This book is about the most commonly played variation of Euchre and explains the various playing techniques and advanced strategy. Since all of the strategy is based on probabilities, the appendices contain some information in that area for the curious reader. Perhaps future revisions will contain chapters on other play variations and how it affects the strategy.
How to Play/Rules of Game
Euchre is played with 24 cards, 9 through Ace of each suit. Two teams of two players each face off, playing cards alternately (players from the same team sit across from each other), trying to get to 10 points first. Each hand, each player is dealt 5 cards, meaning that 4 cards are out of play. These 4 cards are referred to as the "kitty."
Euchre is one of many "trick"-based games. In trick-based games, one player leads (i.e., plays the first card), and proceeding to the left, each subsequent player must play a card of the same suit as the one led. However, if a player has no cards of the suit led, he or she may play any card in his or her hand. A trick is "won" by the highest card of the suit that was led, with one exception. Euchre is also a trump-based game, meaning that one suit is chosen to be "trump" and beats all of the others. In this case, if a player has no cards of the suit led and plays any card from the chosen trump suit, then the highest trump card played wins the trick rather than the highest card of the suit led. Whoever wins the trick gets to lead the next trick. Since each player is dealt 5 cards, each hand of Euchre features 5 tricks. Whichever team takes the majority of tricks earns points for the hand, either 1, 2, or 4 points, depending on the circumstances.
Deciding on Trump
After dealing but before each hand is played, the players go through a process to determine which suit will be trump. This process is sometimes referred to as "bidding," since other similar games have a more-involved process that actually involves bidding. After dealing, the top card of the kitty is revealed and is called the "upcard." At first, the players are deciding whether or not to have the dealer pick up the upcard (and discard a different card) and make that suit trump. One confusing point for beginners is that the dealer always picks up the upcard, not the player who "orders it up." Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player has a choice to "order it up" or pass. If all 4 players pass, the upcard is left in the kitty, and it starts again with players being able to choose any other suit as trump, or passing. For example, if the upcard was the King of Hearts, then Hearts may no longer be chosen as trump. If the bidding gets around to the dealer a second time, he or she must choose trump and is not allowed to pass. Whichever team chooses trump is known as the "makers" and the other team is known as the "defenders." Finally, whenever a player chooses trump, he or she may optionally go after the hand alone, meaning the partner does not play any cards. See the section on Scoring below.
- If the makers get 5 tricks alone, 4 points are awarded.
- If the makers get 5 tricks together, 2 points are awarded.
- If the makers get 3 or 4 tricks together or alone, 1 point is awarded.
- If the defenders get 3 or more tricks, 2 points are awarded. This is known as "setting" or "getting Euchred."
If you go alone and get set the defenders still only get 2 points you do not get 4 points for a Euchre.
Bowers and Next
The final often confusing point in Euchre relates to the Bowers. Whichever suit is chosen as trump, the Ace is no longer the high card, rather the Jack of that suit is considered the high card and is called the Right Bower. Additionally, the Jack of the same color suit (known as "next") is "re-suited" to be trump and is called the Left Bower and is the second highest card. It then proceeds normally: Ace-King-Queen-Ten-Nine. The confusing part is that the Left Bower is considered to be of the trump suit rather than its printed suit--which affects what cards you can play when following the suit led! For example, if Hearts is trump, then the Jack of Diamonds is the Left Bower and is considered to be a Heart, not a Diamond. So if a Heart is led, you may be forced to follow with the Jack of Diamonds, and if a Diamond is led, you cannot play the Jack if you have other Diamonds in your hand. This means that there are 7 trump cards, 5 cards in next, and 6 cards in each of the opposite-color suits. This asymmetry is the root of many strategic and tactical decisions.
Seating Assignments and Abbreviations Used
In the rest of the book, we will refer to players and cards with a shorter notation. The players are numbered, like so:
Second/2 First/1 Third/3 Fourth/4 Dealer
where player 4 is the dealer and player one sits to the dealer's left. So players 1 and 3 are partners and players 2 and 4 are partners. When describing cards, we use the following abbreviations:
- Right Bower = R
- Left Bower = L
- Ace = A
- King = K
- Queen = Q
- Opposite colored Jack = J
- 10 = 10
- 9 = 9
- Hearts = H
- Diamonds = D
- Clubs = C
- Spades = S
- Trump = T
- Next = N
- Opposite colored Offsuite = O
Since there are two opposite-colored offsuits, they will be designated O1 and O2 where necessary. When describing a hand, we will group the cards by suit. Since the same principles apply no matter which suit is trump, we will often use T, N, O1, and O2 rather than specifying specific suits. So, for example:
- RLK-H, K10-S
- RLK-T, K10-O1
are the same, since it doesn't really matter that the suits are Hearts and Spades, but that it's Trump and one of the opposite-colored suite.
