SHARE
COPY LINK

SWITZERLAND EXPLAINED

Jass: What is Switzerland’s national card game and how do you play it?

Jass has long established itself as Switzerland’s most popular card game, so much so in fact that the word 'jassen' has taken on the meaning ‘playing card games with Swiss cards’. Here’s how you get to grips with this much-loved Swiss hobby.

Jass cards
Fancy trying Jass? Photo: Hebi B from Pixabay.

What’s the background to Jass?

Though Jass is widely recognised as Switzerland’s national card game, its origins are still debated. Card games originally reached Europe in the 14th century via the Far East, and some say the origins of Jass can be traced back to 12th century Korea and China, though it is generally recognised to be a Dutch game that came to Switzerland with Protestant mercenaries in the late 18th century.

One of the first printed images of Jass cards in Switzerland can, however, be traced back to Basel in the 1500s. Even after 500 years, the cards are clearly recognisable as depicting – in late Gothic fashion – a chap (Schellenunter) dressed in a sleeved skirt, pointed shoes and a typical jester’s cap with a bell and jester’s staff in hand.

The first record of the Swiss version of Jass dates to 1796 in Schaffhausen when two priests are said to have sued two farmers for playing a game ‘which one calls Jassen for a glass of wine’. The city of Schaffhausen has since – not by fluke – become one of Switzerland’s centres for manufacturing playing cards.

A special feature in the Swiss Jass version is the suit ‘Schilten’. It can be traced back to Swiss citizens who emancipated from the nobility and acquired coats of arms of their own.

This is how uber rich Basel merchant Heinrich Halbisen printed the cards he produced in his paper mill with his own coat of arms: half a horseshow.

The remaining three suits – roses, bells, and acorns – are thought to be variants of the German cards which themselves feature bells, hearts, leaves, and acorns.

The Swiss cards have different suits depending on the region you are in, and the game can be played with the French, German, or Austrian hand.

READ ALSO: Five Swiss laws that foreign residents are bound to break

How is it played?

In Switzerland, ‘Jass’ is a generic term for an estimated 70 (!) card games, so rules differ. However, with Schieber (‘mover’) being by far the most popular Jass variation in Switzerland, let’s focus on the rules for this game to get a basic idea of how it’s played.

Schieber is played with four players, with the opposing players forming a team. The aim of the game is for your team to score 1,000 points (or 2,500 points) first in which game a match automatically finishes.

A deck of cards consists of 4 suits and each suit includes 9 playing cards. There are a total of 36 cards in play. With every Jass game variant, 3 × 3 cards are dealt, i.e., each player receives 9 cards.

Once the cards have been dealt – each player is dealt 3 x 3 cards – the forehand (the player to the right of the dealer) must either choose a trump or pass to their partner. If the forehand passes, their partner must nominate the trump suit instead.

In Swiss German, the deciding rule is called Stöck, Wys, Stich (marriages, melds, tricks) and applies if both teams score 1,000 points at the same time. In this case, the former determines in which order the points will be counted, hence, determining the winner.

Jass cards.

Jass cards. Photo: H.B from Pixabay

In some cases, the target score is set at 2,500 in which case Schieber is played with multipliers. The points for trump Acorns/Diamonds or Roses/Hearts are counted once, for Shields/Spades or Bells/Clubs all points count double. With tops-down or bottoms-up (Obenabe/Undenufe) the points count treble.

When the target score is set at 1,000, all points count only once.

What are the rules for Schieber?

In the Schieber Jass, the following rules must also be observed:

  1. If you have a card of the suit played, you must play that suit. Unless you have the trump Jack/trump Under – then you can play that as an alternative.
  2. If you don’t have a card of the suit played, you can choose the card freely. Note that you can only play a lower trump card, if all you have left in your hand is trump cards.
  3. Players may play a trump at any time, even if they could serve the required suit.
  4. If trump is played, then trump must be served. If you only have trump Jack/trump Under as a trump card, you can play any other card instead.

Melds, marriages, and tricks

You can score additional points for melds, marriages, and tricks.

Meld points can be scored for identical cards or a sequence of three (or more) cards of the same suit.

A marriage can be won if you hold a blend of King and Ober (Queen) in your trump suit which is worth 20 points.

When the forehand plays the first card, each player must decide whether they want to declare a meld. However, only the player in possession of the best meld can score.

As a result, the team with the highest individual meld scores for that team’s collective meld points.

If melds happen to be of equal value, the number of cards decides who scores. If that number also happens to be identical, then the player with the meld in trumps wins.

So-called partner melds are also permitted.

Sounds simple enough, right?

You can practise your very first Jass game on www.swisslos.ch.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

SWISS HABITS

Everything you need to know about Switzerland’s outdoor pool culture

With temperatures in Switzerland forecast to climb closer to 30C this week, many Swiss residents are looking forward to kick off pool season with a visit to their local "badi" or "bain" this weekend.

Everything you need to know about Switzerland's outdoor pool culture

Swimming pools, or Badis, as they are affectionately called in Swiss-German (bains or piscines in French), are deeply embedded in Swiss culture, with children enjoying weekly trips to their local pools as part of their school curriculum from a young age.

