Sheepshead or Sheephead is a trick-taking card game
Trick-taking game
A trick-taking game is a card game or tile-based game in which play centers on a series of finite rounds or units of play, called tricks. The object of such games then may be closely tied to the number of tricks taken, as in plain-trick games such as Whist, Contract Bridge, Napoleon, Rowboat, and...

 related to the Skat family of games. It is the Americanized version of a card game that originated in Central Europe in the late 18th century under the German name Schafkopf
Schafkopf, also called Schaffkopf, is a late 18th century German trick-taking card game most popular in Bavaria, but also played in other parts of Germany as well as other German-speaking countries like Austria. Its modern descendants are Doppelkopf, Skat and the North American game of Sheepshead...

. Although Schafkopf literally means "sheepshead", it has nothing to do with sheep. The term probably was derived and translated incorrectly from Middle High German
Middle High German
Middle High German , abbreviated MHG , is the term used for the period in the history of the German language between 1050 and 1350. It is preceded by Old High German and followed by Early New High German...

 and referred to playing cards on a barrel head (from kopf, meaning head, and Schaff, meaning a barrel). In the United States, Sheepshead is most commonly played in Wisconsin
Wisconsin is a U.S. state located in the north-central United States and is part of the Midwest. It is bordered by Minnesota to the west, Iowa to the southwest, Illinois to the south, Lake Michigan to the east, Michigan to the northeast, and Lake Superior to the north. Wisconsin's capital is...

,, which has a large German-American population, and at Yahoo games on the Internet. There are numerous tournaments throughout Wisconsin during the year, with the largest tournament being the "Nationals", held annually at a location in Wisconsin during the first or second weekend in November, and mini-tournaments held hourly throughout Germanfest in Milwaukee during the last weekend of each July. Although the silent-s pronunciation 'sheephead' is technically more accurate, 'sheepshead' is an accepted, but laughable, alternative.

Sheepshead is most commonly played by five players, but variants exist to allow for two to eight players. The six-player version, notably, consists of one player dealing to five others. The dealer sits out for that round, but the position rotates among the players.


Sheepshead is played with 7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A in four suits, for a total of 32 cards. This is also known as a Piquet deck, as opposed to the 52 or 54 present in a full French deck (also known as a Poker
Poker is a family of card games that share betting rules and usually hand rankings. Poker games differ in how the cards are dealt, how hands may be formed, whether the high or low hand wins the pot in a showdown , limits on bet sizes, and how many rounds of betting are allowed.In most modern poker...

 deck, or a regular deck of playing cards). A Sheepshead deck is made by removing all of the jokers, sixes, fives, fours, threes, and twos from a standard deck.

Card strength

Card strength in Sheepshead is unique and one of the most difficult things for some beginners to grasp.

There are 14 cards in the trump suit: all four Queens, all four Jacks, and all of the Diamonds. In order of strength from greatest to least:
  • Q♣ Q♠ Q♥ Q♦
  • J♣ J♠ J♥ J♦
  • A♦ 10♦ K♦ 9♦ 8♦ 7♦

Also, there are 6 of each "fail" suit (18 total).
  • A, 10, K, 9, 8, and 7 of ♣, ♠, and

Clubs, Spades, and Hearts take no precedence over other fail suits, unlike trump, which always take fail. (Notice how both aces and tens outrank kings; arguably the most confusing aspect of card strength). The lead suit must be followed if possible; if not, then any card may be played such as trump (which will take the trick), or a fail card. Playing a fail of a different suit is called "throwing off" and can be a way to clear up another suit. Additionally, throwing off a point card is called "schmearing".

Card point values

Each card is given a separate point value as follows:
  • Queen—3 points
  • Jack—2 points
  • Ace—11 points
  • Ten—10 points
  • King—4 points
  • 9, 8, 7—0 points

The strongest cards (Queens and Jacks) are not worth the most points, giving Sheepshead some of its unique character.

There are 120 points total in the deck. The goal of the game is to get half of these (60 or 61); in case of a tie, the opponents win.