Basic Playing Techniques/Tactics
For the moment, we're going to assume that bidding has already taken place. If you are new to the game, for now just bid intuitively based on whether or not you think you can win 3 tricks with the given suit as trump. This section is about basic techniques for playing your cards out.
What do I Lead?
If you're positioned in seat 1, you have the sometimes difficult choice of deciding what card to lead with. Of course, every time you win a trick, you'll be faced with this same problem, but the very first lead is the hardest. There are a few important things to consider when assessing your hand:
- Are any of these cards potential winners?
- What are the odds that the other players are void in the suit I lead?
- If they are void, what are the odds that they trump in?
- Are my trump cards going to win any tricks if trump gets led?
- Or do I have to trump in on other suits to win with my trump cards?
Now, you have to weigh these considerations differently depending on whether you are a maker or a defender. Before we begin to answer these questions, we need to take a quick diversion to understand a couple of crucially important principles.
Winners, Losers, Voids, Leading, Trumping in and Pulling Trump
It is important to realize that there are basically up to 13 potential "winners" but only 5 tricks get played. There are seven trump cards that can each win a trick and the 3 other suits each have a high card (usually the Ace) and the highest card remaining after that suit is led once. Some of the trump can be in the kitty (but each suit will always have a high card) reducing the number of potential winners. So there are 7 cards in players' hands that will never win--"losers," 8 potential winners that don't win, and only 5 cards that do win. Some cards are guaranteed winners, like the Right Bower. The R can never, ever lose. Aside from that, you're left trying to figure out how to make your potential winners actually win and how to get rid of your losers. This all implies that lots of potential winners get beat by other, better winners.
One of the most common ways to ruin a potential winner is by trumping in. Many times you will see an outside Ace get beaten by a trump card. When a player is void in the suit led and plays a trump card instead, this is called trumping in. This is how low trump cards go from being a potential winner to an actual winner and a primary way of turning other potential winners into losers. Determining whether or not a player is likely to trump in on a trick is one of our primary considerations when choosing which card to lead, if you'll recall. Setting yourself up to trump in on a following trick or having your partner trump in on this trick are both good things. Having the opponents trump in and ruin your winner is obviously a bad thing. How do you know what to expect? Well, it's simple probability: the fewer cards the other players can possibly have, the more likely one of them has none. How many could the other players have? Well, that depends on how many are available and how many are in your hand! Next only has 5 cards while the offsuits have 6. If you have 3 cards in Next, then at least one of the other players must be void, with only 2 cards to divide amongst 3 players!
So if you want somebody to trump in, lead a card from one of your long suits (or Next if you don't have a long suit). If you don't want anybody to trump in, lead a short suit (or an Offsuit if they're all the same).
Another thing to keep in mind: once a player trumps in, another player might also have a void and play a higher trump card. This is called over trumping. You can even have 2 over trumps if all 3 players are void in the suit led! Over-trumping is obviously very powerful because it eliminates multiple potential winners all at once. From the perspective of choosing which card to lead, your main concern is that the final player will over-trump your partner. It is vitally important that you keep track of whether or not each player has any trump remaining so as to anticipate trumping in and over-trumping.
Because of trump's ability to turn non-trump winners into losers, one of the most basic techniques in the game is to "pull" trump in order to make outside winners good, or make them "stand." If trump is led, then obviously each player must follow suit, but only the high trump wins. This means that 3 trump can be wasted all in one go, preventing them from trumping in on other tricks!
Getting the Lead Back and Following Suit
If all the trump is gone, then the highest card of the suit led will win. This means that leading is extremely valuable, because if the other players are unable to follow suit, their potential winners are useless. It also means that your potential winners will be useless if you can't get the lead back! You get the lead back by trumping in or if somebody leads to your winners. Obviously, you and your partner work to capitalize on each other's winners and prevent your opponents from leading, but it doesn't always work out this way.
So what do I lead again?
With the preliminaries out of the way, you can now try and decide between these choices:
- Lead a winner because I'll never get another chance to lead.
- Save my winner because I think I'll get the lead back later when trump is gone, making my winner good.
