This page lists variants
and unusual rules. Feel free to email me suggestions
for this page.
Jack of Diamonds v.
Call an Ace. These two most common variants of five-handed can
generate almost religious devotion among their adherents. The rules
for these games have been explained elsewhere and need not be repeated
here, but in a nutshell the difference is that in Jack of Diamonds
the picker's partner is whoever holds the jack of diamonds, while
in Call an Ace the picker must keep one fail suit, announce the
suit, and the person with the ace of that suit is his/her partner.
It seems like Jack of Diamonds is played more in the Fox Valley,
while Call an Ace is prevalent in Milwaukee and northern Wisconsin.
The two games are actually surprisingly different to play. Although
I end up playing more Call an Ace because that's what my friends
and family play, I find that Jack of Diamonds tends to lead to more
interesting and open play. Call an Ace sometimes has more rote plays
because the weak side should always lead the called suit at the
first opportunity. In Jack of Diamonds, there tends to be more suspense
and hesitation to schmear because the who the partner is may not
be obvious. Jack of Diamonds also has the situation where a picker
can go alone (or be forced to go alone by drawing the JD in the
blind) without the other side knowing it. Finally, in many JD hands
the picker has a fail or a fail ace, leading to some unusual plays.
On the other hand, I think JD allows for more opportunities for
luck to be a factor, and thus Call an Ace is a more rational game
for gambling. In all, I really don't prefer one game to another,
which is unusual among sheepsheaders.
Clubs Trump. Around
Wausau and Stevens Point, Wisconsin, sheepshead is played with clubs
as trump. This may be due to inbreeding, muleheadedness, or plain
ignorance, but is most probably the result of someone noticing that
the clubs are boss among the trump, so it stands to reason that
they should be boss fail as well. I guess I shouldn't be too critical
of the idea, but I still view anyone who plays this way with suspicion.
Diamonds should be trump because . . . well, because they are.
are many four-handed variants, created no doubt in desperate, perhaps
beer-fueled, attempts to make the four-handed version as fun as
the five handed version. All such efforts are doomed to fail, but
some of the four-handed variants are less annoying than others.
I first learned four-handed played seven cards to each player, four
in the blind, if you pick you go alone. I have seen many variants
involving different ways of selecting partners. My grandfather apparently
played a fair bit of four-handed, eight cards to a player, with
the two black queens automatically being partners. If both are dealt
to you, you go alone. This game is all right, sometimes having some
interesting plays as you try to figure out who your partner is.
My neighbor told me about a variant where the first two queens played
are partners. This sounded interesting, but in practice it (like
the two-black queen game) usually ended up that the partners (i.e.,
the players of the first two queens) usually won. Then Steven Brezinski,
a member of my regular game, seized on having the first two jacks
played be partners. This actually borders on the fun, and I suggest
you try it. Brezinski came up with a variant crack rule--you can
only crack immediately after the first jack is played--and unfortunately
labeled this game "Crackerjacks." While perhaps better
than three-handed, this game, like all four-handed games, still
sometimes makes you wish you were not playing at all.
have also seen seven-handed variants, most of which are wretched.
The variant my grandmother plays is maybe the least annoying, and
is known as "Sh*t on Your Neighbor." Four cards are dealt
to each player, with two two-card blinds. Whoever picks takes one
blind, and the person to his/her right takes the other blind and
is the partner. With only four tricks, it's possible to take three
of the four tricks and still lose--or to bury forty in the two blinds,
take one trick, and win. The best part of this game is the conversation
before the picking, during which the person to the potential picker's
right earnestly entreats him/her not to pick, protests that he/she
has nothing in their hand at all, while the rest of the table encourages
the potential picker to go for it.
No Trick Rules.
Many people play that if the picker loses and doesn't take a trick,
the partner doesn't have to pay. This is a good and fair rule, and
rightly punishes idiots who pick with crappy hands, or misplay decent
hands. Someday I'll have a good enough hand to be called as a partner
by someone with a crappy hand, then burn the S.O.B. out and make
him pay. There are several people I'd like to do this to. They know
who they are. (Actually, since writing the foregoing, it happened.
It was every bit as good as I hoped it would be, oh yes.)
Halfsies. A variant
I'm ashamed to admit came to life in my presence, and I failed to
crush it in its infantile stages. When there are six players, what
usually happens is that the game is still five-handed, with the
dealer sitting out. At our games, the dealers were getting bored
just watching, so they when they saw a player hesitating before
picking (generally because they had a marginal hand), the dealer
would offer to share half the risk (and the reward) with the picker.
(For example, if the picker won but the other side got schneider,
the picker and the dealer would each get a point; if the picker
lost, the dealer and picker would each lose two.) This became known
as "halfsies" or "going halfsies." Worse yet,
halfsies degenerated to the point where the dealer would have an
opportunity to see the potential picker's hand before offering halfsies,
and would have the opportunity to see the blind after electing to
go along. And, naturally, halfsies generated table talk like manure
draws flies. The long and short of it: I dislike this rule, I apologize
for having been involved with it, and it is with considerable reservation
that I mention it on this site at all. It is not an utter abomination,
but it's close.
Many people play that if you are dealt no trump and no points, you
can "throw in" and demand a redeal. This is very rare:
there are only nine non-trump, no-point cards, and you have to be
dealt six. In fact, I've only seen it happen once, although the
group I usually play with had it happen twice in a row in a game
where I wasn't present. (Who the heck was shuffling?)
Throwing In For Schneider.
A common variant rule is to allow someone who had picked to throw
in the cards before the first lead and accept a loss, but be granted
schneider. I've never played this rule, but there have been times
when I've picked on four to the queen of diamonds in the number-two
spot and wished I did.