by Sydney Weber
Looking to learn how to play Euchre?
As the saying goes, you know you’re from Michigan when you can both play and spell “Euchre.” But
what is this card game? What are the card game rules? Though it has a reputation for being
complicated, we’ve got an understandable guide to the Midwest’s classic card game.
We’ll break it down into set-up, play, and strategy, explaining need-to-know terms along the way and
teaching you how to win at Euchre.
Read on as we share Euchre rules, how to play the game, Euchre scoring, Euchre strategy tips and more to help increase your chances of winning the game.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind if You Want to Win at Euchre
The layout of euchre kind of looks like a plus sign. When you sit down to play, your partner will be the
person seated across from you. The person to your left will be the partner of the person to your right.
We’re going to name you P4, your partner P2, and the people on your left and right, respectively, are P1
These aren’t fixed positions (for example, who the dealer is changes every round), but terms to help you
understand the well-loved Euchre card game.
Our first couple terms that you need to know have to do with the cards. Like most card games, Euchre
has a ranked cards-system, meaning that certain cards have greater values than others.
Game rules say that aces are higher-ranked cards than kings, which are higher-ranked cards than queens, etc.
The “trump” suit is the card type (spades, hearts, clubs, diamonds) that is more powerful than the other
suits. Which suit counts as trump is determined at the beginning of the round when the dealer picks up
a card. A low trump card (like a nine) is still more powerful than a high-value card of any other suit (like
“Bowers”: the two jacks that are the same color as the trump. If diamonds (which are red) are what
you’re naming trump, then the jack of diamonds becomes the left bower. “The left”, as it’s called, is the
highest-ranked card in the game. The jack of hearts is the “right” bower because it is the other red jack. It’s the second-most powerful card in the game.
Keep in mind that the non-bower jacks are just jacks. This means they’re more valuable than 10s but less so than queens.
“Hand”: your Euchre hand is the set of five cards that are yours to play.
“Trick”: there are five tricks per round. Each person plays one card per trick. You and your partner “take” a trick if one of you played the highest-value card.
So, if you play the left bower (the jack of diamonds), you and your partner automatically take the trick,
because it’s the most powerful card in the game.
“Lead” (in euchre, pronounced like ‘leed’): can be a verb, as in “to play the first card in the trick”, or a
noun, as in “you get to put down the first card in this trick”. The player to the left of the dealer gets the
lead. If they play an ace, then they’re leading the ace.
“Following suit”: playing a card of the same suit that was led. If the person who leads the trick lays down
a club, then everyone must play a club if they have one. Failure to do so is called “reneging”, and results in the non-reneging team gaining two points.
Set-up for Your Euchre Game
First, sit down. There are four Euchre players, and the person who is seated across from you is your
partner. You can play on a table, on the floor, on a milk crate, as long as you are directly across from
your teammate. The opposing team will do the same.
Second, pick the cards out of a typical 52-card deck. A playable euchre card is a nine, 10, Jack, Queen,
King, or an Ace. These are the only cards used in Euchre.
For score keeping, each team will use either use two fives, or a six and a four. Which to use is the subject of hot debate, but either way you’ll cover the symbols, gradually revealing them as you gain points in the game.
For example, if you and your partner have one point, and you’re keeping track with fives, you’ll flip one
card over so that you see its back. Then, you position the flipped-over card so that you see just one of
the symbols on the face-up card.
If the card facing up was the five of spades, you’d see one spade, which represent your one point. You
reveal more symbols as your team gains points.
Now, choose your dealer. It can be the person who volunteers, the person who’s been to a Lions game
most recently, or something else—it’s up to you.
Before dealing, courtesy has it that the dealer will turn to the person to their right and offer to let them “cut”.
Cutting the deck is when the cutter takes a section from the top of the deck and places it off to the side. The dealer then takes the stack that was part of the bottom of the deck and puts it on top of the other
We offer the cut just to ensure that no one’s cheating. Some will say you don’t have to, but others will
get annoyed if you fail to do so.
After this, the dealer will then dole out five cards in the space of two rounds.
What does that mean? It means that the dealer can give each player up to four cards the first time they deal, and then only after every player has been given those cards, the dealer hands out the other one card. So the dealer could give one card then four, or three then two, and so on, as long as they deal five cards over the course of two turns of dealing.
