Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Shuffle Up & Deal (Euchre)

Euchre: The Game of Jacks
If you haven’t heard of euchre, you’re not the only one. Regionally it’s largely isolated to Ohio, Michigan, upstate New York, and a random smattering of other regions. It’s not a plant. It’s not an animal. Some may argue that it’s a religion but definitely not in “that” sense of the word. It’s a card game.  One I’ve been playing since I can remember.

Throughout high school, I was a principal member in the School of Euchre, teaching those uninitiated few how to euch with the best of them. But in northern Ohio, the people who didn’t already know the drill were few and far between. In central Pennsylvania, however, during undergrad, I spent a lot of time just trying to explain what euchre is. But I made a few disciples along the way. And everybody who was to learn got sent in my direction. I figure, this should make sending them my way easier.

In person, I always like to start with square one. “Do you know the basic order of cards?” Etc. Etc. I’m going to go ahead and assume that you do, and not drag the other children through the remediation of explaining that an Ace is higher than a 9.

Starting Out
Euchre is a turn based, partner game, played with four people. If you’re familiar with, Spades, Bridge, Pinochle, or Rook, then you are ahead of the curve. If not, it basically means you sit opposite your partner and want to win hands by throwing out the highest card in the mix.

For those of us who’ve ever heard, “You’re not playing with a full deck.” Now you’re doing it on purpose. Start by dropping the cards eight and below. So, you’ve got a deck of 24 cards, dealt out in sets of twos and threes. Each player gets 5 cards with 4 cards remaining in what’s called the kitty.

Trump: A Primer
Now we have to decide on trump. When a suit is named trump, any card of that suit outranks any card of a non-trump suit. The highest ranking card in euchre is the Jack of the selected suit (referred to as the right bauer or right), then the other Jack of the same color and opposite suit (left bauer, or left). In descending order thereafter it is A, K, Q, 10, and 9. In non-trump suits (except for the next suit), the jacks are not special, and the cards of those suits rank from high to low as A, K, Q, J, 10, and 9.

Making Trump

So, the dealer turns up the top card of the kitty (The Turn Card), in the center of the table. Now it’s time to make tough choices. And the suit of that card is the first option for trump. The player to the left of the dealer is the first to decide, either “pass,” or “pick it up.” And it progresses clockwise, with the last option to the dealer. If anyone decides to make the suit of the turn card, trump then the dealer gets to keep the turn card.
If, however, no one wants the upturned card’s suit to be trump, the exposed card is turned back down, and in the same clockwise pattern, players are given the chance to call any suit as trump, except the one turned down (don’t be a jerk).

What if, in addition to no one liking the turn card, no one wants to call trump either? Well…those among the ranks of the Eucherests without the constitution for risk, would lead you to believe that the hand is a wash, and the deal just advances without play. REAL euchre players, however, always play “Stick the dealer.” This means that despite anything else, if the turn card is down, and it’s back to the dealer to call, no matter how strong or weak his or her hand is…the dealer must choose trump.

King of diamonds. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend. But, are they doing your team any favors?

Left of Dealer. First to act: Two low diamonds and a single off suited Ace. It’s a risky call. Not for the faint of heart, but mavericks would make this call, easy.
We’re going to pass this time.

Next, the partner of the dealer: Two strong trump, but no strong back up. The upshot? keeping the extra trump in the family. A different kind of risky than the first hand, but still a good call. We’ll order up our partner. “Pick it up.”
But let’s keep looking

Dealer’s right: No diamonds no aces. Not only is this not a strong calling hand, this hand pretty much sucks all around.

The dealer has the goods, this hand. With two aces and two jacks this is a balanced partner hand. This is great, because he or she now gets to add the turn card to his or her hand and discard a weaker card of his or her choosing.

So, trump is decided, and play commences.
The player on the left of the dealer leads the first trick. The suit led must be matched by the rest of the players in the hand, provided they have any (Following Suit). If they don’t, all bets are off, and they could throw trump, to try for a win, or a non-trump suit (off) which will automatically lose.

