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The Ultimate Euchre Strategy & Tips Guide | Michigan’s Favorite Card Game

If you live in Michigan or a neighboring state, you might have been taught to play Euchre as a child. At the very least, you’ve heard of friends playing Euchre because it’s a favorite that’s passed down for generations. Unlike most popular card games, it’s a team effort that relies on interpersonal skills. Whether you want to learn the game for the first time or try a new Euchre strategy, we’ve put together everything that you need to know.

screenshot of Michigan themed card decks on Etsy

As with pretty much any Michigander, playing Euchre is a long-standing tradition of mine. I learned the card game from some college students I worked with at a restaurant, and I spent years continuing to learn – many with a beer in hand (once I was of legal age, of course). Most camping nights were spent near the fire at a picnic table counting tricks and asking, “What’s trump again?

Years later euchre literally changed my life. After a divorce, I was invited to a euchre night at a friend’s house. I didn’t have a partner to bring with me and didn’t really feel like going, but my friend told me there would be other singles there and that we’d be moving from table to table.

That is where I met the woman who is now my wife. So to me this card game, seemingly only known by Michiganders, laid the foundation for a future I’d likely not have known without it. You could say I’m a huge fan of euchre.

Dan Moyle, Awesome Mitten contributor

The Origins of Euchre

The history of Euchre is a little foggy. The most popular theory is that it came from Juckerspiel, a 19th-century Alsatian card game. It’s believed that German-speaking immigrants brought the game to North America in the early 1900s. Some of the game’s terms are derived from German — Jacks are “Bowers,” which is derived from the German “bauer.”

Another theory according to The American Hoyle is that German settlers brought Euchre to Pennsylvania in the 1820s. It speculates that the daughter of a wealthy German farmer visited Philadelphia and retained a confused memory of Écarté, an old French casino trick-taking card game. From there, Euchre developed.

A third theory is that Euchre was introduced by Cornwall immigrants. Between 1805 and 1816, French prisoners were located in Dartmoor Prison in Devon (Southwest England) during the Napoleonic Wars. They played Ombre, an ancestral form of Euchre, and it was picked up by Cornwall immigrants. The card game is still very popular in this part of England. On top of that, American prisoners were housed in the same prison after the War of 1812.

Through the late 19th century, Euchre was the national card game of the United States but has since declined in popularity. Despite that, it’s played around the world. Aside from the United Kingdom, it’s popular in Canada (especially Ontario), Australia, and New Zealand.

Euchre Trump Block - Michigan Card Game
photo credit: Blocksbyheather on Etsy

Euchre in Michigan

Although Euchre isn’t considered the national card game of the U.S. anymore, it has a strong following in the Midwest — particularly in Michigan. Nobody really knows why it has remained popular here — there wasn’t a huge event that shaped its destiny.

The most likely reason is because the game is a beloved tradition that’s passed down from generation to generation. Typically, Michiganders learn how to play Euchre from their parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. A lot of families use the game as a way to spend time with each other. Whether they play on camping trips or scheduled game nights, they keep the love of the game alive.

euchre loner hand in spades
photo courtesy of @happysgamestore

The Rules: How to Play Euchre

Traditionally, Euchre is a trump card game with four players who pair off into two partnerships. You need a deck of 24 playing cards. You can use a standard deck of 52 cards and only use the Aces, Kings, Queens, Jacks, 10s, and 9s. Now, let’s get into the details of how to play Euchre.

Choosing Partners

If you go into Euchre already knowing who your partner is, then this step is super easy. If you don’t have a planned partnership, your party of four can cut the deck to decide the partners. In this case, the two players with the highest cards team up against the two players with the lowest cards.

It’s important that you sit across from your partner because each turn will alternate between the teams. However, “table talk” is forbidden and considered cheating in Euchre.

Dealing the Cards

You can randomly choose a dealer to start the game. If you need a way to decide, consider drawing cards (lowest deals first), going by youngest or oldest first, or flipping a coin.

Before the dealing starts, the player to the right of the dealer may be offered or may request to cut the card deck. The player can knock the table to refuse or knock the deck to accept the offer.

Next, the dealer gives each player five cards and must complete this task in two clockwise rounds. In the first round, the first player to the left gets three cards, the second gets two, the third gets three, and the dealer takes two. In the second round, the first player to the left gets two cards, the second gets three, the third gets two, and the dealer takes three.

Calling Trump

The four remaining cards in the deck are placed face down in the center of the table, and this stack is called the kitty. The dealer turns the top card face up (which is called the upcard) to begin naming trump. The trump is the suit that will outrank all of the other suits in the Euchre deck.

Clockwise from the dealer, the players get the opportunity to “order up trump,” which means choosing that suit as the trump suit for the hand. When a player orders up trump, the dealer adds that card to his/her hand and must select a card to discard, bringing the hand back to five cards.