After that, there should be four cards left over, which are to be stacked face down. This is called the
“kitty.” The dealer flips over the top card of the kitty. For the sake of this guide, we’ll say it’s the
ace of diamonds. Now we’ve got the set-up we saw in the photo at the beginning.
Getting Ready to Play
P1 (who will be the first person to play a card, aka the person who has the lead) gets the first chance to
tell the dealer to pick up the card or to pass. Players pass when they don’t want that suit to become
trump, and they say to pick it up when they do want to call trump.
If P1 tells the dealer to pick it up, then diamonds are now trump, and the dealer has the ace of
diamonds. As trump, the ace of diamonds is now the third-most powerful card in the game. (Scroll back to the Terminology section if you ever want the refresher on card rankings.)
But, if P1 passes, then P2 has the opportunity to say, “pick it up” or “pass”. If they pass, then P3 gets to choose to have the dealer pick it up or to pass. If P3 passes, then the dealerr (in this example, P4) gets to decide.
We’re going to say that everybody but P4 passed on the ace of diamonds. Because P4 picked it up,
diamonds are trump. Now the P4 must discard one of their other cards (feed it to the kitty, she’s hungry)
so that they only have five in their hand.
The person to the left of the dealer has the lead, so they get to go first. This is where the idea of
“following suit” comes in. Whichever card P1 plays, the others must play a card in that suit if they have
one. So if a spade is led, then P2, P3 and P4 have to play spades if there’s one in their hand.
That’s just one possibility. Let’s get an example game going to show you how this works. We’ll say that
P1 plays the queen of clubs.
Now, P2 needs to play a club if they have one. If P2 has both the jack of clubs and the ace of clubs,
they’re going to play the ace. That will beat the queen, and at this point P2 is winning the trick.
P3 has the king of spades, so they’ll play it to follow suit.
Let’s imagine that P3 didn’t play the king of spades, though. If P3 plays it later in the round, they have
“reneged”. If someone notices that P3 reneged, they can call it. Upon calling “reneging!”, the round is
over and the non-reneging team gains two points. This is one of the reasons to pay close attention to
the played cards.
Turning back to the game: If P4 has no clubs, they can play anything in their hand. If they have trump,
they can play it. However, P2 is so far winning the trick, and they are P4’s partner.
Therefore, it’s a good idea for P4 to play something like a spade or a heart, which won’t help nor hurt
their partner. This is called “playing off”.
If P4 played a diamond, that would mean they “stepped on” their partner by playing a higher-value card.
In this scenario, it’s a waste of a trump card.
Trumping your partner is almost never necessary, especially if you’d be stepping on something like your
partner’s ace or left bower.
In summary, P1 played the queen of clubs, P2 the ace of clubs, P3 the king of clubs, and P4 played the
jack of spades. No trump was put down, so the ace of clubs was the highest-value card. P2 takes the
trick, and the P2/P4 team has one of the three tricks needed to win the round.
Now, a new trick begins. Because P2 played the card that won the last trick, P2 has the lead in the next
The Rest of the Game
After all five tricks are played, a new round begins. P1 is the new dealer. Everything in the “Play” section
repeats. Do this until one team reaches 10 points on their scorecards. That team wins!
The most common number by which scores move up is one. That is, it’s typical that teams only win one
point at a time.
How to Get More Than One Point Per Round
But there are ways to get more than one point per round.
The first is by taking all five tricks.
The second is by euchring the other team. “Euchre” is what happens when one team (let’s say P2 and
P4) call trump, but it’s the other team (P1/P3) that takes three or more tricks. Then we say that P1/P3 euchred P2/P4. They, the euchring team, get two points for that round. It doesn’t matter if they took three or four or five tricks, they get two points.
The third, and far more difficult way, is to go it alone. That’s what happens when one person on a
team—we’ll pick P3—thinks that they have such a good hand that they can win all five tricks without
their partner doing anything. P3 would say “I’m going alone”, and P1 would lay their cards face down on the table and sit out of that round. If P3 gets all five tricks, they’ve won four points for their team. If they only get three tricks, it’s just one point.
