Psellos
Contemporary Development With Functional Programming

Schnapsen and Sixty-Six Rules Variants

Martin Tompa

March 31, 2012
Revised: June 3, 2012
Revised: July 17, 2012
Revised: July 31, 2012

  1. Schnapsen
  2. Sixty-Six
  3. Effects of Rule Changes

There is a lot of variation in the rules that are available for Schnapsen and Sixty-Six. In preparation for compiling our own set of rules for this site and for our app, I spent quite a bit of time comparing the Schnapsen and Sixty-Six rules (in both German and English) that I found in various places around the world. Having done this, it is clear that there is no consensus on a single “correct” set of rules for either game. In fact, if you look at Schnapsen discussion forums on the internet, there is widespread confusion about the rules, with participants citing conflicting authorities. The purpose of this article is to tabulate and discuss my findings and explain the rationale for the set of rules we have chosen.

Schnapsen

Let’s start with Schnapsen. I searched for Schnapsen rules that seem authoritative, and came up with nine such sites. Five of those sites themselves differentiate between two sets of Schnapsen rules, the so-called “soft” rules (“das weiche Schnapsen”) and “sharp” rules (“das scharfe Schnapsen”). The sharp rules are played in serious Schnapsen tournaments. The soft rules are what most people seem to play in everyday life. Table 1 below lists what each site said about each of nine rules variants. If a table entry is blank, that means the site was mute on that particular rule. The sharp rules are a different color to make it easier to compare the sets of soft rules to each other and the sets of sharp rules to each other.

Table 1: Rules Variations in Schnapsen
Bam soft Bam sharp wiki soft wiki sharp SSG soft SSG sharp Bum soft Bum sharp Pagat soft Pagat sharp sch.at Team Wisser Ritter Psellos
last trick wins when stock exhausted Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
may lead Queen from marriage Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
marriage at trick 1 Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
marriage when stock exhausted Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
trump exchange at trick 1 Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes
trump exchange at trick 5 Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
close stock at trick 1 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
close stock at trick 5 Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes
2-3 game points for failure after closing Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes

Site legend:

  1. Bam soft: Johannes Bamberger, Schnapsen: Die Schönsten Varianten, Perlen-Reihe, Band 639, 11th edition, pages 20-26.
  2. Bam sharp: Ibid., page 36.
  3. wiki soft: de.wikipedia (soft)
  4. wiki sharp: de.wikipedia (sharp)
  5. SSG soft: Schnapsen Strategy Guide (soft)
  6. SSG sharp: Schnapsen Strategy Guide (sharp)
  7. Bum soft: Bummerl (soft)
  8. Bum sharp: Bummerl (sharp)
  9. Pagat soft: Pagat.com (soft)
  10. Pagat sharp: Pagat.com (sharp)
  11. sch.at: schnapsen.at
  12. Team: Team-Schnapsen
  13. Wisser: TU Wien and Doktor Schnaps
  14. Ritter: Cafe Ritter
  15. Psellos: Psellos

As you can see, most of the variation has to do with what is or is not permitted at trick 1 and at trick 5 (when only one face-down card remains in the stock). These are situations where the soft and sharp rules differ from each other, and there is not much more to say about them.

But there is one rule where the soft variants differ from each other more fundamentally, and this is worth discussing. It is the last row of Table 1, which has to do with how many game points you lose if you close the stock but fail to win the deal. Two of the sites (Bummerl and Cafe Ritter) explicitly say that you lose exactly as many game points as you would have won, had you won the deal. The other sites agree with this, except they add that the minimum number of points you will lose is 2. That is, if Alice closes the stock when Bob has at least 33 trick points, Alice will get 1 game point if she succeeds but will lose 2 game points if she fails. I believe that there is a very good reason to prefer this variant (besides the fact that the majority of the sites say so). Suppose that Alice has 65 trick points, and Bob is on lead with 5 trick points and dismal prospects. It looks as though Bob is sure to lose 2 game points on this deal. But if the rules dictated that Bob loses only 1 game point by closing the stock and failing, he would surely choose to do that. This hardly seems fair or reasonable.

Based on this research, we put together the rules for Schnapsen that we use on this site and in our app. Those rules are shown in the final Psellos column of Table 1. They represent the majority opinion of the soft Schnapsen rules shown in the other columns of the table.

Sixty-Six

Let’s now investigate the rules variations in Sixty-Six. I searched for Sixty-Six rules that seem authoritative, and came up with eight such sites. Table 2 below lists what each site said about each of ten rules variants. The first nine variants are the same as in Table 1, but the last row is a new variant. If a table entry is blank, that means the site was mute on that particular rule.