Switzerland’s outdoor bathing culture dates to the 19th century when the Swiss still swam in gender-segregated pools. Back then, outdoor swimming pools featured mostly classic box baths made of wood with flat roofs and were a lot less sophisticated.

Though the majority of outdoor swimming pools welcome both genders today, there are still some examples – like the Utoquai in Zurich – where men and women bathe separately to this day.

Yet, new – and expensive to build – swimming pool facilities do not often see the light of day as swimmers are increasingly turning to lakes and rivers to cool off.

Today, Switzerland has around 600 public open-air, lake and river pools and a further 260 indoor swimming pools across its 26 cantons.

But with so much choice, where can you find Switzerland’s ‘best’ outdoor pools?

If you are new to Switzerland’s pool culture, your local municipality’s outdoor pool facility is likely the best place to start. It is true that most Swiss pledge lifelong loyalty to their local outdoor pool facility, however, if you’re feeling adventurous, Switzerland has many iconic outdoor pools across its cantons that are well worth a visit.

For those who enjoy to gaze at unique architecture while splashing around, the Häädler Badi in Appenzell dates back to the 1930s and is even under national protection.

Facilities include a sport swimming pool, a diving pool with diving tower, a pool for non-swimmers and children’s paddling pool with slide and play creek. Guests can also join other players at the beach volleyball court or for a round of table tennis.

If you lack the funds to travel across the border this summer but would still like to treat yourself to a getaway, then a trip to Lausanne’s Bellerive-Plage, which opened in 1937, is sure to make you feel like you’re on a mini vacation.

Often referred to as the jewel among Lausanne’s outdoor pools, the Bellerive-Plage is situated by the lake and attracts up to 8,000 visitors to take a dip in not one, but three large pools on hot summer days.

Meanwhile, in Valais you can slide down the longest water slide (182 metres) in the canton while surrounded by fantastic views of the Valais and Bernese Alps. The water slide is only one of the many features belonging to the Brigerbad thermal baths so entry fees will vary.

Speaking of bathing with a view, you may also like to consider a ‘historic’ dip in Aarburg’s the newly renovated swimming pool. The facility, which opened in 1931 and was renovated for a cool 6 million francs, features an outdoor bar by the river Aare and overlooks the 12th century Aarburg Castle.

How much is a daily ticket?

Though it is up to the swimming pool facility to set their individual prices, adults in Switzerland usually pay less than 10 francs for a day ticket. 

According to the Aarburg swimming pool 2023 pricing, an adult ticket will set you back 6 francs, while students pay as little as 4 francs for a daily visit. 

You can also pay 5 francs to use a towel for the day. Luckily, sunbeds are free of charge.

Kids under the age of 7 can visit for free while those aged 7 and over pay 3 francs to use the facilities.

But when are kids considered old enough to visit one of Switzerland’s outdoor swimming pools on their own?

Though it is up to the parents to judge their child’s swimming ability, many swimming pools in Switzerland (though not all) have set an age limit – usually around 10 years old – for unaccompanied children.

Beware the swimming pool etiquette

Due to the high number of daily visitors in Switzerland’s outdoor pools throughout the summer, there is usually high humidity in the changing rooms of the facilities. When combined with heat, such places offer an ideal breeding ground for germs and bacteria.

Therefore, a number of rules apply to visitors to ensure appropriate hygiene is maintained when visiting outdoor pools.

Firstly, showering (preferably with shower gel) is obligatory prior to jumping into the water as well as right after your swim. It is also advisable – though not a must everywhere – to wear slides when walking around the pool area to prevent the spread of fungi.

Since public space is limited, swimmers in Switzerland should also ensure they don’t take up more room than necessary. It is therefore encouraged to always keep a distance of at least one metre between yourself and the person in front of you.

This also goes for those hoping to dive or jump off a diving tower: always ensure there are no other swimmers in your immediate vicinity so as not to endanger other guests and yourself.

Generally, beginner swimmers or those preferring to take it easy are encouraged to stick to the right side of the pool and leave the middle-end section of the pool ‘free’ so that swimmers have an easy time turning when doing laps.

Should you need to or want to take a break during a lap, always do so on the outer edge of your lane.

If you visit an outdoor pool with your children, remember to remind your child that the swimming pools should not be used as toilets (this goes for you too).

Likewise, if your children cannot swim, they may only bathe in the designated pool area for non-swimmers and must be supervised at all times.

Dress appropriately

If you’re planning to visit a Swiss swimming pool you may need to check what swimwear you are actually allowed to wear within that facility.

As with many things in Switzerland, you may be best off checking with your local pool facility directly before planning your trip as swimwear rules can differ not only from canton to canton, but from municipality to swimming pool facility.

In 2017, Geneva banned both burkinis and topless bathing in its swimming pools but has since lifted its ban on burkinis – but not on bathing half-nude.

The swimming pool facility in Basel’s Balsthal still dictates swimmers must wear a one-piece or two-piece swimsuit which comes down no lower than knee level, or you may just be denied access – and if you’re very unlucky, your money back. In 2019, cops were called to the swimming pool facility in Balsthal following an argument between a lifeguard and a woman dressed in a burkini.

READ ALSO: Everything you should know about public nudity in Switzerland.

SHOW COMMENTS