Choosing a Partner
In the 3 or 4 handed game (3 or 4 players), the picker plays cut-throat. That is, he/she is alone against the other players.
Five Handed Play
In 5 handed play, if the hand is extremely good...called a "granny" or "gramma" hand (even your granny could win the hand)...the picker could opt to play it alone.
If the picker is on the lead, he/she may bury and start the game by playing the lead card indicating that no partner is called. If the picker does not have the lead, he/she may declare "I'll play it alone", "it's a loner", or simply "lead'em".
In fact, if the hand is so good that the game need not be played...the hand is labeled a lay down hand.
However, in most 5 handed situations, the picker opts to choose a partner.
Some people play Jack of Diamonds (meaning that the person holding that card is the automatic partner). The partner has the option to reveal the Jack on any legal play but this automatically exposes themselves to all players. Also, it is quite possible for the picker to hold the Jack of Diamonds, in which case the picker is playing alone. This can be a problem if the picker needs a partner only to discover that the Jack is in the blind! This method of choosing a partner is fine...but I prefer the more common (Milwaukee/Madison area) method of choosing the partner usually referred to as Call an Ace.
Calling an Ace
Usually the picker, buries, and then calls one of the Fail Aces as his/her partner (declaring "Ace of Spades", for example). The picker is obligated to hold at least one card from the called fail suit, sometime referred to as the hold card. The player holding the declared Ace does not disclose that he/she is the partner. Rather, that fact must be deciphered during the course of the game by observing the cards each person plays. However, the very first time the called fail suit is led, the picker MUST play their "hold card" and the partner MUST play the Ace. This immediately identifies the partner to the group.
The picker (and partner) must always remember to retain this required "hold card" and not play it on another trick...a common beginner's error. If the called suit does not get led in the game, the hold card and the called Ace are played on the last trick.
Remember that the partner may only play the called ace when a card from that suit is led! Oftentimes the partner may play the called ace erroneously during the course of a game (another beginner's error). If that happens and the error is spotted immediately, it is customary to allow the partner a chance to correct the error by playing another card. If the error is not spotted by any players and the game continues, all players are at fault and the game is re-dealt without any penalty.
Once in a while a picker will erroneously bury the same ace they called as a partner .... oops! This is a misdeal and the picker pays the board (one stake to each player). If agreed to in advance, you may opt to play the game out with the picker playing alone or simply re-deal with no penalty.
If the picker holds all the fail aces (clubs, hearts, and spades), the picker calls the 10 of any fail suit as his/her partner (and the picker must keep the Ace of the called suit in his/her hand). When led, the picker must play the Ace of the called suit and the partner the 10. Should the called suit "walk" (i.e. not get trumped), the partner takes the trick and gains the lead.
If the picker holds the ace(s) of each of the fail suits in his/her hand (but not all of the fail Aces), he/she cannot, obviously, call one of his/her own Aces as the partner. He/she then puts one card (any card) face down on the table (called the under card) and calls the ace of another fail suit (one that he/she does not hold). The picker then reveals that he/she is calling an Ace Unknown (example, Ace of Hearts - Unknown). When the called fail suit is led, the picker must play (face down) this "under" card (which holds no power and is displayed to only the person taking the trick.
For example, if your fail cards are Ace of Clubs, 7 of Clubs, and 9 of Hearts...you must keep the heart and call the Ace of Hearts as partner. (The "under" rule does not apply.)
However, if your fail cards are Ace of Clubs, 7 of Clubs, and Ace of Hearts...you may bury the two aces, lay "under" the 7 of Clubs and call as partner "Ace of Spades - Unknown".
Any ace called "unknown" has a much better chance of walking since the picker has no cards from that suit.
OK, there is a less than 1 in 10 million shot of getting this hand (and I've never seen it) but Don posed this question: What do you do if you pick and get this hand?
After calling several hard core Sheepshead players (none of whom had ever seen this), the consensus was: Call a fail king as partner. The fail ace (and king) must be played when the called suit is led and if not trumped, the king takes the trick. Way cool, we just made an official rule!