unique collection, extending from the court game around 1450 through cards from the era of the French Revolution in 1789 to modern playing cards produced for advertising purposes, from old and new Italian, French and German tarot cards to children's playing cards. Visitor numbers to Altenburg Castle are increasing every year and there are also a growing number of tourists coming from abroad to see the Castle and Playing Card Museum.


Altenburg Skat School

As a tourist agency, the Altenburg Skat School combines games, culture, art and rich traditions to produce attractive programmes. Together with Skat courses, Skat tournaments and game afternoons, these programmes include sightseeing tours of the town, guided tours of the Castle and Museum and outings to the surrounding area.


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