Königrufen Tarot Games

Königrufen Tarot Games



A fast and friendly game for four or five players, which can be a lot of fun even when played quite badly. It is one of the most popular games in eastern Austria. There is a lot of variation in the rules - in fact it would probably be hard to find two groups of players who play exactly the same way. In the following description we have therefore tried to include a typical choice of features. In future we may add further pages giving other variations. For Matthew Macfadyen's advice on how to play Königrufen, see Königrufen - remarks on skilful play.

Technically Königrufen is a point trick game with bidding. The cards have values; players bid to decide who will be declarer; then tricks are played and the declarer's side wins if they take more than half the card points. In some contracts declarer can choose a partner by specifying a king - hence the name of the game which means "Call the King".

That is the basic game, but a lot of extra variety has been added. There are other possible contracts with different objectives, and players can earn bonuses for feats achieved during the game, such as winning the last trick with the lowest trump. Such feats can be announced in advance for extra points.

The description on this page was written by Matthew Macfadyen and Kirsty Healey and revised by John McLeod.


Five suits; 8 each of Clubs, Spades, Hearts and Diamonds; and 22 trumps (tarocks), of which the highest, the Sküs, looks rather like a Joker. The second highest trump (XXI) is called the Mond and the lowest trump (I) is called the Pagat. The black suits rank from highest to lowest: King, Queen, Knight, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7. The red suits rank from highest to lowest: King, Queen, Knight, Jack 1, 2, 3, 4.

Identification: the king has a crown, the knight has a horse, the queen is female and the jack is the other one.

Cards are worth points as follows:

Kings5 each
Sküs, XXI (Mond), and I (Pagat)5 each
Queens4 each
Knights3 each
Jacks2 each
All other cards1 each

The process for adding up the cards is slightly odd: for each set of three cards you add up the values of the cards and subtract 2. If at the end of your counting you have one or two odd cards left over they are worth one point less than their total value. (So 2 or 3 one-point cards are worth 1 point, but a single one-point card is worth nothing). The total value of the pack comes to 70 card points. See the counting points in Tarot games page for further explanation of this.

In a positive contract, the declarer's side wins if they make at least 36 of the 70 points.

Players in North America can obtain Austrian Tarock cards from TaroBear's Lair.

The Contracts, a summary

These are listed in ascending order, with a possible scoring schedule. Each group will tend to have their own different version of this. Further details of the contracts are given later.

The first three are only available to Forehand (the player to dealer's right), in the case that "Mein Spiel" is passed out:

Rufer1call a king; 3 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Trischaken1avoid taking card points
Sechserdreier+2, -4play alone; 6 cards from talon; take 36+ points

The following contracts are available to all players:

Piccolo2play alone; win one trick exactly
Zwiccolo2play alone; win two tricks exactly
Solo2call a king; 0 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Bettel3play alone; lose every trick
Besserrufer1+bonuslike rufer but must announce a bird
Farbendreier3play alone; 3 cards from talon; tarocks don't win
Dreier4play alone; 3 cards from talon; take 36+ points
Piccolo Ouvert5play alone; win one trick; all cards exposed
Bettel Ouvert6play alone; lose every trick; all cards exposed
Farbensolo6play alone; 0 cards from talon; tarocks don't win
Solodreier8play alone; 0 cards from talon; take 36+ points

The scores above are in game points - the amount of money you win if your contract is successful. These are not to be confused with the cards points in your tricks which you count to find out whether you have made your (positive) contract.


These are additional ways of winning game points in positive contracts. Further details of bonuses are given later.

Trull12take S, XXI and I in tricks
4 kings12take all 4 kings in tricks
Called king captured1...by declarer's opponents
Mondfang1capture opponent's XXI
Sküsfang2capture opponent's Sküs
Pagat Ultimo*12win last trick with the I
Uhu*24win 2nd last trick with II
Kakadu*36win 3rd last trick with III
Marabu*48win 4th last trick with IIII
King ultimo12win called king in last trick
Valat4× game score8× game scorewin every trick

Notice that most bonuses can be announced in advance, and are then worth twice as much. All bonuses score double the amounts given above if the contract is Solo or Solodreier.

*The trumps I, II, III and IIII, and the bonuses for winning particular tricks with them are called birds (Vogerl).

Scores for the game and bonuses are independent of each other, so that a player may have conflicting objectives during a hand. It is quite possible to win the game and yet lose money because the bonuses were worth more than the game.

Playing Procedure

The game is played anticlockwise. The first dealer is selected randomly, and the turn to deal rotates anticlockwise after each hand. There are only four active players in each deal. If there are five players at the table, the dealer deals no cards to herself and takes no part in the hand.

