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

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What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Switzerland's Alpine pasture season has been included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. But what makes it so special?

What makes Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season worthy of global recognition?

Why are Swiss Alpine pastures in the news?

On Wednesday, UNESCO announced it had inscribed 45 elements on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during its annual session held in Kasane (Republic of Botswana).

The list comprises cultural “practices and expressions [that] help demonstrate the diversity of this heritage and raise awareness about its importance.” 

Among this year’s new elements were two Swiss entries, one of which is the country’s popular Alpine pasture season.

What is Switzerland’s Alpine pasture season?

As an exemplary tradition of the Swiss mountain areas, the Alpine pasture season combines traditional skills, customs and rituals related to Alpine farming in Switzerland.

The Alpine pasture season takes place from around May to October in Switzerland when various cattle, sheep and goats are relocated to high-altitude pastures (between 600 metres and 2900 metres) to graze on fresh forage and herbs that thrive in the summer months.

The Alpine farmers, or Alpacists, then look after the livestock and their surroundings, produce different dairy products, and even invite visitors to observe the animals and farming practices.

“The practice contributes to the preservation of natural landscapes and creates economic and social ties between the local populations and the Alpine farmers. It has given rise to the knowledge and skills needed to maintain the sites, as well as to a variety of social and religious practices such as rituals, prayers and blessings, traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivities,” UNESCO writes.

Some of these practices also include “traditional clothing, livestock competitions and local festivals” like the Alpine cattle ascent (inalpe) and the Alpine cattle descent (désalpe) where – depending on the region – the most beautiful cow of the herd is crowned.

Festivals to celebrate the herd animals heading to their summer pastures play a vital role for farmers and locals as they highlight craft practices that are otherwise rarely observed in Switzerland.

“The knowledge, skills, and customs of the Alpine pasture season, including farming and cheesemaking, are often transmitted informally, within families and their seasonal employees or among members of Alpine societies and cooperatives. They are also transmitted through regional training centres, cultural events and tourism,” UNESCO says.

READ MORE: Why are cows so important in Switzerland?

UNESCO also recognises Swiss irrigation technology

Switzerland’s cattle weren’t the only ones to join UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity this year.

Its centuries-old irrigation technology from Bern and Lucerne also made the cut.

The multinational agricultural technology was proposed for inclusion on the UNESCO list by Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, zentralplus reported.

According to UNESCO, traditional irrigation involves temporarily digging small ditches and channels to distribute water from as springs, rivers, streams, and glaciers to meadows.

This sustainable form of water supply, which serves to cultivate dry areas, also has a positive effect on biodiversity.

In Switzerland, this technology is celebrated with various social gatherings and other festivities to mark the start and ending of the water season.

UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity also includes six other Swiss entries.

These include the Craftsmanship of mechanical watchmaking and art mechanics (2020), the Holy Week processions in Mendrisio (2019), Alpinism (2019), the Avalanche risk management (2018), Art of dry stone walling, knowledge and techniques (2018), the Basel Carnival (2017), and the Winegrowers’ Festival in Vevey (2016).

Since 2020, the craft techniques and customary practices of cathedral workshops, or Bauhütten, in Europe, know-how, transmission, development of knowledge and innovation – which include Switzerland – also joined UNESCO’s Register of Good Safeguarding Practices and falls within the agency’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.

READ MORE: The 13 world heritage sites in Switzerland you need to see