Natty Bumppo’s euchre columns

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The Columbus Book of Euchre

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Presented here are archives of euchre columns by Natty Bumppo, author of The Columbus Book of Euchre, published on line.

Order the right, and count on your partner
– May 28, 2010

The age and his partner were down 8-9 and the
jack of clubs was turned up. The age held the jack
of spades, the queen and ten of clubs, and the king
and nine of hearts. He ordered and led the left bower.
The dealer’s partner played the nine of diamonds; the
age’s partner, the nine of clubs, and the dealer took
the trick with the right bower.

The dealer then led the ace of diamonds, which the
age took with the ten of clubs (dealer’s partner con-
tributing another nine – the spade – and the age’s
partner sluffing the ten of hearts).

Left of dealer, down 8 to 9,
jack of clubs turned:

The age led his nine of hearts to the third trick. The dealer’s partner played the jack of hearts (he was stepping up in the world), and the age’s partner took the trick with the ace of hearts (as the dealer sluffed the ten of diamonds).

The age’s partner led back the ace of clubs – boss trump by now – as the dealer sluffed the jack of diamonds, and the age coughed up his remaining trump, the queen of clubs (and the dealer’s partner stepped up with the queen of spades). The age and his partner had stepped up to a 9-to-9 tie with the deal.

Thanks to Todd Martin for this hand. How would you play it in the eldest seat?

Todd’s main question was, should the age have passed – to let the dealer pick up, on a chance at a euchre (and an outright win)?

With the club holding in the eldest hand and his team at 8 points, the dealer is not likely to pick up the bower (let’s pretend we don’t know what he had, even though now we have seen four-fifths of his hand). He can’t afford to be euchred at that score. The age was right to order it up. If the dealer had turned the bower down (calling the age’s bluff), the age would have had the right bower and nothing else in “next”; and “next,” essentially a defensive tactic, loses its flavor when the opponents have 8 or more points. (And, take another look at those red cards in the o-fays’ hands.)

But the age should not have led the left bower. He’s leading right into the dealer’s end play if the dealer has two trump. It’d be better to lead a small club, in the hope the right bower is the only club the dealer has. The age would still have the left bower guarded even if the dealer had the ace of clubs to go with his right bower.

And while it’s not a propitious hand for “next,” it’s true that the age needs help from his partner in any event. And the partner had it. His ace of hearts was not necessary to take a trick, but it was necessary for him or the stock to have it (to make the age’s king good). And the two clubs partner had were two the dealer didn’t – most notably, the ace.

Consider this: Suppose the dealer did have the king of clubs to go with his right bower. If the age led a low trump, the dealer would take two trump tricks only if the age's partner did not have the ace of clubs. And even if the dealer took two trump tricks, the age would take at least one, and possibly two; and he'd have a good chance at two heart tricks once trump was flushed.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2010] [next]

Grand slam, or hit and run? – April 23, 2010

A recent poll in the Yahoo! discussion group Euchre
asked what you would do, sitting to the left
of the dealer with the jack, king and queen of clubs,
the ace of diamonds and the king of spades, with the
ace of clubs turned up – at a score of 4 to 4.

Three respondents said they would order up. Five
said they would order up and go alone. Another three
said they would pass and call “next” (spades) if the club
was turned down, and two said they would go “next”

Left of dealer, tied 4 to 4,
ace of clubs turned:

The two who opted for going alone in “next” were relying on simulations each had run on Fred Benjamin’s computer simulator (Fred himself was one of them). Simulations are suspect to begin with, however – ask a mathematician. And they are particlarly unreliable on a game simulator in which every player plays the same way (all the players on Fred’s simulator are Freds).

And in this case the simulations did not even match. But they were consistent in suggesting that, over a span of time, you would score the most “net” points (i.e., single points plus marches less euchres) by passing and going alone in “next,” and the next most “net” points by ordering alone.

Net points aren’t the end of the story, however. These two simulations were consistent also in suggesting you would get euchred significantly less often by not going alone in either suit.

Let’s go out to the ball game. It’s the middle innings; you’re rooting for the home team, and the score is tied. Your team is up, the bases are loaded, and there’s one out. Casey’s at the bat. He’s a really good hitter – the triple crown king of the team: Best batting average, most home runs, most RBI’s. But there’s something about him you need to think about. He’s only 5-feet-10 and 180 pounds, and not a “natural” home run hitter; he gets his homers by swinging really hard. And when he does that, he strikes out and grounds out a lot. So, what do you tell him? Swing for the fences, or take it easy and make contact?

