Home > Genealogy
Card Games of the Donauschwaben
in 18th- and 19th-century Hungary
clarifications for the origins of Preferánsz on Wed Jan 25 19:56:41 UTC 2012

Piatnik version 1808 Ornament: Picture credit to Piatnik

The Wilhelm Tell Deck
Card Games of the Donauschwaben

Old Maid
Purchasing Decks On-line:

Amazon in various versions: Ornament · Karo · Blitz
Carte Karuta: Cards with Hungarian labels (1812)
TaroBear's Lair: Cards with German labels (1808)
Other Card Games

If you are looking for a card game not listed here, try the Card Games of the World website.
See also Card Games of Hungary.
Other Links

Piatnik samples
Learn more at Mikko Saari's site

The Wilhelm Tell Deck
The Wilhelm Tell deck of cards became popular in Hungary in the 19th century. Perhaps the Tell legend struck a chord with Hungarian nationalists, as a symbol of resistance to Austrian domination. The deck consists of 32 cards ranking Ace, King, Ober, Unter, X, IX, VIII, VII in suits of Grüne (Greens), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts). There are pictures of each card at the website of Tom Leihn.

Images of some of these cards may also be found on the website of their most famous manufacturer, Piatnik, headquartered in Vienna, Austria with branches all over the world. They call their deck "Doppeldeutsche 33 Blatt." They are called Doppeldeutsch to distinguish them from the older Einfachdeutsch (single German) cards, which are still the main kind of cards used in Vorarlberg (extreme western province of Austria) and can also be found in some parts of Tyrol. Einfachdeutsch cards have just one copy of the picture and pips, taking up the whole length of the card. Doppeldeutsch cards have the design squeezed into half the length of the card and repeated upside down at the other end. Doppeldeutsch cards began to be used in the 19th century some time, and have steadily gained ground, but not yet quite supplanted the single-ended ones. Of course, double cards are more practical because you don't need to turn them around in your hand to see what you have, but some people who are used to the single ended cards don't mind the inconvenience, and find them more attractive. Characters from the Tell legend on the cards are

In addition, the Aces each represent one of the seasons. Other cards depict scenes from the Tell legend: You can read and see more about this type of deck at Andy's Playing Cards.

You can read more information about the William Tell legend and the 2004 bicentennial celebration.

This idea that this game is derived from a French game
has been disputed. See also these rules for Austrian Preference.

Players: 3
Deck: The German Wilhelm Tell pack of 32 cards ranking A (high), K, O, U, X, IX, VIII, VII in suits of Grüne (Green), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts).

The Deal:
After shuffle and cut, dealer deals five cards to each player including himself and then lays two cards aside, unseen, to form the widow. Five more cards are dealt to each player to exhaust the pack.

The Bidding:
The player to the dealer's left is the first player or Vorhand. He must make the initial bid. Bidding proceeds clockwise around the table, each succeeding player having the right to make any bid, so long as it exceeds the previous one. Vorhand alone has the ability to say "Dass kann ich" and therefore duplicate the previous bid without exceeding it.

Legal bids are as follows:

Bid/ValueSuit/ContractRequired Number of Tricks
2Grüne 7 or more
3Schelle 6 or more
4Herz 6 or more
5Eichel 6 or more
6Bettl 0 (exactly)
7Durchmarsch10 (i.e. all)

After bids have been settled and all but one player has passed, the dealer now reveals the two cards in the widow. If these cards are of the same rank, the player who won the bid pays the dealer two units for "Kunstwerk".

The player takes these two cards into his hand, discards two cards face down, declares the game he intends to play, which may be any game so long as it is as high or higher than his winning bid and play proceeds, with Vorhand leading.

Should a player have such an extraordinarily strong hand that he feels he may win without benefit of the widow he may, before bidding begins, make a special bid, "aus den Händen" (playing out of the hand only). This bid takes precedence over all other bids except for other aus den Händen bids of higher value. An aus den Händen bidder does not receive the widow cards – they are set aside until the end of the hand. An aus den Händen player must win one more trick than required if he bids 2 - 5.