Assorted Card Game Rules
No table talk! You can’t say things like “you should pick that up” or “I’ve got this one” to your partner.
There shouldn’t be any communication between teammates during a round. Paying attention is key
We’re going to try not to overwhelm you with too much strategy. It can be hard enough learning a new game, and throwing in a lot of strategy at the same time is enough to make your head spin.
So we’ll hold off on the advanced Euchre strategy and stick to the first two pieces of strategy you’ll need
in the card game.
First Euchre Strategy
First comes the question of whether to tell the dealer to pick up the kitty-card they flipped over. It
depends on the value of the card, who dealt, and what’s in your hand.
If your partner dealt, and they could pick up the right bower, you’re probably going to tell them to pick it
up. A situation in which you wouldn’t is if you have very few trump cards, because you can’t help your
partner out that much.
Let’s say it was an opponent who might pick up a bower. You’re likely to say “pass”. Unless they turn up
the right bower, but you have the left, and the ace, king, and queen of trump. Then you’re practically
guaranteed to win the round, so you’d tell them to pick it up.
You can see this is all very context-dependent. In general, if you have a lot of the card that would be
trump if the dealer picked it up, you’ll want to tell the dealer to pick it up. If all you’ve got is a low card in
the suit that would be trump, pass.
Another guideline is to tell the dealer to pick it up if you think you can take two tricks. That sounds odd,
right? You and your partner need three tricks to win the round. The key phrase is “you and your
partner”—the idea is that you should rely on your partner to take one trick. It might not always happen,
but it’s a solid strategy.
Second Euchre Strategy Tip
The second type of strategy you’ll need is which card to lead. It can be a tough decision, but don’t worry,
you’ll get better with time. We’ve got two tips to get you started.
Number one: early in the game, don’t lead trump unless you’re leading the right bower. Otherwise,
someone could end up playing a higher trump than yours in the course of following suit. Later on, if you’ve paid close attention to the already-played cards, then you can calculate where your trump card is in the hierarchy. Having trump lead could be good if you know that the right and left bowers have been played, and you still have the ace of trump. By then, the only two cards that can beat the ace would be out of the picture, and you can safely lead trump.
Tip number two: leading an ace (especially an off-suit ace, which is an ace that isn’t trump) is a good
idea if you have one. I can think of very few scenarios in which ace leading isn’t a wise move. It’s an especially good idea if you have a singleton ace.
That’s an ace whose suit you have no other cards of. So if you had the ace of hearts, and no other hearts in your hand, that’s a singleton ace. It’s smart to lead that because if you have no other hearts, that means it’s more likely that other players have hearts, and that would mean they’re more likely to have to follow suit. If everyone has to follow suit, you’ve taken the trick, as an ace is the highest card of a non-trump suit.
We’ve described a basic version of Euchre above. Depending on whom you play with, there might be
some added rules, like “Farmer’s Hand”. That’s when you have three nines or tens, which makes for a
really bad hand. You’d announce “farmer’s hand!” and show those three cards to the other players.
Then, you’d swap them out for the three bottom cards of the kitty.
“Stick the Dealer” is another house rule. It applies if everyone passes and no one calls trump. Without
the rule, you’d have to reshuffle the cards. With “Stick the Dealer”, the dealer has to call trump.
Don’t panic if this is confusing. Euchre is complicated, and it takes time to understand it, let alone
become good at the game.
The best advice I have is to play mock games with people who already know how to play. You can
suspend the “no table talk” rule for the other players to explain what’s happening and why. Do this
several times, until you feel like you’ve got a better understanding of the game.
Can’t round up three other people for a practice game? No problem. You can play Euchre online.
Some sites for online Euchre will let you pick a skill level and play against others at that same level.
That way you’re not taking on a team who have been playing since they were seven! However way you practice, keep at it, and you’ll be building experience over time. Then one day, you could be teaching your friends how to play one of Michigan’s favorite card games!
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About the Author-
Sydney Weber is a Feature Writer for mymichiganbeach.com and a graduate of Indiana University. She grew up in the Detroit and Lansing areas and spent many weekends going down side streets to see what’s what. Sydney loves finding little gems of places wherever she goes.