Table 2: Rules Variations in Sixty-Six
Bam wiki spiel66 Bühler BGG regeln Bum Pagat Psellos
last trick wins when stock exhausted No No No No No No No No No
may lead Queen from marriage Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
marriage at trick 1 Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes
marriage when stock not open No No No No No
trump exchange at trick 1 Yes Yes No Yes No Yes
trump exchange at trick 6 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
close stock at trick 1 Yes Yes No Yes Yes
close stock at trick 6 Yes Yes Yes Yes
2-3 game points for failure after closing Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes
close stock only after drawing Yes No No Yes

Site legend:

  1. Bam: Johannes Bamberger, Schnapsen: Die Schönsten Varianten, Perlen-Reihe, Band 639, 11th edition, pages 20-26.
  2. wiki: de.wikipedia
  3. spiel66: Kartenspiel 66
  4. Bühler: Bühler
  5. BGG: BoardGameGeek
  6. regeln: Kartenspiele-regeln
  7. Bum: Bummerl
  8. Pagat: Pagat.com
  9. Psellos: Psellos

As is the case in Table 1, there is disagreement among the sites about what is allowed at trick 1, but those differences do not have a great effect on the game.

In our rules, shown in the final Psellos column of Table 2, we have again taken the majority decision of the other sites, except in the last row. The question in this last row is whether the player closing the stock has the choice of whether to do so before or after drawing cards from the stock to replace the cards played on the previous trick. Only three of the sites address this variant, of which two (Kartenspiel 66 and Pagat) both say that the player does have this choice. That is, the player closing the stock can decide whether to proceed with 5 or 6 cards in each hand. In our app for Sixty-Six, we decided not to allow this choice, partly for consistency with the Schnapsen rules, partly because so few sites discuss this rule at all, and partly because it would complicate the app’s user interface.

Effects of Rule Changes

Comparing the majority decisions in Table 1 and Table 2, one of the interesting findings consists of two important rules where, according to this consensus, Schnapsen and Sixty-Six differ:

  1. In Schnapsen, you can declare a marriage whenever you are on lead, independent of the status of the stock. In Sixty-Six, you can only declare a marriage if the stock is open.

  2. When the stock is exhausted, winning the last trick is worth 10 extra trick points in Sixty-Six (so a 65-65 tie is possible), but in Schnapsen winning the last trick gives you an outright win of the deal.

While developing our app, we experimented with the effects of a few such rule variants. For instance, in an earlier implementation of Sixty-Six, we allowed marriages to be declared even if the stock was no longer open. In fact, in that early implementation, all of the variant choices discussed above were the same for Sixty-Six and Schnapsen. Somewhat surprisingly, it was much easier to beat our app at that version of Sixty-Six than it was to beat our app at Schnapsen. This made Sixty-Six less fun to play than Schnapsen, because it was a little too easy. When we later changed the rules to conform with the majority of authorities, as discussed above, it was suddenly much more challenging to beat our app at Sixty-Six, and correspondingly more fun to play.

To repeat this majority opinion, in Sixty-Six you can only declare marriages when the stock is open and in Schnapsen you can declare marriages regardless of the stock. We believe that this difference in rules is fundamental to making both games challenging and fun. It is even possible that over a few hundred years they evolved these distinct variants in order to be more fun, a sort of “natural selection” in games!

As another example, consider Schnapsen and the “sharp” rule that you cannot close the stock at trick 5, when only one face-down card remains. Our first implementation of the app enforced this sharp rule. Many of the interesting endgame situations reported in The Schnapsen Log arose while playing against this early version of the app. In the new implementation that uses the “soft” rules, I find that these particular endgame situations arise somewhat less frequently. This is because the stock is often closed at trick 5, particularly by the app when playing at its Master level of difficulty! This doesn’t mean that the game has become less interesting or less challenging: there is a whole new endgame challenge in deciding whether or not to close at trick 5.

© 2012 Martin Tompa. All rights reserved.


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About the Author

Martin Tompa

Martin Tompa (tompa@psellos.com)

I am a Professor of Computer Science & Engineering at the University of Washington, where I teach discrete mathematics, logic, probability, design and analysis of algorithms, and other related courses. I have always loved playing games. Games are great tools for learning to think logically but, more important, seem to me an integral part of happy family or social life. I will be delighted if game-players, parents, teachers, and students find this series fun and useful.

My excitement about Schnapsen was rekindled by playing against an iPhone program called Master Schnapsen/66 written by two friends at Psellos. Set to play at its “Master” level of difficulty, this program is one of the two most formidable opponents I have found. It comes up with surprising and brilliant plays, and I have learned an enormous amount of Schnapsen strategy by playing with it. Nearly every deal in this Schnapsen Log arose during those hours of playing with Master Schnapsen/66.

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