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 pinochle and 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.

Players The 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.

The Deal 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.

Card Rankings 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:

Queen of Clubs, Queen of Spades, Queen 
of Hearts, Queen of Diamonds, Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of 
Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, Ace of Diamonds, 10 of Diamonds, 9 of 
Diamonds, 8 of Diamonds, 7 of Diamonds

The 18 fail cards rank as follows:

Remaining Clubs, Spades, Hearts:  Ace, 
10, King, 9, 8, 7
Fail cards rank in power by type only, suit does not play a part in fail card rankings.

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.

Basic Play

The Picker 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.

Picking 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 are trump.

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.

Following Suit 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 counting points.

Scoring Sheepshead

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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
It 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:

Quick Tips

Special Situations

Leasters When no one decides to pick the blind, the game becomes a Leaster. Some people prefer to play a "doubler" instead. In a Leaster:
  1. The player with the least number of points receives 4 points, everyone else loses 1.
  2. To win the game you must take at least 1 trick.
  3. A trick with 16 or fewer points has a good chance being lowest.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Doublers A 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.

  1. Anyone who is not the picker of partner, and holds the Queen of spades, can call a doubler if he cares to call it.
  2. 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.
  3. The last hand of the night is automatically a doubler.
  4. Doublers with the same dealer can be played if everyone passes, instead of playing a leaster.

Misplays If 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.