Welcome to the Sheepshead Page.
History of Sheepshead
Sheepshead, or Schafkopf in German, is an old Middle European
game played and developed by shepherds sometime in the late 1700's.
Its play is similar to that of
euchre, and has been
incorporated into the game of Skat. While Skat was codified by
the German congress in 1886, Sheepshead has continued to be played
under a variety of rules. The rules described here are the most
accepted in the United States. Sheepshead has such a strange order of
cards because the peasants in Europe were disgruntled with the kings, so
in their card games they gave the kings a lower rank. They made Queens,
Jacks, and diamonds (a symbol of wealth) trump.
Basic Rules of Play
Sheepshead is played with 32 cards, each with a different point
value and strength. The object of the game is to get at least
61 points by taking a number of tricks.
most common and best way to play Sheepshead is with 5 players. Six
players may sit at the table and the dealer just sits out the hand he is
dealing. There are variations of the game which can be played with as
little as 2 and up to 8 players. These games will be described later.
The Deck The
deck consists of 32 of the 52 cards in a regular Poker-type deck of
cards. The cards used in Sheepshead are all the suits of 7's, 8's, 9's 10's,
Jacks, Queens, Kings, and Aces. The rest of the deck should be
put aside, as it will not be used at all in the game of Sheepshead.
Decide who will deal first.
Shuffle the deck thoroughly, and the person to the right of the
dealer should cut the deck. Deal 6 cards to every player, dealing
the cards 3 at a time in a clockwise manner. After the first round
of 3 cards each, 2 cards are placed in the middle of the table.
These cards are called the blind. The remaining cards are then
dealt, 3 at a time. The person to the left of the dealer becomes
the dealer in the next round.
One of the most difficult parts
of Sheepshead for new players to understand is the ranking of the
cards. The order of power of the cards is a very important part of the
game. Adding to the confusion is the fact that point values for the
cards do not always coincide with the power rankings. Instead of the
usual, twos-through-aces ranking,
the 14 Sheepshead trump cards rank as follows:
The 18 fail cards rank as follows:
Fail cards rank in power by type only, suit does not play a part in fail
Point Value of Cards
In order to get 61 points and win the game, you must collect a
combination of the following cards and the points associated with each.
Every suit of the following cards is worth the same, even trump suits.
Things to Remember
Note that any trump card will take any fail card. Also note
that Tens take Kings. With these basic rules, you are ready to start
playing the game.
After dealing the cards, the person to the left of the dealer has the
first chance to pick the blind. If you think that you
have a good enough hand (a bunch of trump) to win, pick up the blind and
put it in your hand. If you don't have much trump, you can pass, and
the next person to the left has the option to pick, and so on, until the
dealer has had a chance to pick. If no one picks, the hand becomes a
leaster. After picking up the blind, the picker must
discard two cards, face down in front of him. The picker then picks a
Partner Unless the picker has a very good hand (almost all
high trump) he should pick a partner. (see going
alone) This is done by naming an ace card from which he has a
fail card of. For example, if the picker has all trump except an 8
of hearts, he must call the Ace of Hearts as partner. If he had the 8
of hearts, the 7 of clubs, and the King of spades, he could call any of
the three non-trump Aces as partner, as long as the Ace was not in his
hand or his blind. So if the picker calls "Ace of hearts" the person
with the Ace of hearts becomes his partner. The remaining three players
are now on one team, opposing the picker and his partner. No one,
except the partner, knows who the partner is at the beginning of the
hand, and he cannot tell anyone. The picker must keep his fail card
matching the suit of his partner's Ace until the suit is led, then the
picker must play the fail card. The fail card cannot
be played in any other trick except the last one, when you have to play
your last card.
If the picker has the Aces for all the fail suits in his hand or the
blind, he cannot call those Aces. He must place any one of his cards
face down (called in the hole or under as in) and call any fail Ace he
doesn't have in his hand or blind. The card in the hole must be played
when the suit of the called Ace is led, as if the card was the failed
suit called. Only the person who wins the trick is allowed to see the
card in the hole, and this card cannot take the trick despite its ranking.