When it comes to ordering up trump, the best Euchre strategy is to order up trump only when you or your partner is the dealer for that hand. The reason is because the dealer essentially gets an extra trump card to play, giving your team the advantage.

The discarded card is an important decision as well. The best Euchre strategy is to discard a green suit, which is the opposite color of the trump. The second-best choice is to discard a card of the same color but the other suit of trump, and the third-best option is to discard the lowest card.

If all of the players pass on ordering up trump during the first round of bidding, the dealer turns the card face down and that suit can no longer be trump. The decision of trump continues clockwise in a second round of bidding until a player chooses one of the other three suits.

If no one chooses a trump suit, the hand is declared a misdeal, and the process starts over with the player to the left of the dealer – unless you are playing “stick the dealer” in which case the dealer must select a trump suit that is not the same as the card just turned down.

The team that orders up trump is called the makers for the hand, and the opposing team is called the defenders. Naming trump asserts that your team intends to win the hand. As such, the makers have to take at least three of the five tricks (win at least three of the five rounds). If they fail, then they are euchred (penalized), basically giving the defenders extra points.

Euchre Card Rankings

In order to take the most tricks possible, it’s essential to know the value of each card. The Jack of the trump suit is called the Right Bower and is the highest-ranking card. The Jack of the same color but the other suit is the Left Bower and the second-highest card in rank. The Ace, King, Queen, 10, and 9 of the trump suit are the next most valuable cards.

After that, the Ace, King, Queen, 10, and 9 of the same color but opposite suit are the next most valuable. The remaining cards aren’t special and retain their normal value with Ace high and 9 low.

Here’s an example based on if the trump suit is Clubs:

  • Jack of Clubs
  • Jack of Spades
  • Ace, King, Queen, 10, and 9 of Clubs
  • Ace, King, Queen, 10, and 9 of Spades
  • Aces, Kings, Queens, 10s, and 9s of Diamonds and Hearts
mystinj euchre The Ultimate Euchre Strategy & Tips Guide | Michigan's Favorite Card Game
photo courtesy of @mystinj

The Gameplay

The hand starts with the player to the dealer’s left leading with any card of any suit, including the trump suit. Each player that follows must play a card of that suit if possible. Keep in mind that the Left Bower is considered part of the trump suit rather than a member of the native suit. So in the example above, the Jack of Spades is no longer a Spade. It becomes a Club instead.

Failing to follow suit when you can is considered reneging, which means revoking and is considered cheating. If you’re caught reneging, then the opposing team gains 2 points or your team loses 2 points for that hand. Even if you unintentionally renege, your opponents can call you out and gain points.

Unless a trump is played, the player who plays the highest card of the suit led takes the trick. When the suit led is the trump suit, the player who plays the highest trump card takes the trick. If you can’t follow suit and don’t have a trump card to play, you can’t take the trick.

Upon taking a trick, the player collects the played cards, turns them face down, and leads the next trick. When all five cards are played, the hand is scored. Then, the player to the left of the previous dealer deals the next hand.

“Going Alone”

A player who orders up trump and has an exceptional hand of cards can choose to “go alone.” This can only be done before the first card is played for the hand. In this case, the player’s partner will not play for that hand as the player attempts to take the majority of tricks on his/her own.

The odds of success depend on the nine inactive cards in the kitty and the partner’s hand, which can make the hand less predictable. If the player has the five highest-ranking cards in the trump suit, though, the hand is unbeatable. At this point, the player can lay down all of the cards to show that they’ve won the hand.

Scoring in Euchre

When a team who orders up trump takes at least three tricks in a hand, they get 1 point. If they take all five tricks, it’s called a march, and they get 2 points. If they fail and are euchred, the opposing team gets 2 points.

When a player who goes alone takes at least three tricks, the team gets 1 point. If the player achieves a march, the team gets 4 points. If the player fails and is euchred, the opposing team gets 2 points.

The team who reaches 10 points first wins Euchre. However, you may choose to wait until after a team has a 2-point lead. If your team wins the game 10-0, this is called skunking.

Once you reach 6 or more points, you’re within what’s called Loner Range because you or your partner could go alone and win the game if you succeed. This term may also be used to describe being 4 points behind the winning team.

Euchre Scoring Cheat Sheet

  • Take 3 tricks (if your team called trump) = 1 point
  • Take 5 tricks (if your team called trump) = 2 points
  • Euchre the other team (take 3 tricks when your team didn’t call trump) = 2 points
  • Go alone and take all 5 tricks = 4 points
  • Euchre a loner (take 3 tricks against the other team’s “alone” player) = 4 points
  • Catch the other team in a renege (playing off-suit with the led suit in their hand) = 2 points

How to Keep Score in Euchre

You’ll likely see Euchre scoring done with the 5s from the deck (one team uses the red 5s while the other team uses the black 5s), uncovering one suit imprint on the cards for each point earned. Another variation is to use the 4s and 6s from the hearts and clubs suits.

