How To Play Schafkopf (Sheepshead)


Sheepshead Schafkopf (also sometimes spelled Shafskopf or Shaffkopf) is a predecessor to the popular German game Skat. Being of Germanic origin, this game takes its name from the German word for Sheepshead, which is another common name for this game.

Schafkopf is a trick-taking game played by 3 players using a standard deck stripped to 32 cards. This deck consists of one of each of the card denominations 7 through Ace in each of the four suits. Variations for four and five players are provided below in the Variations and Optional rules section.

In Sheepshead, there is a permanent trump suit consisting of all the Queens, all Jacks and all Diamonds.
The ranking of this trump "suit" from highest to lowest, is as follows:
Queen Clubs (♣), Queen Spades (♠), Queen Hearts (), Queen Diamonds (), Jack Clubs (♣), Jack Spades (♠), Jack Hearts (), Jack Diamonds (), Ace Diamonds (), 10 Diamonds (), King Diamonds (), 9 Diamonds (), 8 Diamonds (), 7 Diamonds ().
These cards are always considered the trump suit and are considered to be their own separate suit. Thus, for instance, the King of Spades, being a card of the trump suit cannot be played to a normal spade led trick unless the player could (and chose to) otherwise play a trump card to the trick (see below). In the remaining, non-trump suits (called fail suits), the cards rank as follows from highest to lowest: (Ace,10,King,9,8,7).

Trump suit in Schafskopf
The permanent trump suit in Schafskopf

The first dealer can be determined in a variety of ways, with cutting for high card a common method. Once the initial dealer is determined he then shuffles the deck and offers it to the player at his immediate right for the cut. After the cut, this player then deals the hand. This consists of dealing cards face-down to each player in a clockwise direction around the table. In the first round of cards in each deal, the dealer gives each player packets of three such cards. After each player has his first packet three cards, he then places two cards face down in a separate hand on the table, called the blind. The dealer then deals a round of a four card face down packet to each player, followed by a round of a packet of three cards to each player. Each player should end up with a total of 10 cards, with two cards face down in the center "blind" hand.

Each player, then has the opportunity to take the "blind", starting with the player to dealer's immediate left. Doing so entitles that player to become the "player", also called the "picker", for this hand. This opportunity to take the "blind" passes to each player in turn. If no one takes the blind, the hand is played somewhat differently, called Least (see details below).

Three cards make a trick in Sheepshead
As an example, the 10 of clubs being led
to this trick would win it (being the highest
card of the suit led) in the absence of any
cards of the trump suit played to the trick.
As soon as a player picks up the "blind" he is indicating a contract to win the majority of the card points in tricks during the hand. This player plays alone against the other two who temporarily team together in an attempt to disallow this player to take the majority of card points in the hand. After the "player" picks up the blind, he then discards two cards face down in front of himself. These cards are added to the cards won in tricks for this player at the end of the hand when determining if the "player" made his contract.

After this discard the player who is at the dealers immediate left leads the first card to the first trick. A trick consists of each player in their proper turn playing one card to the center of the table, for a total of three cards to each trick. A player must play a card of the same suit as that led. This includes the trump suit, so if any card of the permanent trump suit is led, each player must play another card of this permanent trump suit if able. If the player does not have any cards of the led suit he may play any card in his hand, including one of the trump suit. When three such cards are led to the trick, the highest trump card played to the trick wins the trick. If not trump cards were played to the trick, the highest card of the original suit led to the trick wins it. The player who wins the trick should place the won trick face down on the table in front of himself for scoring at the end of the hand. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick.

After all 10 tricks have been played, the "player" then checks all the cards he won in tricks to determine if he was able to win the necessary 61 points in card points to make his contract. For this purpose, the following card denominations (regardless of suit) have the following point values:
Card DenominationPoint Value
Each Ace11
Each 1010
Each King4
Each Queen3
Each Jack2
The other card denominations do not have point values for determining the card point score.

Schafskopf Trick Card Values

                    
The number of game points the player can win is determined by the number of card points he wins in tricks:
However, if this "player" is unable to earn at least 61 points, a number of points are subtracted from his score instead (negative scores are possible):
As it was mentioned above, if no player takes the blind, becoming the player, the hand is instead played out at "least". When the hand is played at "least", each player is playing for himself and the goal is to gain the least number of card points in the hand. After the "least" hand is complete, the player who gathers the least number of total card points in the "least" hand earns 2 game points. If he manages to take no tricks at all he scores 4 points. If one of the players takes all of the tricks, 4 game points are subtracted from their game score. If it happens that two players are tied for least number of card points, the player who won a trick in this hand less recently earns the two game points for the least tricks in this hand. If all three players get exactly 40 points in card points (all tie) the player who was the third to pass (not take the blind) is considered the winner and collects the 2 points for least tricks. When the hand is played at least, the face down blind is not used during the play of the hand but is automatically taken by the player who wins the last trick, and any card points in the blind are added to that players card points total for the hand.

