[ Sheepshead Basic Rules ]
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
The most common and 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 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
The 18 fail cards rank as follows:
Fail cards rank in power by type only, suit
does not play a part in fail card rankings.
Point Value of Cards
There is a total of 120 points in the Sheepshead Deck. In order to get
61 points (if you are the picker/partner the opposing team needs 60 or
greater) 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 (basically 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, or depending
how you play, a doubler.
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 all of the picker's fail cards are aces, he cannot call the suit of any
ace he has in his blind. 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.
If the picker feels his/her hand is strong enough to win (61 points) by his/herself they can announce "going alone".
The hand is played the same way but now the picker is playing against everyone.
Variation: Sheepshead is also played that the Jack of
Diamonds is automatically the partner.
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 card's 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.
- 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. (It is more
common and accepted at almost all tournaments to play "double on the bump"
meaning the stakes double if the picking team loses. By doubling the
stakes it discourages frivolous picking. The picker loses 4 and the
pickers partner loses 2)
- If the picking team wins and the
opposition fails to get 30 points, the picking team
opposition and wins double the points 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
and each player on the opposing team gets 2 points. The picker loses 4
points and the partner loses 2. (once again double on the bump applies
here as well, if the picking team fails to make 31 points the stakes
double. The picker loses a total of 8 and the partner loses 4)
- 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.