The Electric Commentary

Friday, July 21, 2006

Random Thought

Only a few people will understand this, but fortunately, most of them read my blog.

I believe that there are two types of people in the world:

1. Those who prefer the "Jack of Diamonds" method of partner selection in the game of Sheepshead, and

2. Those who prefer the "Call an Ace" method of partner selection in the game of Sheepshead.

Moreover, I believe that the former group (group 1) is inclined to prefer the designated hitter rule, as used in baseball's American league, whereas the latter group (group 2) will prefer to see their pitchers bat.

I may be wrong about this, but it makes sense to me. I am firmly in the "Call an Ace"/National League camp, by the way, as both sets of rules make for superior matches.

I believe that the sets of rules in group 1 represent lazier games, created solely to boost their popularity among the masses. The "Jack of Diamonds" rule injects an unnecessary amount of luck into what is otherwise a very skill-based game, and the DH injects an unnecessary amount of offense (at the expense of strategy) into baseball.


  • When it comes to unnecessarily injecting luck into a game of skill, the rule I hate is giving a bonus to anyone who lands on Free Parking in Monopoly. The official rules of Monopoly are clear: Free Parking is nothing but a resting spot. It's the one spot on the board where nothing happens to you if you go there. But for some reason most people ignore the real rules and give a financial reward to players who land on Free Parking. That makes the game significantly longer, rewards people for dumb luck, and generally makes Monopoly less fun.

    By Blogger MDS, at 7:40 PM  

  • Jack of Diamonds and pitchers hit for me.

    Then again, Jack of Diamonds is the only way I knew for many years so I'm culturally inflexible. I also don't watch much baseball.

    Also, I rocked the house last night using the Jack rule to go it alone.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 10:14 PM  

  • The worst thing about sheepshead and the "call an ace" method of playing is that those people who play it think it's so much better of a game.

    I'm sure you won't be convinced by any argument from me that the "jack of diamonds" is the better way to play, thus I won't try to make that point; however, I do feel the need to call your attention to a few points.

    You contend that the "jack of diamonds" turns the game from one of skill to one of luck, yet provide no reasoning. I contend the exact opposite. And my reasons:

    In "call an ace", you have two scenarios: either the picker is first, or the picker is not first. If the picker is not first (80% chance), then, assuming the first player has the called suit, it will be led, providing they are not the partner (75% chance). By rule, the partner -- the person holding the ace of that suit -- has to play the ace the first time that suit is led. And if the partner is first, it is likely that trump will be led. So, much of the time (a large percentage of the initial 80%, so I would guess well over 50%, for sure), the partner is known the first time around the table. This actually takes the need for skill away from the game. Part of the skill of the game (note: skill, not luck) revolves around being able to determine who partners are. If everyone at the table was supposed to know who the partner is by time the first card had been played, you'd just play something like "partner is two to the left of the picker".

    Also, you're forcing the picker to either play alone, or keep a fail, sometimes a bare 10 (worst-case scenario, for those non-sheepshead players), and potentially not be able to bury points. This is entirely luck, as you can go in picking with, say, a nine of hearts as your only fail, and get the ace of hearts and ten of clubs in the blinds. You're forced to keep the ten up. Again, that's not skill on the picker's part, nor on the other players' part. In general, you're automating play that need not be automated. How you can contend that it requires more skill is beyond me. Key elements of the game that make it the most difficult card game to master (in my opinion, of course), you're making mindless by playing "call an ace".

    The silliest thing, though, is that, being a sheepshead player since I was about 7 years old, I still don't know all the nuances of burying in the "call an ace" game. What to do when I have no fail (actually, I think I finally understand what I have to do in this scenario, but I totally disagree with forcing me to keep a fail in my hand if I could otherwise bury it, or, in the case of all trump, when I didn't have one in the first place). What to do if I have all three fail aces.

    Again, I don't think that I will have changed your mind with any of these points, but I felt the need to point them out. I hope you have reasons besides, "that's what I've always played, so it's better." I can accept that you may feel that "call an ace" is a better game, but I have trouble with your using "call an ace requires more skill, jack of diamonds requires more luck" as the basis of why it's better.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 8:18 AM  

  • Mitch,
    Very good argument in favor of the JD method. For the record I like "call an ace" and "pitcher bats." I do think your numbers are a bit off though Mitch. There actually three scenarios in the way you break it down. Picker is first (20%), Partner is first (20%) and neither picker nor partner is first (60%). So there is a 40% chance the first palyer won't want to lead the called suit, not 20%. Also, you asume that the other players have the called suit. Remember, the picker and partner have at least one of the called suit, which leaves at most 4 more for three players. Which makes deciding whether to call a suit you have a lot of part of the strategy.

