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In most trick-taking card games when you have a strong hand (as the bidder should in sheepshead) it's good to lead with high cards to retain control. However, in sheepshead players tend to hold on to the point-cards until they know who the partner is -- and they definitely won't drop points on tricks the bidder is clearly taking -- so I usually try to deliberately lose control, without making it too easy.

I don't want to play below the 10 of diamonds, because then the Ace or 10 of diamonds will often be played and I won't get them. Similarly, I don't like leading low non-trump. I suppose if I had an Ace as my only card in a suit I might lead it, or if I've put an Ace or 10 down in a suit I might lead a lower card in it, but generally I lean toward jacks -- as low of jacks as possible. I hope this will flush out some trump yet discourage anyone else from taking points. What do you think is a good first lead?

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3 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I play a lot of dopplekopf (aka double sheepshead although there are more differences than just the deck size).

A bare fail-suit (non-trump) Ace has a reasonable chance of taking a trick and certainly helps your team. The odds that your partner(s) had a better legal play had they known you were on their team are small, so this seems like a good lead.

If you're the picker's partner, leading a jack (or sub-10 diamond, though jacks are better) to your partner's presumed high trump is a very good play. If you're the picker, consider leading a red queen early to attempt to force opponents into difficult decisions (especially before partners are known).

Leads that might fish out partners are generally more valuable if you have a strong hand (trump) or a lot of points (especially in fail suits), because in both those situations, your hand will be vastly improved by good teamwork. If you have a more middling / balanced hand, letting things go unknown for longer may result in teammates overtrumping each other.

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Assumptions:

  • You're playing 5 player sheepshead.
  • You are leading and the picker. (Seemed implied)
  • Your hand isn't super-strong.

Let's start with the "Lead a singleton fail Ace" ploy. As we know, there are 6 cards of fail. In order to have a singleton fail Ace, either the player was singleton before burying, or the player buried other fail in the suit. In the latter case, I'd avoid leading the singleton Ace (it's expected to be trumped). In the former case: why wasn't the singleton Ace buried? Could be a weak pickup. Regardless, the expectation for leading a singleton Ace is that three players have exactly one of the fail and one player has exactly two of the fail. It demonstrates a weak position to the other players (perhaps you can see the perspiration appearing on one of the players and deduce that to be your partner).

I tend to like the basic strategy of draining trump. Lead JD or higher. Expect to pull three of "their" trump for two of "your" trump. Expect to lose AD or TD on this trick (unless you buried them).

Depending on where the holes are in your trump, you might want to play high or low. Say, you have QC, QH, QD, and are missing QS. You can gamble with QC (know your counts!), or you can drop QD on the table.

In a situation where my pickup wasn't terribly strong, I'm definitely seeking to drain my opponents of their chance to trump fail. It may risk AD or TD, but I'd rather lose an early trump trick than have the table pile points. (On the opponent side, if the strategy is to throw points on tricks even when the partner is unknown (odds in the opponents' favor, and might be the only chance), it's likely the lone Ace will be trumped and shmeered).

HTH,

Tyler

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Is "fail" a standard term for non-trump? Haven't heard it before. –  shujaa Jan 15 '12 at 0:48
    
@shujaa It's the term used on the Wikipedia page. –  Alex P Jan 15 '12 at 1:43
    
@shujaa Yes, it is. –  Tyler A. Jan 15 '12 at 2:02
    
...but it does seem unique to Sheepshead in this sense. A Google search for "fail suit trump" turns up only pretty much only Sheepshead hits. Yet another quirk of Sheepshead. –  shujaa Jan 15 '12 at 2:44
    
I guess I should have been clearer: it's standard in the context of sheepshead. Enjoy the game. –  Tyler A. Jan 15 '12 at 5:12
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As to why a fail ace might not be buried: It happens, but rarely, all three turn up in your hand (assuming picker). A lone fail ace doesn't seem too much of a handicap, in my experience. However, should you have the choice between a protected ace or a lone ace to keep, then.. It depends... as always, on how you judge the strength of your hand - specifically, how well you can maintain lead. I wouldn't lead fail ace, as a rule, until after milking as much trump as possible from opponents first.

As partner without trump http://www.sheepshead.org/advanced.cfm#tips suggests leading fail ace instead. It does say 'if picker is on the end' too. And, I would add, preferably a lone ace.

One story melds to another. Meh, it happens.

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