Handed Down Rules

We’re taking a detour from the path previous blogs have been on to describe the value of studying Sheepshead data. Most of us were instructed on how to play Sheepshead by a parent or other relative older than us. For some of us, this took place many years ago. Each player at the table I played on growing up had a different opinion on what is a picking hand and what you should do in a given situation. My grandma would have advocated a much stricter definition of what is a picking hand while my dad would have recommended I pick even on weaker hands.

One of the difficulties with being human is we tend to remember the last thing we saw better than we remember long-run trends over the course of tens of thousands of hands. When you’re at a Sheepshead table, you will hear someone say “I haven’t gone in for awhile. My turn.” These comments are mostly made in jest, but people do occasionally pick because they haven’t had anything close to a picking hand in awhile. Other times, a player might lose two hands in a row where they pick with four trump to the queen of spades. The very next hand they are dealt four trump to the queen of diamonds, another picking hand. This time they don’t pick because of their previous picking losses.

It is better to have a strong sense for what a picking hand is and pick when those conditions are met. Any other behavior will cost us points in the long run.

Another reason we are determining picking rules harkens back to the situation described in the opening paragraph. While everyone at the table has an opinion of what kinds of hands we should be picking on, no one really knows. Until now, there hasn’t been data to use that could determine where the cutoff is.