    Bringing our the Partner right away isn't always a good idea. If you're sitting with the 8 of hearts, and hearts was called and you only have one heart, it's more risky to lead it since the odds are better that both the other non-partners have better odds of having a heart than they would if you ahd a few of them. And you know the partner has the best heart. That would allow the picker and partner to take a trick without using any trump. And they presumably have more trump than the non-partners. So that's risky. If you wait until somebody fails off a heart, your odds are better that one of the other non-partners would be able to take that trick with a low trump.

    In college, I found a lot of a third type of person. Eucher (sp?)players. I think we can all agree that Eucher is the more luck-based than either Sheepshead variation.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 9:00 AM  

  • Also, I think that whether you play with blitzes and cracks tells a lot about a person too.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 9:03 AM  

  • Well, my numbers are based off of strictly whether the picker is first or not, since, as I said, if I'm the partner, and I'm first, I'm leading trump -- not the caleld suit, and not other fail. So I contend that, even despite your reasoning that it may not be best to lead the called suit if you only have one small one, between the called suit being led, and the partner leading trump, the partner is known the first round of cards in 50% of the hands (that's also considering the percentage of times that the first player, being a non-partner, does not have the called suit). I believe that was my original argument, that the partner is known in the first round of cards 50% of the time, not that the called suit was played that often. The few times I've played call-an-ace, 50% does not seem like too large of a percentage. Maybe your playing experiences have shown you a lower percentage. Maybe it's a difference between the players we've played against.

    As for the cracks and blitzes... I played with blitzes all the time in college (JD partner), and pretty much nowhere else. I got used to it, and am now used to NOT playing with it again. Cracks seem to be a different animal. Sometimes the least likely scenarios/games/tables I'd expect cracks to be played in, there they are, either call or jd. Weird.

    On a different note, I'm not a fan of leasters OR doublers. Have you ever heard of the two-and-a-half rule? If everyone passes, anyone at the table who has 2.5 points or better has to pay the table. Queens are one point, and each other trump is half a point. That adds a little incentive to pick.

    As for Euchre, I don't know. I kind of enjoy playing it now and again, but I don't buy into the people who say it's a harder game to master than Sheepshead. Then again, I'm the guy who has, in the past, thrown the Queen of Hearts on the second-to-last trick when the Queen of Clubs was already on it, keeping my King of Diamonds, since I knew that all the cards between had already been played, and my King of Diamonds would take the last trick and be worth one more point to me. I never have to make that distinction with Euchre.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 10:24 AM  

  • i'm definitely a "call an ace/pitcher hits" guy... though i find mitch's arguments compelling.

    my basic reason for liking "call an ace" better is that i feel a majority of players fail to capitalize on the additional control afforded the picker. since, i feel that most players don't pick aggressively enough to begin with, i believe this just adds to my advantage (or perhaps minimizes my natural disadvantage) as an overly-aggressive picker.

    euchre doesn't belong in the same sentence as sheepshead... and yes, i'm bitter because everyone i know plays euchre and refuses to learn sheepshead.

    i did several combinatorial studies on sheepshead in college... i'll try to dig them up and post them on my blog (i give it a 25% chance of me being able to find them). i believe i studied only "call an ace," so it'd be interesting to re-run them with the other game.

    By Blogger ahren, at 12:41 PM  

  • Yeah Mitch!
    Good luck with those Noonans though. They're stubborn. Also keep in mind that they're Irish and Schafkopf is a German game, so I truly wonder which version was created to "boost popularity amoung the masses". Perhaps somebody got tired of having to wait for the JD to be played because they could never figure it out and conjured up the Ace rule. The reason I dislike the Ace rule is that it greatly constrains your choices when you are either Picker or Partner. Basically one hand is entirely dictated for that team. Plus, if you want to talk about luck, both players just sit their and hope that everyone has the suit.
    Also, with JD an increased element of strategy exists. Because JD is often exposed later (having played both versions this is clearly the case), players have to use strategy to figure out who to trust, who to not trust, and - trust aside - what to play in a scenario with an unknown partner.

    Also, for the record - cracks suck. Basically someone gets rewarded for mowering or for picking up earlier with a loaded person behind them. This basically provides less incentive to pick up. I pick up with an almost solid hand and some jackoff behind me doubles how much I may lose. If I have a great hand, it's really unlikely I'll be cracked.

    I do like leaster though, even though my family doesn't play it. Leaster discourages and punishes the mowerer. It also prevents the wasting of a dealt hand.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 2:59 PM  

  • "Also, for the record - cracks suck. Basically someone gets rewarded for mowering"

    You can't crack if you passed.

