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British Skat Association • View topic - Book review. Wolfgang Rui: Besser Skat spielen
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Book review. Wolfgang Rui: Besser Skat spielen

PostPosted: Mon Jan 06, 2014 1:12 pm
by John McLeod
For any Skat players who read German and would like to take their playing skill to a new level, I would strongly recommend Wolfgang Rui's new 112-page book Besser Skat spielen, which is published as a free eBook and can be downloaded from .
When playing Skat we all rely to some extent on instinct and on 'standard' tactics, following various maxims about good play. We bid when we expect after taking the skat to have 5-6 trumps and an ace or two. As declarer we draw trumps and try to establish our long suits. As defender we try to give the lead to declarer's right-hand opponent who then leads a long suit. If the declarer is on our right we return our partner's lead rather than open up a new suit. Against a Grand we lead the Ace of our strongest suit. A lot of the time following principles like these us allows us to find a reasonable line of play without having to think too hard.
Wolfgang Rui encourages us to think more deeply and accurately about our bidding and play. It is not enough to play so as to win as many points as possible for your side. It is futile for the defence to follow a line that cannot yield more than 59 points - you need a plan that will give you at least 60 points. If the only way you can get 60 points is if your partner has a certain card, you have to assume that he or she really has that card and play accordingly. If the assumption is right you can win. If you are wrong it has cost you nothing, since you could not win anyway.
After the introduction, there is a chapter about safe hands - hands which the declarer is 100% certain to win no matter how the other cards are distributed or played. At first sight this is a bit disappointing. One may think that such hands are not all that frequent, and that when you get one it is obvious what to do with it. The author insists that understanding safe hands is an important basis for correct bidding and play. Not all safe hands are obvious and the book encourages us to learn what they look like so that we can recognise them instantly and play them correctly. This has the added bonus that when we get a hand that is almost safe, we know exactly where the danger lies, and what has to happen to ensure success.
The next chapter is about probabilities and luck. This includes some useful tables from which we can remind ourselves of the likelihood that both opponents will follow suit to our doubleton A-10, or that we will find at least one of seven possible useful cards in the skat.
Then there are two chapters on hand assessment and bidding, including a review of Joe Wergin's 'Power Count System' and a couple of other popular but unreliable methods. The bidding chapter has an in-depth discussion of tactics such as passing when you suspect your opponent wants to play the same suit and skipping numbers to indicate voids to your potential partner, and explores their consequences in the subsequent play.
The following chapters cover playing techniques and their application. First there is a short survey of some tactical principles: drawing trumps, tempo, forcing (using a side suit as substitute trumps), the exit and the throw-in, 'nailing' (when the second player plays a top trump to secure the trick), transferring the lead, the waiting play and the finesse. This is followed by a series of examples illustrating the use of these tactics in various combinations. Always there is an emphasis on how to use the information one has, including the bidding, to develop a viable plan and if possible a back-up plan and then execute it.
The final chapters relate more to skat culture in Germany, including behaviour at the table, psychology and the role of the Skatgericht (the body which oversees the tournament rules). These are interesting, but perhaps only of immediate use to those of us who might want to play in a large German Preisskat or in the world championship.