The sequence of events on each deal is as follows:


Dealer shuffles, gives the cards to the player on her left to cut, then deals in packets of six cards, starting on her right, one packet to each player, then one into the middle of the table (the 'talon') then finally another packet of six cards to each player. If there are five players, the dealer deals to the other four players only.

Instead of cutting, the player to dealer's left is allowed to "knock", or tap the pack of cards. They must then be dealt as follows: the first six cards to the talon, then four packets of 12 cards. Each player in anticlockwise rotation, starting with the player to dealer's right, chooses whether they will have the first, second, third or fourth packet.


The auction then starts. The player to dealer's right ("forehand") may reserve her bid by saying "Mein Spiel". Each player in turn after that must either bid by naming a contract or pass. Once having passed a player may not re-enter the auction. The auction continues until three players have passed consecutively, and the last player to have bid becomes declarer. If the only bid was "Mein Spiel" the first player now names any contract - this is the only case in which the top three contracts in the list can be played.

During the bidding there is an order of priority, starting with forehand (highest) and continuing anticlockwise round the table to dealer (lowest). When bidding a contract, if you have lower priority than the previous bidder you must bid a higher contract or pass, but if you have higher priority than the previous bidder it is sufficient to bid an equal or higher contract.

Example: (the players in anticlockwise order are A (forehand), B, C and D) A says "mein Spiel"; B bids "Solo", C passes. Now if D wants to bid, the minimum bid is "Bettel", because B has priority over D. If D passes then A is allowed to bid "Solo", which overcalls B's Solo, because A has priority over B.

Calling a King

If the contract is one in which declarer gets a partner, declarer now names a suit, the holder of the king of that suit becomes declarer's partner but does not tell anyone who they are. The partnerships are sometimes not discovered until quite late in the hand.

It is legal to call your own king. In this case you play on your own against the other 3 players in partnership, but they will not realise at first that they are all on the same side. You also play alone if the called king happens to be in the talon.

If a declarer entitled to call a king for a partner holds three kings in her hand, she may call "The fourth king" without naming its suit. This is often a good idea, as it informs the called partner that the bid is probably based on kings rather than trump strength.

If as declarer you have all four kings and find yourself playing a contract in which you are allowed to call a king, you have no option but to call yourself. Incidentally, you are not allowed to try to confuse matters by calling "the fourth king" in this case.

Exchanging cards with the talon

When declarer is entitled to exchange three cards with the talon, the talon is now exposed in two sets of three cards. Declarer chooses one of the sets, and gives the other to her opponents (actually they are put in a separate pile from the opponents' tricks, since some of the players do not yet know who is on which side). After taking the chosen three cards into her hand, declarer then discards three cards face down into her trick pile. Kings and Trull cards (Sküs, XXI, I) may never be discarded; other trumps may only be discarded if there is no choice, and they should be discarded face up.


There is now a round of announcements. Beginning with the declarer, each player can pass or make one or more announcements on behalf of her side. An announcement is a statement that you are going for some bonus, or a kontra of something said by the other side. The round of announcements continues until three players have passed consecutively.


During the round of announcements, a member of the defending side may double the score for the game or for any announced bonuses (independently of each other) by saying for example "kontra the game" or "kontra the king ultimo". After this either member of the side which originally made the announcement may say "rekontra" to that bonus, in which case the opponents can double again with "subkontra". Some players allow the doubling to continue further with "hirschkontra" and "mordkontra", by which time the original score for that feature has been multiplied by 64 (announcement and five doubles).

A player may only make a bonus announcement if they are declarer's partner or if it is already known which side they are on. (e.g. declarer's partner holding the Sküs and the XXI may announce trull and this demonstrates that he is her partner; alternatively a defender holding both Sküs and XXI may be pretty sure of making the trull, but may only announce it if she also makes some kontra, for example "kontra the pagat ultimo; trull" might be appropriate).

The Play

In positive contracts the player to dealer's right (Forehand) leads to the first trick no matter who is declarer. In negative contracts and Farbensolo, Declarer leads to the first trick.

You must follow suit if you can. If you cannot follow suit you must play a trump. The trick is won by the highest card played of the suit led, unless it contains a trump in which case the highest trump wins (exception: Farbensolo).

Additional rules for negative contracts (Trischaken, Piccolo, Zwiccolo, Bettel, Piccolo Ouvert, Bettel Ouvert): You must beat the highest card on the table if possible. You are not allowed to play the Pagat until it is your only trump.

Optional rule for all contracts - The Emperor trick: If the three trull cards, the Sküs, the XXI (Mond) and the I (Pagat) are all played to the same trick, then that trick is won by the Pagat. The bonus for capturing the Sküs only applies if the Sküs is captured by an opponent.

