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Sheepshead Basics

Sheepshead is a trick-taking game played with 32 cards. Each card has a different power and point value. The object of the game is to take 60 or more points of a possible 120 points. The card with the highest power played during a trick will take that trick. Trump is always higher powered than fail.


A game of Sheepshead typically has five players. In most cases, there will be a team of 2 (the picking team) versus a team of 3 (the other team)

An alternate style of Sheepshead has three players. In this style there is a team of 1 (the picking team) versus a team of 2 (the other team)


The game is played with 32 cards from a standard playing deck. It omits all cards less than 7 for each suit. Each of the cards is assigned a power and point value. 14 cards are 'Trump' and are more powerful than any 'Fail' cards. This can be confusing because the power ranking does not follow the standard 'poker' values.

The Queen of Clubs is the most powerful card in Sheepshead. Be sure to remember that a 10 is more powerful than a King.


Each card rank has a point value which may be zero. When a team takes a trick, they recieve all the cards in that trick. At the end of the hand the total value of all the cards is calulated, and if it is greater than 60 (or equal to 60 for the other team), that team wins. The winning team has their overall game scores incread. The point values of cards do not change if they are trump or fail.

Playing the Game

Play Order

  1. Play order
  2. Dealing
  3. Determine Picker
  4. Determine Partner
  5. Play tricks
  6. Scoring


A Sheepshead deck contains 32 cards. 30 of those cards are dealt to players, and 2 are dealt to the blind. In five handed players are dealt 3 cards, then the blind is dealt 2 cards, then the players are dealt 3 cards again. After dealing each player will have 6 cards . The blind becomes important when the 'Picking' phase of the game occurs.

The Picker

After the cards are dealt, the player to the left of the dealer has the first chance to pick the blind. The blind is 2 of the 32 cards, that are dealt to the center of the players, and do not belong to any player. If a person thinks that they have a good hand they will pick up the blind. A good hand usually has a lot of trump in it. This person is then the 'Picker'. The Picker will take the 2 cards in the blind into their hand, and then select 2 cards from the 8 currently in their hand to place back into the blind. This gives the picker the option of modifying their hand to make it stronger or to store points in the blind. The points of any cards in the blind are awarded to the picking team at the end of the hand. No player may look at the blind unless they have declared themselves Picker.

If a person does not think their hand is strong (it does not contain a lot of trump), they can pass. The same choice to pick then will be given to the next person to the left. This continues until someone chooses to pick, or the dealer passes.

If the dealer passes, and the 'Leaster' rule is enabled, a special hand is played, called the 'Leaster'. In the app, leasters can be enabled via a toggle in the "Options menu". If leasters are not enabled, then the dealer is required to pick if all other players pass.

The Partner

After the Picker selects the blind he will usually choose a partner. He may choose not to have a partner (called "Going Alone" and then the game becomes 4 vs 1). A Picker should not do this unless their hand is extremely strong, likely containing all trump.

There are two main styles of picking a partner. They are "Called Ace" and "Jack of Diamonds". In the app the style of partner choice defaults to "Called Ace". This can be changed between in the Options menu.

In the "Jack of Diamonds" partner style, whichever player holds the Jack of Diamonds is the partner. If that player is also the picker, then they are effectively "Going Alone", and will be on a team by themselves.

In the "Called Ace" partner style, the Picker must retain a card of a fail suit in his hand, which is then announced. Whichever player holds the ace of the announced suit is the Partner. This can affect which cards the Picker is allowed to retain in his hand while he is picking, as he must keep a non-ace fail card, if possible. If the Picker has multiple suits of fail cards, of which he does not have the ace, he may call any of the suits of the fail he has.

Imagine that the Picker's hand consists of:

In this example the Picker would call spades (his hand contains the fail card 9S), and the player who holds the Ace of Spades would be his partner. No other players other than the holder of the Ace of Spades will know at that time who is the Partner. The Picker can not call Clubs with this hand because he has the Ace of Clubs. The Ace of Diamonds can never be called because it is trump.