When you’ve reached 9 points, turn your scoring cards over and you’ve got “barn doors” and are one point away from the win!

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Tips & Strategies: How to Win at Euchre

For those new to Euchre, the hardest parts about playing are keeping up with the current trump for the hand and understanding the card values. The best way to learn how to win at Euchre, though, is to practice. You can use some of the below tips to make your games go more smoothly. Eventually, you could use an advanced Euchre strategy to take as many tricks as possible.

9 Euchre Tips to Become a Euchre “Pro”

1. Stick the dealer.

To avoid a misdeal, playing “stick the dealer” could be a good option. If the card turned up for trump has been passed, and no one calls trump, making the dealer call it (rather than re-dealing) is called ‘sticking the dealer.’

Not only does this make the game of euchre move a little quicker – re-dealing takes time away from actually playing – but it also leads to some interesting hands. Sometimes it really can bite you, but sometimes it can be quite a rush to pull off a winning hand with almost nothing of value.

2. Take tricks early.

Rather than save a Bower or an Ace until the end (like in most card games), play it early to take some pressure off your partner.

3. Don’t trump your partner’s ace!

Don’t neglect or prevent your partner from taking a trick. If your partner has already played a card that you know will take the trick, don’t purposely lay down a trump card that will take it instead.

4. You actually shouldn’t “always count on your partner for at least one trick.”

Don’t rely on your partner to take at least one trick because it’s not always possible.

This one’s a myth you’ll hear from all levels of players. The thought is that regardless of what you call for trump, your partner should have at least a high enough card to take a trick.

Let’s face it though, the euchre fairy is a fickle little thing. Even when you have a couple of aces in your hand, depending on where the lead comes from (anywhere but immediately to your left), you just don’t know what the next player has. With the exception of the highest trump, someone could have your kryptonite.

Counting on a partner for at least one trick has burned more great euchre players than we can recall. Calling trump on this myth could lead to you getting euchred.

5. When possible, lead big.

If you have an off-suit Ace and no other cards of that suit in your hand, lead with it. The reason is that your opponents likely have the other cards of that suit in their hands. Playing your Ace on the opening lead is the best chance you have of taking the trick with that card and drawing out their high cards.

However, do not lead with an ace if you have more than one other card of the same suit. With only six cards in a suit, if three of them are in your hand, chances are good that one of your opponents will be void in that suit and can trump your ace.

Pay special attention to the “next” suit, the same-color suit as trump. Since the left bower switches suits, this suit only has five cards, and thus even if you hold only an ace and one other card in that suit, leading the ace will often be an invitation for your opponents to trump you. In this case, save your ace for later and hope it can win a trick once trump is all drawn out.

6. “Call it” with three trump and an off-ace.

If you have three low cards of a suit and the chance to order up that suit as trump, do it, especially if you also have an off-suit Ace. You can lead with that trump suit, effectively draining the higher trumps from your opponents. This reduces the risk of your opponents trumping your Ace later.

7. “Going alone” requires great risk… but can lead to great reward.

Don’t be too hasty to go alone. Yes, you may have most of the trump cards, but that doesn’t mean you have all of them. Plus, depending on the lead, you may lose the first trick, which can spiral downward into getting euchred. 

Going alone can certainly raise your score faster but only if you take all of the tricks in the hand. It’s more likely to backfire unless your hand is absolutely phenomenal. Knowing when to go alone is often considered an advanced Euchre strategy.

8. Watch what’s played.

A lot of the time people – especially new players – just lay down slough cards without thinking about how it will affect the outcome of the game. Noobs might lay down a trump card on their partner’s trick when their partner was winning the trick.

If your partner is winning, then throw an off-suit card that is of no use! This way you can save your high card for another trick and hopefully get two points instead of one.

Try to memorize the cards that are played for each trick of the hand. Mastering this tip will greatly improve your decisions during the game.

You may also catch an opponent in a renege situation, resulting in points for your team.

9. Discard off-suit singles.

When possible, create a void if you can’t open a hand with a trump or off-suit Ace. This means getting rid of cards that you can’t possibly take a trick with (think off-suited 9s, 10s, Qs). Doing so opens you to taking tricks later.

If your partner reads you correctly, he/she may be able to lead a round so that you can take a trick.

michigan card game euchre - the awesome mitten
Playing Euchre at Mitten Brewing Company. Photo by Lynsday Israel.

Using an Advanced Euchre Strategy

If you want to improve how you play exponentially, you could learn an advanced Euchre strategy … or several. We’ve listed five advanced Euchre strategies below to get you started:

Order Up Next

This strategy involves ordering up trump of the suit of the same color as the turned down trump.

