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How To Play the American Version of Skat
Skat (also known as 31 or Blitz) is a simple draw and discard game played in North America and the United Kingdom. This game has no connection with the national card game of Germany, also known as Skat. The game is suitable for players of all ages. It should also not be confused with Dutch Blitz, a solitaire-style game. In the UK, the game is also known as Ride the Bus, but the method of scoring is slightly different.
Rules of the Game
Players have 3-card hands and must try to collect cards in a single suit which add up to 31 points (or as near to 31 as possible). Anywhere from 2 to 9 players can participate, but most agree that 3 players are the ideal number of participants.
Skat is played with a standard 52-card deck. For the purposes of scoring, the ace is valued at 11 points, while the kings, queens, and jacks are worth 10 points. All other cards are worth their face value.
The value of a 3-card hand is determined by adding together the value of cards held in any one suit. The more cards you have of the same suit, then the more cards you can add together. If you have two clubs in your hand, for example, and one diamond, then you can add the two clubs together. However, if the diamond card is higher than the two clubs added together, then you might want to consider using it instead.
If your hand consists of three cards of differing suits, then the value of your hand is the value of the highest card. The maximum hand value is 31 points, which is comprised of an ace and two ten-point cards of the same suit (called a skat).
Play begins with the deal. The dealer can be chosen in any manner, or a player can simply volunteer for the duty. On each hand, the deal will move in a clockwise direction. The dealer then shuffles the cards and deals one card at a time to each player starting on the dealer's left. This continues in a clockwise manner until all players have been dealt three cards.
After all players receive their hands, the top card on the deck is turned face-up and placed in the center of the table to start the discard pile. The remaining cards are placed face-down next to the discard pile and constitute the stock. During gameplay, it is important to remember that only the top card of the discard pile should ever be visible (any cards below it will be face up, but cards should be kept squared up to prevent peeking).
The player to the left of the dealer goes first, with additional players going in a clockwise order. On a normal turn, the player will:
1. Draw a card. He or she may take the top card from either the stock pile or the discard pile.
2. Discard one card, face-up, onto the discard pile.
If a player takes the top card from the discard pile, then they cannot discard that card on the same turn. However, if you take the top card from the stock, then you are free to discard it onto the discard pile in the same turn.
There is one situation where a player may pick up his own discard. If there are only two players left in the game and your opponent knocks, then you may pick up your discard with your last remaining action.
At the beginning of your turn, you may "knock" instead of drawing a card if you believe that the value of your hand is at least as high as what your opponents can achieve in one more turn. If you choose to knock at the beginning of your turn, you perform no other actions on that turn. Each of your opponents, however, will receive one final turn. After each player has received their final turn, all players reveal their cards by placing them face-up on the table.
Players designate their point suit and total up the value of the cards in that suit. The player who has the lowest point total "loses a life." If another player has a total equal to that of the knocker, the tying player still loses a life, but the knocker is safe. If the knocker's total is less than every other player at the table, then the knocker loses two lives. If multiple players other than the knocker tie for the lowest point total, then all of these players lose a life.
If a player achieves a value of 31 at any time (called Skat), they show their cards to the table and win the round. If this happens, all the others lose a life. If two or more players achieve 31 on the initial deal, then all other players lose a life.
The traditional way to keep up with scoring is to have each player place three pennies in from of them. If you lose a life, you must place one penny into the kitty in the center of the table. If two lives are lost, then you must place two pennies into the kitty. If you have lost all of your pennies (or lives), you are said to be "on the county" (meaning on welfare or charity from the county) or "on your face." If you lose again, then you are eliminated from the game entirely. This continues until only one player remains. The remaining player is then declared the winner.
Some play where obtaining 3-of-a-kind of any rank (3 fours, 3 eights) counts as 30 points (or 30.5). In this case, it ties 3 ten point cards of the same suit. If it counts as 30.5 points, then it beats every hand except a Skat.
In other versions, a player must achieve a minimum value to knock. For example, the player might need a minimum of 18 to knock.
Others, especially in the United Kingdom, play a version called Ride the Bus where scoring is tracked differently. All players begin "seated" on the back of a bus. If you lose a point, you are in the middle of the bus. Another loss puts you on the front of the bus, and yet another will place you on the stairs. The final loss will put you off the bus and out of the game.
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