Euchre. If you know that unusual term – a noun, a verb, and even an interjection – it’s likely you spent some time in the Midwest.
The card game, played with a passion in states such as Ohio, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Kentucky, has spread beyond those borders, but is not nearly as well-known or well-understood anywhere as it is in the Midwest.
One of the things that my husband John and I gave up when we moved to South County from Columbus, Ohio, was a vast and friendly supply of euchre players. A common cry at family get-togethers was “we need a fourth!” followed by offers from several people to fill out the table. Frequently, a second euchre game comprised of extra fourth volunteers got started after the call went out.
At a barbecue in Sunnyvale recently, the topic of euchre came up somehow, and John and I were shocked to learn that a man at the party – a California resident – knew how to play. Finding euchre players in the Golden State is as rare as finding native Californians, so naturally, we were curious. Then we learned he attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and was taught how to play the game by his fraternity brothers.
Euchre uses a 24-card deck (nines and up), employs a round or two to set the trump suit, and makes use of a confusing convention called bowers. Four players, teamed as two partners seated opposite one another, play five-card hands until one team earns ten points.
Pronounced ‘yoo-ker,’ the fast-moving game is sometimes referred to as ‘bridge light,’ but I think comparing it to bridge does euchre a disservice. Euchre is largely a game of luck – you have to play the cards you’re dealt – but also employs strategy and bluffing skills.
As Natty Bumppo says in his book, “The Columbus Book of Euchre,” “Though a ‘poor man’s bridge,’ euchre … is by no means a game for the faint at heart or unskilled. It requires high degrees of adeptness, alertness and alacrity.”
Having the right fellow players is important in euchre, because while it is a challenging game, it is also a game that allows for a considerable amount of chatter while playing. This means you really want to play with people you like and have something in common to talk about while playing the fun, fast-paced card game.
“Good euchre players can play a whole game … drink a six-pack, tell seven jokes, trash-talk their opponents, decide grave issues of religion and politics and go to the bathroom all in 15 minutes,” says Bumppo.
I’m sure can’t drink a six-pack of anything (especially in a quarter of an hour) and still play cards, but a game of euchre won’t interfere with a political debate, and will quite likely enhance it.
I came late to the game, even though I grew up in the Midwest. I didn’t learn to play euchre until I was 19 or so, and learned from a boyfriend whose family played religiously. I still have memories of him yelling “Never trump your partner’s Ace” at me. No wonder we didn’t last.
But I triumphed over my rough beginnings with the game to become a pretty fair euchre player. I married into a euchre-playing family, and now sorely miss the many opportunities I had to play when I lived in Ohio.
If you know and love phrases such as “Count on your partner for one,” “Length before strength,” “I’m going alone,” and “Do you stick the dealer?” and are in need of a euchre fix, send me an e-mail. Maybe we can turn South County into a hotbed of euchre west of the Mississippi.