- Lead trump, pulling trump, to try and make my winners good.
- Pull trump to make my partner's winners good.
- Lead a singleton loser so I can trump in on a later trick.
- Lead a loser from a long suit hoping my partner trumps in.
- Lead another loser because I believe my partner has the Ace or can trump in based on his previous discards.
What do I discard?
When you don't lead, can't follow suit, and can't or don't want to trump in, what do you discard? This is one of the most vital things to know: if at all possible, discard a card from the suit that you want your partner to lead back to you. For example, say your partner leads with an Ace and you're void. You don't want to trump in because his Ace is winning. So instead you discard a singleton that you have, giving you a void. Now, if your partner leads that suit (after winning with the Ace) you will be able to trump in. Alternatively, if you have an Ace and a 9 of a given suit, discard the 9 and your partner can lead back to your Ace, letting you win the trick. This also shows that you need to pay attention to your partner's discards!
General Bidding Principles/Strategy
Sometimes bidding is easy--you obviously have enough winners to take 3 tricks and so you can just order it up. But the most fundamental difference between mediocre and good Euchre players lies in proper bidding much more than how the cards play out. The goal, of course, is to order up every hand that you can win and to prevent your opponents from doing the same, where possible. There are 2 levels to Euchre bidding: simple bid-what-you-think-you-can-win and bidding strategically.
All of Euchre strategy revolves around 6 points:
- Lonering gives a disproportionate number of points for winning.
- The dealer must pick trump suit and his or her team be the makers if everybody else passes.
- If you have a really bad hand, your opponents probably have a good hand.
- If your partner also has a bad hand, then you're screwed no matter what.
- As a corollary to #3, if you have a bad hand and don't call trump, your opponent almost certainly will. And they'll make it, too.
- Pay attention to the score, dummy!
Because succeeding alone gives 4 points vs just 2 points for taking all 5 tricks together, loners change the face of the game. Calling loners and preventing your opponents from calling loners are extremely important. Beginning players are far too timid regarding the former and don't even think about the latter. Since the dealer can get stuck calling trump, sometimes you order up trump not so much because you like what you have, but because you want to avoid getting stuck with something "worse." If you have a really bad hand, then your opponents probably have a good hand. If your partner also has a bad hand, then you're really screwed. Since your opponents will certainly win 1 point if they call trump, and likely take all 5 tricks for 2 or 4 points, sometimes you call your best suit as trump to maximize your hand's potential, figuring that if you're set, you were going to give up those points (or more) anyway. Finally, pay attention to the score! If your opponents have 9 points, then you don't have to worry about being set--take your best shot! You will see these principles discussed and used much more in the advanced sections of the book. For now, though, we're going to get on with the more basic bid-what-you-think-you-can-win.
A basic guideline: If you think you are virtually guaranteed to win 2 tricks and have a shot at 3 based on what's in your hand, you should order it up. In most cases, your partner will win a trick or your 3rd winner will come through.
Counting your winners
How many tricks do you think you can win?
With an Upcard
After the Upcard is Passed
Glossary of Common Euchre Terms
Note: Some terms are regional but the use of each one has been verified by the crack research staff at the Euchre Universe.
Alone – Term said when a player wishes to play the round against the opponents without help from her partner. See Going Alone
Assist – To order up your partner when she is the dealer; ordering from the power seat
At the bridge – In a 10-point game, it’s when a team has scored 9 points and is only 1 away from winning the game. Also called In the Barn.
Bagger – A player who uses the strategy of bagging.
Bagging - This is when your opponent is dealing, you have a good hand, but you pass. You are hoping they’ll pick it up and then you can euchre them. This is also known as "passing dirty." If you do it, you are known as the “bagger." It’s not such a great strategy unless you are sitting in the weak seat (third from the dealer).
Bowers – The Jacks of the trump suit. The Right Bower is the highest card and it is the Jack of the trump suit. The Left Bower is the second-highest card and it is the Jack of the suit that is same color as the trump (the “next” suit).
Bubbles – Cutesy name for the Hearts suit
Columbus Coup – Term coined by Natty Bumpo to refer to the "Donation" strategy.
Dealer – The player who distributes the cards on any given round.
Diamantez – Cutesy name for the Diamonds suit
Discard – The card that the dealer gets rid of into the “kitty” (or talon) when picking up the trump card.
Donation – This is a defensive strategy in which you order up knowing full well that you will probably get euchred. Your intent is to concede 2 points to the opponents, hoping to prevent a 4-point loner.
