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?

4 Answers 4


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.



  • 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).



  • Is "fail" a standard term for non-trump? Haven't heard it before. Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 0:48
  • @shujaa It's the term used on the Wikipedia page.
    – Alex P
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 1:43
  • @shujaa Yes, it is.
    – Tyler A.
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 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. Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 2:44
  • I guess I should have been clearer: it's standard in the context of sheepshead. Enjoy the game.
    – Tyler A.
    Commented Jan 15, 2012 at 5:12

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.


I would always play the queen of clubs first if it's in my hand.

You generally want to get as much trump out as possible at the beginning. The very first time the opponents are able to do so, they will play the called suit. If they still have trump, your partner's ace will usually be trumped off (and obviously you are unable to overtrump on that trick.)

And how many trump do your opponents have? Well, there are 14 trump in the deck. If you have 4-5 in your hand then there are 9-10 in the remaining 4 hands. If you can play trump twice and everyone follows suit, then there are only 1-2 trump remaining in the other hands! Often someone who was previously able to trump will no longer be able to.

If I don't have the queen of clubs but have the queens of spades and hearts, I would play one of those, to make the other one high. It's possible that the person with the queen of clubs is the very person who does not have the called suit - and thus can't play it. They'll have to play something else, and if I can trump in with a low/medium trump, I can play my queen of hearts followed by another trump, and most of the time that will make my opponents be out of trump.

With a weaker hand, there's not much wrong with just playing low trump. If your opponents are inclined to put their ace or ten of trumps on, they will do so whether the card you play is the jack of hearts or the nine of diamonds - either way, you obviously aren't taking the trick but your (unknown) partner might.

I would never lead a fail ace to start the game as picker. Similar to the called suit, you want that to be good for a trick after the opponents are drained of trump.

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