Wednesday, May 10, 2006


So after the Lions board meeting last night, some of us drifted on over to Rosco's Place for a few games of schafskopf.

Schafskopf, or sheepshead, in case you hadn't heard of it, is a card game. An old German card game which is played here in this corner of Iowa, as well as over in southern Wisconsin where I grew up. With some differences in rules between the two places. But the main outlines of the game are the same.

Trick-taking game. 32-card deck, aces down to sevens. And (key distinguishing feature) the trump suit is all queens, jacks, and diamonds, ranking ♣Q (high), ♠Q, ♥Q, ♦Q, ♣J, ♠J, ♥J, ♦J, ♦10, ♦K, ♦9, ♦8, ♦7, ♦A (low). Side suits rank A (high), 10, K, 9, 8, 7 (low).

(Erin was wandering over to watch us play. She: "I know how to play poker. Is this anything like poker?" I: "No, it's sort of like euchre, only a lot stranger.")

Four players, two against two as partners, each player is dealt eight cards. The usual trick-taking schtick, each ace taken in tricks counts 11, each 10 counts 10, K counts 4, Q counts 3, J counts 2, and last trick counts for 10. Side winning a majority of points scores one game point, or if they take over three-quarters of points they score two game points; also, one game point scored for winning ♦A away from the other side in a trick. First side to score 11 game points wins.

A mind-bending game, though you catch on to it after a while. The Wisconsin version of schafskopf I learned back around high school age differed in some particulars. It was a three-handed game. Ten cards dealt to each player, two to the blind. Whoever took up the blind contracted to win a majority of points in tricks, playing against the other two players. There was no special value to winning ♦A in a trick, and ♦A ranked right above ♦10, just as in the side suits. Otherwise much the same.

Odd to think that, in this age of video games and computers, some of us still gather to play curious and unheard of games with those ancient pasteboards. Then again, I'm crazy about card games. More on schafskopf, including links to the complete rules of various versions, here.



Blogger Richmond said...

Wow. Euchre and whist I am familliar with. But schafskopf, not so much. We will have to give it a try! :)

Friday, May 12, 2006 10:43:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Yeah, I've lived various places around the country, and it seems people play euchre wherever I go. But I've never found anyone who knows schafskopf outside of this part of the Midwest.

I grew up in a small town north of Madison, and that's where I learned the three-handed version of schafskopf. Which I also remember playing with fellow students when I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lo, these many years ago. I've also run into several people from the Milwaukee area who know the game.

Never ran into schafskopf again, until a number of years ago when I moved here to northeast Iowa, where they play the four-handed version. Really the main difference in the four-handed game is the importance of not letting the other side get the ace of diamonds away from you when you're dealt it— this overshadows everything else in the play of a hand until the ace of diamonds finally falls in a trick.

Many, many years back, my great-uncle up in Fond du Lac used to play a card game called skat. Which, as I understand it, is sort of like schafskopf on steroids.

Friday, May 12, 2006 11:08:00 AM  

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