You Can’t be Swiss If You Don’t Jass
If you were to walk into a village or neighborhood restaurant in the German-speaking part of Switzerland on almost any given day, you would be likely to encounter a table at which four locals are engaged in the ancient Swiss tradition of “Jass”. The players mostly likely would have a small mat, designed specifically for this purpose, in front of them, in the middle of the table, next to a curious-looking black slate board on which white chalk hatchmarks keep track of the score. Depending on the disposition of the players, the game might be accompanied by general merriment or dead-serious silence. It is an unspoken expectation that every Swiss citizen above the age of twelve knows how to play “Jass”. This important skill could be called upon at a moment’s notice at any social gathering. In character, “Jass” is similar to Euchre, a card game played in Great Britain, the US, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Not surprisingly, many small towns in the United States that have a Swiss heritage also have Euchre clubs ortournaments. Euchre is played with the traditional French playing cards, but the Swiss, ever different, have their own “Jass” cards.In the German-speaking part of Switzerland, the cards feature ornate designs with bells, acorns, shields, and roses instead of hearts, spades, diamonds, and clubs. A normal deck contains 36 cards: the six, seven, eight, nine, Banner (ten), Under (joker), Ober (queen), king, and ace of each suit. The numbered cards have no point value, except for the nine of the trump suit (14 points); the Banner is worth 10 points, the Under 2 points (20 points if it is the trump suit), the Ober 3 points, the king 4 points, and the ace 11 points. There are several versions of the game that vary in complexity depending on the skill level of the players. True afficionados of the game can participate in local, regional, or even national championship tournaments, some for pride and some for prizes. If you would like to learn more about “Jass”, go to http://www.jassinfo.ch/index_.html, where you can study the rules of the game, find out about upcoming tournaments, or maybe even purchase your own set of Swiss “Jass” cards. Other helpful sites on “Jass” rules are: http://www.jassregeln.ch/ or, if you prefer an English explanation: http://www.pagat.com/jass/swjass.html.
Bilingual deutschdrang blog about Jass championships in Australia.
Some great pictures of Jass cards. Those cards are just beautiful!