Advanced Play Sheepshead Play

The Picker Usually Leads Trump
The picker theoretically has more trump than anyone else since they picked on a good hand and was able to use the cards from the blind in their decision making. By leading trump, the picker can usually draw out 5 trump, leaving only 9 in all hands. They probably have 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, or give points to. If you can’t lead the the called suit lead your long suit. (the fail suit you have the most of)

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 “bleeds” the opposition of trump. 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.

Long Thru/Short To
Remember this little saying, when trying to determine what to lead (if you are not the picker or partner.) If you you are leading and picker is in the middle (not on the end) play your long suit. (the suit you have the most number of cards. The reason is that your partners after the picker maybe able to take/trump the trick.

If the picker is on the end. Lead your short suit (the fail suit you have least number of cards) in hope the picker may have a fail.

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 might not pick with one of these hands, but most players should. Braver players will pick on less than these, and rely on their partner to get some points.

Quick Tips

  • 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, shmeer. 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 the time.
  • 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.
  • A picker can bury trump. (in some special situations it is necessary/advantageous to bury trump)

Special Situations & House Rules