    I like leasters too. For the same reason.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 3:10 PM  

  • "You can't crack if you passed."

    Okay I was wrong about that. I mainly just remember finding them mildly annoying when I played.

    I also feel like an idiot for using the wrong form of "there".

    By Blogger Scott H, at 5:30 PM  

  • On the contrary, your choices are greatly expanded in the Ace game. The Jack game randomly assigns the partner, whereas in the Ace game you must use much strategy in choosing which suited ace will be to your greatest benefit, whether you should have a partner at all, and whether a few extra buried points will be worth losing a trick down the line.

    After you select, your choices, and the choices of the non-pickers, also increase in complexity, but not luck. Do you expose the partner now or later? Take control now just to out the partner? Or is it too late?

    JoD just puts it out there, and gives you no partial info. That's where the ace game really gives you more strategy. It gives you more partial information. JOD adds things with no information increase.

    Also, in the ace game, if you gain an advantage it requires a sacrifice. CAlling a partner at all requires sacrificing information, and possibly a trick.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 5:56 PM  

  • C'mon Paul. You're letting your love of "call an ace" get the better of your judgement. If you're picking, you likely have at least 4 trump. When it comes down to choosing what to bury, it's really not a huge magic trick. And part of the time, your decision is made for you, since you need to keep one fail up of a suit you don't have the ace of. I bet 9 out of 10 times, every player of the 5 at the table buries the exact same thing, given the same hand. The whole point of picking is that you have a good hand, not "two of each fail".

    And to counter your point, the JoD does not just "put it out there". There are plenty of times the JoD does not come out until the last trick, when it could have easily come out before that. Not so with calling an ace. Call hearts, and hearts is played, you have to play the ace.

    Now I can't disagree with your last paragraph, but then again, I don't necessarily see that as a good thing. You're already playing 2 against 3, and it's not like you were able to pick the strongest person at the table to be your partner.

    Oh, and possibly the thing that irks me the most about "call an ace" is that the partner with the ace can't throw it off. I could live with the rest of the rules, but, upon having another fail suit led, and not having that suit, the partner would have to throw a trump off instead of the ace. Imagine a situation where the last two cards in the partner's hand are the called ace and the Queen of Clubs. A fail of a suit NOT called is led, and the picker puts the Queen of Spades on the trick. The partner is then forced to take it with the Queen of Clubs. That's akin to cheating in my book.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 8:01 AM  

  • Mitch is right, sometimes you have to think a bit before calling the Ace, but usually it's a pretty simple decision.

    Your bury in JD also often presents the "whether a few extra buried points will be worth losing a trick down the line" consideration.

    Frankly, I don't see why shifting the ability to draw out the partner to the partners makes for better strategy. In JD it is the partner and somewhat the picker who have to figure out when to play the Jack. Sometimes playing the Jack early makes little difference, but often it is important not to.

    Basically, I don't like the Ace rule because it greatly constrains the picker and partner for one hand. It just gives the other side an easy play to use to gain a hand if they know what they're doing.

    I also don't see how disclosing more information necessarily means more strategy. There is a strategy in not having an easy play to out the partner. Instead you rely on clues. More information just makes it easier for the non-pickers.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 9:42 AM  

  • But you need not have a partner in the first place. All of these constraints that you keep talking about our optional. With JoD, fate casts a partner to you, or forces you to be your own partner. That is luck.

    Options = strategy.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:22 AM  

  • That doesn't make any sense, Paul. The picker is still usually contrained by what fail he/she has. It's not like the picker can say, "I have a ten of clubs, and the Ace and nine of hearts, so I'll bury the Ace and ten, and keep the nine and call it a spade." The whole aspect of what you end up with in your hand to call with is entirely luck. Or you have to choose between a nine of spades, a nine of clubs, or a nine of hearts to keep. To you, this means options and strategy? To me, it's luck. You have no idea who has what. If you call it anything other than luck, you're fooling yourself.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 11:42 AM  

  • I guess for me, it boils down to playing my own hand vs having it played for me. "Call an ace" goes against everything I've ever tried to teach anyone who was learning the game, which is "you have to follow suit of what was led, and if you don't have one, you can play any other card in your hand." Having a rotating partner card seems awfully close to Euchre to me, where the trump is different hand-to-hand. Having people ask "who's partner" to me, and me having to say, "I don't know, I didn't hear what the picker called" seems Euchre-esque. Sheepshead (take any version EXCEPT 5-handed "call an ace") is nice in that each card is always worth the same points game-to-game, the trump is always the same, and there's a standard "follow suit with any card of that suit, or else play any card in your hand" play. "Call an ace" takes away some of those basic standards, and adds an element of "choice" in the game (in which ace to call in certain situations), and then takes some "choice" away in how to play the cards (in how the person with the called ace can play).