The Scoring

The hand is counted and scored. The scoring system is designed for people who score by pushing money across the table at the end of each hand. In contracts with two players on each side, each player on the losing team pays one of the players on the winning team the game score. When one player plays against the other three, she is paid by (or pays) the score to each of them, so the value to declarer of such contracts is three times as much.

Solidarity of partnerships applies throughout. If a player wins (or loses) a game or bonus, all players of that partnership win (or lose) equally.

Detailed Descriptions of the Contracts and Bonuses

The Positive Contracts

In all these contracts, declarer's side has to take at least 36 card points in their tricks plus their part of the talon to win the game.

  • Rufer:
  • Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, and gets to change three cards with the the talon.
  • Sechserdreier
  • Declarer plays alone but gets to draw all six cards from the talon, without showing them to the other players, and declarer's six discards all go into her tricks. Declarer scores two points if successful, but loses four if she fails to make the game.
  • Solo:
  • Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, but does not change cards with the talon. The 6 cards of the talon are put aside unseen and added to the defenders' tricks at the end of the hand, unless it turns out that the called king is in the talon. If the king is in the talon the declarer is playing alone against all three players but in compensation the talon is added to the declarer's tricks. All bonuses count double in a Solo.
  • Besserrufer:
  • Declarer chooses a partner by calling a king, and changes three cards with the talon. At the start of the round of announcements, declarer is obliged to announce at least one of Pagat ultimo, Uhu, Kakadu or Marabu ("the birds"). If the declarer in a Besser Rufer finds the called king in the talon, she may choose to play on alone or to give up the hand for 3 points (equivalent losing the game (1) and the pagat (2) without kontras or extra bonuses).
  • Dreier:
  • Declarer plays alone against the other three players, and gets to change three cards with the talon.
  • Solodreier:
  • Declarer plays alone and the talon goes unseen to the opponents' tricks. All bonuses count double in a Solodreier.


Declarer plays alone against the other three players with the object of winning at least 36 points in tricks, but the trumps function as an ordinary suit. As usual the player to dealer's right leads to the first trick. A player unable to follow suit is still obliged to play a trump, but the trumps do not win - the trick is won by the highest card of the suit led. It is illegal to lead trumps until you hold nothing else. When a trump is led, players must follow with trumps if possible and the highest trump wins.

In Farbensolo, all six cards of the talon go unseen to the opponents' tricks. The only bonus available is for making valat.

Farbendreier is similar to Farbensolo except that the talon is exposed, the declarer takes one half of it and discards three cards. The declarer must so far as possible discard one-point trumps. As usual 5-point cards callot be discarded. If the declarer has to discard suit cards they must be discarded face up , and declarer's remaining hand will have nothing but suit cards and cards of the Trull.

The Negative Contracts

  • Piccolo:
  • The declarer plays alone and must take exactly one trick to win.
  • Zwiccolo:
  • The declarer plays alone and must take exactly two tricks to win (this contract is considered degenerate and not allowed by some circles of players).
  • Bettel:
  • Declarer playing alone must lose every trick to win the game.
  • Bettel Ouvert:
  • A contract to make no tricks, but with all four hands exposed as soon as a card has been led to the second trick.
  • Piccolo Ouvert:
  • Exactly one trick, with all hands exposed as soon as a card has been led to the second trick.
  • Trischaken
  • The four players play as individuals. The object is to take as few points as possible. The talon is not used. In Trischaken, the two players who take most card points in tricks pay one point to the two who take least. If any player takes no tricks they are paid 2 by all three others in addition to this, and if any player takes 36 or more points (known as Bürgermeister) they pay 2 to all three in addition (Trischaken is meant to be a sort of punishment for not bidding meted out to the player with the best hand - the word "trischaken" is Viennese dialect for beating up or mugging).

In negative contracts other than Trischaken the talon is not used, and no one may look at it until the end of the play. Declarer leads to the first trick, rather than the player on dealer's right. The rules of play are different in negative contracts: when it is your turn to play, you are forced to beat the cards already played if you can. It is illegal to play the Pagat unless it is your last trump.


These are only available in positive contracts.

  • Trull
  • Taking all three of the Sküs, XXI and I in your side's tricks plus your part of the talon.
  • 4 Kings
  • Taking all 4 kings in your side's tricks + talon cards.
  • Mond Fang
  • Capturing an opponents' XXI with the Sküs
  • Pagat Ultimo
  • Winning the last trick with the I
  • Uhu
  • Winning the penultimate trick with the II
  • Kakadu *
  • Winning the 3rd last trick with the III
  • Quapil *
  • Winning the 4th last trick with the IIII
  • King Ultimo
  • Playing the called king to the last trick, and having your side win the trick.
  • Valat
  • Winning all the tricks. Any cards from the talon are surrendered to the winning side if valat is made - so trull and four kings are made even if one of those cards was in the rejected half of the talon.