If the picker has all three non-trump Aces, a 10 of a fail suit can be
called. The same rules apply as if the picker called an Ace.
Remember: the Ace and 10 of diamonds can never be called because they
The Lead The
person directly to the dealer's left leads, that is,
plays the first card. The other players must follow suit in a clockwise
manner. The player who wins the trick always leads the next trick.
A very important rule to remember is that you must
always follow suit. Trump is a suit. On trump cards,
the suit doesn't matter: The Queen of spades is a trump, not a spade.
Only trump cards can beat the suit that is led. A nine of hearts will
not beat a 7 of clubs if clubs was led. Only a higher club or a trump
will take the trick away from the 7 of clubs. If a spade is led, you
must play a spade if you have it, and so must everyone else. If you
don't have a spade, then you can trump the trick or play any card in
your hand, but no other card but a trump will win. You may wish to give
points away if your partner is going to win. If a trump card is led,
then everyone must play a trump on that trick. Remember, the Ace must
be played when the called Ace suit is led, even if you have other cards
of the same suit in your hand. The person with the highest ranking card
at the end of a trick, wins that trick and collects the points. The
game is over when 6 tricks are played. The winner is determined by
- The picker and the partner win the game if they can collect 61
points from the 6 tricks played. The picker would then get 2 points for
the win and the partner would get 1. The other players would all lose 1
point from their score.
- If the picking team gets 60 points or less, which also leaves 60
points or more for the opposition, the opposition wins. The picker
would lose 2 points and the partner would lose 1, while the 3 other
players would all receive 1 point each.
- If the picking team wins and the opposition fails to get 30
points, the picking team schneiders the
opposition and wins double what they would have. The opposition would
then lose 2 points each.
- If the picking team does not get 31 points in a game, the
opposition schneiders them, and each player on the opposing team gets 2
points. The picker loses 4 points and the partner loses 2.
- If the picking team takes all the tricks, which would give them
120 points in that game, they no-trick the opposition and get three
times the usual amount. Picker gets 6 points, partner gets 3 points,
and each player on the opposition loses 3 points.
- If the opposition gets all the tricks, even if they don't get all
120 points, the picker loses 9 points and each of the opposition players
receive 3 points. The partner is not penalized in this case.
When scoring, remember that the total score from all player, including
negatives, must always equal 0.
Advanced Play, Tips, and Strategy
- The Picker Usually Leads Trump
- The picker
theoretically has more trump than anyone else since he picked on a good
hand and was able to use the cards from the blind in his decision
making. By leading trump, the picker can usually draw out 5 trump,
leaving only 9 in all hands. He probably has 4 more trump in his hand
leaving only 5 for the rest of the players. Chances are that the
partner has 1 or more of these trump, leaving only 3 trump for the
opposition. When the called suit is eventually led, hopefully all of
the opposition's trump are used and the Ace makes it around the table to
take the trick.
- Partner Should Lead Trump
- The picker's partner
should lead trump for the same reasons the picker should lead trump.
The picker should have more trump than anyone and using up the trump is
to the picker's advantage. Partner should lead the Queen of clubs if he
has it. Picker will know that you are probably partner and will give
you points (shmeer). If you don't have a big queen,
play a small trump. Picker will be able to take the trick and many
trump will fall.
- Opposition Should Lead the Called Ace Suit
Chances are, one of the opposition partners will not have the called
suit and will be able to take the trick with a trump card. The picker
and partner cannot play any trump on this trick and there is a good
chance a lot of points will fall on this trick. If the called suit is
not played early, the opposition can be quickly de-trumped and the
called Ace will make it around. It is also nice to know who the partner
is early in the game, so you know who to shmeer to. If you can't lead
the the called suit lead your long suit.
- The Picker Should Lead the Queen of Clubs
is a good idea to lead the Queen of clubs if you have it because you
automatically get the first trick and 5 trump are gone. This also means
that there is less likelihood of the called Ace being trumped.
