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Sheepshead Card Game Rules and Strategies

Sheepshead is a trick-taking card game. This means people who are fans of games like SpadesPinochle, and 13 will likely enjoy it. However, Sheepshead can be pretty confusing for new players. 

If you have always wanted to give this classic card game a try, our guide will be sure to help! Below, we’ll talk you through everything you need to know about Sheepshead so you can ensure you have fun playing. 

What is Sheepshead?

While the name might seem a little unusual, Sheepshead is a game with a very passionate fanbase. Sheepshead was derived from Schafkopf, which is the national card game of Bavaria. While the two games have some similarities, they are still quite different from each other in many respects. 

Sheepshead is also quite different from many other card games when it comes to its basic setup. The game is best played with five players. However, it can also be played with as little as two or more than five people as well. 

It can also be played with a separate player who solely acts as the dealer. They won’t actually be part of the game either, apart from dealing cards to the other players. Sheepshead also only uses 32 cards in its deck as well. 

The basic objective in the game is to take enough tricks to outscore your opponents. There are a few different rule variations in Sheepshead, but we’re focusing on the traditional rules, which are also the most commonly used. 

Now while it’s true, Sheepshead is quite complex. Especially when compared to simpler card games like Kemps. But you shouldn’t let this put you off. Once you know the rules, the game is easier than you might think.  

But before we take a look at the gameplay, let’s take a quick look at what you need to play the game. 

What You’ll Need To Play 

To play Sheepshead, all you’ll need is a deck of playing cards. Sheepshead is quite distinct from other card games because it only uses a 32 card deck. You only use the 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace cards. 

All suits are still used, which gives you the 32 card deck you need. This is actually known as the Piquet deck. Now any deck of playing cards can be used, but we recommend sticking to a traditionally designed deck. 

For example, these Maverick playing cards or these Bicycle playing cards would make a fine choice. Now let’s take a look at how you use the cards and setup and play Sheepshead, shall we? 

On Sale ”Maverick

Sheepshead Rules and Gameplay

Sheepshead Rules and Gameplay

The Aim of The Game 

The aim of Sheepshead is to win by scoring 61 or more points. You do this by taking tricks. This involves playing the trump card or highest value card during a round. Now while this might sound simple, there is quite a bit to learn when playing Sheepshead. So, let’s go through everything you need to know. 

The Setup

To begin with, one player should be chosen as the dealer. Remember, one person can act as a separate dealer as well. If you are playing with an independent dealer, they won’t actually take part in the game. 

However, one of the players can deal the cards as well. For this guide, we’ll be following the example of a traditional five-player game. Either choose a dealer randomly, or all players can draw a card from a shuffled deck. 

The player who gets the highest value card becomes the dealer. They then deal six cards to each player. Cards should be dealt three at a time. After every player has been dealt three cards, the dealer should deal two cards to the play space center. 


Sheepshead is a trick-taking card game. This means you win tricks by playing the highest value card during a hand. Tricks are created when players play one of their cards into the center. The highest-ranking card played will win the trick. 

In Sheepshead, the card’s ranking is separated into two categories the trump cards and the fail cards. Trump cards will always be a higher value than fail cards. But if no trump card is played, the highest value fail card will win the trick. 

This is one of the most confusing aspects of Sheepshead. But to make things easier to understand, you can refer to the tables below. Each table lists the cards ranking from highest to lowest. 

Trump Cards
All Queen Cards 
All Jack Cards 
Ace of Diamonds 
10 of Diamonds 
King of Diamonds 
9 of Diamonds 
8 of Diamonds 
7 of Diamonds 
Fail Cards 
Aces (Non-Diamonds)
10s (Non-Diamonds)
Kings (Non-Diamonds)
9s (Non-Diamonds)
8s (Non-Diamonds)
7s (Non-Diamonds)

So, that is how the cards are valued in Sheepshead. We’ll talk more about how the points are scored across the cards below. First, let’s talk about how the gameplay works during each round. 

The Gameplay 

Once the cards have been dealt, the first round begins! The player to the left of the dealer will go first. This means they’ll have the option to become the picker. This is done by taking the two cards that the dealer placed into the play space’s center earlier. 

You should only do this if you have a good enough hand. Basically, if you think you can score 61 or over, you should pick up the cards. If the first player refuses to pick them up, it will go to the next player and continue until it returns to the dealer. 

If you do pick them up, you will need to discard two cards from your hand. This is done by

placing your discarded cards face down in front of you. Then you’ll have two options you can either pick a partner or go it alone. To make the rest of the gameplay easier to understand, we have separated this into two sections. 


If you decide to pick a partner, you must name an Ace card that matches the suit of a non-trump card you have. Let’s say you have the 8 of spades and the 10 of hearts. You can then ask for either the Ace of spades or Ace of hearts. 

The player with the Ace you ask for then becomes your partner. However, the partner doesn’t reveal themselves to anyone. Once a partner has been picked, it is effectively the picker and their partner in one group against the other three players. 

The other three players make up the second group. Once the picker has chosen their partner, they bury two cards. These cards are removed from their hand and placed in front of them. They will add to the picker’s overall score later on. 

The game then starts with players placing one of their cards in the center. Players must play a trump card if possible. The player who plays the highest value card wins the trick and collects the cards. They then begin the next trick, and the game continues. Before we look at the scoring, let’s look at what happens if you go it alone. 

Going Alone 

If you think your hand is very strong, then you can announce that you’re going it alone. This means you’ll effectively be going against all the other players. The game then starts with players building tricks. 


Once all the cards have been played, it’s time for tallying up the scores. The picker will also add their buried cards from earlier to their score. Scoring your cards doesn’t follow the same structure as the trick-taking structure. Use the table below to see how much each card is worth. 

Aces 11
Jacks 2
9s, 8s, and 7s0

When it comes to tallying up the scores of each card, the suits don’t matter. By adding up all the cards with a value, there are exactly 120 points in the Sheephead deck. Remember, if the picker chooses a partner then their card scores are added together. 

If their combined score is higher than the combined score of their opponents, they win. This remains the rule if the picker chooses to go it alone. Their score will need to be higher than the combined score of the other players. 

Points are awarded depending on your total score. Sheepshead can be played till one player reaches an agreed-upon amount, or you can play a single-round game. To see how points are awarded, check out the table below. 

The picker will win more points if they decide to go it alone. However, this is a high-risk strategy that can easily backfire. 

CardPointsPicker AlonePicker With PartnerPartner Opponents 
91 – 1208 points4 points2 pointsminus 2 points
61 – 904 points 2 points1 pointminus 1 point
31 – 60minus 4 pointsminus 2 pointsminus 1 point1 point
0 – 30minus 8 pointsminus 4 pointsminus 2 points2 points

Sheepshead – A Challenging Strategic Card Game

Sheephead isn’t the most beginner-friendly card game; it’s certainly not like 5 card draw. However, if you enjoy challenging and more strategic games, it’s well worth playing. There is a learning curve to things, but Sheepshead is a fun and enjoyable card game once you get the basics down. 

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