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HandJass

Handjass, also known as 'Sackjass', is a point trick-taking game for three players. Handjass is played in Switzerland and Austria. The objective is to score points by declaring certain melds, and to win tricks with valuable cards in them.

The Cards

Traditionally played with a deck of Swiss Jass cards, a standard English pack can be adapted by removing all the 5’s and down.

That will give you a deck of 36 cards, consisting of A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6 in each suit.

Cards Rank

In trumps, the highest cards are the Jack, known as the 'Jass', and the 9, known as the 'Menel'.
Thus, in the trump suit cards rank:
J, 9, A, K, Q, 10, 8, 7, 6
And in any off-suit, cards rank:
A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6

The Objective

The objective is to score by having the best meld in hand and for capturing valuable cards in tricks. Importantly, any player wants to avoid scoring less than 21 in melds and tricks.

The Deal

Traditionally in Jass, deal and play are counter-clockwise, and the deal proceeds to the right at the end of each hand.

Each player is dealt nine cards in batches of three. The remaining nine cards are left face down in the middle of the table to form a ‘spare hand’. The top card is faced and this establishes the trump suit.

The Exchange

Whichever player holds the 6 of trumps may then exchange it for the upturned card. Then beginning with the player to the Dealer’s right, each player has the right to throw in his/her hand, if they think it’s not good enough, and exchange it for the spare, site unseen – and once having done so cannot then change his/her mind and exchange it back. Naturally, of course, only one player can do this, and once having done it, precludes any other player from making the move.

Melds

A meld consists of three or more cards of the same suit in sequence. For these purposes, the cards of the trump suit rank as they do in the trump suit, and in any off-suit as they normally do. A player may also declare Quartets, being any four cards of the same rank so long as they are higher than 8. A player may also declare a 'Marriage' which is the King and Queen of Trumps. Melds are declared as players play to the first trick.

The value of these melds is as follows:

  • Sequence of 3 – 20 points
  • Sequence of 4 – 50 points
  • Sequence of 5 or more – 100 points
  • Quartet – Four Queens, Kings or Aces – 100 points
  • Marriage – 20 points

Only the player with the best meld in hand may score for it, but, in so doing, scores for every single meld he/she holds. Importantly, no card may count as part of both a sequence and a quartet. However, the King and Queen of Trumps may be counted in both a quartet and a marriage.

The Play

The player to the Dealer’s right leads first, and thereafter the winner of the trick leads to the next. As each player plays a card to the first trick, they announce their best meld, giving only enough information as to establish its superiority over any previously declared. For example, if the player holds a sequence of 4, he/she announces “50 points”. If a player cannot top a previous announcement, he/she need not say anything.

Where melds seem apparently equal, the best is determined by the one which:

  • Scores the most; or if equal
  • Contains the most cards; or if equal
  • Is in trumps; or if not applicable
  • Is declared first, for which purposes must be overcalled by any subsequent declaration. If not overcalled, then the announcement stands.

Rules of Play

These strict trick taking rules apply:

  • You must follow suit to the card led, and you must try to win the trick by playing a higher card.
  • If you can’t follow suit, then you must trump in; and you must play a higher trump than any previously played.
  • If you can’t follow suit, and you can’t trump in, only then can you play any card
  • The trick is won by the highest trump played to it. If no trumps are played, the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led.

The Score

At the end of the hand, each player takes up the cards they have won in tricks and counts their point value according to the following schedule:

Card Value
Jack of Trumps 20 Points
Nine of Trumps 14 Points
Any Ace 11 Points
Any 10 10 Points
Any King 4 Points
Any Queen 3 Points
Any other Jack 2 Points

The two players making the most in both melds and tricks score 1 game point each. The player who fails to take at least 21 points in melds and tricks is said to be ‘In the Sack’. This means that a score of 0 is marked against him/her. If at the end of the next hand, a player who was ‘in the sack’ turns out to be one of the top two players, they are not entitled to score a game point. Instead their victory merely cancels out their sack.

Game

Handjass is played over several hands. As soon as a player reaches 5 points, they drop out of the game while the other two players continue playing. The last one left in is the loser.

Acknowledgements

The description of Jass games presented on this website have been adapted from:

David Parlett: The Penguin Book of Card Games
Penguin Books Ltd, 1979, London, pp. 220-223
ISBN 07139 1149 2


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