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The Ten Commandments of Sheepshead - Annotated

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1. Thou shalt lead trump when thou art the picker's partner.
2. Thou shalt lead long into the picker.
3. Thou shalt not send a boy to do a man's job.
4. Thou shalt not risk thy only schmear.
5. Thou shalt not recrack without points to bury.
6. Thou shalt not pick thin in the number-two position.
7. Thou shalt not take forever to decide whether to pick.
8. Thou shalt not table talk.
9. Thou shalt crack whenever possible.
10. Thou shalt not go alone when you could have called me as a partner.


Commentary to the Commandments:

1. Thou shalt lead trump when thou art the picker's partner.
This is the time-honored rule; given that the picker has picked, it is usually a safe assumption that the picker has the most trump, and thus it is to the picker's benefit to have trump led, exhausting the other player's trump as they follow suit. This commandment is subject to a corollary, however: thou shalt not burn thy partner or partners out of trump. Idiots who have not counted trump sometimes don't realize that there are less trump left than they think. In such cases, a trump lead is foolish: it takes all the trump off the table, leaving the remaining tricks to be taken by the highest fail, which is much more of a crap shoot. This principle is best illustrated by an example. Take the common situation where the picker is on the lead with two queens. The picker, let's say she is a she, has the two black queens and rightly leads them for the first two tricks. Five trump fall on the first hand, four on the second. The partner, a he, has a good hand of four trump with the two black jacks high. On the third trick, the picker leads trump and three trump fall, with the partner taking it with the jack of spades. Now, if the partner is counting, he should realize that there are only two trump left on the table. If he's an idiot, he leads his trump, taking the trick but his partner's last trump as well. Of course, if the partner leads the called suit he will take the trick, but the last trick will come down to whoever has the high card of whatever suit remains in the partner's hand. This is an unnecessary risk given that the picker and the partner could have each taken a trick with their trump, leaving the called suit as the final trick. If the partner has a fail ace as his last card, or both the ace and ten of the called suit, he MUST lead the second jack, because his last two are still winners and this will remove the possibility, however unlikely, that someone other than the picker has the last trump.

2. Thou shalt lead long into the picker.
Another time-honored rule. When you are not the picker, you never lead trump unless (1) you have to; or (2) you are in the happy situation of having the boss trump. More than just leading fail, however, one should always lead from the suit of which you have the most (i.e., "leading long"). The theory is that, when you have more of a suit in the hand, there is a better chance that one of your partners can trump in, forcing the picker to play a higher trump that he might, or better yet playing after the picker and taking the trick--followed, one hopes, by another long lead!

3. Thou shalt not send a boy to do a man's job.
This common expression is meant to convey that, if you have the opportunity to trump in, playing too low a trump is a lousy play, because it will allow a player behind you to take the trick with a slightly higher trump. Another way of saying this is "go high or go home." Pickers who have obviously sent a boy to do a man's job will often hide their fear by saying "If I can't get it for that, I don't want it."

4. Thou shalt not risk thy only schmear.
This is a great pet peeve of mine. Often, you will see players throw a ten or an ace on an early trick, where it is not a sure trick for their side, and when it is inevitably lost, you notice from subsequent tricks that this was the only pointer in the dumb bastard's hand. Don't do this, people. If you've only got one, particularly when it's protected, wait for a sure chance to get it home.

5. Thou shalt not recrack without points to bury.
I have considered this issue at great length and conferred with many learned sheepshead players, and the firm conclusion is that, in the call-ace game at least, a good recrack hand is a rare thing. If you've played for even a short while, you've doubtless seen hands where the picker loses despite taking four tricks. The called suit gets hit by a ten or ace for about thirty to thirty-five points, and the weak side has one trump high enough to take a trick on which the ten or ace of trump falls along with a ten or ace schmeared by the other weak-side player, and there's your sixty. So, when you're cracked, you have to assume that the cracker is going to take the called suit, maybe with the ace or ten, and if you lose one more trick, you could give away game. Thus, idiots will recrack with, say, three queens because it looks like such a good hand, not realizing that the fact that they don't have the other queen or the jack of clubs means they will lose three tricks and probably game. However, if you bury twenty or more, you're taking a lot of pointers off the table, and if you throw each of those queens on a ten, you'll probably win. I should mention that I have never lost a recrack, probably because I always follow this rule.

6. Thou shalt not pick thin in the number-two position.
The second hand to the dealer's left is the most dangerous spot on the table. If you pick, you will not have the lead, and there are three players behind you who can go over you on the first trick--or crack you. A very common situation in call-ace occurs when someone picks in the number-two spot, and a fail suit other than the called suit gets led, signaling that the person with the lead is not the partner and doesn't have the called suit, because otherwise she would lead it. When the picker trumps in, someone behind them goes over and promptly leads back the called suit, which is perfect for cutting by the leader--who then leads the same suit they led the first time! There should be a name for this situation, like " the crucible" or "the rack." Maybe "the nutcracker."

7. Thou shalt not take forever to decide whether to pick.
Another pet peeve. If a hand's worth thinking over, it's worth picking on. Besides, the longer you think, the move chance you're giving for everyone behind you to get up the nerve to crack the hell out of you.

8. Thou shalt not table talk.
Let the cards speak for themselves, people.

9. Thou shalt crack whenever possible.
Too often, people seem to think that they can only crack if beating the picker is a sure thing. However, if you double on the bump, simple math tells you that if you think you have a better than one in four chance of winning, you should crack: if you lose but get schneider, you lose only a point, but if you win you get four.

10. Thou shalt not go alone when you could have called me as a partner.
Come on, man! Get some karma! Take me for a ride!

 

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