How to Play Euchre

Euchre is popular across a wide area of Canada, from Nova Scotia to the Midwest) and in the USA (especially in the North-East and Midwest), and also in the United States Navy. It is played in parts of Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and other places throughout the world.

The main description below is based on the version of the game played in Cornwall, England. Some variations played there and in other places are described afterwards.

Players and Object

Euchre is a plain-trick game for four players in fixed partnerships, partners sitting opposite.

Just 5 cards are dealt to each player and the object is to win at least three of the five tricks – with an extra bonus for winning all five.

Rank of Cards

A pack of 25 cards is used consisting of A K Q J 10 9 in each of the four suits: hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades, plus a joker. If your pack of cards has no joker, the two of spades can be used as a substitute.

The trump suit has 8 cards ranking from highest to lowest as follows:

Benny, or Best Bower (the joker or two of spades)
Right Bower (the jack of the trump suit)
Left Bower (the other jack of the same colour as the trump suit)
Ace
King
Queen
Ten
Nine

The other suits have 6 or 5 cards ranking as normal: A K Q (J) 10 9.

Note that Benny and Left count for all purposes as belonging to the trump suit. For example if hearts are trumps, the jack of diamonds is a heart not a diamond. It can be played to a heart lead and if it is led, hearts must be followed.

The word Bower comes from the German Bauer, which means farmer or peasant and is also a word for Jack.

The Deal

The first dealer is selected at random. The turn to deal then rotates clockwise throughout the game. The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer’s left may either cut or “bump” – that is, knock the cards to indicate that they should be dealt as they are, without cutting.

Five cards are dealt to each player in two rounds. The dealer deals clockwise, giving each player a packet of two or three cards in any order – any player who was dealt two in the first round gets three in the second and vice versa.

The dealer then turns the next card in the pack face up. This up-card is used as a basis for selecting the trump suit. The remaining four cards are left face-down and are not used.

Making trump

This process determines the trump suit and which team are the makers – that is the team which undertakes to win three tricks. First each player in turn, beginning with the player to the dealer’s left, has the option of accepting up-card’s suit as the trump suit or passing. Specifically:

  • The player to dealer’s left may either pass or say “I order it up”
  • If the first player passes, the dealer’s partner may either pass or say “I turn it down”
  • If the first two players pass, the player to dealer’s right may either pass or say “I order it up”
  • If all three other players pass, the dealer may either take up the up-card, saying “I take it up”, or pass by saying “over” and turning the up-card face-down.

If either of the dealer’s opponents order it up or if dealer decides to take it up, the suit of the up-card becomes trump; the dealer adds the up-card to her hand and discards a card face-down. Note that (at least in this version of Euchre), the dealer’s partner cannot order it up, but can only say “I turn it down”, in which case the dealer puts her cards face-down on the table and her partner plays alone, with the turned suit as trump.

If all four players pass, the up-card is turned face-down, and there is a second round in which players have the option to make any suit trump, other than the suit of the up-card. Again the player to dealer’s left speaks first and may either pass again or name a suit. If the first player passes the second may name a suit or pass, and so on. If all four players pass a second time the cards are thrown in and the next player deals.

Note that the trump making process ends as soon as someone accepts or makes trump (rather than passing). That player’s side are the makers and the other side are the defenders.

If the Benny is turned up then the dealer’s team are automatically the makers – no one else gets an opportunity. The dealer must choose a trump suit without looking at her cards. She then picks up her five cards and the Benny and discards one.

Going Alone

After trump has been made, but before the first lead, any player may announce that they are playing alone. The partner of a lone player puts her cards face-down and takes no part in the play.

Either a member of the makers side or a defender may play alone. It is even possible that a maker and a defender choose to play alone, in which case there will be only two active players.

The Play

If all four players are in the game, the play begins with the player to the dealer’s left leading to the first trick. If one player is playing alone, the person to that player’s left leads first. If two players are playing alone, the defender leads.

Any card may be led, and each player in clockwise order must follow suit by playing a card of the same suit as the card led if possible. A player who cannot follow suit may play any card.

Remember that, for purposes of following suit, Benny and the Left Bower are considered to belong to the trump suit and not to any other suit.

The trick is won by whoever played the highest card of the suit led, unless a trump was played in which case the highest trump wins. The winner of each trick leads to the next one.

Scoring

If all four players are playing then the scores are as follows:

  • If the makers win 3 or 4 tricks they score one point.
  • If the makers win all 5 tricks they score two points.
  • If the makers take fewer than three tricks they are said to be euchred, and the defenders score two points.