The Play:
Play is always characterized by the player (he who won the bid) contesting the other two. When playing any of games 2-5, the corresponding suit becomes the trump suit. (Cards of a trump suit defeat all other cards except for other trumps, which take precedence in normal order.) A player must always attempt to follow the suit of the first card in each trick played, including trumps, and may not play a trump unless without any of the suit required, in which case a trump must be played. If trumps are also not available, any card may be played.

Players are not compelled to beat cards already played to the trick; they may play a lower card if they wish.

Players are not allowed to communicate about what suits they may be out of.

The winner of each trick is the next to play.

In bettl, the player is attempting to win no tricks at all; there are no trumps in this game. The hand may terminate early in this case, i.e. as soon as the player takes a trick.

In durchmarsch, the player is attempting to win all the tricks; there are no trumps. The hand may terminate early in this case, i.e. as soon as the player loses a trick.

The player is considered to have won if he wins all the required tricks. In all games, he is paid the number of the game being played by each of the other players. In addition, for games 2-5, he is paid one extra for each trick he takes in addition to the number required.

Should the player lose, he pays each of the other players the number of the game, plus one more unit each for each trick short of the required number for games 2-5.

After the player has announced his game, but before the first card has been played, either of the other two players may say "Contra!", indicating a strong disagreement with the player's ability to win that game. This doubles the stakes for that hand for the player and the sayer of "Contra!". The player is also allowed to say "Re-contra!" in reply, thereby quadrupling the stakes for that hand for those two players. There is only one such remark per player per hand.

After the hand is finished, the next deal passes to Vorhand. There is no official end to play; games continue until the players agree to call it quits.

These rules are also available in Russian.

In the 17th century or earlier, there was a French game called Mariage. As you might expect, Mariage means "marriage" which occurs in the game by the combination of king and queen. In Rufmariasch, the marriage or meld is not with king and queen, but with king and ober, showing that the game was originally played using French cards.

A similar game, Marias, is also played in the Czech Republic. One of the most popular games in Hungary now is Ulti, which is a version of Talonmarias, for three players. The term "Ruf" from the German word rufen, to call, is used in Austria for call, in 4-player games where you call a card to choose your partner. Thus, Rufmariasch is a 4-player version of Marias with variable partnerships determined by the bidder calling a card. In Hungarian, this game's name is spelled Ruffmáriás.

Here is more information on the Marriage family of games. Another related game is Schnapsen so called because playing for money was illegal in Austria, but playing for Schnaps was not.

Players: 4
Deck: The German Wilhelm Tell pack of 32 cards ranking A (high), X, K, O, U, IX, VIII, VII in suits of Grüne (Green), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts).

The Deal:
After shuffle and cut, dealer deals four cards to each player including himself and pauses. During this time, the player immediately to the dealer's left, known as "der Spieler", must "call". Following the call, the dealer distributes the rest of the cards to each player, four at a time to exhaust the pack.

The Call:
The player to the dealer's left is "der Spieler" and must make "the call" based only on the information from the first four cards dealt. The call is the naming of any one card in the deck, although probably not one already in his hand. Some groups permit this however (and it is anyway difficult to verify). The naming of the card has two results: all cards of the same suit are now trump and the person who is dealt this card is, secretly, the partner of "der Spieler".

Melding occurs at the start of the game and only if a player holds the King and Over of the same suit. When this occurs, the player lays both cards on the table to declare the Meld. As long as the player takes at least one trick during play, this player earns 20 points for his team. If the melded cards happen to be of the trump suit, the value is doubled to 40 points.

Melding may occur at any time until the play of the fourth card in the first trick; after that, it does not count.

The Play:
Play is begun by "der Spieler" who plays out first. Players must attempt to follow suit of the first card in each trick played and may not play a trump unless he no longer has any of the suit required, in which case a trump must be played. In addition, if a player is holding a card which is able to take the trick as it currently stands, it must be played, excepting the rules about following suit.

The winner of each trick is the next to play.

