n card game from which Sheepshead
is derived. How it got to Wisconsin
is anyone's guess.
The rules are similar, but Schafkopf is played with only 4 players and a special deck. Instead of the usual four suits there are Eichel (Acorns), Gras (grass), Herz (hearts), and Schellen (shells). Instead of Queens and Jacks there are Obers and Unters.
The trump suit consists of the Obers, the Unters, and the hearts. Obers are higher than Unters, which are higher than hearts. The high trump are ranked by suit: Acorns, Grass, Hearts, and Shells. The low trump and off suits are ranked as follows: A, 10, K, 9, 8, 7.
Each card also has a point value which is not really correlated with its rank. A=11, 10=10, K=4, O=3, U=2. There are 120 points in the game, and the object is for the player and his/her partner to take 61 points.
Before play the players agree on the stakes, which consist of three numbers; e.g. 20-10-5. The meaning of these numbers will become clear later.
Deal is by four at a time; advanced and suicidal players will pick up their first four cards and decide whether to double the stakes for that hand.
Then, starting from the left of the dealer and passing clockwise, each player declares whether s/he has game (Ich spiele) or passes (Weiter). If more than one person wants to play then the highest game wins the bid.
There are a number of different games that can be played. Briefly, and in order of rank:
- Solo: In the highest game the player tries to take 61 points from the other three players. The player can name a suit other than hearts as trump, in which case the hearts become off suit and the named suit becomes trump below the Obers and Unters. This game is worth the first number in the stake list, so if you lose you pay 20 cents to all your opponents.
- Wenz: In this game only the Unters are trump and the player is against the other three. The Obers fall back into the suits below the Kings. Any solo game is worth the first number in the stake list.
- Farbwenz: Like the Wenz, but with a named suit as trump.
- Rufspiel: The normal game. In this case the player gets to play with a partner. S/he chooses a partner by naming a suit. The player must have at least one card in this suit that is not the ace, and the partner will be the player with the ace. For some reason the normal names of the suit aren't used when declaring a partner. Die Alten = Ace of Acorns; die Blauen = Grass; die Bube = Shells. The player with this ace and the player count their tricks together.
Whenever a card in the called suit is played, the person holding the ace must play the ace at which point it becomes clear who the player's partner is. However, the partner may withhold the ace if s/he has 3 other cards in that suit. Since there are only 6 cards in the off suits, having 4 cards is a certainty that someone else is void.
If the bidder and the partner take 61 or more points, they make game and each receive from one of the other players the amount of money specified by the second number in the stakes. If they make less then they are set and must pay.
As in most trick-based games, you must follow suit if you can. Player to the left of the dealer leads the first trick.
The final number in the stakes is for points. Points are awarded for any of the following:
A few variants
- Schneider: One side fails to make 30 points.
- Schwarz: One side fails to make any points.
- With or without: If, between you and your partner you have - starting with the Obereichel - a run of at least 3 cards you get a point for each card in the run. So if you have the Eichel, Gras, Herz, und Schellen Obers you are "with 4" and get 4 points. However, the same is true if you lack all four of these cards (and still make your bid), in which case you are "without 4".
- Geier and Farbgeier: Like the Wenz and Farbwenz games, but with the Obers as trump instead of the Unters. A rare bid because it's very similar to a regular Solo.
- Bettel: A solo nil bid. The player has to avoid taking any tricks. Nothing is trump.
- Contra and Re: If you think the bidding player will not make the bid you can say 'Contra', which doubles the bid. The bidding player can say 'Re', which doubles it again. This can go on, in theory, forever.
- Ramsch: If everyone passes, then each person pays the Rufspiel fee into a pot. This pot is awarded to the next player and partner who win a Rufspiel game. However, if you call Rufspiel and lose then you and your partner must (between the two) double the pot.
These last two rules have cost me a few pennies.