Doubleton - Having only two cards in a certain suit
Exposed card – This is a card that has been turned face-up accidentally. Technically, it is supposed to remain that way and played at the first legal opportunity.
Farmer’s Hand – A hand which contains only Tens and Nines. In some euchre circles being dealt a farmer’s hand would result in a re-deal.
First Round – The round of ordering that starts immediately after the cards are dealt and the up-card is turned.
Going Alone – This is a situation in which one member of the partnership orders up trump and says “alone." That player’s partner puts her hand down and is relegated to watching the action and sweeping the tricks. She is allowed to sweep so she feels like she’s part of the game. Getting all the tricks on a loner will net your team 4 points. Getting 3 or 4 tricks results in 1 point and getting euchred results in 2 points for your opponents.
Green – This is a term used to mean the wrong color. In euchre there are certain conventions that snooty, backwoods players expect you to follow. If you are sitting first chair, you are supposed to call the “next” suit. If you call suit that is not next, you are calling the “wrong” suit or the "green" suit. For example, if Spades is trump, the green suits would be Hearts and Diamonds.
Hook – A common term for a Jack. (The J looks a bit like a hook, right?) You will often hear people calling for a “hook” to be turned over when they are dealing.
Horse – The 6 card used for scorekeeping
"In the barn" – This means a team has scored 9 points in a 10-point game and is one away from victory. Also known as "at the bridge."
Kibitzing – Saying something that reveals information about your hand or indicates what your partner should play. For example, telling your partner not to trump your ace or to lead a certain suit is illegal kibitzing. There are forms of legal kibitzing such as saying “alone” or “stay home." Also known as table talk.
Kitty – These are the 4 cards that remain after everyone’s been dealt his or her 5 cards. The top card of the kitty is flipped over, becoming the up-card, and is used during the first round of bidding. If someone orders it up, the dealer gets to discard one of her cards with the top card of the kitty. The remaining 3 kitty cards are never used in play. Kitty is a controversial term, as some euchre purists do not believe it is technically correct. Talon is the more “correct” term, but language evolves and while kitty may not have been correct in the past, so many players use it to refer to the remaining dead cards that it warrants inclusion in this work.
Knock – This is a hand signal used when a player wants to pass. One could say “knock” but it’s much classier to actually knock on the playing surface. Of course, no one ever said euchre was a classy game.
Lay-down loner – A hand that is so good that it will definitely be able to win all the tricks. The hand consists of 5 trump headed by the two bowers and the Ace. To be safe you would have to play the three high cards (in any order) first in order to draw out all the other players' trump cards, so it is customary to arrange the cards in such an order prior to engaging in the expedient of laying them all down at once. Also known as a no-brainer.
Leading – The action of laying out the first card of a trick. The person in the first seat left of the dealer gets the privilege of leading any card to start the game. All subsequent tricks are led by the winner of the previous trick.
Left Bower – The Jack of the suit that is the same color as the trump suit. It is the second highest ranking card in the deck.
Lone Ace – An ace in your hand in a suit in which you have no other cards. More generally called a singleton.
Make the hand – To order trump and win at least 3 of the 5 tricks.
Maker – the player who establishes the trump suit by ordering up in the first round or naming trump in the second round of bidding.
March – This is when your team gets all the tricks and scores 2 points (or 4 if it’s a loner). This is also known as a sweep.
Next – Refers to the suit that is the same color as the up-turned card. It is a common strategy to order up “next” from seat 1 in the second round of bidding. This makes sense because it’s likely that the dealer does not have a bower of that color.
No-brainer – Also known as a lay-down loner, this is a hand where the cards are so strong that no one else will win a trick (e.g., having a 5-trump hand with the Right and Left bowers).
Passing Dirty – This is when your opponent is dealing, you have a good hand, but you pass. You are hoping they’ll pick it up and then you can euchre them. This is also known as “bagging," and if you do it, you are known as the “bagger." It’s not such a great strategy unless you are sitting in the weak seat.
Paying Al - Term used by Chicago euchre players to refer to the "Donation" strategy.
Pips – The symbols on the cards indicating the suit. In a standard deck these are clubs, diamonds, spades, and hearts. In one Christmas deck the pips are snowmen, trees, elves and santas. Go figure.
Power Seat – The player sitting in the second seat left of the dealer. The dealer’s partner.
Promotion – Increasing the power of a lower card in any suit. This occurs when any of the higher cards are played on an earlier trick. For example, if you have the Left Bower and the Right Bower is played on an earlier trick, the Left is “promoted” to the highest ranked card.
