Saturday, April 24, 2010

Danger At This Table


Last night after dinner, everyone settled comfortably back in their chairs, and someone suggested that we play cards.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. Oh, my. Oh, no....

What, you say? What's wrong with a simple game of cards? Let me tell you. For this family, there is no such thing as a simple game of cards. Hoo boy.

When John and I became engaged, his family informed me that we wouldn't be allowed to marry until I learned how to play Sheepshead:

Sheepshead is a trick-taking card game related to the Skat family of games. It is the Americanized version of a card game which originated in Central Europe in the late 1700s under the German name Schafkopf. Although Schafkopf literally means "sheepshead", the term may have been derived from Middle High German and referred to playing cards on an overturned barrel (from kopfen, meaning playing cards, and Schaff, meaning a barrel).
I was terrified. Not because I believed them (they were kidding...... I think), but because I had already seen firsthand what happened to this lovable, friendly, and congenial group of people once the cards had been shuffled and cut and dealt.

Yikes. It goes like this:

Come play cards with us! they'll say. How much money did you bring? And will eye the stack of your change while rubbing their hands in glee.  No pennies allowed. Just the silver stuff. C'mon. It's easy. Join us! The large homey dining room table will be generously laden with snacks and beverages. Someone will pull out a chair and pat the seat invitingly. Sit next to me!

Ah, but then it begins. (Cue Jaws theme song). DAH duh...... DAH duh......dah duh dah duh dah duh dah duh......

If you're ever approached by this seemingly sweet card-playing gang, run for your life! Don't be lured into their nickel snatching scheme!

For those of you who don't play, Sheepshead is crazy with a list of rules the length of your arm. One must not only memorize the rules, but more importantly, the strategy. A player unfamiliar with strategic Sheepshead skills takes her/his life in her hands if he/she plays an incorrect card, and in doing so, puts his/her table partners at risk of losing points. Don't go there. You really really don't want to go there. To make things even more mind-boggling, there is an infinite number of variations on the basic rules. AND you must also learn the language which includes interesting terms like schneider and leaster.

The game requires exceptional mental gymnastics, including math skills; as in remembering what each doofus card is worth in goofy points and then keep a ridiculous tally going in your head as each card is played by everyone at the table.

I should explain that this family tree includes the scientist that discovered the theory of electrical resistance and expressed it in a mathematical equation. The whole math proclivity thing seems to have been passed on to each one of them. Hence their fierce Sheepshead abilities. This doesn't explain their cut-throat card tactics, however.

Most of John's family think that Sheepshead is uproariously fun and that no evening is complete without a rousing game, played with nickels, dimes, and quarters flying. Because of course it couldn't be as simple as a nickel a game. No. There's also a complex set of rules about how much one wins or owes after each hand.

Everyone plays quickly and decisively. No dithering allowed. Once a card is played, even if in error by a hopelessly befuddled newbie, the card stays put and the opponents start counting their winnings. After each hand, there's usually a discussion in which everyone remembers in what order each card was played and how it could have been played better. Especially if said card was played spectacularly badly.

A novice Sheepshead player lured into this trap is guaranteed to lose every cent that they have brought with them. This sweet, loving, generous family becomes ruthless when faced with a winning hand of cards. They'll slide your entire coin purse worth of change over to their side of the table without batting an eye and will ask in deceptively innocent tones whether you would like to change out a few dollar bills so that you can continue to play; as the newbie sits stunned, head spinning, and trying to remember what their name is.

So.......If you're ever invited into a cozy lakeside home located somewhere in the Northwoods on a warm spring evening, with picturesque deer grazing nearby, and fish jumping in the lake........and a deck of cards appear on the table.......

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

1 comment:

Linda said...

You must be from Wisconsin - this sounds like my family!

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