By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
Since 1976, four men, now ranging in age from 72-82, have been getting together at each other’s homes to play Skat.
Skat is a card game with more rules than English grammar. The game has German roots and came to Minnesota with immigrants. It has been passed down from generation to generation.
“I played Skat with my parents almost every night when I was growing up,” said Larry Hollermann. The other three men said they did the same.
The other three in the group of four are brothers. Gib Koopmeiners is the eldest at 82. He is one year older than Hollermann. All four men grew up in the Melrose area, but didn’t know each other when attending school.
“Larry was a class behind me,” said Gib.
Clarence Koopmeiners is 74 and the youngest of the group is Geno Koopmeiners, who is 72.
The four now spend the afternoons, usually about five hours, dealing cards and reminiscing. They talk about family, past card games and life in general. It’s all about four good friends keeping a friendship alive.
They all married in the 1950s or 1960s. They all had families to raise and careers to launch, so this ritual didn’t start until they were in their 30s and 40s.
The four Skat players started playing monthly on Saturday nights during nine months out of the year. The other three months were in the summers and were reserved for vacations with their families.
Then one year, the four gathered at Hollermann’s cabin one Fourth of July weekend. They played Skat that entire time. That annual gathering continued for 17 years.
Then about 10 years ago, Geno retired, the last one to do so, and the ritual changed to Wednesday afternoons, once a month, all year long.
Until recently, when Hollermann’s health has made it difficult to travel, the four would rotate homes. Now, they all gather at Hollerman’s home in Little Falls for an afternoon of cards.
All told, the men have gathered 380 times to play Skat. And they don’t play just one game, they play many games.
The four have kept a ledger of their scores since 1979, but they don’t have any idea of who’s ahead. They don’t keep a running score, just chronicle the numbers for that day.
Gib has had a perfect hand twice in all that time, the only one to do so.
When asked who is the better player, Geno immediately said, “Me.” But then he admitted they were fairly equally matched.
The game is usually played with four people. The dealer sits out the hand. Each of the other three players receives 10 cards, aces through sevens, leaving two for the blind. The person who starts the game through a quick string of bidding, gets to name trump. All jacks are also trump, in the order of clubs, spades, hearts then diamonds.
Terms include matadores, tourne, solo, ramsch, grand tournee, guckser, grand ouvert and pas nicht tournee. A player can win with null, schneider or swartz. Scores are determined by multipliers, and the 7 – 9 cards have no value.
The winner of the hand must have 61 of the 120 points available.
The wives of the men are also invited, but they either play their own game of cards, visit or kibbitz with the men.
It’s possible the world’s problems are solved during those five hours.