Over the last few weeks we’ve looked at two classic variants of the trick-taking game Whist. First we covered the basics with the family-friendly Knockout Whist and followed it up with Classic Whist where we built on the key concepts and strategies of the game.
However if you want something different, or perhaps your Game Night only consists of two players, we have today our favourite variant of the game – German Whist.
It appears to have no actual connection to Germany, seemingly invented in England in the 1800s, but whatever its origins you’ll find all the skills you picked up learning Knockout Whist and Classic Whist really handy here, as well as learning some additional subtleties that come with playing with only two players.
If you’re new to Whist or trick-taking games in general, we suggest starting with Game Night 4 – Learn to Play Knockout Whist and then moving on to Game Night 5 – Learn to Play Classic Whist before trying this one.
Let’s get into it! And let us know who wins in the comments!
Deck of the Night – Dram Copper Edition
If you’ve never played German Whist before you’ll have plenty of things to think about while getting to grips with it, so our newest release DRAM is the perfect accompaniment. Our clearest and cleanest classic deck to date, its clear pips and indices will make for a distraction-free game night where you can focus on the most important thing – winning!
What you need
Whist and its variants are part on a classic type of card game called a ‘trick-taking’ game, where the aim is for the players to make ‘tricks’ in order to score points. It is also where the concept of trump cards come into play, and after learning just a few basic concepts you’ll have access to a whole new world of great strategic card games for your next Game Night.
For Game Night 4, 5 and 6 we will be covering the two key variants of Whist – Knockout Whist and Classic Whist, plus our personal favourite version German Whist which is played with just 2 players. This way whether you’re with one friend or a whole group, we’ll have a version for you!
If you’re new to Whist we recommend learning the three variants in order:
- Knockout Whist teaches you all the necessary concepts in a simplified version of the game that is suitable also for kids, so start with this one if you’re not familiar with these kinds of games. It can be played with between two and seven players, so is also the most flexible variant we’ll be teaching.
- Classic Whist is played by four players, and is the traditional group version of the game invented in the 1800s. It’s got a great blend of strategy and planning involved and is a great way of honing the skills necessary to win in all the variants.
- German Whist is for just two players, so it’s a great, quick variant to learn if you don’t have a group of four or perhaps you want something a bit different!
Today we look at German Whist, a great twist on the classic versions that works for two players.
Players and Cards
The game is designed for 2 players only. For a similar game with more players, check out Knockout Whist and Classic Whist.
Cards are ranked with Aces always high – A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 of all suits.
How to Deal and Play
Decide who is the dealer (and then the dealer alternates for following hands) and deal 13 cards to each player. Once this is done, place the deck on the table and turn the top card face up. This is the trump suit for the hand, and you must remember it.
We now have two players with 13 cards each and a stock pule with a face up trump card on top.
German Whist has two stages of play. During the first stage, you are effectively looking to build as strong a hand of 13 cards as possible. There is no scoring in this stage. Here’s how it goes.
First Stage of Play
The player who is not the dealer goes first. As with other Whist games, you play a card in attempt to make a trick. The other player then plays either a stronger or weaker card of the same suit, or an offsuit card or trump card and the trick is resolved.
The person who plays first to a trick may play any card, and the other player must play a card of the same suit if possible. If the second player has no cards of the suit played, they may play any card. If both cards are of the same suit, the higher card wins the trick. If they are of different suits the first player wins unless the second player played a trump card, in which case the trump card wins.
At this point in German Whist, the top (face up) card of the deck is taken by the winning player and the losing player takes the next (face down) card without showing their opponent. The top card of the stock pile is now turned face up and play continues with whoever won the previous trick.
However remember that in this stage of the game there is no scoring, so what is the strategy?
As the winner of each trick takes the top face up card on the deck, you effectively are deciding if you want that card in your hand or not. This will be based on whether it’s a trump card ie, of the trump suit established at the start of the game, or if it’s just a nice high card that could be useful.
The twist with German Whist is that you may well not want that card at all, perhaps it’s low or you would rather take a risk on the unknown card under it, so you may deliberately play a lower card to lose the trick and get a better shot at building your best hand.
You continue to play like this until the deck is exhausted, and you are both left with 13 cards with which to battle for the final stage where it’s all to play for.
Second Stage of Play
The player who won the last trick of Stage One begins play. Now every trick matters – and this stage will be most familiar to those who’ve played the other Whist variants as it’s essentially the same. Players attempt to make tricks which beat their opponents by placing a card down on the table.
The opponent will then try to play a higher card of that suit or, if they can’t, a random card which will mean losing the trick or trump card which will mean winning it.
Each trick won is kept by the player as a point, and there will be 13 points in total up for grabs.
Every time you win a trick, you make the next move.
The winner after all cards have been played is the player with the most tricks.
You may have noticed whilst trying out German Whist that there’s no real way of knowing if your opponent is telling the truth when they play an off-suit card, ie, claiming they don’t have any of that suit. After all, even if they later play a card of that suit they could have picked it up from the face-down deck.
To avoid disputes, some people play Stage One without the obligation of matching the suit of the trick (obviously you can’t win a trick in this case, unless playing a trump card) and then it only becomes something to watch out for in Stage Two when, if a player plays a trump card or an off-suit card which they are then revealed to have been able to play later on, you know they’re cheating.
However you want to play, it’s definitely something to keep an eye on in Stage Two where every point counts. Remember – you can only play a trump card to win a trick if it matches the suit played by your opponent or you cannot play the suit that your opponent has played.
There’s a fair bit to consider here, so this is my thought process when both making or contesting a trick:
- When making a trick I’m looking at the the face-up card. Do I want it? If so, I’ll make a move I expect to win. Perhaps I’ll place an Ace of King of a suit, or something lower of something I don’t think my opponent can beat.
- When contesting a trick I will follow the same process, but also keeping in mind that I want to keep my higher cards and trump cards for the second stage where points are up for grabs. Sometimes it’s best to let your opponent win, discard a low card, and hope that the next card in the deck is stronger than what you would’ve won.
- Get rid of your low cards early
- Get as many trump cards as you can in the first stage
- After you’ve played a couple of rounds, you’ll soon realise that noticing what key cards have already been discarded/played is crucial to giving you an edge and being able to estimate what your opponent has.
- I personally like to use my aces in Stage One. This either guarantees you a win on that trick, or forces your opponent to waste a trump card when there are no points to play for. What’s more, if you have the King of that suit you can still hold onto that, knowing that the Ace is no longer in play, and continue down the high cards keeping always the highest card of that suit in play. Try it!
Have a great Game Night everyone and we’ll see you for the next one!
Do you play this game already? What do you call it in your country? And do you have any recommended variations on the rules? Let us know below!
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