Monday, July 07, 2008

Rules of Merde de Tete: ‘Leeds Rules Shithead'

This page is being 'stored' on this blog, the domain name pointing here, to preserve continuity.


This page deals with a very specific version of the game, often known as ‘Merde de Tete' or, more commonly, ‘Leeds Rules Shithead'. Shithead is sometimes known by other names, I have heard it called ‘Karma' in the south of England, and I believe it is also know as ‘Palace' in some parts of the world. This version of the rules have been tried and test and were formulated and finalised, around the basic game, during the Autumn and Winter of 1995, at 41 Cliff Road, Hyde Park, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS6 2ET . It has been played this way for nearly 15 years.

We have played the ‘Leeds Rules' version around the globe and encountered it in England, Holland, Finland, Prague, Ireland, Florida, France, Belgium, Las Vegas, Egypt and even in the excercise yard at Alcatraz. It appears that the basic game (Shithead) may well be vaguely related to a Finnish game called Paskahousu and has always been flexible in nature and thrown up a plethora of regional rules variations. Next year (it is hoped) will be the first year of theofficial ‘Leeds Rules Shithead Tournament', in the UK . Shithead is a great equaliser…

Shithead is a game without ‘winners', only a looser, in which the players try to avoid being the last to get rid of all their cards and, therefore, the ‘Shithead'. The loser typically suffers some minor forfeit, such as having to make a round of tea/coffee, being lightly mocked for their poor luck or incompetence, or at least (minimum, but complusory) has the job of shuffling and dealing the next hand.

Players and Cards

2–6 people are required, using a normal 52-card single deck of cards, for a single game. The game is best with at least 3 players (2 player games lack the option to employ any real tactics). There are no reason why larger groups cannot play, but beyond six two packs of cards should be used, and more packs for multiples of six thereafter. However, the larger the game the slower the game, and each player will see less 'action'.

The cards rank highest to lowest: 2/5+, A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5+, 4, 3, 2 (2's are high and low, 5's become their preceding higher card, we will discuss this later in Special Cards and Plays).

The Deal
For the first hand of any session the dealer is selected randomly. For subsequent hands the deal falls to the ‘Shithead' (or looser) of the previous hand.
  • The dealer deals a row of three face-down cards to each player, one at a time.
  • The dealer deals three cards face-up to each player, one at a time, covering the face-down cards.
  • The dealer deals a three card hand face-down to each player, one at a time.
Any cards remaining undealt are placed face down to form a draw pile (or stock) and the top card of the pile is turned over to act as the first card of the game discard pile.

Each player may now pick up their hand of three cards and look at them.

This is done BEFORE the players have exchanged face-up cards with the three cards in their hand so that the first player has the option to play against the first card strategically (see below). The players pick up their three card hands and look at them.

Before play each player may exchange any number of cards from their hand with their own face-up cards. A player may never look at the face-down cards until they are played.

Players invariably take lower ranking face-up cards into their hands and assorted strategies are planned and put in place at this point.

A card is turned over from the top of the face down remaining cards and becomes the first card of the discard pile.

The remaining cards become the draw pile.
Play of the Cards
The first player is the person on the left of the dealer, in the same direction one would apss a bottle of Port. The first player continues the discard pile on the table, playing face-up from her hand a card equal to or higher than the card currently on the top of the discard pile. Multiple cards can be played, but only if they are identical rank (e.g. two queens or three jacks). The player then draws a number of cards from the draw pile equal to the number of cards played.

Taking turns, initially clockwise, each player must either play a card or a set of equal cards face up on top of the discard pile, or pick up the pile. The card or cards played must be of equal to or of higher rank than previous play, or one of 2 special cards (the 2 or the 5, see below). This continues, possibly several times around the table, until eventually someone is unable to equal or beat the previous play. If you can play, you must play, but it is not essential to play all the cards that yo
u hold of a single type (i.e. playing just one Ace when you hold 3 could be most beneficial to your long-game). If a player picks up the discard pile, the next player has effectively a free table, and can play whatever she likes.

