Joseph Wergin -- Perhaps We Should Play Skat Instead of Bridge...

Written by Howard Fosdick ©

Joseph P. Wergin wrote a fascinating tome on a fascinating card game -- Skat. A complex, intriguing three-hander, Skat might well have become the dominant game Bridge is today, except that its promoters locked women out of their Skat conventions just as the suffragettes achieved success in the early 1900s. Big mistake! Yet Joe Wergin played on...

Joseph Wergin was born with Halley’s comet in 1910 and hailed from Wisconsin. From a card-playing family, he played in public venues as early as age 13.

Like many Americans from German ethnic background, he was intrigued by the famous German card game Skat. Skat was developed in 1811 in Thuringia, Germany, and became the most respected and popular game in that country. Skat features the complexity and elegance of Bridge and attracts from card veterans and experts who seek a challenging vehicle for their skills.

Mr. Wergin became a noted Skat expert and president of the North American Skat League. He published a quarterly Skat newsletter and did much to educate the public about this elegant game. He also wrote the classic Wergin on Skat and Sheepshead, a compendium of rules, strategies, trivia and stories about Skat. I highly recommend this engaging and authoritative book. It somehow manages to mix history, card playing, game rules, and strategic advice in a pleasing manner.

Milwaukee Exposition Hall
The exposition hall where the fateful decision
to exclude women ensured Bridge would beat Skat in U.S. popularity.

Skat enjoyed a “golden age” from about 1905 to World War I. It looked like it was on target to become the dominant elite card game in the United States! But then came a series of misfortunes.

First, the Milwaukee Exposition Hall burned down while the 1905 North American Skat Congress was in session. 1,632 contestants fled the building for their lives.

Much worse was a self-inflicted wound. The men of the 1910 Skat Congress in Detroit refused to admit women -- in spite of the fact that over 900 of them signed a petition of protest. Many of these enthusiastic female card players fled to Bridge. (And teaching bridge subsequently became respectable employment for educated women in the early 20th century.)

These occurrences and the hysteria against all things German during the first World War knocked out skat as a contender for position as the top intellectual card game in America. Contract Bridge emerged to take the crown.

Later in life Mr. Wergin concentrated on Cribbage and helped found the American Cribbage Congress. He served as the organization’s first president in 1978 and helped establish its “grass roots clubs” and educational outreach to schools.

Mr. Wergin also wrote several outstanding books on Cribbage (and Euchre and Poker along the way). He deserves recognition for his educational and promotional efforts with card games and for the outstanding books he left us. Mr. Wergin passed away in 2005 at the age of 95.

Joseph Wergin and his Skat Book

License: Feel free to print, copy, and distribute these rules, so long as you retain this paragraph. Written by Howard Fosdick © 2023, distributed under Creative Commons License BY-ND.      HOME