Winning the Game

Generally a set number of hands is played, and once this is reached the player with the highest number of Game Points is declared the winner. Often a running score is carried over from game to game when playing with the same group of players each game.

Variations of Schafkopf (Sheepshead)


Sheepshead for Four or Five:
Sheepshead can also be played with similar rules by four or five players. These games also add the feature of partnerships to the basic game:

Five Player Sheepshead: For a variation of Sheepshead for five active players, each player should receive a total of six cards, dealt in two rounds of three cards. The cards are dealt out in a manner similar to the standard game, including dealing a face down, blind or widow hand consisting of two cards to the center of the table.
After the first round of three cards, the two face down cards that form the blind are dealt to the middle of the table, then the last round of three cards are dealt. After all the cards are dealt, each player starting with the player to the dealer's left has the opportunity to pick up the blind, thus indicating he intends to be the "player" for this hand. After taking the blind, this player's partner should then be determined.
Holder of the called Ace becomes Players partner
In one method of determining a temporary partnership in the 5 hand game, the unknown holder of a called Ace would become the players hidden partner.
The "player" will name an Ace for a suit (non trump) of which he has another card for. The player who holds this "Called" Ace then becomes the "players" partner. However this player does not make any indication that he holds this card, and thus he will be the only player who immediately knows he is the partner of the "player". The remainder of the players are all part of a temporary team, attempting to oppose the "player" and his yet unrevealed partner. The "player" must retain in his hand the card of this off suit until that suit is led and then must play it. If he has more than one card of this off suit, he may play any of them. Additionally, if this suit has not been led in a hand, the "player" would play it as the last card of their hand. If the "player" has only Aces as non-trump cards (either in his hand or in the blind) he must then place any one of his cards face down on the table and call the Ace he does not hold in his hand or blind. This card laid down on the table (called "under as in") must be played when the suit of the called Ace is led. This card is played to the trick face down, and only the player who wins the trick may actually see this card and this card can never win the trick, no matter what its rank.
An alternative method of determining the "players" partner is that whichever other player holds the Jack of Diamonds is automatically set to be this player's partner. If the "player" himself holds this Jack or it is found in the blind, he may "call" the next highest card in the trump suit (Jack of Hearts). If he has that card too, he can call for the next highest after that and so on. As in the Call Ace version it will not become known who actually holds this card and is the "players" partner until the card is played to a trick.

No matter which method of determining the player's partner is determined to be used before play begins, this player may instead opt to play solo, with the other four players attempting to stop this solo player from gathering 61 or more points in tricks. He does this by announcing "going alone". By "going alone" the player will earn larger scoring bonuses at the end of the hand, but he will not have the benefit of a partner through the hand. If playing with a partner, the total trick points won by both the "player" and his partner are totalled together to determine if they are able to gain the requisite 61 or more points to win the game. When playing alone, the player uses only the trick points for tricks he has won to determine this. The play of the hand is identical to that of the standard game described above. The scoring in five player Sheepshead is as follows: In this game, it is expected that some players will have minus scores. This variation of Sheepshead is usually played to a set number of hands, after which the player or players with the highest scores are determined the winner.

Going alone does not entitle the "player" to any additional bonuses or penalties other than the "player" must play the hand without the help of a partner to win the necessary number of tricks. However, the "player" who "goes alone" will be the only one who earns the previously indicated number of game points for winning the hand, while the opponents will subtract the appropriate number of points from their current scores, which is why players will sometimes opt to "Go alone" on the hand.

Four Player Sheepshead: There are several variations of Sheepshead that are commonly played by four players. The standard variation is the same as the five hand version just described except for the following differences. First the method and number of cards dealt slightly varies: Each player receives seven cards, dealt in a round of three cards, followed by a round of four cards. After the first round of three cards, then four face down cards that form a blind are dealt to the middle of the table. Due to the larger advantage a four card blind will give the "player" he must play without a partner (cut-throat). Unlike in the 5 hand version where the "player" scores higher potential bonuses for playing solo, in this variation he scores as normal, as playing solo is required with no option of calling for a partner. After the "player" is determined by the individual who takes the blind, that player would then discard four cards face down from his hand to the table to reduce his hand back down to 7 cards for play of the hand.

