Commandments of Sheepshead - Annotated
Thou shalt lead trump when thou art the picker's partner.
2. Thou shalt lead long into
3. Thou shalt not send a boy to do a man's job.
4. Thou shalt not risk thy
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
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:
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
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!
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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
Thou shalt not table talk.
Let the cards speak for themselves, people.
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.
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!