If he makes good contact, you get a run on a sacrifice fly and another chance to score, or two runs on a base hit (that’s a point or a march). If he hits it over the fence, you get four runs (that’s a lone march). But if he swings for the fences and grounds it to the shortstop, there’s a double play and you’re out of the inning (you’re euchred). And if he strikes out, the next batter, who is not as good, has to get a base hit to bring home a run.

If I’m the manager, I’m tellin’ Casey to wait for a good pitch and just hit the ball (or just take a walk if he does not get a good pitch). We don’t need a home run; we just need the lead. We’re playin’ at home. And we sure don’t want to give up a chance to score.

Back to the card table: It’s a close call between ordering up and passing for “next. It appears that clubs are your better suit. But here’s what dictates the call: The chance to euchre the dealer’s team for 2 points if they go for the clubs. And that’s not a remote fantasy. All it would take, for incentive for the dealer’s team to make trump, would be the left bower and an ace off suit in one of the opponents’ hands (or a numbnock in either chair). And there are two aces out: Hearts and spades. As a dealer’s partner, I would need a lot more then the left bower and one of those aces to order up the ace (I’m in just as good a position to defend against “next” as I am to assist the dealer, and I can help him if he wants to pick it up). But most players don’t play that way. Most dealer’s partners will order that up with such a holding.

This is the kind of analysis a simulator cannot touch.

If the dealer’s team orders or picks up, you have a probable euchre, for 2 points, without risk (no way will the opponents march, with the right bower in your hand). If the dealer turns that ace of clubs down, it turns your king of clubs into an ace; and if you call “next,” your singleton king of spades becomes one of two trump – you have two trump to the left and nothing but aces outside. Go “next. Lead the king of spades and let your partner help you draw the trump, or lead the ace of diamonds and cash your trump later. With your partner there to help you quell the missing trump, it’s practically a euchre-proof hand.

And taking partner along, either ordering or waiting for “next,” is the least likely way for you to get euchred. Both the reported simulations tended to confirm this, with 20 to 25 per cent greater likelihoods of getting euchred going alone. Do you really want to risk a double play when you are tied at home, or ahead, in the middle innings, and a grand slam homer won’t end the game? A double play can be a game-breaker in baseball, and a euchre can be a game-breaker in cards. Bunt. Steal. Hit and run. Go “next. Save the risky homers and loners for a rainy day – like, down by four or five in the 8th or 9th innning (trailing 9 to 6 or worse in euchre).

Even if you analyze the scenario by Fred’s own probability chart (which is based on his simulations), I’m waiting for “next,” and not going alone. You’ll wind up, with the deal, 5-4 or 6-4 if you order up or call “next” without going alone and make the point or march; 5-4 or 8-4 if you go alone and make it or march, and 4-6 if you’re euchred. By Fred’s own chart you are 60:40 to win at 5-4 with the deal, 70-30 to win at 6-4, and only 24 per cent more likely (87:13) to win at 8-4, but down to 31:69 to win at 4-6. I’m not risking a euchre for a loner.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2010] [next]

So, which black ace do you lead? – March 26, 2010

So, whether you order the queen of hearts to go alone in the situation posed in the last column or call “next” alone, and lead out your two bowers to drain the opponents’ trump, which of your two black aces do you lead to the third trick? The singleton, or the ace backed by the king? (Sitting to the dealer’s left, remember, you hold both red bowers, two black aces, and a black king.)

This is about preventing the unlikely event of being euchred, if you can. It’s an esoteric point about as useful as Lyle Filkins’ convention about which ace to lead on defense against a loner. But as with Lyle’s convention, there is a correct answer. It is the ace backed by the king.

Why? The singleton ace is less likely to get trumped, isn’t it?

Yes, but let’s suppose the dealer has three trump and a void in the suit of the black ace you lead. And at least one diamond. He can’t take your other black ace unless he has a fourth heart, or two diamonds (and his first diamond is boss). But his partner can, on a squeeze play. Here’s how:

The dealer leads a high or medium diamond to the fourth trick. You, of course, keep the suit you did not lead to the third trick. (The dealer won’t lead that to the fifth trick; he was void in it from the start. You keep the other suit by default, of course, if you led your singleton; you keep it by sluffing, if you led from your doubleton).

However, whether the dealer has one or two diamonds, if he doesn’t lead the ace, his partner might overtake his lead with a higher diamond. And if the partner has saved a card of the suit of the ace you led to the third trick, and it was your singleton ace that you led, he takes the fifth trick for the euchre.

