What is Jass?
Jass is a trick-taking card game from the Alemannic areas of Germany. These central-Southern German states include parts of Germany proper, as well as other Germanic States such as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, South Tyrol (A German-speaking area of Italy), as well as parts of the Midwest in the German populations of the United States.
How to Play Jass?
Jass is played using the special German Suited deck, known is Switzerland as “Jasskarten” or Jass Cards. However, if one does not have the special cards, they are instead able to simply modify the standard Anglo-American 52-card deck. Simply remove the 2s, 3s, 4,s 5s from the deck.
Jass is played with two teams of two, a Four-Player game in total. All 36 cards are utilized every round, with Players being dealt a total of nine cards in “packets” of three, meaning they are dealt three cards at a time.
The “Eldest” player, merely the Player that holds the Seven of Diamonds (7♦) in their hand after the deal, is allowed to choose the Trump suit for the round. In subsequent rounds, the Player clockwise to the previous “Eldest” is allowed to determine the Trump suit for the round.
Eldest may, if they wish, pass the privilege of determining Trump to their partner, who must then decide the Trump suits.
Melds and Marriages
Before the game begins properly, Players should declare marriages and melds that exist in their hand before tricks are laid out on the table.
There are two kinds of melds in Jass:
The cards must be shown to the rest of the Players.
These melds award different point values, depending on the cards possessed within them. The scores for these melds will be further explained below.
- Cards may only be used for one meld, and should be returned to the hand after they are declared.
- Cards that are in a sequence must all be the same suit, just like a Straight Flush or Royal Flush in Poker.
In addition to the regular melds are marriages.
A Marriage is simply the possession of the King and Queen of Trumps in the same hand. Should a Player possess the King and Queen of Trumps, they wait for all other melds (including their own) to be declared before showing the cards. They are then instantly awarded 20 points to their global score total.
Once the Trump suit has been determined and melds and marriages declared, gameplay may begin as with any other Trick-taking game.
The Eldest may also lead the first trick, and place down whichever card they desire into the play area face-up. The remaining players must then “follow suit” when they play their own cards into the trick.
In order to follow suit, a Player must play a card that matches the suit of the leading card. If a Player cannot follow suit, then they are permitted to play whatever card that they wish.
However, a Player who does not follow suit cannot win the trick, even if they play a card of a higher rank than the leading card.
If Trumps are led, a Trump must be played if possible. A Player does not have to follow suit if they are playing a Trump card, and Trump cards can only be beaten by another Trump of higher rank. This means a 6 of Trumps would beat a Jack of non-trump, even if the Jack of non-trump led the suit.
Tricks are determined by the value of the played card, not necessarily the rank of the card. Jacks of the Trump suit, for example, are a higher value than kings and aces of the Trump suit. This will be further explained in the Scoring section below.
Gameplay continues until all 9 tricks of the round have been played, at which point the scores are tabulated. Marriages are scored instantly, but melds and tricks are not scored until the round has ended.
The scores of partners are combined and added to the global score total, a combined “final score” of each partnership. Gameplay restarts, with the new Eldest then leading the trick with the card of their choice. The deck is shuffled in Jass, unlike in Belote.
Rounds will continue in the same fashion as described above until one Partnership achieves a score of 2500 points.
- Melds must be declared at the start of the round, before the first trick has been led by the Eldest.
- Marriages are scored instantly, and their totals are immediately added to the global score. This means it is possible to win the game at the start of the trick if you reach the score threshold before the tricks begin being played.
- Trumps do not have to follow suit; otherwise, Players must follow suit if able.
- Players are still required to follow suit unless playing Trumps if able, even if their Partner is already winning the trick.
Scoring & Points
Very similarly to Belote, Jass also scores cards in various different ways.
Melds, Marriages, and Trick-value. Melds and Marriages are declared before the trick taking phase begins, and award the following point values:
|Five card sequence
|Four card sequence
|Three card sequence
In addition to meld points, points are also awarded for the individual values of each card in a taken trick. These values are determined both by the rank of the card, as well as its status as a Trump card in that round.
- Jack – 20 Points
- Nine – 14 Points
- Ace – 11 Points
- Ten – 10 Points
- King – 4 Points
- Queen- 3 Points
- Aces – 11 Points
- Tens – 10 Points
- Kings – 4 Points
- Queens – 2 Points
The following is a possible hand that a Player might open within a game of Jass:
K♦, Q♦, 6♣, 7♣, 8♣, 9♠, K♣, Q♣, 10♥
Although extremely unlikely, this above starting hand contains useful examples of melds for the purposes of explaining their procedure.
Notice the marriage at the start of the hand, assuming the trump suit of the round is Diamonds. The Queen and King of ♣ are not trump, and so do not form a marriage. Furthermore, notice the sequence of 3 cards.
A Player should therefore first declare their sequence meld, and then wait for all other Players to declare their melds. Afterwards, the Player containing this hand would then declare the marriage in their hand.
Strategy & Tips
- Try to not beat your partner if they are winning the trick, this will just waste your good trick-taking cards. Your scores are combined anyway, so a won trick is a won trick regardless of who on your team wins it.
- If you are Eldest at the start of the round, but your starting hand is very diverse in its suits, surrender the right to choose trumps to your partner. As you have no way of knowing what cards they have, they may have a hand with multiple cards of the same suit. If you are not particularly advantaged, regardless of the trump, let your partner choose trumps.
- This is a game of many, many rounds due to the relatively high score threshold. Do not obsess over winning a single round, there will be more opportunities to come back and gain a higher score.
Can I play without Jasskarten?
Yes. Although it is not truly the “traditional” game of (Swiss) Jass unless one is using the traditional Swiss-suited cards, with Bells, Acorns, Roses, and Shields, in reality, all that matters is possessing a deck of 36 cards, ranked from 6-Ace that has 4 distinct suits.
What is the highest-ranking card in Jass?
The card which has the highest rank, and which will always win the trick it is played in is the Jack of Trumps. The Jack of Trumps is a particularly special card in Jass, as it also awards the highest number of individual card points at the end of a round.
Interestingly, Jass shares a trait with Belote, with the 9 of Trumps being the second highest card of the game, winning all tricks it is played in except when it is played in the same trick as the Jack of Trumps.
Can I play Jass online?
Yes. Due to its popularity in German-speaking places, there are a number of applications both on the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store for mobile play of Swiss Jass. Multiplayer versions are available on both major application databases.