OBJECTIVE OF SHEEPSHEAD: Earn 61 points by collecting high value card combinations.
NUMBER OF PLAYERS: 5 players
NUMBER OF CARDS: 32 card deck
RANK OF CARDS: Discussed below
TYPE OF GAME: Trick-taking
INTRODUCTION TO SHEEPSHEAD
Sheepshead is a trick-taking card game that is closely related to Skat. This game is the Westernized verison the German game Schafkopf (which translates literally to Sheepshead). The game is played commonly in the United Sttates, specifcally in German-American settlements in states such as Wisconsin and Indiana. In fact, there are mini tournmanets of Sheepshead at the Germanfest in Mailwaukee, which takes place on the last weekend of July.
One of the most unique characteristics of Sheepshead is the unusal card ranking system. The deck has 32 cards taken from the standard 52 card deck, it consits of all the suits from the following ranks: 7, 8, 9, 10, Jacks, Queens, Kings, Aces.
The 14 trump cards rank:
- Queen of Clubs
- Queen of Spades
- Queen of Hearts
- Queen of Diamonds
- Jack of Spades
- Jack of Clubs
- Jack of Hearts
- Jack of Diamonds
- Ace of Diamonds
- 10 of Diamonds
- King of Diamonds
- 9 of Diamonds
- 8 of Diamonds
- 7 of Diamonds
The 18 fail cards rank:
- Ace of Clubs, Ace of Spades, Ace of Hearts
- Ten of Clubs, Ten of Spades, Ten of Hearts
- Nine of Clubs, Nine of Spades, Nine of Hearts
- Eight of Clubs, Eight of Spades, Eight of Hearts
- Seven of Clubs, Seven of Spades, Seven of Hearts
Card Point Values
Cards also carry point values. There is a total of 120 points in a Sheepshead deck. Players try to collect card combinations that score the most points. Cards have the same value in all suits, including trump suits.
Aces: 11 points each
10s: 10 points each
Kings: 4 points each
Queens: 3 points each
Jack: 2 points each
9s, 8s, 7s: 0 points each
Pick any player to deal first. They must throughly shuffle the deck. The player to their direct right cuts the deck. After, the dealer deals 6 cards to each player, starting to their left and moving clockwise. Players are dealt 3 at a time, face-down. Once the first 3 cards have been dealt, 2 cards are dealt to the center of the table, then the remaining 3 cards are dealt. The responsibility of the deal passes to the left between rounds.
Once the cards are dealt, the player to the left of the dealer is given the first opportunity to pick the blind. If you believe your hand is good enough to win, meaning basically all trumps, grab the blind into hand (two cards in the middle of the table).
You may pass on picking up the blind. Then, the person to your left has the chance to do so, and so on, until the blind is taken. If no one picks up the blinds, the hand is a leaster or a doubler, depending upon how you play.
The person who picks up the blinds must then discard two cards and place them face-down in front of themselves. After, they pick a partner.
Unless the picker has a very strong hand, or almost all high trump cards, they should pick a partner. Partners are chosen by announcing the ace from the same suit of a fail card they have. For example, if someone has a 7 of clubs in hand, they can announce the ace of clubs. Then, the player with that ace (ace of clubs) becomes the picker’s partner. The three platers that remain form another team.
However, no one but their partner knows because they cannot tell anyone. The picker has to keep their fail card until the suit of their partner’s ace is lead with. If it is, they must play the fail card OR a card from that suit. The only other time the fail card may be played is the final trick.
If the picker holds all 3 of the non-trump aces they call for a 10 from one of their fail suits. Same rules apply.
If the picker’s hand is strong enough to win on its own (totals 61 points) they can declare that they are “going alone.” Their hand is played in the same fashion but the teams have changed: the picker vs. everyone else.
The player sitting directly to the left of the dealer leads (plays the first card) in the first trick. The players play one card, and play passes to the left or clockwise. The winner of a trick leads in the next one.
During a trick, players must ALWAYS follow suit, that is, play a card from the same suit that was led with.
Trump IS a suit. The suits of trump cards do not matter. The Queen of Diamonds is in the trump suit, diamonds are not the trump suit. Only trump cards can beat the suit led with.
Take this example: A club is led. If you have a card from the suit of clubs in hand, you must play it. If not, play a trump card. In the event your partner is going to win, you can give points away.
When a player leads a trump card everyone else must follow with a trump card during that trick.
After all 6 tricks have been played, the winner is determined by summing the points of cards collected.
- In the event the picker and their partner win, by collecting 61 points from the 6 tricks, the picker earns 2 points and their partner gets 1. All other players lose 1 point from their cumulative score.
- If the picking team earns less than 60 points their opponents win. The picker loses 2 points and their partner loses 1 point from their cumulative scores. The other 3 players, the winners, earn 1 point each. Often, especially in tournaments, they play “double on the bump,” meaning the stakes double (points lost/gained) if the picking team loses the game.
- But, if the picking team wins and their opposition doesn’t take 30 points or more, the picking team “schneiders” the opposition, this meaning they win double the points. So, the picker takes 4 points and their partner takes 2. The oppositions loses double the points as well, 2 points each.
- If the picking team earns less than 31 points during the game, the opposition then schneiders them and earn 2 points each. The picker would lose 4 points and their partner loses 2 points. In double on the bump, the picker would lose 8 points and their partner loses 4 points.
- In the event the picking team takes all the tricks, earning 120 points, they earn 3x the typical amount of points. The opposition will also lose 3 points each.
- If the opposition takes all the tricks, despite if they are unable to earn 120 points, the pick will lose 9 points and each player in the opposition earns 3 points. The partner of the picker receives no penalty.