At the end of the game, each player examines the stack of tricks they have taken. Each Ace and X taken in trick counts 10 points. Being the player to take the last trick also counts 10 points. Players who had melds receive their points for them now if they took at least one trick during the course of play. The players add their scores and the team with the higher total is considered the winner. The losers pay the winners an amount equal to the difference in scores.

There is much discussion around the tactic of the call. Traditional theory is that if one has only low cards, the Ace of the most prominent suit held should be called. If one has the Ace, then tradition has it that one calls for the X. If both of these are held, one is thought to call the King, etc. Some players value melds highly however and angling for the 40 points which are provided by a trump meld, always call a King, who is therefore called "der Vierziger" (the fortier).

The tactic of der Spieler's partner is usually to lie in wait, throwing in X's when der Spieler seems sure to take the trick, a process known as "schmiering". While the partner is the only one in the know, he may have a certain power over the opponents who are left to wonder what is happening and cannot help one another.

For this reason, der Spieler usually does not lead trump so as not to expose the partner.

This is especially the case when der Spieler winds up being his own partner by calling a card which he subsequently receives in the second half of the deal. In this case, der Spieler should usually try to keep his plight as secret as possible unless the hand is very strong.

Some groups permit two calls, one for the match card and another a call of the trump suit. Some groups force these two calls to be of differing suits.

This game may derive from the similar French game Rams, etymology uncertain. The -li suffix appears to signify a diminutive as in German "-lein".

Players: 2-6
Deck: The Wilhelm Tell pack of 32 cards ranking A (high), K, O, U, X, IX, VIII, VII in suits of Grüne (Green), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts).

The Deal:
The dealer places four units into the center of the table, to form the kitty. After shuffle and cut, dealer examines bottom card on the deck. He then deals two cards to each player including himself and then either turns up the top card in the deck or turns up the bottom card in the deck. Then two more cards are dealt to each player.

If the dealer chose the trump card from the top of the deck, each player, starting with the deal has the opportunity to become the player. This is denoted by knocking. The knocker commits to winning at least two tricks in the coming hand. At this time, all other players in turn, starting with the player to the knocker's left, have the right to play along, thereby committing to winning at least one trick.

If the dealer is the knocker, he may, if he chooses to do so before any other player, knock on the actual trump card, giving him the right to take this card into his hand as his own.

If the dealer does not take the trump card, any player holding the 7 of the same suit may exchange it for the trump card.

If no player chooses to knock, a second card is turned up as trump from the top of the deck. If this card is of the same suit, another card is turned up immediately – players are never given the chance to knock more than once on a suit. If three cards go without a knocker, the hand fails and deal passes to the player on dealer's left.

If the dealer chose the trump card from the bottom of the deck, he must knock on this card.

If no other players are willing to play along, the knocker wins the kitty outright and the deal passes to the next player.

If there are only four units in the kitty, the game is a "muss" (must) and each player must play. The suit used is always the first card turned up. Any player may knock, but a knock is not required and is of no particular use except perhaps for the dealer.

Further Deals:
Each player, starting with the knocker, is given the chance to receive more cards. The players discards the number he does not want and receives this number from the pack. A player may request an all new hand by discarding all four of his cards and receives four cards face down and one face up. A player may request "eins auf"; in this case, he need not discard any card, but receives one face up which he may exchange for a card in his hand.

The Play:
The knocker plays out first. Play proceeds clockwise, with the trump suit taking precedence over all other suits. A players must follow suit if they are able, playing trump if all cards of the required suit have been exhausted from his hand. The winner of the trick plays first in the next round.

After the four trick have been played, payment and winnings occur. Payment must come from each player who failed to win the committed number of tricks. Knockers who fail to take two tricks must pay twice the amount that was in the kitty. Others who fail to take a single trick must pay the amount which was in the kitty. At the same time, the existing kitty is divided four ways and each player payed a share for each of the four tricks he won.

To prevent the kitty from becoming too large, players may agree to set up a bank. The bank is used to hold funds whenever the kitty exceeds a particular pre-set level (which should be a multiple of four). When after payments the kitty is below this level, it should be supplemented with funds drawn from the bank.