- Partner Should Not Lead the Called Ace
- It is a
good idea to keep the called Ace as long as possible. The picker should
have gotten all of the trump out by the end of the hand, and there is a
better chance of the Ace making it around without being trumped. It is
also usually to the picker's and partner's advantage to keep the
identity of the partner a secret as long as possible.
- Count Trump and Points During Play
- It will
always help you if you know how many trump are left. Try to take note
of trump played after each trick. At least make sure you know when the
Queens and Jacks go. It is also helpful to keep track of your points,
so you know what you need to win, and can play for those points.
Counting becomes easier with experience. If you can't count both points
and trump. just keep track of trump.
- When to Pick
- An important part of Sheepshead
is knowing when to pick. Pick when you have at least:
- The two high Queens and are leading or on the end.
- Any two Queens plus another trump, plus some points to bury.
- Any Queen plus another 3 trump, plus some points to bury.
- Any 5 trump.
Most of the time, you will be able to win with these hands. A
mauerer won't play with one of these hands, but the
average player should. Better players will pick on less than these,
trying to rely on their partner.
- If you are partner and have no Trump, and the picker is on the end,
lead an Ace. If you don't have an Ace, lead your short suit.
- Partner shouldn't play the called Ace suit right after it was played.
- If you are partner and the picker is on the end, and you have the
Queen of hearts and one small trump, lead the Queen of hearts. If you
have three trump, protect the Queen of hearts.
- Picker should never let the opposition lead, even if it means using
your high Queen.
- If a "chronic picker" passes, the blind is probably full of trump.
- When in doubt, schmeer. This will be correct about 60% of the time.
- When picking, try to eliminate two suits to the blind and retain
only one, so you can trump any trick led with a suit you don't have.
- On a trump lead, the 2nd and 3rd players should play low trump, as
not to waste trump.
- Never call the Ace suit that was called in the previous hand. If
there was poor shuffling, all the suit may be together and someone will
have none, and will trump it.
- If the picker's side has the high Queen, they'll win 75% of the time.
- The picker wins 70% of the time.
- The picker, after picking the blind, will have the high Queen 65% of
- If the picker leads, the called Ace has a 80% chance of walking. If
the opposition leads, the rate drops down to 50%.
- Remember the rule: Points before Power; that is, give up a 10 or
Ace if you can take a trick with your remaining trump.
- Picker cannot look at what he buried once play begins.
When no one decides to pick the blind, the game becomes a Leaster. Some
people prefer to play a "doubler" instead. In a Leaster:
- The player with the least number of points receives 4 points,
everyone else loses 1.
- To win the game you must take at least 1 trick.
- A trick with 16 or fewer points has a good chance being lowest.
- Lead out a bare suit so someone else is forced to lead. Don't lead
your long suit or everyone else can get rid of their high-point cards.
- In case of a tie, the tied player draw to determine a winner. Use
Sheepshead card order and draw from the whole Sheepshead deck. Trump
must be drawn to win. If two fail suits are drawn, draw again.
doubler is called in special situations and causes both sides to pay or
win double the normal points they would for that hand. A doubler will
also double no-trick, schnider points, etc.
- Anyone who is not the picker of partner, and holds the Queen of
spades, can call a doubler if he cares to call it.
- Any player who hasn't passed and isn't the picker or partner can
"knock" or "rap" and call a doubler. This is done when the player
thinks he has a better hand than the picker and that the picker won't
win. This helps to discourage people who pick on weak hands or very
little trump. A player will stop picking on nothing when he's down 30
points and owes money.
- The last hand of the night is automatically a doubler.
- Doublers with the same dealer can be played if everyone passes,
instead of playing a leaster.
anyone misplays; doesn't play trump when it is lead, doesn't follow suit
correctly, calls the wrong ace, misburies, etc., he loses 4 points and
everyone else gets 1 point each. This rule is usually waived if the
perpetrator is a novice.