Keeping score

Score is kept using points (not to be confused with the point values of the cards) or using money. Points are given/taken on a zero-sum
In game theory and economic theory, a zero-sum game is a mathematical representation of a situation in which a participant's gain of utility is exactly balanced by the losses of the utility of other participant. If the total gains of the participants are added up, and the total losses are...


The following chart shows the points awarded based on the point value of cards taken during the hand. When playing for money, each point generally represents a common money unit.
Point Total Picker (Alone) Picker (w/ Partner) Partner Opponents
All Tricks +12 +6 +3 -3
91 to 120 +8 +4 +2 -2
61 to 90 +4 +2 +1 -1
31 to 60 -4 -2 -1 +1
0 to 30 -8 -4 -2 +2
No Tricks -12 -6 -3 +3

  • Thirty or thirty-one points are called schneider, with the picker being required to get thirty-one points.
  • There are 120 points in the deck. Since it is possible to take a trick worth zero points, the distinction between "All Tricks" and "120 points" is necessary.
  • Players gain or lose points such that a net gain of zero occurs.

The deal

The deck is shuffled and cut. The dealer then deals cards two or three at a time to each person, starting with the player to the dealer's left. In most standard five and six-handed games, two cards are also dealt to a separate pile called the "blind"; usually this is dealt as a pair between rounds of dealing at any time so long as they are not the last two cards dealt.

When done, each player should have six cards, with two in the blind (five-handed).

A redeal is optional, depending upon table rules, when a player's hand has no aces, no face cards and no trump.


The player to the left of the dealer gets first choice to take the blind. If he passes, the option is given to the next player (in clockwise order).

If everyone passes and the dealer declines to pick, a leaster may be played. Other alternatives are listed in the Variations section.

The individual who takes the blind is called the "picker". The picker adds the two cards to his hand and then must choose two cards to lay down or "bury". The buried cards are added to the picker's score if the picker takes at least one trick.

The picker may also have a partner on his team who will then play against the remaining players. Typically, it is someone who has a called ace or jack, based on house rules. The rules behind this are outlined in the Variations section.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Sheepshead is that the picker and partner change each hand, and a good deal of the game's strategy is in determining which player is the partner, as his identity is usually not revealed until after the game has begun.

Game play

After the picker has buried his cards, the person to the left of the dealer plays the first card. Play continues clockwise until everyone has played. Then, the person who played the card with the highest strength takes the "trick", and then plays, or "leads," a new card for the second trick. After all tricks have been taken, their point values are totalled (chart given above) and the winner declared. The deal then shifts to the person to the left of the previous dealer.


  • The picker and partner should almost always lead trump. Odds are that the picker should have the strongest hand, as he received additional cards, received free points in his bury, and hopefully had a stronger hand before picking. So for each trump he loses, four trump are lost by the other players. This is especially important in the Called Aces variant, as this gives the Ace a much better chance of walking, or going around the table without being trumped.

  • When the picker is weak, sometimes it may be wise to lead fail and hope that the partner can take the trick. In these circumstances, the partner leading trump may drain the picker's trump faster than a strong opponent, though it can be difficult to tell if this is the case.

  • Generally speaking, it is better to clear out as many suits of fail as possible when burying; it is better to have two clubs than to have a heart and a club. There are exceptions to this rule.

  • Generally, it is best not to pick up the blind unless the player has four or more trump in a five-handed game, and it is best if at least one of those trump is a Queen. Picking on three trump is unwise, unless they are very highly powered cards.


  • In the Called Aces variant, the opponents should lead out the called suit if possible, as they know that the picker and partner have that fail for sure. This gives the opponents a chance to trump the ace trick.

  • If the picker has one suit, they are more likely to have another card of that same suit than to have one of another fail suit. Leading that suit back at them if possible is a common strategy that will allow for a greater chance for the opponents to be able to trump the trick.

  • Watch for suspicious play. If a player schmears an ace or ten in front of the picker, there's a good chance that they are the partner.

  • Never lead trump unless absolutely necessary; doing so will likely hurt the opponent's team more than the picker/partner.

All players

  • Point counting is a very valuable skill when playing Sheepshead, as it enables a player to know if a trick must be taken or if they've already won, enabling them to change their strategy to try for a greater victory.