To do that, the dealer’s partner has to have had two of that suit to begin with (as he has to follow suit to your ace lead on the third trick). And he is less likely to have two cards of your doubleton suit than two of your singleton suit, since your holding a doubleton reduces that suit’s pool (the actual percentage of the probability is immaterial).

This analysis applies when the dealer takes the third trick whether trump is ordered or “next. When trump is “next,” however, the opponent with three trump (if either) is as likely to be on your left as on your right (it is quite unlikely he will be on your left when you order up). If it’s the opponent on your left who cuts in for the third trick, you will get to see who takes the fourth trick before you have to decide what to sluff. And if it’s the dealer who takes it, you are no longer compelled to discard the same suit you led to the third trick (if you led from the doubleton). If the dealer sluffed on the third trick, you know damned well what to save. And you have a choice only if you have led from your doubleton.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2010] [next]

Order now, or wait for “next”? – February 19, 2010

My Michigan correspondent, Lyle Filkins, asked me,
before he had done all the math, whether I thought – be-
hind 6 to 8, sitting to the left of the dealer, and holding
both red bowers, both black aces and a black king –
one should order the queen of hearts into the dealer’s
hand, alone, or wait for a chance to go alone in “next”?

Lyle had calculated the probability of making the lo-
ner ordering up at 65.7 per cent (my brother the math
professor confirmed that). Before doing the rest of the
math, Lyle said he was guessing that the probability of
making the loner in “next” was only marginally better,

Left of dealer, down 6 to 8,
queen of hearts turned:

and that he was inclined to go ahead and order the queen, to avoid a pre-emptive pickup by the dealer (or an order by one partner or the other).

My intuition told me it would be better to wait for “next,” and I suggested that we do the math on that.

So Lyle and my little brother, “Dr. Math,” did the rest of the math. And they agreed again: The probability of making a loner in “next” is 80.2 per cent. And we all agreed that that is more than “marginally” better than going alone with the “turnip.

What it would take to stop the loner on an order is three hearts in one opponent’s hand (more likely the dealer’s, but his partner’s hand also was counted in the calculation). The probability of such a holding is 34.3 per cent. The inverse, 65.7 per cent, is the probability you will march ordering up alone.

What it would take to stop a loner in “next” (diamonds, in this case) is three diamonds in one opponent’s hand. The probability of that is only 19.8 per cent; and the inverse, 80.2 per cent, is the probability of marching alone in “next.

The greater probability of a loner in diamonds makes intuitive sense because neither opponent has an assured head start of one diamond after the turndown, as the dealer would have in hearts picking up. The only counterintuitions are that (1) the opponents, having declined the turned card, might be stronger in “next,” and (2) a dealer holding three diamonds might turn the heart down for the very reason that he is “sitting on next. But the probability of the dealer’s having three diamonds is only 9.9 per cent (half the 19.8 per cent above); and calculating whether he would do that if he had it (i.e., turn down the queen of hearts to “suck you in” to diamonds) – partcularly if one of his diamonds was the ace, and he was holding an ace or king of hearts with the queen he could pick up – is beyond mathematics. There would remain a temptation for a pre-emptive pickup (that’s the “Bloomington corollary”), as he’d have neither black suit stopped.

The probability of getting euchred ordering up alone is much less than the 34.3 per cent probability of not marching. Even if an opponent had three hearts, there would be a fair probability that he would have to follow suit to, or lead to, one of your black aces. To euchre you he’d have to have four hearts and a diamond, or three hearts and two diamonds that his partner would not overtake the first of (unless the partner also had two diamonds saved, or one diamond and the black suit you didn’t save), or three hearts and one diamond his partner would overtake having another diamond in reserve or another card of the black suit you didn’t save. The probability that an opponent holds two diamonds is greater than the 19.8 per cent of the second calculation above, of course; but the opponent with three hearts would have to have at least one diamond (and then something). The chance of getting euchred would require yet another calculation, a little more laborious than those already done; but even without doing that math we can say it’s highly unlikely, and far below the 19.8 per cent chance you won’t march in “next” also.

And getting euchred would be even unlikelier in “next,” since then the opponents would have to be rich in hearts as well as diamonds, which would have been an incentive to assist or pick up; and one of the hearts necessary would have been eliminated (the one turned down). There is a slight but very unlikely danger that an opponent would hold four diamonds and a heart (or a black suit he could squeeze you out of). The only uneuchrable loners known to God or man require either the three top trump, or four trump including three of the top four, or five trump of any pip. Few calls bear no risk at all, but the risk here is too slight to try to avoid in light of the reward of a lone march.

