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.

Desperation loner in “next” – October 19, 2007

Our correspondent Todd Martin wrote from London, Ohio:

Last Thursday night in live league play I had three “Ohio loners” [i.e., euchred] in six games. I broke my own record!

But I’m fine with that. As you and Fred Benjamin have stated in your books, when behind considerably, go alone! In one game earlier this week we were down 7-0, then 7-4, then 8-4, then 9-4, then 9-5, and then we tied it up at 9-9. What got us to 4 and 9 were two of my extremely thin, and I mean extremely thin, loners in “next. On one of them the ace of hearts was turned down, and I marched alone with the jack and ace of diamonds for trump, with king and queen of clubs and king of hearts outside. On the other the jack of spades was turned down, and I went alone on king-queen-ten of clubs with king of hearts and queen of spades outside. If we had not been behind a bunch, I would not have made such calls. But, no balls, no babies!

I know you have a section in The Columbus Book of Euchre on going alone and have written internet columns on “next,” but do you have anything on the “next loner”?

Interesting subject. I did write a column in which the player in first chair marched on a “next” loner without either bower (four diamonds and the king of spades); and I said in that column, “Try it sometime; you might like it. The column was titled “Next: ‘Ya gotta believe!’ ” (April 1, 2005). Another recommended “next” loner (without bowers – ace and king of diamonds in trump, with ace of hearts, ace of clubs and king of spades outside) is cited in the same column. Desperation loners in “next” are not presented in that column as a general recommendation, however.

Just as close in point as recommendations, however, might be my written warnings to the dealer about the possibility of facing a loner in “next” by his left-hand opponent. For example, I wrote in the next-to-last paragraph of “Double Suited, Part 2” (July 5, 2002) that if as dealer you don’t discard a jack of hearts to pick up a club for ace-king-nine of clubs and king-nine of diamonds, “you are a sitting duck in ‘next’ and likely for a loner.

And in “Double Suited, Part 1” (June 28, 2002), we stop 9 opponent loners in 100 hands by picking up a ten of clubs for queen-ten of clubs and ace-king-ten of diamonds. It is not reported how many of those stopped loners were in “next”; but it’s implicit, since the dealer’s hand is void in “next.

The Columbus Book of Euchre says, “If you are behind 9-1 and desperately need a lone sweep to get back in the game, there is no limit to what might work. That pretty much says it all, as far as I’m concerned; and I’m not convinced that the suit or the position is particularly relevant. If you are in first chair and “next” is as good as you’ve got, well, sure. “Next” works best there, for a loner when you are in dire straits, for all the other reasons it works: If you don’t have a certain bower in “next,” it’s more likely to be in your partner’s hand or buried than in an opponent’s hand; and what cannot hurt you can help you.

But the prescription for a desperation loner applies to “green” also, and to every player at the table.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

You have a partner – July 6, 2007

To the right of the dealer I held the jack, king and ten of diamonds, the king of hearts, and the king of clubs. The dealer turned down the ace of hearts. (That might not have been too wise. Had she picked it up and thrown away her queen of spades, she would have held ace-queen of hearts with ace of clubs and ace-queen of diamonds outside. But what she did or didn’t do is not the subject of this discussion.)

My partner held the jack of hearts, the jack, queen and ten of clubs, and the king of spades. And he called: Clubs. It made sense to him. It was his best suit.

But he had only one sure winner in clubs. The left-ace out against him plus an ace and a king or queen in off suits could have blown him away.

Diamonds were “next”; my partner had the left bower, and he had reason to believe that the opponents, having declined a big red ace, did not have the right bower. He had a sure stopper in both black suits; so he could have passed safely enough. Maybe even euchred a club or spade call by his opponents going “across.

Well, we made a point. But it was not because my king of hearts had been promoted to ace status by the turndown.

My partner’s hand (left of dealer)

Dealer’s partner’s hand

My hand

Dealer’s hand
(ace of hearts turned down)
It was because the left bower (jack of spades) and nine of clubs were buried. The dealer had to cough up her singleton ace of clubs on the first trick (I was stripped, too); and her partner had no clubs to begin with. Lucky, lucky.

My partner could have called diamonds. It was “next”; we had both bowers, and it was unstoppable, no matter what the opponents held. He didn’t know that, of course (even though he had reason to count on me for the other bower). It was mid-game, by the way, with a close score; no one was going out or gaining a big leg up on one point, or even on two.

But my partner’s best call would have been to pass. The dealer’s partner held ace-nine of spades and three little red cards. Had my partner passed, the dealer’s partner would have called spades (“across”) or passed. She probably would have been euchred in spades, giving us two points. Had she passed, I could have called diamonds myself. My king of hearts was now an “ace,” remember.

My partner could easily have been euchred on the club call. The dealer held the ace of clubs and the ace of diamonds. One more club and her ace of trump would have been guarded, for two tricks, and her partner’s ace of spades would have been their third trick, for the euchre (my only trump having been stripped on the first trick).

I don’t argue with success; so, since we made a point, I did not say anything to my partner. But his decision to call clubs was myopic. It was based on what he held, and nothing else. He had a partner, and two opponents. He did not consider, at all, what the rest of us might have.

