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Rules To Play Sheepshead

Sheepshead is a popular card game which is enjoyed around the globe. It can be played by 2 to 5 players, with the 5-player version being the most popular. The rules are very complex and somewhat odd, which further adds to the appeal of the game for some people. In addition, you may find yourself competing against all the other players or working with a different partner on every hand.

History of the Game

Sheepshead (also known as Schafkopf in German) is believed to have originated somewhere in Middle Europe in the 1700s. It is derived from the games Tarok and Kalabrias, and it was developed by peasants who were so fed up with the government that they gave the king card a lower rank. The name of the game is said to have originated from the location of where the game was played (on the lids, or heads, of wooden kegs, which were known as Schaffen).

Rules of the Game

The goal of the game is to get as many points as possible (with the ultimate goal of scoring 61 points). Even if you capture the most tricks, it is still possible to be beaten on the scorecard. It should also be noted that points scored during a hand do not count towards the overall score. The overall score is calculated at the end of the hand when all tricks are accounted for.

Before play begins, take a single 52-card deck and remove all jokers, sixes, fives, fours, threes, and twos from the pack. The game is then played with the remaining 32 cards.

The card order is somewhat unique and can cause a bit of difficulty for new players. The game has 14 trump cards, which include all the queens, jacks, and diamonds. To take tricks, queens and jacks are rated in strength from clubs to spades to hearts to diamonds. Diamonds are rated in strength from A-10-K-9-8-7.

There are also 6 cards of each "fail" suit (clubs, spades, and hearts). These are ranked in strength from A-10-K-9-8-7. Clubs, hearts, and spades take no precedence over one another. A trump card will always take a fail card, and the lead suit must be followed if at all possible.

Scoring can also be a bit confusing at first. The cards are valued as follows:

Q = 3 points
J = 2 points
A = 11 points
10 = 10 points
K = 4 points
9,8,7 = 0 points

There are a total of 120 points in the deck. Strangely, the strongest cards in the deck (queens and jacks) are not the most valuable cards.

After the necessary cards have been removed, the dealer shuffles the remaining 32 cards and then cuts the deck. He then deals 3 cards at a time to each player, starting with the player to his left. After everyone receives their 3 cards, the dealer places 2 cards face down in a separate pile (these become the "blind"). The dealer then deals each player another 3 cards at a time. This continues until all 32 cards have been dealt. Each player should now have 6 cards in their hand and 2 cards are in the blind.

The first player to the dealer's left has the option to take the blind. If they pass, the option continues to move around the table in clockwise order. If the blind makes it to the dealer and they refuse to take it, a game of "leaster" is played.

In leaster, you must take at least one trick to win. Each person plays without a partner. At the end of the hand, the player with the lowest score and at least one trick wins 1 point from each of his or her opponents (for a total of 4 points).

If someone does decide to take the blind, they become known as the "picker." The picker adds the 2 cards in the blind to their hand. They must then choose two cards from their hand to lay down or "bury." The buried cards are automatically added to the picker's score. At this point, the picker chooses whether to play alone against the other 4 opponents or play with a partner against 3 opponents.

If you decide to challenge the other players, then you must catch tricks equal or greater than 61 points. If the player is successful, then he receives points from his opponents. If he fails to do so, the opposing players gain twice as many points.

Also keep in mind that scoring is a zero sum affair. That means that any points a player may gain are being deducted from another player. Some players will have positive numbers and other will have negative numbers. When all scores are added together, the sum should come out to zero.

If you decide to pick a partner because your hand isn't good enough to "go it alone," you must select a "called ace suit." Basically, you call out a suit of one of the aces. Whoever holds that card will become your partner for the duration of the hand. It should be noted, however, that there are several rules which apply to getting a partner. Also note that the identity of the partner is kept secret, although players may be able to guess by how the partner plays the hand.

1. The called suit must be a fail suit (spades, clubs, or hearts).

2. The picker cannot call a suit for which he already has the ace.

3. If the picker has all 3 fail aces, then he can "call a 10" instead.

4. The picker must have one card of the fail suit called in his hand.

5. If the picker has no fail suit to use as a called suit, he can select a card to act as the called suit.

If possible, players must follow suit. Queens and jacks are considered trump cards, and are not considered suits. A player who cannot follow suit may play any card from his or her hand. Whoever takes a trick gets to lead the next one. The hand continues in this fashion until the last trick is played.

When all the tricks have been played, the picker then counts his cards and receives or gives up points. If the picker went it alone and caught all tricks, he gets 3 points from all opponents, for a total of 12 points. If the picker and a partner caught all tricks, the picker gets 3 points from 2 opponents (for a total of 6 points), and the partner gets 3 points from 1 opponent.

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