In playing a two player variant of sheepshead, the group I play with decided that it wasn't that much fun. So I simplified it, and taught it to my niece (5 years old) as a start to learning about trick taking games.

The game goes like this:

  • Deck of 4 suits, 2-9 (32 cards)
  • Deal out a 4x4 grid face down
  • Deal out a 4x4 grid on top of the face down cards face up.
  • Each player plays the face up cards from the 8 stacks closest to them at the start of the game.
  • Follow suit lead if possible, diamonds are trump
  • When a face down card is uncovered, at the end of the trick, flip it over.
  • Player who takes the most tricks wins.

It's a rather straight forward game. Its about learning how to follow suit and what to throw off when you can't.

And while we believe that there is a first player advantage to this, how does one quantify that amount to determine if a handicap for the second player (beyond winning a tie) is necessary?

  • Why don't you build a computer simulation and run it a few million times? Maybe use GA?
    – user12046
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 2:31
  • @Snowman - an interesting idea, but probably beyond the realm of plausible for a simple example :)
    – warren
    Commented Apr 22, 2015 at 18:10
  • I don't think we can call this "sheepshead" anymore. Consider removing the tag?
    – Tyler A.
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 20:55

2 Answers 2


One way to remove a first-player advantage (in general for any open-information game) is to let one player make a proposed first move. Then the other player can choose to play as either side.

This is similar to splitting a cake by letting one person cut and one person choose. The first player cannot take too obviously powerful a first move, or the second player will opt to choose that side.


This sounds like a great game for younger kids - but it must play so fast that I wouldn't even worry about handicapping for first player. Simply play First and First sets of two games, each player going first once, and play for total tricks.

In practice any advantage less than half a trick will require playing several games anyways, in order for the advantage to get on the scoreboard. So just use that as an excuse to play more hands.

However, if you really want to handicap individual games, allow second player to name trumps after the deal is complete. This again should be less than half a trick, but will swing opposite the other so likely educes the net advantage. That will really highlight the importance of trump length over trump strength, a vitally important concept for the more complicated trump games.

To really spice up the game a bit, allow Notrump as a denomination as well.

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