For reference purposes, the card in the middle of the table is the card which was led. The description will identify the winning card. But see if you know which card won, by looking at the pic.

The dealer leads a high and non-trump card, just the way the doctor ordered, hoping to win an early trick. Unfortunately for the leader, the dealer doesn’t have spades, with which to follow suit, and trumps in for the win.

Make it take it. The dealer wins and leads the next trick, high trump to clear out the opposition. And, since his partner called it, show where the power is. The left bauer, the second highest card in the hand goes a long way.

So, now you’ve drawn out one of your opponents trump, and discovered that your other opponent doesn’t even have any. So you’ve got that going for you. You have two aces left and your partner called it. With one opponent lacking trump, and one less heart out there (the jack of hearts became a diamond when that was called) I’m going to lead the Ace of Hearts, and hope that if the bad guy trumps, my partner trumps bigger.

No dice. I guess that call was more debatable than I’d hoped. But now the winner of the trick has only low clubs, so we’re back in the driver’s seat with our Ace of clubs.

And our partner seals the deal with the Right Bauer.

Thus, the hand ends. We’ve taken four tricks and our enemies have taken one. Now the deal advances to the left. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.


Euchre is played to ten points, marked by the counters on a six and a four. Unless you’re in Michigan, then it’s two fives. Or if you’re in upstate New York it’s a two and a three… which makes no sense whatsoever.

So we finished up the hand. All that work for? One point. Anytime a team takes a majority of the five tricks available, that team gets one point. There are a number of ways one can score additional points.

If I’d used my aces a bit better and we’d have taken all five of the tricks, then in addition to the point for the majority, we’d have earned a bonus point for being awesome.

The same is true if your opponents call and you succeed in keeping them from taking their majority (Setting, Euchering).

Going Alone
If you have an amazing hand… Something unstoppable… Or if you are absurdly cavalier, you can go “alone.” Your partner sits out and, if you take all five, it’s worth, not one… not two… but four points to our team.

Oooo…Important point on scoring. If you could follow suit, and fail to? You are guilty of reneging. If you do, it’s worth the max number of points available; so, at least two points and at most four (if the other team was going alone).

A Final Note
As you go out into the world of Euchre, some, who call themselves Euchrests will claim something called “Ace. No face.” Or “Farmer’s Hand.” These are cowardly ways out of playing a weak hand, by re dealing or claiming the kitty. If in their house, accept this with grace. Smile and nod at them. All the while, knowing that you are, by this fact alone a better Euchre player…nay…person, than your opponent. If, however, they are in your house, without hesitation, you should tell them to take that weak garbage somewhere else.

Glossary And Useful Terms Not Yet Mentioned

Bauer- The Jack in the suit of trump (right) and the jack of the opposite suit in the same color (left). The highest cards in any given hand.

Call- Declare trump after all players have passed on the turn card.

Euchred­ (also Set)- Making trump and not winning a majority of tricks; thus, giving the opponents two points.

Following Suit- Playing the suit which was led, as is required.

Hand- Five tricks upon which points are determined.

In the barn- Having 9 points.

Kitty- Four cards remaining after the hand has been dealt. The top card, of which is the turn card.

Lead- Play the first card of a trick. The player to the dealer’s left and then the winner of each subsequent trick is the leader.

Left Bauer (also Left)- The second highest card in a given hand. The jack of the opposite suit of trump. The left, despite having a different symbol than trump, is treated as though it was that suit. If it is a diamond, whilst hearts are trump, a heart led would draw it out, but not a diamonds.

Opposite (also Next)- The other suit of the same color (diamonds to hearts, clubs to spades).

Order up- Deciding trump by ordering the dealer to pick up the turn card.

Renege- Failing to follow suit, when one has the requisite suit.

Trick- When each player has thrown in their card. 5 tricks = 1 hand.

Trump- The uber suit. The lowest card in trump is higher than the highest card of any other suit.

Set- See Euchered

Stopper- A single trick won to stop the other team from taking all five tricks.

Sweep- Taking all five tricks in a hand, for two points.