The Game of Watten

South Tyrol’s favourite card game is not for the faint of heart.

The stakes are high in Watten. The cards are placed on the table with such a mighty thump that it’s painful to watch. There’s lots of laughter and cursing, blinking of eyes and twitching of fingers. To win you will need to have a sharp memory and be prepared to take risks. Mastering South Tyrol’s most popular variant, Blind Watten, requires precise observation and very quick powers of deduction. Blind Watten is all about bidding and bluffing. One can win with poor cards, and even the best hand is not good enough if a team doesn’t play together. Watten is therefore not just a great way to spend time with others drinking a glass or two while letting the stress of the day melt away. Exercising your memory and measuring your strength as a player are also part of the pleasures of the game!

Whether the card game originated in Italy or in France is somewhat controversial. But all agree that Watten, as well as the related but not so common Perlaggen, is a part of the culture of daily life in the homes and inns of South Tyrol. And just as every inn has its own speciality and every valley its own unique dialect, just about every village has its own Watten rules. In Termeno/Tramin and Cortaccia/Kurtatsch for example, the game is played counterclockwise.

In South Tyrol, a special Salzburg deck is used featuring acorns, leaves, hearts and bells as suits. The fives and the sixes, except for the six of bells, called the Weli, are removed from the deck. Typically, Watten requires four players with team members sitting opposite one another. Reading signals from other players is very important. Both discussing tactics and telling your partner which cards you have are officially prohibited in Blind Watten, though the giving of lightening quick signals is all part of the fun.

In addition to South Tyrol, Watten is also popular in Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland. Rules and designations differ from country to country and from region to region. In Bavaria the German deck of 32 instead of 33 cards is used and the three so-called ‘critical’ cards - king of hearts, the seven of bells and the seven of acorns - always out-trump the chosen trumps.