The Picker and the Partner form a team, and the 3 remaining players form an opposing team. In "Called Ace", at the start of the hand, the teams are not known to everyone because the partner is a mystery. The partner can only be definitely known once the Ace of the called suit is played. However, it can usually be acurately inferred much earlier in game play by watching what cards the other players are playing.

In "Called Ace" the Partner may not played the called ace until that suit is led. He is then required to play it. Likewise, the Picker may not play his fail suit card, until that suit is led, at which time is also required to play it.

Going Alone

If the Picker believes their hand is so strong they do not need a partner, they can say that they are "Going Alone". A player may choose to do this because they will win more points than with a partner. In this case the game becomes 4 vs 1.

Playing Lead Card

The person to the left of the dealer leads the initial card. Cards are played in a clockwise direction. After the first trick, whomever took the previous trick leads the next trick.

Typically, if you are on the "picking team" you will lead trump. The Partner will lead a small or middle trump, to allow the Picker to take the trick with a large trump and gain the lead. The Picker will lead a large trump to retain the lead, and attempt to remove trump from the other player's hands.

Typically, if you are on the "Other team" you will lead attempt to lead a fail card of the called suit. This will indicate who the Partner, as they will be required to play the ace of the suit during that trick. It also affords the Other team the best opportunity to take the trick, and keep the lead from the Partner.

Following Suit

You must follow suit when able. Remember, that trump is it's own suit, so if trump is led you must play a trump if you have it. Trump consits of all Queens, Jacks, and Diamonds. If you do not have the suit that was led, you may play a card of another suit. A fail card cannot take the trick if a different fail suit was led. A trump can take any trick, as long as a more powerful trump is not played.

Scoring Sheepshead

The application has two types of scoring available. The default used is "Double on the Bump" scoring. With "Double on the Bump" scoring, when the picker loses the hand his score is decrement by twice the amount he would have won. This is the most common scoring style in five handed games.

An alternative is "Single on the Bump" scoring. With this scoring style, when the picker loses his score is decremented by the same amount that he would have won. It is a more lenient scoring system and is less common in five handed games, but more common in three handed games.

Double On The Bump Scoring Chart

Chart is based on picking teams score:
PlayerAll Tricks91-12061-9031-600-30No Tricks
Picker Alone+12+8+4-8-16-24
Picker w/Partner+6+4+2-4-8-12
Partner+3+2+1-2-40 (partner not penalized for no-trick)

Single On The Bump Scoring Chart

Chart is based on picking teams score:
PlayerAll Tricks91-12061-9031-600-30No Tricks
Picker Alone+12+8+4-4-8-12
Picker w/Partner+6+4+2-2-4-6
Partner+3+2+1-1-20 (partner not penalized for no-trick)

How do I reset my score?

The players score can be reset by selecting the 'New Game' option from the menu. This will update your score to zero, and create a new set of AI opponents. It will not reset your saved statistics, so you can still see what your alltime highest or lowest scores were.

How do I play a card?

You play a card by tapping on it during the game screen (the one showing the other players faces). The card will shift up slightly to indicate that is has been played.

If you have double tap enabled you will need to tap the card twice, once after it has shifted up. This setting is off by default.

If the card cannot be validly played (due to the rules of sheepshead) it will be shifted back down and a message will be displayed above the cards.

I keep playing the wrong card (the cards are too small)

Enable "double tapping" to play a card. If enabled, tapping a card once will select it, and tapping it a second time will play it.

This will allow you to change selected cards if you accidentally select the wrong card!

Simply tap the correct card, and the first card will be unselected. Tap the second card again to confirm playing it.

The application doesn't completely fill my screen

The game is scaled at a 3:2 aspect ratio. If your device does not have a 3:2 aspect ratio, then unused space may appear on the sides or bottom edge of your screen.


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