Strategy and Tips

When do you pick the Blind?

  • In 3 handed play, Aces usually "walk" and should, like trump, be considered an asset (we call these cards "counters"). Consider picking if you have any 7 counters or 6 strong trump.

  • In 4 handed play, aces will only have a decent chance of "walking" if you hold a single fail ace (that is, if you do not have any other cards in that suit, other than the ace). Then you may consider it a counter. Consider picking if you have 5 counters or 4 strong trump.

  • In 5 handed play, consider picking if you have:

    • Any 5 trump.

    • One queen and 3 other trump.

    • Two queens, another trump, and points to bury.

    • The two black queens (called the Ma's) and in the lead or at the end of the deal and/or have points to bury

    • Consider playing it alone if you have the Queen of Clubs (called "The Ma"), and are "solid" (you have all trump).

    • I have seen players pick and win on much worse hands ... these suggestions vary, depending upon luck, guts, and the quality of the competition.

What do you lead?

  • If you are the picker (or partner):

    • You should (almost) always lead trump. There are only 14 trump and the picker is presumably rich in trump. Since each player is obligated to follow suit, this draws out the remaining trump, making the picker's hand (in principle) more powerful. This same rule works if you are the partner in 5 handed play.

    • If you have the queen of clubs, lead it. This guarantees the lead for the next trick and a chance to lead more trump.

    • Avoid playing the called suit as long as possible. By waiting, there is a better likelihood it will walk and your partner may remain a mystery longer, which can confuse your opponents.

  • If you are NOT the picker (or partner):

    • Lead fail. In 5 handed play, it is best if you can lead the called suit since this identifies the partner. Also, since both the picker and partner hold a card from this suit, your team has a decent chance of trumping it ... thus taking the trick.

    • Play your long fail suit if you have a teammate at the end of play for that trick. The idea is that this teammate may not have the fail suit you are long in, and could then trump it.

    • Play your short fail suit if the picker is at the end. He/she may be holding a "loser" fail card, and the best odds are that it will be YOUR short suit. (This works best in 3 and 4 handed play). These last two rules can thus be summarized: "long suit through the picker... short suit with the picker at the end".

    • Once a fail suit has been led, lead it again, if possible. The chances are that your teammates will be able to trump it the next time around.

    • If possible, avoid leading a high point card if the picker is at the end ... a very strong position for the picker to be in.

Other Strategies/Rules

  • If you are the picker, you get a chance to bury cards in the beginning. It is best to bury points, if possible, since your bury counts towards your point total ... (unless you get "no tricked") but another consideration is ridding your hand of as many fail suits as possible. If you clear your hand of a fail suit, you have a chance to trump it, if and when it is led. Remember, in 5 handed play in which you call a fail ace as partner, you MUST hold one card from the called suit (so don't accidentally bury it ... a common beginner's error).

  • Take Control!!! Don't hold onto powerful cards hoping to save them for later. The lead is a big advantage and you get the next lead by taking a trick.

  • Good players keep track of the yet unplayed, highest trump (called "Boss" or "high card"). Better players keep a (mental) running total of their points. Even better players count the number of trump still out. The best players can tell you what those trump are.

  • If you are caught in a dilemma between giving away points or a high trump which will likely get you a trick later, keep the trump. A trick later will most likely net more points, and also give you the lead.

  • Good players often watch where a card comes out of an opponents hand. Players often arrange their hands with trump on one side (in order) and fail on the other. Once this pattern is detected, it becomes easy to determine if an opponent has a high trump, for example. If you suspect your opponent is watching your hand in this way, alter the way you arrange trump.

  • Anyone may call to see/review the last trick played before the current trick is put away (collected and lay face down). The picker may review the bury before the first trick is put away.

  • There is a big advantage in having a teammate at the end. If possible, think ahead to the next trick and find ways to make this happen.

  • Played is Played! This means that once a card is laid, it cannot be retracted (unless an error is made in a friendly game...see the next comment).

  • Anyone making an illegal play (not following suit, or failing off a required "hold card"...for example) may be obligated to "pay the board" meaning he/she pays one point to each opponent. If the game is friendly, a person may take back a played card if the error is caught before the next player lays a card. (This rule does not apply to a legal but poor play.) The way to avoid confusion is to set the rules in advance.

  • If a person deals three successive hands without someone picking (and you are playing the "doubler" rule), the deal passes the deal to the next person. (You also have to play out each successive doubler ... there is no such thing as a "tripler".)

  • If a card is accidentally dealt face up, any person may declare a misdeal, in which case the cards are redealt.

  • Table Talk (giving verbal tips/hints to gain an advantage) is considered rude. We typically encourage table talk when teaching the game to beginners (when no money is involved) but certainly not after.

  • Anyone may "throw in" for a misdeal if dealt only fail cards with no point value. This is referred to as "No Ace, No Face, No Trump, No Schmear".

  • The end of a playing session is usually determined (by agreement), when someone announces "once around", in which case everyone around the table gets one more deal. If agreed, the last hand (or the last round) is an automatic doubler.

  • The best you can do in Sheepshead is to be playing 5 handed, play it alone and win a no tricker, while playing a "doubler", in which case you will win 24 points.

  • The worst you can do is to lose a no tricker in five handed, while playing alone in a "doubler", with the "double on the bump" rule in effect, in which case you will lose 48 points.

I hope that you enjoyed this page. Realize that there are many variations to this game and rules may change from one location to another. Also many of these "rules of thumb" are the combined brainstorming with my brother, Tom, and several other very experienced players.