Hello everyone! My name is Dan, I work at the Main Library, and I love games. In this series of posts, I’m going to be teaching you how to play some classic games that are easy to learn, fun to play, and quite possibly already in your home! In today’s post, we’re going back to the world of trick-taking card games, with Euchre!
Much like Hearts and Spades, Euchre is played with four people and a deck of cards. It’s a partnership game, where you and the player across from you are working together against the other two players (again, like Spades). In fact, if you haven’t already, I recommend you read my post on Spades to get a feel for how to play a trick-taking game with a trump suit. Euchre is different in a number of ways, but that knowledge will give you the foundation.
The first major change happens before you even deal the cards. Euchre doesn’t use the full deck, like most card games. Instead, you’ll play with only the 9 through Ace in each suit. Put the rest of the cards aside, you won’t need them. This will result in a 24-card deck. Then, as usual, pick a dealer and shuffle. Don’t deal out the whole deck, though: deal five cards to each player. This should leave four cards leftover. Put them in the middle of the table in front of the dealer and turn the top one face up (this is called the “kitty”).
Now, as with Spades, there will be a round of bidding before the play starts. Euchre does its bidding differently, though: instead of each player attempting to predict how many tricks they will take, this bidding determines which partnership will be trying to get at least three tricks, as well as what the trump suit will be for this hand.
Remember those four cards that were left over? The face up card on top of those is called the “up card.” It’s the key factor in determining whether or not you want to bid. The player to the dealer’s left has the first opportunity; they may either pass the choice to the next player, or to “order up” the up card and become the “makers” (along with their partner). This consists of three things:
- Bidding that along with your partner, you will take at least three of the five tricks in the hand. This will gain you points if you succeed, but give your opponents points if you fail.
- Naming the suit of the up card as the trump suit for this hand. In Euchre, unlike Spades, the trump suit will change from hand to hand, perhaps being hearts one hand, clubs the next, and spades on a third.
- Putting the up card in the dealer’s hand (not the hand of the player who ordered up). The dealer discards another card face down on top of the kitty to keep five cards in hand. Keep in mind that if you are not the dealer’s partner, you’ve handed a trump to your opponents!
As usual, cards in the trump suit beat all other cards, but in Euchre, the trump suit also has a different ranking. The highest card in the trump suit is the jack, not the ace (this jack is sometimes referred to as the “right bower”). In addition, the other jack of the same color is part of the trump suit instead of its own, and is the second highest card in the trump suit (and is called the “left bower”). For example, if hearts is the trump suit, for that hand the jack of diamonds is considered a heart, not a diamond (and trump) and is the second highest card, only losing to the jack of hearts. Following the bowers, the remainder of the ranking is the same as usual: A, K, Q, 10, 9. All non-trump suits have the usual ranking (with one missing jack). This is probably the easiest way for a novice to get tripped up in Euchre, so be sure to double-check your jacks when trump is chosen until you get used to it.
If all players pass and do not order up the up card, it is turned face down. Then, the player to the dealer’s left may name a trump suit (different from the up card) or pass. In this case, everything proceeds the same way, with the player who named trump and their partner becoming the makers. No card is given to the dealer in this case. If all players pass once more, the hand is redealt.
After ordering up the up card, the player who did so may choose to “go alone,” that is, to have their partner sit out the round. If they do so, their partner lays down their hand face down and plays no cards in this round. This is worth extra points, but only if the player takes all five tricks, so it’s only advised if you have a particularly good hand. Either defender may also choose to go alone, although that’s a rare occurrence.
Play continues similarly to other trick-taking games, with the player to the dealer’s left leading the first trick. In Euchre, there are no restrictions on leading trump cards. With the smaller hand and deck sizes, expect trump cards to come out quickly. In fact, it’s mathematically impossible for the same suit to be led twice without giving someone the opportunity to trump it, so don’t bother holding back your high cards!
When all five tricks have been played, the hand is over. If the makers took three or four tricks, they score one point. If they managed to take all five tricks, they score two points, and if they did so by going alone, they score another two, for a total of four. If they won two or fewer tricks, they have been “euchred” and the defending team scores two points. If the defenders take all five tricks while defending alone, they score four points. Then, as usual, pass the deal to the next player. The first team to reach ten points wins.
A handy way to keep score without paper is to use the 4 and 6 cards from the deck. Give one player on each team a 4 and 6, and then orient and flip the cards so that the number of pips showing on the two cards is equal to the number of points their team has scored.
As you’ve probably come to expect by now, there are a number of variants of Euchre. Some of them are:
- No trump: If the bidding goes to a second round, players are allowed to name no trump instead of a suit. In this case, no suit is trump, all are ranked in the usual way with ace high, and the highest card of the suit led wins the trick.
- Stick the dealer: If all other players pass in the second round of bidding, the dealer is not allowed to pass and must pick a suit (or no trump, if playing that variant).
- Joker: The joker is included in the deck and is the highest card regardless of trump.
- Win by two: The game does not end until one team has scored at least ten points and leads by at least two points
- Redeals for weak hands: If a player’s hand is particularly weak (the requirement varies; some require at least three 9s or 10s, some require having no face cards or cards in the trump suit), they may ask for a redeal.
- Three-player Euchre: Each player is dealt seven cards and plays for themselves. The player who names trump must win four tricks to score one point. Winning six tricks scores two points, and all seven are worth four points. If they take less than four tricks, they are euchred and the defender who took the most tricks scores two points. If the defenders took an equal number of tricks, they score one point each.
Euchre is one of my personal favorites. It’s a quicker-playing game than Hearts or Spades, but there’s still a lot of room for strategy. If you like card games but weren’t previously familiar with Euchre, give it a try! For more information, take a look at these materials from our collection:
The Devil’s Tickets by Gary M. Pomerantz (Technically, this book involves bridge, not euchre. It’s the real-life story of a Kansas City murder that was precipitated by a poorly-played hand. Let’s hope none of your disagreements with your partner ever get this serious!)