With four players at Schafkopf, the dealer would receive no cards on this particular hand. Alternate Rules for 4 and 5 players:
There is also an alternate method in which 4 or 5 players can all participate in a game, at the same card table. While only 3 players would receive cards in a particular hand, through rotation of the deal, each player will have a number of opportunities to receive cards and play in individual hands. Using this method all the players would seat themselves around the table as normal and perform the normal procedures for determining first dealer. Once this first dealer is established, the deal rotates around the table as normal from player to player in the usual direction at the conclusion of each hand. While dealing, the dealer would only deal specific players cards during the hand. When there are 4 players at the table, the dealer himself would receive no cards on this hand but each of the remaining three players would. On the next hand, when the deal rotates to the next player in turn, the new dealer would then not receive cards but the dealer from the previous hand would. This rotation of the deal continues in this manner, the dealer distributing the cards to the other 3 players but never dealing himself any cards during the hand.

Similarly, with 5 players at the table, not only would the dealer not receive any cards in the hand, but neither would the third individual to that dealers left (in a clockwise rotation around the table). As the deal rotates around the table, the new dealer and whichever player was seated in the third position to that dealers left would not receive cards on that hand.

When playing using this method is best to arrange the game such that each player at the table has the opportunity to be an active playing participant in an equal number of hands and thus potentially earn game points.

Auction Sheepshead:
Another exciting version of Sheepshead which is also played by four players is Auction Sheepshead. This game is played in two partnerships of two players each. The partnerships may be determined in a number of ways. A common way is for each player to draw a card from the face down deck, and the two highest cards playing as partners against the players drawing the two lowest cards. The partners should sit across from each other at the table, such that the play of cards to the tricks will alternate between the two partnerships.

Four highest trump cards in Auction Sheepshead The dealer deals out packs of four cards to each player, in two rounds such that each player receives a total of 8 cards. The player to the immediate left of the dealer is entitled to make one bid or pass. Each other player, in turn is also allowed to make one bid (or pass). When bidding, a player bids the number of points, over 60 that he agrees to contract to win with the help of his partner. The winning bidder has the privilege of naming the trump. In addition to the named trump suit, the following four permanent trump cards are added to this trump suit, becoming, for all purposes actual members of this suit: Jack Clubs (♣), Jack Spades (♠), Jack Hearts (), Jack Diamonds (). Thus, the trump suit is ranked in the following order, from high to low:(Jack of Clubs, Jack of Spades, Jack of Hearts, Jack of Diamonds, Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9, 8, 7). The Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9, 8 and 7 of trump would all be of the suit that the winning bidder named as trump. The remaining, non-trump suits rank as follows from highest to lowest: Ace, 10, King, Queen, 9 , 8, 7. The player at dealers immediate left makes the lead to the first trick. Other than these differences, the rest of the rules for Auction Sheepshead are played identically to the standard game described above.

Doublers: This is an optional rule that can be played with the standard game or any of the variations. This variation is played when no one picks up the blind. Instead, as with the standard game when the hand is played at "Least", the cards are all thrown in and the next hand is played at Doublers. The same dealer deals again, and the rules for the game are identical, however all game point scoring is doubled for all players for this hand. If an already doubled hand is doubled again (due to no one picking up the blind to become the player), the scoring is still just doubled, however the scoring is doubled for the next two hands, vice just one. This can continue to any number of doubled hands.

Cracking: Another optional rule sometimes played in Sheepshead is called Cracking. This variation also allows increases in point values for a hand as in the "doublers" variation, but the circumstances when it occurs are different. In this variation, when a player picks up the blind, any other player who has not yet had the opportunity to pick up the blind and is not the picker's partner may knock on the table with their knuckles, called cracking. When this occurs, all game points for the hand are automatically doubled.
Another optional rule often added when allowing cracking, is to also allow re-cracking. In this, after an opponent cracks, the "player" or his partner may also knock, called re-cracking or a crack-back. In the event of a re-crack, all game points for the hand are quadrupled. If this variation is played in the 5 hand variant where the partner is determine by the call of a specific Ace, the crack must occur sometime between when the Ace suit is called and before the first trick is started.

Alternate Trump: As Sheepshead can be somewhat of a regional game, there are a number of alternate rankings for the permanent trump suit that are often played, usually in certain localities. Some of the more commonly found alternate trump suits are as follows:
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