    I feel like I have an advantage over anyone at the table when I play JD, since I can usually "read" players and their play better than others, and that comes into play in determining early on in a hand who the partner is. I've lost that advantage anytime I've ever played "call an ace". If I have a skill, and I can utilize it in one game, but not in the other, I'd venture a guess to say that the game I can utilize it in actually requires more skill. Just talk to anyone who thinks they're any good at Hold'Em.

    Now, maybe I've played with "sub-par" "call an ace" players when I've played "call an ace", but everyone I've played with has been the "if you're not the partner, and you're on the lead, lead the called suit if you have it" style of play, despite whether the player on the lead has one or three of the called suit. I would chalk it up to being "sub-par", but these are also the same players who herald (emphatically) how much better of a game "call an ace" is. If they think they're good enough players to make that distinction, then I would hope they wouldn't be "sub-par". Then again, people are stupid (broad generalization). If I am ever involved in a game of "call an ace" where the called suit doesn't automatically come out on the first trick every time one of the non-picking-team players has the lead and has the suit, maybe I will begin to give the game more credit for having a level of skill in that respect.

    I think "call an ace" violates some of the basic rules of Sheepshead and does not, in its standard implementation, require more skill than JD. That does not mean that I don't position myself to be involved in a game of it. If it's the only game in town, I'll still take it over any other card game, but I do find my mind wandering during play, trying to figure out WHY people think the rules make it better. As I said before, I don't plan on changing any minds. I just am trying to explain why I prefer JD.

    And, for the record, I prefer "pitcher bats".

    By Anonymous mitch, at 11:43 AM  

  • In the fictional hand that you cited, I have often, depending on the strength of my trump, either called my own ace, or gone it alone with 21 in the kitty already. If you have some schmuck leading the called suit while possessing 3 cards of said suit, you are indeed playing with bad players.

    Does anyone like the American League?

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 2:10 PM  

  • But you need not have a partner in the first place. All of these constraints that you keep talking about our optional. With JoD, fate casts a partner to you, or forces you to be your own partner. That is luck.

    In JD you can call no partner. Or if you have the JD it goes up to the next highest Jack. How is that any different than Aces where you can only call your own Ace if you have an Ace?

    Options = strategy.
    Yes, you have a small option in calling a partner, but you lose other options later in the the hand. Thus strategy is no greater, only more obvious.

    If you have some schmuck leading the called suit while possessing 3 cards of said suit, you are indeed playing with bad players.
    Huh? If you have 3 cards of that suit then you can be pretty sure that one of your teammates is free of the called suit and can trump the Ace. Thus it would be a good situation to lead it, wouldn't it?

    By Blogger Scott H, at 2:28 PM  

  • In a nutshell, I guess my opinion on "call an ace" is this: the options you have in choosing a partner up front do not, for me, outweigh the handcuffing that goes on, either in how you are forced to bury, or in what card(s) you need to play later in the game.

    If you (and others who play "call an ace") see it as having freedom in choosing your own partner to best suit you, that's fine. I guess I can't argue with that, as I don't understand it. I see the flip side, that you're often forced into burying poorly, and that you and your partner are forced to keep the cards in your hand just so that you can play them at specific times. What little, if any, benefit I see of being able to call one of three suits is far outweighed by having to actually not only KEEP a fail, but force my PARTNER to keep the SAME fail, AND tell the other team what it is. I've already subjected myself to playing 2-vs-3. I guess I've just always seen it as giving the opposing team a chance that the cards dealt to them did not already afford them.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 2:42 PM  

  • Perhaps we should have an electric sheephead game? All the commentors on this post would make for 6-handed game. The sixth guy's job, of course, is to get a beer and use the bathroom.

    By Blogger DannyNoonan, at 5:05 PM  

  • I did, in fact, have my strategy backward.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 5:35 PM  

  • Sheeps of any kind, electric or not, beats no sheeps at all.

    Unfortunately, I'll be in Montana for the Big-O drafts this year, so there will be no sheeps for me that week -- and I have to hope my co-owner has the intestinal fortitude to walk away from draft night with a decent team.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 12:39 PM  

  • Hmmm... I may visit your area sometime in August. Try to remember if I show up. I don't think I'd drive up just for some sheeps though.

    Or else we could do it on Yahoo! games.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 5:48 PM  

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