Bonuses except that for valat are not available in Farbensolo.

Most of these bonuses are worth double if you announce the intention to achieve them during the announcements phase (see summary table of bonuses), but in this case failure to achieve the bonus scores minus. They are all scored independently of each other and of the game.

These bonus scores are doubled in Solo and Solodreier, on top of any doubles for being announced beforehand and for kontras.

Notes on bonuses involving winning a particular trick with a particular card (Pagat Ultimo, Uhu, Kakadu, Quapil, King Ultimo)

The small trumps (birds) have various alternative names, many of which are bird names - for example Spatz (sparrow) for the Pagat, Pelikan, Kanari or Maus for the III, Wildsau or Marabu for the IIII. Some groups do not award a bonus for the higher birds: IIII and sometimes III may not be recognised. On the other hand there are a few groups that give analogous bonuses for the V and even the VI.


The detailed rules of Königrufen vary from place to place and there are countless different versions. There are variations in the scores for the various contracts and bonuses, in which contracts and bonuses are allowed, and in the ranking order of contracts in the bidding. Markus Mair's website tarock.tirol has useful summaries and comparisons of different rules sets, including those used in the various Austrian tournament series.

Sechserdreier. A variant is becoming increasingly widespread in which Sechserdreier can only be bid by Vorhand at the start of the bidding, before any of the other players have spoken. In this case the score will be higher - similar to or a little less than an ordinary Dreier, still losing double if lost. It can be overcalled by Dreier or above (according to some groups also by Farbendreier). After Mein Spiel and three passes, Vorhand can play Rufer, Trischaken or any other contract except Sechserdreier.

Trischaken. There are many variants and different ways to score this. In some the two players with the higher scores pay the two with the lower scores. In some the Talon cards are given to the winner of the last trick. A popular alternative is that at the end of each of the first 6 tricks a card is turned up from the talon, added to the trick and taken by the winner of the trick. When there are five at the table some require the normally non-playing dealer to pick up the talon and join in the first 6 tricks. Some play Trischaken without the requirement to overtake the highest card so far played to the trick: players must just follow suit and trump if unable to do so; the Pagat can still only be played when it is the holder's last trump.

Here are a few examples of additional contracts and bonuses that may be encountered.

  • Pagatrufer, Uhurufer, Kakadurufer, Quapilrufer

  • These are an alternative to Besserrufer, and will be scattered through the schedule of contracts according to their point value. When the game is played with these bids instead of Besserrufer, the bid specifies which bird will be announced. Some award a bonus for winning the fifth last trick with the V, sometimes known as a Geier (vulture), in which case Geierrufer is also possible. There are even some places where there is a bonus winning the 6th last trick with the VI.

  • Besserdreier

  • The same as a Dreier, but as in Besserrufer the declarer must announce at least one "bird" at the start of the round of announcements.

  • Zwiccolo Ouvert

  • A Zwiccolo played with all hands exposed after the first trick.

  • Driccolo

  • The declarer must win exactly three tricks.

  • Absolut (or Sack)

  • Taking at least 46 card points (the threshhold may vary). Also some allow Doppelsack (at least 56 points). These nortmally score only if announced.

  • Capture Called King

  • The opponents capture the king which the declarer called to determine the partnerships

  • Sküs Fang

  • Capturing the opponents' Sküs (by means of the 'Emperor trick', if allowed)

Other Königrufen web pages and software

Here are some web sites that give rules for alternative versions of Königrufen. Since the game is Austrian, most of the pages are of course in German.

  • Wikipedia page on Königrufen
  • Markus Mair's web site with details of his Tarock club in Innsbruck, rules and tournament dates.

Clas Broder Hansen and Markus Mair have devised an adaptation of Königrufen for three players, with the fourth player repaced by a dummy hand.

There are several places where you can play Königrufen online against human opponents.

  • Joe Elleson's Online Card Games site offers several different versions, with an interface in English or German, and allows tables of up to 6 players, with players sitting out in rotation.
  • Bernd Nussbaumer's tarockapp.at also offers several rules options and the possibility of playing with either human or computer players.
  • With Paul Kubitscheck's KubiTarock app for Windows or Android you can play against bots or human opponents. It has customisable rules and features a player assistant that can suggest what to bid and what card to play.

A Königrufen computer program is available from KEC Austria: Triangle productions.

See also Königrufen - remarks on skilful play