What’s Trump?

When I was a little girl, we owned two board games and a deck of cards. The board games were Scrabble and Monopoly. I think we (briefly) owned that candy game, but one of my brothers tried to eat the goal. Monopoly was fun, but it took forever and we never really got the hang of mortgaging. Scrabble was more fun, but in the Seventies the board was still flat. One table jiggle was all it took to wreck a masterpiece.  

Instead we played card games — a LOT of card games. My mother played bridge every week. We, her spawn, were not privy to the inner workings of bridge. We learned the words — trump and rubber, East, West, North, South — but we were never admitted to the ranks. Instead we played gin and poker. We played War and endless rounds of Solitaire. One summer my mom’s mom came to visit and all through the hot Utah afternoon we played Canasta until we wore the smirk off the jack’s face. If the game used a deck of cards and we could follow the rules, we were your family.

When I got married and moved to Michigan, I missed those card-playing days. An Italian couple in our apartment building taught us Pinochle. That was fun, but it wasn’t quite the game I was looking for. Then, one day, a native Michigander taught us Euchre.  For those of you who have never had the pleasure, Euchre is a trick-taking card game played with four people in two partnerships. It uses 24 cards: the 9 through ace of each suit.  You can check out the Wikipedia article here, which has interesting tidbits, like the origin of the word “bower”.

A photo of a perfect hand in Euchre

The right and left bowers, and the ace, king, and queen of trump — the perfect, unbeatable hand.

THIS was what I had been waiting for. Who doesn’t love a game where the deck includes it’s own score cards and a player can command a re-deal by declaring “Ace-no-face”?! I learned the secret Euchre meaning of bowers, going alone, and renege. I also learned that Euchre, as with life, is a game best enjoyed with like-minded persons. Friendships can be destroyed if you partner a mellow Euchre afficionado with a fire-breathing, card-counting, “THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING CALLING SPADES WHEN I AM HOLDING DIAMONDS?” Euchre fiend. Once I spent an afternoon playing in a VFW hall with persons of an older generation. I will never do that again. Aunt Bessie don’t want any fools in the game.

A photo of an Ace-No-Face hand in Euchre

An Ace-No-Face hand.

Euchre hands move fast, but the game itself takes long enough to be satisfying. If you have more than four people but less than eight who want to play you can swap the losing team out when the round is complete. Euchre can accommodate cautious players as well as risk takers. Because each round moves so quickly, even players who refuse to call trump unless they are holding the right bower (aka trump) will generally find that bad boy looking back at them at least once. Risk-loving players can hone their ability to take a hand with nothing more than the nine of trump and the universally held rule that “your partner is always good for one trick.”

A photo of scoring (and sprouting) points in Euchre

This is how you score (and sprout) points in Euchre.

Recently I taught my 14-year-old granddaughter to play Euchre. I did not have the resounding success my grandmother had, but she didn’t have to compete with cellphones or the Internet. I am not too worried. Some day I will find myself at a table with Tess as my partner and we will be calling trump.

About Terry Ullmann

Terry is a good partner in Euchre and a fierce opponent in Trivial Pursuit.

9 thoughts on “What’s Trump?

  1. Janette
    March 11, 2014 at 2:50 pm

    Now I feel the urge to teach my kids!

    1. March 11, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      I know, me too! I remember the night I got to play Euchre with my mom and her adult friends when I was a young teen. I felt so grown up. And then Euchre was THE GAME everyone played for a couple years in high school. I think we’ll be culturally depriving our children not to teach them.

  2. KT
    March 11, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    I first learned to play in Krafty’s trig class back in the day. The rest is history.

    1. March 11, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      O, Mr. Kraft! You were so misunderstood. (I hated trig.)

  3. March 11, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    I can’t remember not playing Euchre! We played open-hand when I was very small, and when my sisters and I started beating our parents that way, we switched to closed-hands and my parents haven’t won a game since 😉 (or so we like to claim)
    At a family reunion we blew the hats off our great-uncles with our sand-bagging and trump-sucking! And that we know how to play the British Way with the Benny! (Which is the only way my dad allows Farmer’s Hands!)
    We knew how to play Euchre before Uno!

    1. March 11, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      Euchre before Uno! That’s impressive.

  4. carol
    March 11, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    I learned from some old codgers that I worked with. I still have a hard time with “next for your partner” rule. We would play as a family whenever we could get one of Matt’s friends to be a 4th

    1. March 11, 2014 at 10:27 pm

      Matt needs to do a follow up piece on Euchre superstitions and house rules… he taught me so many! And here I thought I knew the game.

  5. March 13, 2014 at 11:11 am

    I miss playing cards – I also grew up knowing dozens of card games and playing constantly. I still keep decks stashed in a couple purses. But I haven’t played much in years…

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