  • Trump counting is also important to keep track of the number of trump that have already been played, especially the Queens and to a lesser extent the Jacks.

  • The order of play is a very important consideration while playing. There is a distinct benefit to "being on the end,". At times it may be worth taking a trick away from a players own team mate (bumping) in order to keep the opposition team members from being the last to play in the following trick.

  • In three or four-handed games, Aces are much more likely to walk than in games with more players.

Play variations

There are a number of different play variations for Sheepshead. Typically, the game is played with five people, but variants allow for two to ten players. There are also variants in the ways that partners are chosen, scoring, the suits considered fail, or what occurs when the blind isn't picked.


Typically, the following two variants apply only to five and six-handed games. In some variants, the picker is allowed to play alone.


The picker chooses a called ace suit after picking the blind. Whoever has this called ace will be his partner. There are a few further rules behind this.
  • The called suit must be a fail suit (clubs, spades or hearts).
  • The picker must have at least one of the fail suit in his/her hand. If the picker has no fail suits for which he or she does not also have the ace, an unknown may be played. The picker then lays a card face down (typically their lowest trump) and calls a fail suit for the unknown to represent. The unknown then loses all power to take tricks, though its point value remains at the end of the game. Only the player taking the unknown is allowed to look at it until the end of the game.
  • The picker can call a suit for which he has the Ace, he must save the ace and then he is his own "secret" partner
  • If the picker has all 3 fail Aces, he may call a 10 instead of an Ace. The picker is obligated to hold the Ace of that suit in his hand. When the called suit is led, the picker must play the Ace. In addition, the person with the 10 takes the trick if it is not trumped.

Jack of Diamonds

In this variant, the partner is automatically the individual with the Jack of Diamonds. The normal rule is that if the picker has the jack of diamonds, whether as a result of the deal or picking up the jack in the blind, the picker must play alone. However, there are a number of variants within this method of play.
  • Sometimes, the picker is allowed to call up to the Jack of Hearts if he has the Jack of Diamonds in his hand. Sometimes he's also allowed to call the Jack of Spades or Clubs if he has the two or three lower Jacks in his hand. Some variants require that the picker call up before seeing the blind.
  • In some variants, the picker calls the Jack of Clubs instead of the Jack of Diamonds; typically he isn't allowed to call down to the Jack of Spades.
  • In some variants, if the picker has the Jack of Diamonds and wishes to play alone (cut-throat), the Jack of Diamonds must be kept in play and not buried.
  • In a relatively new variant, the picker may call a non-trump ace if they have the Jack of Diamonds. As in the Ace Variations above, the picker must keep at least one card in the called suit. A difference from the typical Ace Variations is that the partner is usually not required to play the ace when that suit is played if they have additional cards in that suit. This is to maintain the intrigue associated with the "who's the partner" aspect of the game. If the picker does not have an ace they can call (an example would be 5 trumps and an Ace, King, Seven of the same suit) they are considered "stuck" and must go alone.

Calling Sheepshead

One variant allows the picker to call "Sheepshead." This means that the picker believes he can take every trick. If he succeeds he receives twice the number of points for a trickless game, but if he misses a single trick (even one lacking points), he must pay twice the value his opponents would have paid him for a trickless hand.
  • The picker is almost always required to play alone if he calls Sheepshead. Because of this, it is generally applied only to the Jacks variant, or cut-throat games.
  • Sometimes the picker is not allowed to call Sheepshead if he does not have the Jack in five or six-handed games.