After the hand is over, the player to the dealer's left becomes the new dealer.

Players: 4
Deck: The Wilhelm Tell Deck

The Deal:
Deal out 5 cards face-down to each player so that no player can see them.

During the first hand only, follow the special procedure described in the following paragraph to assign suits. During subsequent rounds, keep the same trump suits which were assigned in the first game.

The first player to the left of the dealer turns up one of his cards at random. The suit of this card is his "trump" for the rest of the evening. The second player to the left turns up a card. If it is a different suit from the one already turned up, it becomes his "trump" for the rest of the evening. If this suit has already been seen, keep turning up cards until a new suit is found, which becomes the trump suit. If all 5 cards are turned up and no unique suit is found, the player may choose any trump suit he likes other than those already revealed. The third player to the left chooses his suit in the same way. The dealer automatically receives as trump the last unchosen suit.

Finally, the dealer places the pack at the center of the table and turns up the top card and places it beside it.

The Play:
Play begins with the player to the dealer's left and proceeds clockwise around the table.

Each player in turn must "beat" the current up card, either by playing a higher card in the same suit. If he cannot beat it this way, he may play one of his trump cards. The trump cards beat cards of any other suit. If the up card is one of his own trumps, the player must play a higher trump.

Then, in addition to this card, the player plays one more of his cards onto the stack of up cards.

Finally, if there are any cards left in the deck the player takes the top one into his hand.

If the player cannot beat the up card, of if he chooses not to, he takes the entire stack of up cards into his hand. In this case he is not allowed to play one more card or to take a card from the deck.

Note that the up card stack must be kept square and is not inspectable during play.

Winning the Game:
The goal of the game is to get rid of all one's cards and, in particular, not be the last one holding cards. The person who thus loses must deal the next hand.

This game is in the Dudák family.

A game for children.

Players: 4
Deck: The Wilhelm Tell pack of 32 cards in suits of Grüne (Green), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts).

The Deal:
Shuffle, cut and deal out 8 cards to each player.

The Play:
The first player to the left of the dealer chooses one of his cards and passes it to the player on his left, without letting any of the other players see it. Upon receiving the card, this player in like fashion passes any of his cards to the player on his left. This continues around the table until any player manages to collect all 8 cards of a single suit. Upon achieving this, the player passes a card and then immediately throws down his hand and shouts "Esel!"

When a player shouts "Esel", all other players must also throw down their cards and do the same. The last player to do so is designated the Esel (ass) and must deal the next hand, unless the first player to do so actually failed to collect all 8 of the cards of the same, in which case he instead is the Esel.

Old Maid
A version of Old Maid also was played. A game for children.

Players: 2-6
Deck: The Wilhelm Tell pack of 32 cards in suits of Grüne (Green), Schelle (Bells), Eichel (Acorns) and Herz (Hearts).

The Deal: Remove from play one of the Unter cards, but not the Schelle (Bells) Unter. Shuffle, cut and deal out 5 cards to each player. Place the remaining cards in the middle of the table as a deck.

The Play: Play begins with the first player left of the dealer. Perform the following:
  1. The player looks through their cards and discards any pairs they have (a pair is two cards of equal rank, such as two eights or two kings). Exception: The Schelle Unter never pairs with any other card.
  2. The player to the current player's right fans their cards and the player selects one at random, and adds it to their hand.
  3. The player who just lost a card draws one from the deck, if any remain.
Play continues clockwise around the table, each player discarding any pairs and then drawing a card from the player to the right who replenishes from the deck.

Once the deck is empty, if you get rid of all your cards you are safe and you take no further part. The turn passes to the next player to your left.

Eventually all the cards will have been discarded except the Schelle Unter.

Scoring: The final holder of the Schelle Unter loses. All other players win. If you need to have a sole winner, for example, to decide what the next game is, the player who discarded the most pairs wins.

Note: The Schelle Unter is colloquially called something like the Batzeknippel (spelling uncertain). It's unclear what the meaning of this term is, but after the game the loser is called by this derogatory term.