The only valid reason to order the heart on this hand, I think, is a reasonable suspicion that your opponent will pick it up to get euchred, to limit your score on the hand to two points (the “Bloomington corollary”). But I’m willing to take that risk, too. Few players engage the “Bloomington corollary” in the first place; and if the dealer does, you get to euchre him to gain an 8-to-8 tie and the deal. This is about as close to “win/win” as it gets. Remember that, on the one-third chance you don’t make the loner ordering up (and don’t get euchred), you get only one point, and inherit the deal still behind, 8 to 7.

Thus it is both safer and likely more profitable to wait for “next.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2010] [next]

A 20-card deck? (plus 1) – January 15, 2010

My friend Todd Martin wondered, out loud, whether euchre jumped from a 32-card game to a 24-card game around the turn of the 20th century, or whether there was a 28-card game somewhere in between – i.e., with a deck of eights through aces, between the original sevens through aces and the modern nines through aces.

Apparently there was. Euchre – And How To Play It, the anonymous book published by the United States Playing Card Company in 1897, described first the 32-card deck and stated later, “Another point to which little attention has been called is that the American players almost universally discard the sevens, and [only] many of them the eights, from the pack. . . .” (emphasis added).

But there is little evidence, in the writings, of a 28-card deck’s being used. And why not, Todd wondered (out loud, as is his wont)? My guess is that the purpose of getting rid of the eights was of the same stripe as getting rid of the sevens. Like the “rabbit ball” (which came about in baseball about a generation later), the more radical change (to a 24-card deck) packed more power and quickly beat out the 28-card deck (as the cassette tape emerged victorious over the 8-track a half-century later). With all cards accounted for except three buried in the stock (beneath the turned card or the dealer’s discard), each hand had more power; and there was greater potential for “loners.

So then, Todd wondered (out loud, as always), why not a 21-card deck? (He resisted conjuring up a 20-card deck, as that would leave no card for the dealer to turn.)

Tens through aces, that is, plus a 21st card. The 21st card, Todd suggested, could be a joker. (I, joker that I am, suggested that the 21st card could be any nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, trey, or deuce.)

A joker is used in some versions of euchre, usually as a third and “best” bower. To me, that’s overkill – a bit like steroids on top of the “rabbit ball. With Mark McGwire’s contrition, Alex Rodgriguez’ admission and Barry Bonds’ perdition, I think steroids and “best bowers” (“bennies”) may soon be passť. Let’s stick with the power of a 24-card deck, or a 21-card deck.

Here’s how it could work without further juicing the ball: Instead of making the joker a “best bower” in a 21-card deck, you could make it neutral – not a bower at all, and not of any suit. You could sluff it only if you were void in the suit led, and the only way you could take a trick with it would be to lead it without anyone else’s trumping it. Everyone else would be void, of course, but – a neutral joker would be a handy fifth card on a squeeze play.

There’d still be the question of what would happen if the neutral joker was turned. These possibilities come to mind.

1. It could neither be ordered nor picked up – the dealer would have to turn it down – or

2. It could be ordered or picked up, and the result would be playing a hand without trump (“no trump,” as they say in bridge and three-handed bid euchre), or

3. It could be ordered or picked up with the orderer’s calling whatever trump he desired.

We could do the same with the five of clubs, or the three of spades, or whatever. For example, that 21st card, even if nominally of a suit, would have no suit status. So holding the five of clubs, say, would not prevent your claiming a void in clubs; and you could not ruff with the five of clubs, or use it to designate trump, or to guard the left bower.

Hey, I like this! This is the greatest suggested euchre variation since Pajonsero!

And, actually, you could use a mere 20-card deck. The dealer’s last card would simply be dealt face up. Any player could order it up for trump, or the dealer could pick it up for trump. The dealer simply would not have a discard. If everyone passed, the dealer still would have to take the card; it simply would not be trump.

Sound like fun? Coming soon, to a table near you. But don’t look for it soon on Yahoo or Hardwood.

There has been some implied suggestion on a Hardwood forum, by the way, that “donation” and “ordering at the bridge” did not exist when the euchre deck consisted of 32 cards (sevens through aces). Not true. You’ll find those defenses not only in the United States Playing Card Company book mentioned above, but also in The Law and Practice of the Game of Euchre by “a Professor” (T. B. Peterson & Brothers, Philadelphia, 1862), in which neither the 28-card deck nor the 24-card deck was mentioned.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2010] [next]

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