5. Tactics During Play

In this chapter we take up how best to play your cards to a trick.

Let's assume that you are playing the first card to a trick. Which card is the right one to select? When someone else leads, there are certain rules that you must follow as part of the game (see section 5.2). When you lead, on the other hand, you can select any card in your hand.

5.1 Playing the First Card to a Trick

Assume that you are playing a normal partnership game and hold all eight cards in your hand.

If playing by the Bavarian Rules, you should at first play trump whenever possible. This is because the offensive side selects the trump (announcing, "I play") and will choose a suit in which they are strong. It just makes sense to pull trump before leading high-valued aces. When the opponents' trump have been exhausted, the aces can then be safely played.

The opponents, on the other hand, should play side suits first. Once it is clear who is playing with whom, the Aces can be played and your partner can smear as many points as possible to your Ace leads.

Under the American Rules, things are a bit different. When strong in trump, lead trump. When weak in trump, lead away from it.

When leading aces, pay close attention to the following: First lead the aces that are most likely to go through without being trumped. If you hold a singleton Spade Ace, for example, there are five remaining cards outstanding. Under a normal card distribution, the probability is that it will go through and this probability is the highest before any other cards have been played out.

In general, the following guidelines apply:

Figure the number of cards that your opponents hold (don't forget to count any cards already played) and lead from the suit which is most likely to go around without being trumped. In a normal "Call" game, there are 6 cards in the side suits. Thus, each suit can "go around" once at most. The second time the suit is led, someone will be unable to follow and can trump.

Everything else depends on how strong you are in trump. When you have no more aces left to play, it can make sense to play a small trump. This is especially true if you are out of a suit and have hopes of trumping an Ace led by someone else. You can see that there are a lot of things to consider.

The rest depends on the strength of your trump holding. When you don't think that you can save any more Aces, it can make sense to lead a low trump thus giving someone else the lead. The hope is that you can trump one of their Aces when they lead from a suit you do not hold. As you can see, there are many things to consider.

There's no need to consider this theme further. You can learn a lot and more quickly simply by playing a few rounds with your Sheepshead program. Give it a try!

5.2 Following, Trumping, or Throwing Off

When someone else leads a card, there are several rules that you must follow when playing a card.

You must follow suit, i.e., you must play a card of the suit that was led if possible. This goes for the side suits as well as trump. If you hold no cards of the suit lead, then you may play any card in your hand, trump or side suit.

Suppose you sit to the leader's left and hold only one card of the suit that was led. This is an easy decision.

If you hold two cards of the suit, then a choice must be made between the two of them. Consider several examples. You are playing a card to the first trick of a "Call" game:

  1. The Spade 9 is led and you hold the Spade Ace and King.

    => The Ace is the best card to select, since there is no higher card in the suit. The second time this suit is led, someone will not be able to follow and your ace might be lost to a trump, if you hang onto it now.

  2. The Spade Ace is led and you hold the Spade 10 and a King.

    => If you already know (for example, through an announcement) that your partner has led the Ace, then you should play the 10. Otherwise, select the King since you don't want to give away points unnecessarily.

What should you do when you can't follow suit? You have the choice to throw off any card you wish or can choose to play trump.

This can also be illustrated with the help of some examples:

  1. The Spade Ace and 10 have been played so far to a trick. You hold no Spades.

    => You can see when the first card is played that the Ace will win the trick unless someone plays a trump card. The leader knows that it will take a trump card from someone to take the trick away. As long as you don't know whether the leader is your partner, you should play a trump in order the capture the card points in the trick. Since you have only one partner and two opponents, the odds are 67% that the Ace was lead by your opponent.

Which trump card should you select? That depends, of course, on whether the player playing last to the trick must follow suit or will be able to over trump your card. If these are the first Spades to be played, the odds are great that the he or she will have to follow suit. Select, then, a lower-ranked trump with a high card point value such as the Diamond Ace or 10.

This is, of course, a very simple case. Figuring what to play when several tricks have already been played is much more complicated. You must then consider which cards have already been played, who your partner is, etc.. The best way to get a feel for the best strategy is simply to play with the computer. You'll soon learn which card to play and when.

It also makes sense to think about where your partner is sitting relative to your position. As a general rule, it is wise to have your partner play last to the trick. In this way, he or she can choose the card to play that best fits the remaining cards that have been played so far to the trick.

5.3 Who Wins The Trick?

The cards in a trick are played out clockwise. Once each player has played a card, they can determine who has won the trick. This person then leads the first card of the next trick.

The trick is won by the person playing the highest card of the suit that was lead or the highest trump card, if any are played. In the event that two of the highest-ranking cards are played to the same trick, it is won by the first that was played.

Let's consider some examples. Assume that a normal "Call" is being played and the left-hand card was the one that was led.

This trick is won by the person who led the Spade Ace. The fourth player could not follow suit and chose to throw off the Heart 9 rather than to play a trump.


In this case, the second player wins the trick. He or she was not able to follow suit and played a trump (Hearts are trump under the Bavarian rules) in order to win the trick.


Here, player two plays the trump Ace (Hearts are trump under the Bavarian rules) in order to win the trick, but is over-trumped by player four with the Club Jack.

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