You must replenish your hand with the same number of cards you have just played. If there are too few cards in the stock (or draw pile), you draw as many as there are left. When there are no cards left in the stock at all, play continues as before, but without replenishment.

The Endgame
If you find yourself (during or at the beginning of your turn) with no cards in your hand (because you have played them all), you may now play from the face-up cards in front of you. When you are playing your face-up cards and cannot play a card of equal or higher rank than the card(s) played by previous player, you DO NOT add one of your face-up cards to the pile before taking the whole pile into your hand, you just take the pile. It is then the next player's turn to begin a new discard pile by playing any card or set of equal cards. Having picked up the pile, you will have to play from your hand on subsequent turns until you have once more got rid of all your hand cards and can begin playing from your table cards again.

When you have played all your face-up table cards, and have no cards in your hand, you can now play your face-down cards blindly, pulling any one card into your hand when your turn comes (but not until, for reasons of 'showmanship'). If the card is playable, it is played, and it is the next player's turn to equal or beat it. If your card is not playable (because it is lower than the previous play etc.), you take the whole pile into your hand including the new card, which does not have to be shown to the other players. It is then the next player's turn to start a new discard pile. Having picked up the pile, you will have to play from your hand on subsequent turns until you have once more got rid of all your hand cards and can choose your next table card.

When you completely get rid of all of your hand and table cards, you have successfully avoided being Shithead and can drop out of the game. When you play your last table card, you can only drop out at that point if it beats the previous play (or if you are playing it to an empty discard pile). If your last card is not playable, you must pick it up along with the pile. As people drop out of the game, the remaining players continue playing. The last player left holding cards is the loser (also known as the 'Shithead'). This player must deal the next hand, and/or must also make tea (or perform any other agreed minor duty the group require for general comfort and wellbeing).

Special Cards and Plays

Twos may always be played on any card, and any card may be played on a two.

A five may be played on any card, but must be accompanied by a higher card at the same time. Other special cards can be played with a five, in multiples if available, but must still be higher (so not a 2). Multiple fives do not require multiple higher cards. The value of the five, for the purpose of the next player, becomes that of the higher card that is played with it.

A seven is played on an equal or lower card , the next play must be lower than or equal to a seven.

A Jack must be played on an equal or lower card, but reverses the order of play. This makes for highly interesting larger games, where it is possible that some people may not actually get to take a turn for sometime due to play being ‘Jacked away' from them on either side. I once witnessed a 20 player game where myself and 2 other people didn't get to play for the first 20 minutes. Players ‘Jacking back' to players who have just Jacked to them can cause a jolly wheeze and many profanities…
Stashing 1 - a ten may be played on anything lower, in multiples if appropriate. When a ten is played, the discard pile is removed from play (or ‘stashed') and the same player who played the ten takes another turn, playing any card or set of equal cards to start a new discard pile.

Stashing 2 - if someone completes a set of four cards of the same rank (this still being a set of 4, or more, in a multi-deck game) on top of the discard pile (either by playing all four cards at once or by equalling the previous play), the whole pile is removed from play (or ‘stashed'), and the same player who completed the four of a kind takes another turn, playing any card or set of equal cards to start a new discard pile.

Accusing people of cheating is a serious accusation, and should not be done unless you mean it. If someone is believed to be cheating by all referees then they are a cad and should horse whipped accordingly.

There is a Facebook page for players and fans of Leeds Rules Shithead,
here. Thanks.

The development and constant play of ‘Leeds Rules Shithead' (or Merde de Tete) may be accredited to the following people - Nik Hewitt , Nigel ‘Pig' Kershaw, Phil Morris, Robert Murt, Paul Morris, Davie Dwan, Samantha Emmott, Stevie Emmott, Higgy, Roland Depper, Ian Peake, Jema Hewitt, Liz Johnson (and all at PP&C), Nigel McClelland, Helen Graham, Ian Parker, Alan Jaques, plus Col and Taff (wherever you guys are), amongst others. May god have mercy on their souls...