Dissent on the Origin of Preferánsz/Preference
By author/researcher Thierry Depaulis, 1998:
In spite of its French name Preference is not a French game, and it has been constantly ignored in Western Europe (including Germany and of course Alsace and the Rhineland) and still is. It has always been strictly limited to the eastern part of Europe (former Austro-Hungarian Empire, Russian Empire, and the Balkans), from Poland to Siberia, from Latvia to Greece. In fact the "Donauschwaben" must have found the game there.

The dates given by the Card Games Site are not correct. Preference probably arose around 1815/1820 (in Vienna?), not earlier.

I have made an extensive research into the history of European card games. And I have published many articles and books (including a book on the history of Bridge).

Preference is derived from Boston (Boston Whist), a game for 4 players and 52 cards (like Whist, of which it is a variation). Boston is not an American game – in spite of its name (this is quite a frequent feature: card game names are tricky): it's a French game probably born in Versailles around 1780.

Boston became a craze all over Europe (I mean continental Europe since Britain ignored it): the German states and the Netherlands were quick to adopt it, then the Scandinavian countries, Central Europe and Russia, as early as 1789 (my dates are dates of manuals).

The earliest occurrence of Preference is a book printed in Vienna (Austria) in 1829. It is the Austrian form of the game of course. I infer that the game was known earlier and think it emerged in the same city some decades earlier. This is why I suggest "around 1815/1820".

It is a fact that all Eastern-European countries knew and still know Preference, while the Western Europeans have *never* heard of it. It is simple to prove: no card game manual published in the West mentions Preference (save some German ones). I have published a bibliography of French card game books prior to 1850, and I can say they say nothing on the game of Preference. The English books have nothing too.

Now, why an obvious French word is used for a game that is popular in Russia, Austria and all Eastern-European countries?

First, I must remind you that French had for long been an international language. Russian aristocrats as well as German Junkers, Romanian princes and Greek diplomatists used French as a common language. In the German-speaking countries, German itself has long been considered as a 'vulgar' tongue while French was THE 'good' language. Not only were many French words borrowed by most European languages in the 18th and early 19th century but it was smart to use French words to designate fashionable things like a new card game. There are other examples, e.g. in the game of Tarot.

'Preference' was used in French in the meaning of a 'preferred' suit. For instance, in Boston a card was drawn before the deal, and this card determined a 'preferred' suit called 'favorite' or 'préférence'. The player who chose it had a bonus.

As I said Boston became extremely popular in Europe. When some people (in Vienna?) designed a new game, which was related to an advanced form of Boston (with suit ranking, bidding, misère, etc.) they used a word they knew from the game of Boston: Preference.

For reasons which I don't know the new game spread to the East, not to the West. It was never known in Alsace, a region I know well (I have published two articles on the cardmakers of Strasbourg and Colmar).

A last word about the date 1802. It was taken from Parlett's History of Card Games (to which I contributed) who in turn found it in Michael Dummett's The Game of Tarot (1980). I got suspicious since I knew Preference was precisely derived from Boston de Fontainebleau – a variation of Boston Whist with a complete suit ranking – which arouse around 1815 only. So I asked Michael Dummett the same question you are asking me: "What would be your evidence/sources on this one?"

I was right: Dummett made a confusion between two game books. Finally it is in the 1829 edition that the first rules of Preference are printed.

Further comments from author/researcher Thierry Depaulis, 2012:
I must however correct one statement I made in 1998. I wrote:

Preference probably arose around 1815/1820 (in Vienna?), not earlier.

Well, I have now found some references to Preference as early as in 1801 (in Brno, Bohemia, now the Czech Republic), then Vienna (1803, 1805, 1807, etc.). There is even a possibility that the game was known in Russia before 1800, but this has to be checked and would not match my own theory that the game sprang up in Austria around 1800, or a little earlier."

This page created Mon Aug 17 15:07:01 PDT 1998.
Information from Thierry Depaulis, John McLeod and Erich Scholz has been incorporated here. Thanks also for the suggestions of Maxim Sobolev.
Send comments via e-mail to Richard Heli