Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index



Sheepshead comes originally from Middle Europe in the late 1700's, and went by the German name of "Schafkopf".


Take jokers and all cards 6 and below out of the deck. Sheepshead is played with all the cards 7 - Ace. Should be a total of 32 cards.

Play Variations

There are a LOT of play variations for Sheepshead. Everything from 3 to 6 player. Scoring differences, leasters-doublers, Pick Parter-Jack of Diamonds partner.

I will begin by describing how to play "Five Handed, Leasters, Pick Partner", but will try to touch on the other variations during this article.

Card Order

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

There are 14 trump cards, including all the Queens, Jacks, and Diamonds, listed here in order of stength to take tricks:

Also, there are 6 of each "fail" suit. (18 total) Clubs, Spades, and Hearts take no precedence over other fail suits. Trump always take fail. The lead suit must be followed if possible.

Card Point Values

Point scoring will also take some getting used to. I recommend making a chart ("cheat-sheet") for yourself the first time you play.

Note that the strongest cards (Queens and Jacks) are not worth the most points. This gives Sheepshead some of it's unique character.

There is a total of 120 points in the deck.

Keeping Score

Be careful not to confuse the points that the cards are worth, and the total point score. Points are given/taken on a zero-sum basis, which lends itself great to playing for nickels (or quarters for you big gamblers out there).

If you are the picker, your goal is to take 61 points. If picker gets 60, that's a tie and picker loses.

Here is a chart to make it easier. Look up the picker's point total in the chart below.

Point Total Dealer
(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

The Deal

Dealer deals 3 cards at a time to each person, starting with the player to dealer's left. After dealing everyone 3 cards, 2 cards are put face down in a separate pile (the "blind"). Then deal the rest of the cards, 3 at a time around the table again.

When done, each person should have 6 cards with 2 cards in the blind.

The Blind

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 the blind goes all the way around, a leaster is played. (If you are playing doublers instead of leasters, the points are doubled, the deal moves one to the left, and a new hand is dealt.)

Whoever decides to take the blind is called the "picker". The picker adds the 2 cards to his hand, then must choose two cards to lay down, or "bury". The buried cards are automatically added to the picker's score.

Now, picker must choose... he can either play alone (picker against 4 opponents) or can choose a partner (picker/partner against 3 opponents).

Getting a Partner

One of the more intriguing aspects of Sheepshead is that you have different teams with each hand. Generally you will not know who your partner is until specific cards are played.

Called Ace

If you pick the blind and decide that your hand isn't good enough to "go it alone", you must select a called ace suit. Some notes about choosing the called suit:

Basically, when the picker calls a suit, whoever has the Ace of that suit is the partner.

Examples of Picker Hands: Taking the blind, Burying, and Selecting partner

Hand 1: Q♥, A♦, A♣, 10♣, 7♣, 7♥

Hand 2: J♣, J♦, A♦, 8♦, A♠, A♥

Hand 3: Q♠, Q♥, J♦, K♦, 10♥, 10♣

Hand 4: Q♣, Q♦, A♦, 10♦, A♥, K♥

Hand 5: Q♠, Q♥, J♦, 10♦, 7♦, K♥

Jack of Diamonds

Instead of choosing a partner, some play that the Jack of Diamonds is automatically partner.

In general you can pick on weaker hands when playing J♦ partner because you are always guaranteed that your partner will have AT LEAST one trump (the J♦ - there is no such guarantee playing Called Ace). Some suggestions:

Playing the Cards

Always remember the goal of Sheepshead is to get as many points as possible. You can take 4 out of 6 tricks and still lose point-wise. Always aim first for schneider (31 pts for picker, 30 otherwise).

At this point, there are basically 3 possibilities of play.

  1. Leasters
  2. Playing Alone
  3. With Partner


In leasters, you must take one trick to win. Each person plays for him/herself. At the end of the hand the person with the lowest score (and at least one trick) wins 1 point from each of the other players (4 total).

What do you do with the blind? Generally the blind is included with the very last trick played.

With Partner: Playing the first card

The player to the left of the dealer leads first. Here are some guildlines, but no rule is 100% accurate all the time. Use your judgment. This is the most common hand (player+partner vs. 3 opponents) that you will play.

If You Are first one to play and are ...

Following Suit

Continuing The Hand

Whoever takes a trick gets to lead the next one. Play continues in this manner until the last trick is played.

Play is over. Count the cards.

When all tricks have been played, the picker can count his cards and then either receives points or gives up points. See above under "Keeping Score" for a chart.

OPTIONAL RULE: Some Sheepshead players have a rule that if the picker doesn't win, he (and partner) must pay double.

Note that all scoring has a zero sum total. This means that at any point you can add all 5 player scores together and the total should be zero.


more to come...
See also: Sheepshead (fish)