If a member of the makers’ team is playing alone and wins all 5 tricks, the team scores 4 points instead of 2 – otherwise the scores are as above.

If a member of the defenders’ team is playing alone and succeeds in winning at least 3 tricks, thereby euchring the makers, the defenders score 4 points instead of 2 – otherwise the scores are as above.

The game is normally played to 11 points – that is, the team who first reach 11 or more points over several deals win the game. It is usual for each team to keep score using a spare 5 and 6 from the pack (as these cards are not used in the game). The cards are arranged on the table so that the number of pips showing shows the team’s current score. Sometimes people play to 15 points (using a 7 and an 8 to keep score) or to 10 points.

Six Player Euchre

In Cornwall, England, this is played between two teams of three, sitting alternately. Either adds the sevens and eights to the pack, making 33 cards (the 8 and 7 are then the lowest cards of each suit, below the 9), or play with a double 25 card pack – 50 cards in all.

When playing with a double pack, if two equally high cards are played to a trick, the second to be played beats the first. If the two Bennies are red and black, the one which is the same colour as the trump suit beats the other one. If they both look the same, then the second one played beats the other, as with other cards.

If a player wants to play alone, both of the player’s partners discard their hands face down, but the lone player can ask one of them for a card. The partner asked gives a card of his choice to the lone player, without consultation and without showing it to the others, and the lone player discards a card face-down in return.

The score for winning all the tricks or euchring the makers is 3 points instead of 2. If the winner is playing alone the score is 6 points instead of 4.

North American Euchre

In Canada and the USA, Euchre is played without a joker, so that there are just 24 cards in the deck, and the right bower is the highest trump. The target score is 10 points (not 11). The score is indicated by using two low cards overlapped – some use a six and a four, some use two fives, and I have been told that there is also a method using a two and a three.

In the USA any player, including the dealer’s partner, is allowed to order up the up-card. (In other places – Australia, England and Canada – the dealer’s partner cannot order up the turned trump; the only way the dealer’s partner can select the turned suit as trump is to play alone).

Some people do not allow a defender to play alone – only the maker is allowed to play alone. Some only allow a defender to play alone against a lone maker.

In Canada it is not usual for the cards to be cut before dealing.

A common method of choosing the first dealer is to deal the cards around until a black jack appears.

Screw the Dealer. In this variation the dealer cannot pass a second time when naming the trump suit. On the second round, if the first three players pass, the dealer must name a suit. This variation is often played when playing time is constrained.

The Super-Euchre A “Super-Euchre” occurs when the making team takes zero tricks. Some play that the defending team then scores 4 points.

Railroading. This is a variation in which, if your partner is going to play alone, you may pass your partner a card (your best card) face down. Before looking at this card partner must choose whether to discard a card from hand and take the card offered in exchange, or to discard the offered card.

In Canada, some people play that if the first three players pass, the dealer is only allowed to take up the turned trump if already holding at least one trump in hand. For this purpose, the left bower is not counted as a trump.

32 card Euchre

In some places the 8s and 7s are included in the pack as the lowest cards in each suit, making a pack of 32 or 33 cards. This makes it more uncertain whether the high cards are in play. I am told that 32 card Euchre is the usual version in New Zealand. Also there are a few people in the USA who still play this way.

Six Hand Almonte Euchre

Mike Lunney contributed the following variation, which is played in Almonte, in eastern Ontario, Canada.

Rules are the same as six player Euchre above, but with the following variations:

There are 6 players (3 per team) using a 30 card deck consisting of 8-9-10-Q-K-A-J in each suit, plus three jokers, represented by the 2,3,and 4 of spades (4 is the highest trump, followed by 3, 2, right bower, left bower, A, K, Q, 10, 9).

The dealer distributes 5 cards to each of the 6 players and then turns over the last one (i.e. no hidden cards). If the card turned up is a joker, then dealer calls the trump before looking in his or her hand.

Scoring is the same as for British six player Euchre described above, but play is up to fifteen. Or in euchre leagues, players play twice around the table (i.e. 12 hands) before moving to another table.

There is a version in which, if a joker is turned up, the dealer cannot turn it over at the end of the first round of bidding, but must take it into his or her hand and become the maker, assuming the other 5 players have passed on the called trump.

A four-hand variation is played with 21 cards: the Q-K-A-J of clubs and diamonds, the 10-Q-K-A-J of hearts and spades, plus the 3 jokers; scoring is the same as in six-hand.

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