Double on the Bump

If the picker/partner do not win, they are "bumped". The standard method of playing Sheepshead is that the picker/partner lose two times the points that opponents would lose in a similar loss. This may be called the "Punish the picker" rule. Some house rules do not enforce this "Punish" rule.
Some house rules require the picker to take at least one trick. If the picker/partner do not take at least one trick and lose, then only the picker loses points. Picker -18, partner 0, opponents +6.
Point Total Picker (Alone) Picker (w/ Partner) Partner Opponents
All Tricks +12 +6 +3 -3
91 to 120 +8 +4 +2 -2
61 to 90 +4 +2 +1 -1
31 to 60 -8 -4 -2 +2
0 to 30 -16 -8 -4 +4
No Tricks -24 -12 -6 +6


In this variant, when a player picks up the blind, any player (who is not the picker's partner) who was not given the opportunity to pick up the blind may knock or crack by knocking the table with their fist. This automatically doubles the point values determining the score when the game ends. In the Aces variant, the crack must take place after the Ace has been called but before the first card is played.
  • Some variants allow the picker or the picker's partner to re-crack, or crack-back resulting in a quadrupling of the end scores.
  • Some variants allow any player (who is not the picker or the picker's partner and did not crack) to castrate resulting in a octupling of the end scores.
  • In another variation, after a crack the partner may crack-around-the-corner, serving the same effect as a re-crack, but revealing himself as the partner at the same time. Generally in any game where cracking is allowed, each player may only crack once, regardless of team.

Blitzing or Blitzers

This variant allows players to double the point value of the game by revealing that they have the two black or red queens.
  • Typically, a blitz may only occur after a crack or re-crack.
  • Some variants allow for a blitzing with the two black Jacks, the two middle Jacks or all 4 Jacks.
  • Some variants allow for blitzers after the hand has been played. Players with both black queens need to declare blitzers after playing the second queen during the hand.
  • Because of the possibility of escalation, a limit may be placed to cap the maximum value the points are multiplied from blitzing and cracking.

Diamonds vs. Clubs

Typically, diamonds are considered trump, but some groups use another suit (typically clubs near Wausau, Wisconsin
Wausau, Wisconsin
Wausau is a city in and the county seat of Marathon County, Wisconsin, United States. The Wisconsin River divides the city. The city is adjacent to the town of Wausau.According to the 2000 census, Wausau had a population of 38,426 people...

). This would mean a nine of diamonds would be fail while a nine of clubs is trump instead.

Alternatively, in some groups, the strengths of the various Queens and Jacks differ from standard rules.


A variant popular in some areas of Minnesota and Wisconsin is to change the order of strength of the trump cards. This is done by increasing the seven of diamond's strength to second in the list of trump:
  • Q♣ 7♦ Q♠ Q♥ Q♦ J♣ J♠ J♥ J♦ A♦ 10♦ K♦ 9♦ 8♦

When playing this variant the seven of diamonds is referred to as "the Spitz". Another variation puts the seven of diamonds first in the list of trump.

No picker

Several different scenarios can occur if no one picks up the blind, including a forced pick, a leaster, or a doubler.

Forced pick

In this variant, the person on the end is required to pick the blind. This is sometimes offset by a "No Punish" rule, and statistics; if no one desired the blind, then there's a better chance that the blind has decent cards, unless the trump is evenly spread out.


In a leaster, the person with the fewest points wins the hand. There is no partner and the winner simply receives one point from every opponent in the game. The blind is set aside and normally given to the player who takes the last trick. House rules may allow the dealer to declare which trick is given the blind. Another house rule may be to set the blind aside so it is not given to anyone. The blind is not viewed until after the hand is over.
  • A common variant is to require a trick to win. If a player takes a trick that has no points (all 7s 8s and 9s), winning is similar to "no trick"; the four opponents lose three each and the winner earns twelve in a five-person game.
  • A three-handed variant may pay an individual double for not taking a trick.
  • A scoring variant is award a "no trick" hand to a person who wins all tricks in the leaster. When all tricks are taken, each opponent loses three as in a "no trick" hand.


In a doubler, the cards are reshuffled and a new hand is dealt and played as normal. However, at the end, the point values lost and gained are doubled.

The pot

Typically occurring with a leaster (and during cash games), one point is placed into a pot for the next hand. Then, if the picker wins the hand, he splits the pot with the partner (in a five handed game, the extra point goes to the picker such that he receives three and the partner receives a single point). However, if the picker loses the hand, the picker and partner must pay into the pot what they would have received.
  • In some games, the picker and partner double the pot when losing; in others, they simply add a single pot each time. Additionally, the picker and partner may take the entire pot on a win, or they may receive a single pot.
  • If the game ends before the pot is taken, or continues to build over several turns, the pot may be divided out to the individuals evenly. Alternately, showdowns may be played, where five cards are dealt one at a time to every player face side up. The best five-card poker hand then takes one or all of the pots.
  • If a new player joins a game with a pot (bringing a game from five to six-handed, etc.,) typically the pot is divided up, or the new player adds one point for every pot present.