Puppy paws – Cutesy name for Clubs
Right Bower – The highest ranking card in the deck. It is the Jack of the Trump suit.
Renege – This is when a player fails to play a card from the suit led even though they have one. When and if discovered, the non-offending team receives the maximum possible number of points for that deal, usually 2 points. You are allowed to correct a renege as long as the next trick isn’t played. Since euchre is such a fast-paced game, some “creative” players will try to use reneging as a winning strategy. It works well against opponents who don’t pay attention much. You must dispute it before hand is over and you must be able to prove what card was thrown. Once cards are shuffled a Renege is null and void. Also called revoke.
Revoke – Same as renege.
Rider – The 4 card used for scorekeeping
Ruff – To play a trump card on a trick that was led with a suit in which you are void. This is the type of play that allows the lowly 9 of trump to beat a mighty non-trump Ace.
Screw the dealer – (Stick The Dealer, STD). This is an optional rule in which the dealer is not allowed to pass a second time. She is required to order something up except the suit of the turned down card. This rule has the effect of speeding up the game as points are scored on every deal.
Second Round – The round of ordering that starts immediately after each player has passed once and the up-card is turned down.
Shake the bushes – this is a strategy where you lead trump. It usually refers to the first trick. If your team made trump then leading it is usually a good play. If you are the defending team, leading trump is less often a good play.
Shift – In the world of card manipulation (legerdemain) this is the act of reversing a cut thus putting the cards back the way they started. Highly effective and easy to pull off with a small euchre deck. Some shifty euchre players do this all the time.
Shovels – Cutesy name for Spades
Singleton – This means having only one card in a given suit. When it’s the Ace, you call it the lone Ace.
Skunk – When you beat your opponents (or in the unbelievable event that they beat you) 10-0. In some euchre leagues where points count towards season placing you can score up to 13 points by making a loner when your team has 9 points. In some circles, 5 points is a game and a skunk would then be winning 5-0.
Squeeze Play – A strategy in which you force your opponent to choose between two equally good cards to throw away. It is an offensive strategy often employed when going alone.
Stay home – this is what you do when your partner opts to go alone. Used in context it would go something like this. “I’m going alone, partner, so you can just stay home."
Steal the deal – A common ploy in which a player attempts to deal when it’s his opponent’s turn. In most euchre circles this is a perfectly acceptable form of cheating. Against drunk and sober folks alike this trick is pretty easy to pull off. And the advantage is HUGE!! The dealing team wins the round about 70% of the time. So get your opponents chatting and gather up the cards for yourself. According to euchre rules, once the deal is complete (trump card is turned up), it is a legal deal and you’ve successfully stolen the deal.
Sweeper – The player that picks up the winning tricks for his side. In some partnerships, one person sweeps all the tricks whenever his team wins and the other partner keeps score.
Table talk – Saying something that reveals information about your hand or indicates what your partner should play. For example, telling your partner not to trump your ace or to lead a certain suit is illegal table talk. Some also call this “kibitzing."
Talon – The more accurate term for the 4 cards left over after the hands of a euchre game have been dealt. It is more commonly referred to as the Kitty.
Throw off – To play a card that is not the suit led but is also not trump.
Trick – Four cards put face-up on the table during a single turn. The winner of the trick is the person who laid the highest ranking card in the suit led or trump. He collects all the cards in the trick, lays them face down, and leads a card for the next trick. A single trick is one-fifth of a game.
Trump – The suit that is the highest in a game of euchre. The smallest card in this suit (9 of trump) will beat the highest card in any different suit. Trump is determined by the up-card in the first round or the declared suit in the second round.
Trumping – Playing a trump card on a trick in which a different suit was led. Also known as “ruffing," this play requires that you do not have a card in the led suit. Since any trump is higher than any non-trump, this card will usually win the trick. That is unless someone trumps higher.
Up-card – the card that gets flipped from the remaining four (called either the Kitty or the Talon) that determines the first suit that can be named trump. If everyone passes, the up-card is turned down and a different suit must be named trump or the cards are re-dealt.
Void – Not having any cards in a given suit. It is useful to be void in a non-trump suit as it allows you to ruff a high card with a small trump.
Weak Seat – The player sitting in the chair that is third from the left of dealer.
Wrong Suit – The "green" suit; the suit that is not the next suit; the one that is the opposite color of the turned-down trump suit.