Here’s another example. Different game, with different players, but same setting: My partner was in first chair, I was in third. We were down 9 points to 6. The dealer’s partner ordered a diamond, and my partner led: A little diamond. I did squawk about that, but I should have kept my mouth shut: There’s no point in arguing with failure, either, if it cannot be avoided; and we were dead ducks no matter what my partner had led.

But his explanation of why he led trump on defense was what lit my fuse. “I didn't have any aces,” he said, “and I figured, what the hell.

Having aces is a better reason to lead trump on defense that not having any – because the lead may strip the maker’s partner of the wherewithal to ruff the ace or aces. And “what the hell” is that my partner’s trump lead did not take into account, at all, what I, his partner, might have. What his lead did was strip me of the only trump I had (and himself, too), as the maker took the trick. It did not strip the maker’s partner (the dealer), who wound up with two trump on the order (no surprise).

The leader has to think that if he leads one of the many non-aces he has, and particularly if from a multicard suit, through the opponent who ordered, his partner may be able to use his trump to ruff – and perhaps even to overruff the maker. There’s no chance of that when you strip your partner with a trump lead.

So: Much ado about nothing, you might say. We made a point on the first hand described, and we could not have defeated the opponents on the second.

But my partner’s play was utterly selfish in both instances. In both instances he considered his own hand, and his own hand only. For optimal play, you must think how your partner might help you, and call or play to him if it makes sense that he might help you. That’s what partners are for. That’s what “next for my partner” is all about. And that’s how games are won, in the long run.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

Surrender! – June 1, 2007

In the card game “7-up” (known to some as “high, low, jack and the game,” or “all fours”) trump is made – as in euchre – not by bidding, but by turning the top card of the remainder of the deck after the cards are dealt. The “age” – that is, the player to the left of the dealer – can confirm the suit turned as trump simply by leading a card (i.e., by commencing play). *

But if he does not like the suit turned – or thinks someone else might like it well enough to pay him to play it – he can “beg. His beg is to the dealer, who can establish the turned suit as trump by giving a point to each of the other players (it“s an individual game, not a partners game).

Or, the dealer can beg – to his right. And so it goes, to the right. If no one “gives,” another round of cards is dealt; another card is turned, and its suit is trump – no ifs, ands, buts, or begging (unless it is the same suit as before, in which case yet another round is dealt, until a new suit is turned).

So, what’s this got to do with euchre (besides the turn of a card at the end of the deal, and the fact that cards are dealt in threes in 7-up)?

Harvey Lapp, the webmaster of (and messenger of the Ten Commandments of Euchre), has come up with a “give” for the privilege of passing the deal in an “STD” game of euchre.

“STD” (“stick the dealer”), you understand, requires the dealer to call trump – whether he wants to or not, whether he has a suit to call or not, whether he has a hand or not – if everyone has passed the card turned up and if everyone else has declined to call trump on the second round.

Harvey – by day a modest craps dealer in the casinos of Las Vegas, by night a jamoke from Buffalo who still likes to play euchre – runs euchre tournaments for friends and acquaintances in his spare time. As you might imagine, some of Harvey’s invitees like to play “STD” (the “diehards” are from Detroit, Harvey observes), and some don’t (some abhor it).

Harvey’s solution? (He likes to make everybody happy so they’ll come back next week.) It’s STD with a twist. The dealer can pass the deal if he does not want to make trump at the end of the second round, but he has to add a point to the opponents’ score for the privilege (“half a euchre,” in other words).

Now, I don’t like that! But that’s only because I’m a curmudgeon. I have to admit that Harvey’s bridge of the STD dichotomy is highly creative. Let’s give another hearty handclap to the Moses of Euchre.

Harvey doesn’t call it “giving” (the term used in 7-up). He calls it “surrender.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

* A similar “all fours” game, pitch, establishes trump by bidding. [back]

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

Helping your partner sort his hand – May 4, 2007

I received a four-page handwritten letter from a 70-year-old player in suburban Detroit named Bob Wilson. He said he had learned to play euchre at the age of 6. I’d like to report that Bob got his euchre degree at Ball State University, in Muncie, Indiana, where he went to college – but he implied that he was the teacher there.

Actually he put it a little more modestly than that: “No, I don’t have 64 years of experience playing euchre. Many of those years, mainly in college, I played with guys who knew less than I did about the game; so I had the same experience over and over.

One matter Bob addressed in his letter was the principle not to open a defense against a player going alone by leading an ace – unless you have two aces. The reason is, “Don't squeeze your partner.

The “squeeze” play is a continued lead of trump or other winners by the maker, forcing one or both opponents to discard one of two possbile winners on the fourth trick (or, rarer, one of three on the third trick), not knowing which one is needed to save for the fifth trick to stop a march.

If you have one non-trump ace and your partner has the other two, and it comes down to a squeeze play to make the loner, your partner is the one squeezed if you open with your own ace: Which ace does he discard on the fourth trick, and which does he save for the fifth? But if you lead a suit other than that of your ace, it will go to one of your partner’s aces right away (if he has two), and he’ll know which to save if his first is trumped (and your ace, of course, is saved for the fifth trick, by default).