Phrases to describe behaviors

The following phrases can be used to describe certain behaviors in the game.


Mauering means that a player has enough power-cards to pick up the blind, and yet passes (whether for fear one's hand is not actually good enough, or worse, one hopes to set up another player to lose). There are different methods of deciding if a player has a strong hand. In a five-handed game, some players pick on any four trump, while others decide based on the number of higher trump (queens and jacks). Others use a numbering system, giving each type of trump a point value and making the decision to pick based on a certain number of points. Statistically, players who have an opportunity to pick first need a stronger hand, while picking on the end usually means that since nobody else picked, the trumps are fairly evenly spread out. Because of the complex nature of the game, in most cases mauering is a matter of opinion. Mauering is considered to be in very poor taste and in some cases players who do it often enough can be asked to leave a game. Of course, mauering can backfire if the hand results in a leaster, and the mauerer is stuck with what is then a poor hand.


A schmear is throwing a high-point card (ace or ten) into a trick that a player thinks will be taken by one of their partners, in order to increase the points earned on that trick. An example of schmearing:
  1. Partner leads 10♦ (10 points)
  2. Opponent 1 plays Q♣ (3 points)
  3. Opponent 2 plays A♦ (11 points)
  4. Picker plays 8♦ (0 points)
  5. Opponent 3 (out of trump) plays 10♠ (10 points)

This trick was worth 34 points. That's schneider all by itself.

Opponent 1 won the trick as soon as s/he laid down the big Queen. As a result, opponents 2 and 3 both took advantage of the situation and put high-counting cards down. Also note that the picker played the 8♦, a no-counting card.


Renege means to fail to follow suit when able and required by the rules to do so. In most circles, this results in the guilty party forfeiting the hand.

Granny hand

When a player holds all or most of the top trump there is no way for the opposition to win. This unusually powerful hand is often derided for its ease of play; "My granny could win that hand." The hand still counts and is played out. In some cases it is simply laid down with the opponents conceding by acclamation.


When a teammate uses a higher powered card to take a trick that already is guaranteed to go to his/her team. Sometimes this is unavoidable especially in cases where there is only have one card of a particular suit left in a player's hand.

Game variations

There are numerous variations in rules, so a discussion of house rules generally occurs before play begins. The following variations can be employed to accommodate different numbers of players.


1) Each player is dealt four cards in a row, face down. Then, four cards are dealt face up to each player and placed on top of the first four cards. Then, eight cards are dealt to each player's hand. When one of the face up cards is played, the card below it is turned face up and may then be played.

2) Sixteen cards are dealt face down in a four by four rectangle. Players are not allowed to look at the face-down cards. Then, a card is dealt face up on top of these. The sixteen cards (eight stacks of two cards) closest to the dealer are the dealer's cards. A card must be face-up to be played. The opponent starts the first trick by playing one of his face-up cards, and the dealer responds by playing one of his. After each trick is played, any face-down cards uncovered are turned face-up. Play continues until all 32 cards have been played. Players are not allowed to look at their own face-down cards.


1) Each player is dealt ten cards, with two going to the blind. The picker faces the others.

2) The sevens of clubs and spades are removed, leaving thirty cards. Nine cards are then dealt to each player, with three going to the blind. The picker faces the others.

3) The six non-trump sevens and eights are removed, dealing eight cards to each player, with two in the blind.


1) Seven cards are dealt to each player with four in the blind. Four-handed is cut-throat: the picker plays against the other three players.

2) The seven of clubs and seven of spades are removed. Seven cards are dealt to each player, with two in the blind. The partner is automatically the player with the jack of diamonds. The game is played two versus two.

3) Each player is dealt eight cards, with no blind. The two players holding the black queens are partners; this is not revealed until both cards are played. If one player holds both black queens, he plays cut-throat against the others.

