How to Play Euchre

Introduction

Euchre is a card game played by 4 people divided into 2 teams of 2 – each trying to reach 10 points first. Only 24 cards from a standard deck – the 9 through ace of each suit – are used in the game. More basic information on the game can be found on the What is Eucre? page. Read that first and then come back here.

Before we dig into actual gameplay, there are a few important concepts to be understood.

Trump

Trump refers to the suit which is ranked higher than any of the others.  In Euchre, for each hand one suit is determined as the Trump suit.  What this means is that any Trump card, regardless of value, will beat any non-Trump card.  For example, if Spades is Trump for a hand, the 9 of Spades would beat the Ace of Hearts.

Right Bower and Left Bower

The bowers are the 2 most powerful cards for a given hand.  The most powerful card is the Right Bower, with the second most powerful card being the Left Bower.

The Right Bower is always the Jack of the Trump suit.  The Left Bower is always the Jack of the same color of as the Right Bower.  For example, if Spades is Trump, the Jack of Spades is the Right Bower and the Jack of Clubs is the Left Bower.  It’s important to note, that in this example, the Jack of Clubs is considered to be a Spade for the sake of following suit.  More on this later.

Here is a list of cards ranked highest from left to right, assuming Spades is trump:

spades-trump-rank

Got it?  Good, let’s move on.

Gameplay

The Deal

The initial part of the game is all about determining what the Trump suit is.  The dealer deals out 5 cards face down to each player.  Tradition dictates that the 5 cards are dealt over two rounds.  So, you deal out:  3 cards, 2 cards, 3 cards, 2 cards for the first round.  For the second: 2, 3, 2, 3.

After the deal is complete, the dealer should have 4 cards remaining.  The top card is turned over and placed face up on top of the remaining 3 cards (called the kitty).

The card that is now face up starts the bidding process, and is the first candidate for the Trump suit.

Bidding Rounds

Starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player will get a chance to decide if he or she wants the face up card to be the Trump suit for this hand, based on the strength of the cards they’re holding.  Important: For this round, if anyone decides that this face up card should be Trump, the dealer gets to pick this card up and then will discard.  In effect, this guarantees the dealer at least 1 trump card.  This is often forgotten by beginners.

What determines whether or not a player wants the top card to be Trump?  Well, this is where strategy and scoring begins.

  • The player who says the face up card should be Trump is saying “my team will win at least 3 of the rounds (tricks) played”
  • If the team that picks the Trump suit does in fact win 3 (or 4) of the tricks, they get 1 point.
  • If they win all 5 tricks, they get 2 points
  • If they fail to win 3 of the tricks, the other team gets 2 points.  This is called “getting Euchred” or “getting Set”.

So, let’s assume the following scenario:

Sample euchre hand

 

The face up card is the 10 of hearts, and I have the cards on the left.  In this case, I have a pretty strong Hearts hand, and thus would ask the dealer to pick it up.  Especially if my partner is the dealer, since he or she will then gain that 10 of Hearts.

If none of the players, going around the circle clockwise, decide that the dealer should pick this card up (including the dealer himself), we enter the 2nd round of bidding.  The dealer should then turn the face up card to be face down.

In this second round, again starting with the player to the left of the dealer, each player can pick which suit he or she wants to be trump (excluding the suit that was initially face up, this is no longer an option). Additionally, a player can call “No Trump”, which means that no suit is ranked higher than the others and the highest card played in the suit that is led will win a trick. Note that when Trump is called on this second round, the dealer no longer gains a card upon selection of the Trump.

Once Trump is selected, the game begins.

If everyone passes, and it comes back to the dealer, what happens next depends on what the “house rules” of the game are.  (See Euchre Variations for more info)  If the game is “Screw the Dealer”, the dealer must select a suit from Trump, regardless of the strength of his or her hand.  If it is not “Screw the Dealer”, then the cards are shuffled and the next player to the left is the dealer for a new hand.

The Game

Once Trump has been selected, the game begins in earnest.

The player to the left of the dealer always goes first, no matter who picked Trump.  This player must lead by playing a card.  Which card they lead depends on what their strategy and is discussed elsewhere.

After the initial lead, subsequent players will play a card to try and beat the lead card.  The following players must follow suit.  Meaning, if a Club is led, the following 3 players must play Clubs if they have one.  If a player does not have a card in the suit led, he or she may play any suit they wish, including Trump suit cards.  (Note that some variations don’t allow players to lead with a Trump suit card until a Trump card is played as a follow-on – sometimes referred to as Trump being “broken”). If a player is caught not following suit, it is called a renege – see below for more.

Remember that the left bower is considered to be the same suit as right bower.  If Hearts is Trump, and a Heart is led, and the only red card you have is the Jack of Diamonds, you must play it!

After each player has played a card, the player with the highest card wins a trick for the team.  After all 5 tricks are played, scoring is handled based on the previously mentioned scoring rules.

Score is often kept by using 2 sets of extra cards (2 sets of a 4 and 6, which add up to 10), and uncovering the suit symbols to keep count.

Going Alone

A slight variation on the above scenario involves someone playing a hand without the aid of his or her teammate.  If a player has a very strong hand, when he or she picks Trump (by telling the dealer to pick up, or by calling suit in the 2nd round), a “Loner” can be called.

If a player goes alone, and all 5 tricks are won by that player, the winning team gets 4 points.  If 3 or 4 tricks are won, they get 1 point.  In some variations, if the player who goes alone fails to get 3 tricks, the opposing team gets 4 points.

Reneging

Reneging is when a player is does not follow suit on a trick (usually to throw a Trump card and win the trick) but is caught later on in the hand playing a card of the original suit. This is cheating and automatically ends the hand and awards 2 points to the other team.

A note about cheating and reneging.  It’s often a good idea to decide at the beginning of the game what will happen if someone cheats (and obviously is caught).  If it happens, and the rules haven’t been defined, it gets a little awkward deciding how the cheating team is punished.

Table Talk

“Table Talk” is the act of signaling your team mate something about your hand. Table talk is explicitly against the rules of Euchre – you may not communicate with your partner about the hand. This includes verbal speech/code words as well as any hand gestures/signals. For example, you may want to signal your parter that you have a decent hand in a specific suit and if they also have some of that suit, they should pick up the card on the kitty, etc… Don’t do this – it’s bad form and depending on the rules you are playing with could result in a replay of the hand or the loss of a point.

Similar to cheating, it’s a good idea to define what constitutes table talk at the outset of the game.  Otherwise, there can be bad feelings when one team thinks the other team is communicating via table talk (aka cheating).