How one Hapag-Lloyd employee has dedicated his free time to the card game skat.
Even if the card game has never really made it across Germany’s borders, almost 200 years after it was invented in the Thuringian city of Altenburg, skat remains one of the most popular card games among Germans. To explain it to non-Germans in a very bare-bones fashion, skat is a three-person game with only 32 cards, with one player pitted against the other two. After the so-called bidding, it is determined who plays against whom – and, at the end of the game, cards are counted to see whether the person playing alone or the opposite party has won.
For Daniel Schäfer, skat is more than just a game; it is part of his life. The 37-year-old discovered the game of skat when he was still a teenager. This was no surprise, of course, seeing that skat ran in his family’s genes – his grandfather, father and brother have all been avid players. At 16, Schäfer joined a skat club in Hamburg, where he learned, learned, learned and played, played, played. Several times a week – and at various events on many weekends. At 16, he won his first tournament at the Hamburg state level – and became even more addicted to skat. During his mid-twenties, when he first started playing in Germany’s national league, he spent a lot of weekends driving all across Germany for skat. But what is so fascinating for him about this unusual hobby? “Skat is very varied and reaches an incredible depth for a game with just a few cards,” he explains. “Each individual game can bring you to tears or make you laugh; one experiences highs and lows, as if riding on an emotional roller coaster.”
The skat fan has been working at Hapag-Lloyd since 1999, initially as a trainee in information technology. After finishing his apprenticeship, he became a software developer in the IT department, where he now focuses on things like designing software for electronic bookings and booking confirmations.
Schäfer reached his biggest success with skat in 2014, when he won the Skat Masters in Berlin – and took home a big pot of prize money. Starting out against 170 other players, he reached the final game with the three best players, winning an exciting televised event and 25,000 euros. In 2015, he won again – taking home another 25,000 euros. But instead of booking a dream vacation or buying a sports car, Schäfer invested the entire amount in his greatest passion: skat!
More precisely, Schäfer used the money to get his “Skatinsel,” or “Skat Island,” project up and running. When asked about the idea behind this skat portal with a unique educational game, Schäfer says, “Skat has an old and dusty image. Many associate ‘skat’ with something that old men play over beers in a cloud of cigarette smoke, so they no longer want to learn how to play the game. I want to show the good side of skat to arouse interest in my generation and younger ones, to help them discover this fantastic game for themselves.”
To this end, Schäfer used the prize money to hire some comrades-in-arms and start the project’s development phase. Since July 2015, he has even cut back his working hours at Hapag-Lloyd so he can devote even more time to his mission. “For a few months, I worked from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Hapag-Lloyd – after which I worked on developing my Skatinsel project,” he recounts. Last December, he had reached the point where he could launch Skatinsel online. When asked about the response so far, he says: “We get between 50 and 70 hits a day. And the players are enthusiastic.” Though he had hoped for more support from sponsors or donations, Schäfer is still satisfied. “Looking back, maybe I was a bit naïve in this respect,” he says self-critically.
Schäfer already has additional upgrades for Skatinsel in the back of his head, such as making a version that can also be used on mobile devices or an English-language one. He is also one of the most intense users of the virtual skat platform himself – though he also plays for Hansa Hamburg, in the second national league, while also serving as president of the Hamburg Skat Association. So who would be surprised by the fact that his 13- and 14-year-old daughters are already accomplished skat players?
“Skat is an indispensable part of my life,” Schäfer says. “As I get older, in addition to the strategic aspects, I also appreciate more and more the social character of the game, how it brings people together. That becomes even more important for me particularly in this day and age, when a major part of everyday life is spent in front of electronic media.” Schäfer knows that a lot of work still lies ahead. And his Skatinsel project was just the beginning.