4) The partners are the first two queens played.
  • This variation is focused on timing; rather than trying to take a trick with the queen, it may be worth it to waste the queen to become partners with an individual who has already taken a good trick or two, or to avoid being stuck cut-throat.
  • Typically, in both variations, the players with the queens (black or first two played) are considered the picker and partner for scoring purposes.

5) In a fifth variation (popular in southern Indiana), jacks and queens flip order and Hearts is usually trump. In this style, all four players are dealt eight cards. A player has an option to call (similar to the call Ace above), go solo, or pass. Whoever gets the bid then reveals what he is playing:
  • Call: the person winning the call will call an ace of a non-trump suit that he does not hold. If he holds all three aces, he may call a non-trump 10. When play begins a player's partner is not revealed until the Ace is played.

  • Solo: the person winning the call has a choice between playing a trump solo (best), an off-suit solo in which that suit would now become trump (side solo), or a billy (where the winner goes against the other three and attempts not to take a trick.

  • Pass: if everyone passes the cards are thrown in and the deal moves to the next player.

Scoring: Players play to 24 on the given system:
  • Players who win a call gain 2, 4, or 6 points with their partner (getting set is 2, 4, 6 for the opponents).
  • Winning a solo gains that person 18 points (getting set is 6 points for each opponent).
  • Winning a best wins the game.


1) Six cards are dealt to each player, with two to the blind. The partner is the player with the called ace.

2) Six cards are dealt to each player, with two to the blind. The partner is the player with the called jack, jack depending on the rules variation. Most of the time the it is the Jack of Diamonds.


1) Five cards are dealt to each player, with two cards in the blind. The partner is automatically the Jack of Diamonds, and the game is played two against four. If the picker gets the Jack of Diamonds in the blind, he/she may call the next higher Jack not in his/her hand.

2) Five cards are dealt to each player, with two cards in the blind. The partner is automatically the Jack of Diamonds and the Ace of the called suit, with the game played three against three. If the picker gets the Jack of Diamonds in the blind or the Jack of Diamonds has the Ace of the called suit, it is played two against four.


1) Four cards are dealt to each player, with four to the blind. The picker takes all four cards from the blind, and buries four. The partner is automatically the Jack of Diamonds. If the picker has the jack, he/she may call up to the next highest Jack not in his/her hand.

2) Four cards are dealt to each player, with four to the blind. The picker takes two cards from the blind, and the player immediately behind him takes the other two blind cards; they bury together and then play as partners against the other five. Also known as Shit-On-Your-Neighbor Sheepshead.

3) Four cards are dealt to each player, with four to the blind. The picker takes three cards from the blind, and the player immediately behind him take the other card. The partner is automatically the Jack of Diamonds. The player behind the picker is not automatically the partner, so his bury may count towards the picker's opponents.

4) Four cards are dealt to each player, with four to the blind. A die is rolled, and the partner is whatever number is on the die with 1 representing the player to the pickers left, and counting clockwise with six being the person to the picker's right. Each takes and burys two cards.


1) Four cards are dealt to each player. The two black queens are partners.

2) Four cards are dealt to each player. The Queen of Clubs, Jack of Diamonds, and 7 of Diamonds are partners. If one partner has two of these cards, they can call the 8 of Diamonds (if they have the 7 and the queen or jack) or Jack of Hearts (if they have the queen and the jack). If the other partner already has the 8 of Diamonds or Jack of Hearts they can call again. It should always be 3 on 5 unless the partner chooses not to call another partner.


While waiting for additional players to show up, three Sheepshead players may use the 20 non Sheepshead cards to play a game fancifully called Sheepshoof. This game was invented in Bethesda, Maryland, in February 2004 (as of July 2011, the game had been played in Maryland, Wisconsin, Colorado and Tennessee). This game is similar to Sheepshead in that: picker choice and trick by trick play proceeds clockwise; each player gets 6 cards and there is a two card blind for the picker and there is a two card bury if there is a pick; there are trumps and fail; one or two of the tricks can be decisive, and, there are counter cards and non counter cards. It is different in that the sixes are trump but not counters while the fives and fours are counters (each five counts 5, each four counts 4. Also, if no one picks, the play is similar to a leaster in Sheepshead, except that instead of trying for the least pointage, in Sheepshoof one tries for the fewest number of points, and thus it is called a fewster in Sheepshoof as opposed to a leaster in Sheepshead. Other notable differences are: the best hand has four 6s and two 5s; the throw-in hand has only 3s and 2s; and each hand takes about half the time to play as a three handed Sheepshead hand.