For instance, let’s say that the Jack of Clubs is the upcard, and all of the players pass on ordering the trump. When you have the chance, order Spades as trump. Mathematically, your opponents are likely to have more red suits, so choosing Spades will likely level the playing field.

Go Low After a Low Trump Lead

There are several scenarios in which you should use this Euchre strategy. If your team is on offense and the opponent’s lead card is low, you should play a low card here to give your partner a chance to take the trick.

If your team is on defense and the opponent’s lead is a low trump, you can assume that this opponent doesn’t have any Bowers and is trying to draw them out. Since your other opponent and partner will have to play a trump card if they have one, playing low as well (if possible) is the best option.

Don’t Lead Trump on Defense

In many situations, leading trump on defense is a disadvantage. For example, let’s say that the dealing team orders trump with the dealer taking the Queen of Clubs. You have the Right Bower, but leading the hand with it only puts your team at a disadvantage because it could drain a trump card from your partner’s hand.

The only time that leading trump on defense has a high chance of working in your favor is when it’s a low trump card. In that case, you drain any high trump cards from your opponents, giving you the advantage in later tricks, especially if you have high off-suit cards.

Cross the Suit

With this strategy, you order up trump of the opposite color of the upcard when your team deals. For instance, let’s say that your partner is the dealer and the upcard is the Jack of Clubs. If no one orders up trump, you can conclude that your partner doesn’t have the Left Bower or any other black cards of high value.

If the opponent passes during the second round of bidding, you have the chance to order up a red suit as trump. Otherwise, the other opponent is likely to order up trump in a suit for which you don’t have strong cards.

Order Trump at the Bridge

You can use this Euchre strategy when you’re close to winning the game (which is called “at the bridge”) but the hand dealt isn’t a sure victory. In this scenario, let’s say that your team is at 9 points and your opponents have 6 points. The dealer is to your right and turns up a Jack from the kitty, so you have the first opportunity to order up trump.

Even though doing it will give your opponents the Right Bower and a good chance of taking the majority of tricks, your team still has the chance to take some tricks, risking only 2 points instead of 4 points. Then, you get to deal the next hand and increase your chances of winning.

The Many Variants of Euchre

Euchre has a ton of variations around the world. In the United Kingdom, players like to use 25 cards, adding a Joker to the traditional set. The Joker becomes the strongest card regardless of the trump suit.

Here’s a quick look at some of the more common Michigan euchre variations:

  • No Trump — If no player orders up trump during the first round of bidding, the hand is played with no trump. Instead, the suit led for each round in the hand establishes the trick suit. In this case, the cards are valued as normal.
  • Going Under — When a player has a Farmer’s Hand — only 10s and 9s, no face cards or Aces — the player can call out “Farmer’s Hand” and exchange three cards with those in the bottom of the kitty. The same applies when a player has all 10s and 9s and one Ace, which is called “Ace No Face.”
  • No Ace, No Face, No Trump — Similar to Going Under, this variation allows a player to reveal a hand with no Aces, no face cards, and no trump cards. The reveal can occur after trump is ordered, resulting in the hand being re-dealt.
  • Robson Rules — This set of rules was named after James Robson, a four-time Northern Michigan Euchre regional runner-up champion.
    1. A team who takes five tricks in a hand can opt to subtract points from the opponent team’s score.
    2. A dealer can choose to go alone after turning the upcard and before seeing his/her hand. If the dealer takes all five tricks, the team is awarded 5 points. If the dealer fails, the defenders gain 1 point.
  • Two-handed Euchre — In this variation, there are no teams, and two cards are dealt to a dummy hand. The player who orders up trump then adds the dummy cards to his/her hand and discards down to five cards before the start of the first round.
  • Three-handed Euchre — Like in the two-handed version, there are no teams. The biggest difference is that each player gets seven cards, leaving three in the kitty. The maker needs to take at least four tricks to be successful.
  • Railroad Euchre — This variation got its name from being developed by rail commuters while they played on a train. It’s a mashup of several other variations, and was made to make this popular game faster to play. The biggest difference is that it uses 33 cards — Aces through 7s, plus a Joker — and allows for three teams to play. Four players are dealt seven cards, while six players are dealt five. With rules that award large amounts of points at once, the game is won with 64 points or more.

Do you have fond memories of playing Euchre with family and friends? Is there a special Euchre strategy that you use? Have you played another Euchre variant? Share with us in the comments below!

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4 Comments

  1. On rule number 5 did you mean… if you have a 9 of clubs along with the 9, 10 and queen of spades? Is this a typo?

  2. I live in Guernsey in the British Isles. Here we consider Euchre to be our game! There are leagues played and each team has a home venue which is usually a pub. We play to 15 and use the Joker which is called the Benny. As I’m Michigan, it’s usually taught through generations of a family 😀

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