Suit Precedence, Trumps and Non Trumps

In neither trump nor fail is there a suit precedence. The lead suit must be followed if possible; if not, then any card may be played such as trump (that, is a 6), or a fail card

There are potentially 4 cards that are trump. These are the 6s., that is, 6♣ 6♠ 6♥ 6♦

However, as will be explained, in the section called “trick dynamic trump rule” on any given trick there are at most 3 trumps.

All the remaining cards are not trump, also called fail, that is, 5,4,3 and 2 of ♣, ♠, ♦ and ♥

Card point values

Each card is given a separate counting point value as follows:
• Fives: 5 points each
• Fours: 4 points each

Thus the strongest cards (6s) are not worth any counting points (unlike Sheepshead, where the strongest cards have some value but less than the Aces and Tens).

There are 36 points total in the deck. The goal of the game for the picker is to get a majority, that is, 19. In case of a tie, the defense, i.e., persons other than the picker, win. Thus, the picker needs to get 19 to win; the opponents of the picker need to get 18 to win.

Special Dynamic Trump Rule

In Sheepshoof, there are at most 3 trumps on any given trick and they are different trump on different tricks. This is because the 6 of the suit led (i.e., the suit of the first card of a trick) is not a trump for that trick. Thus, a different 6 (i.e., a 6 in any of the three suits that are not the suit of the first card of a trick) will trump the 6 of the led suit. This is a major deviation from Sheepshead, where the same cards are trump every trick of every hand.

Since, in Sheepshoof, unlike Sheepshead, all the trump are of equal intrinsic value, the second trump on a trick takes the trick independent on what the suit of that trump is (at most two trumps may be played on any given trick).

Detailed Fewster Rules

In Sheepshoof, if no one picks, then, the 6 tricks are played and the player with the fewest number of trick points wins two game points if that player takes at least one trick. Each of the other players loses one game point. If there is a tie for the fewest trick points, the person who has the lowest game points gets one game point; the person who tied that person gets none; and, the remaining person loses one game point. Before the first trick of a fewster, the dealer determines when and if the blind cards will be distributed. Frequently, the dealer will say that the two blind cards go on the last of the six tricks but the dealer could say that both go on a different trick, e.g., the first trick, or have the two cards go on two different tricks, e.g., the first and last trick, or have one or both cards not count at all. This is different from Leasters in Sheepshead, where typically, a local rule (e.g., last trick) generally prevails.

A scoring variant could be that taking no tricks in a fewster is an automatic win. Another could be that a player who takes all the tricks in a fewster gains 6 points instead of 2 (with each of the other players losing 3). However, these variants have, as of July 2011, not been tried.

Reneges and Playing out of Turn

Renege means to fail to follow suit when able and required by the rules to do so. In 5 handed sheepshead it is somewhat difficult to reconstruct tricks to determine what they should have been and thus, frequently, the guilty party forfeits the hand. However, in sheepshoof it is easier to reconstruct the hand. Also, with only 3 players and a less complex trump to fail relationship, there are fewer reneges.

Sometimes when a player is excited about a good hand, they will think they have the lead even when they don’t. An out of turn play is typically simply taken back. The player who played out of turn ends up exposing cards and that is a reasonable penalty.

Further reading

  • Rosch. Erica M. A Field Guide to Sheepshead. Oregon, WI: Badger Books, 2001.
  • Strupp, Robert, M. How to Play "Winning" 5-handed Sheepshead. Milwaukee, WI: Author, 1993.
  • Wergin, Joseph P. Wergin on Skat and Sheepshead. McFarland, WI: Author, 1975.

External links

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