If you have two aces, on the other hand, your partner can have but one (and know to keep it); and you avoid being squeezed yourself by leading one of your aces.

So, Bob takes this situation a step further: If you have two aces and the lead against a loner, which ace do you lead?

Well, if one of your aces is backed by the king, Bob reckons, surely you lead the other.


Because: If it does not take the first trick, and when it comes time to discard on the maker’s trump leads, what do you discard? Why, the other ace, of course. That tells your partner you have that suit stopped (with the king), and it tells him to save another suit for the fifth trick. (We already knew, of course, that if you had only one ace, and it was backed by the king, you discarded it during the squeeze play, to let your partner know you had the suit stopped.)

Bob calls this “helping your partner sort his hand. I had not heard that expression before, and I like it. “Any partner who does not help me sort my hand is not a good euchre player,” Bob wrote.

And he described what I call the squeeze play as “forcing the defense to sort. Nice terminology.

Fred Benjamin, in his book Euchre Strategies, says you should always open a loner defense with an ace, even if you have only one, to give your doubleton a chance to stop a squeeze play at the end of the hand. He reasons that (1) it is more likely that your doubleton contains a winner than that your partner has two aces, (2) you avoid finessing your partner’s good doubleton by leading your ace, and (c) your partner, if he has only one ace or none, surely will save his own doubleton if you do not lead through it; and what evidence is there that your doubleton is any better than your partner’s?

The answer is, if you have a king-high doubleton, it is at least as good as any your partner has. Many euchre experts believe you can treat a king-high doubleton as a second ace in your hand for the “Don’t lead an ace unless you have two” principle. You lead the ace on first trick and sit on the loner with your K-x. But if you don’t have even a king-high doubleton to go with your ace, defer to your partner’s doubleton (which might be a pair of aces, after all). If you lead from your longest suit (even if it is only a doubleton), you mnimize the risk of finessing your partner. Don’t lead your ace. Help your partner sort his hand.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

Why euchre is more fun than poker – March 16, 2007

Perry Romanowski posted an article in his “Euchre Universe” blog titled “6 Reasons Why Euchre Is Better Than Poker." In a post to the Yahoo! group Euchre Science, he boiled them down as follows (and reordered them a little):

1. Poker is boring.
2. Poker is just luck.
3. Without money, poker is pointless.
4. Poker is for criminals (“You can’t get arrested for playing euchre” is the way
he put it in the blog).
5. Poker is emotion, no brains.
6. Natty Bumppo doesn’t play poker (in the blog this one was “The characters are
more interesting in the euchre world”).

Except for propositions Nos. 2 and 4 I largely agree, and I have a couple more reasons of my own.

“1. Poker is boring.

Granted – unless you are playing real poker, for real stakes. Like the farm.

“2. Poker is just luck.

I disagree. There is more skill required to play good poker than any other card game except, perhaps, bridge. But it’s not card playing skill. See No. 7 below.

“3. Without money, poker is pointless.

Granted. But see No. 1 above, and No. 6 below.

“4. Poker is for criminals.

Harvey Lapp, the Euchrelinks web master, Las Vegas dealer and author of the Ten Commandments of Euchre, had this to say about that: “I know quite a few good people that play the game occasionally. They are the bottom of the food chain in the poker room, but definitely not criminals.

I would add that, even if you can’t be arrested for playing euchre, you can be cut or shot for playing poor euchre. In my experience that’s worse than being arrested, and also it shows that euchre can breed criminals.

“5. Poker is emotion, no brains.

Poker plays emotions, but emotions do not play good poker. See No. 2 above, and No. 7 below.

“6. Natty Bumppo doesn’t play poker.

That is a bit of a myth. Natty Bumppo does not play poker very well, however. To play poker really well, you have to play for real stakes, and be ready to risk the farm (or get the other players to think you will risk it). And I don’t like risking the farm.

Actually no one can play really good poker in a penny ante or pocket change limit game. See No. 3 above.

And now, my gratuitous additions:

7. Poker is not a card game – it is a parlor game played with cards. Cards are not played in poker, they are merely shown. What are played are wits, psychological tricks, emotions, and human foibles.

8. “Tournament style Texas Hold ’Em” is not poker. I play that once in a while, too, because my friends think it’s cool. But I don’t like it at all. Why it isn’t poker is that the hands are not played for real money (see No. 3 above). The only money at risk is the “buy-in,” which is something you can afford (the proof being that you “bought in”). Really boring.

9. Euchre is more fun than poker because in euchre there are legal (and therefore arguably ethical) ways to bend the rules – which is why euchre is a lot more fun at a card table than on line, where you can’t renege, or play out of turn, or steal the deal, or engage the “Muncie ploy” or the “Brownstown maneuver.

Take a look at Perry’s blog entry. He makes some good points fleshing out the bare principles summarized above, and it’s a fun read.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

Bid euchre 102 – January 12, 2007

We usually think of bid euchre, or “buck” euchre, as a game for three players, when you can’t find a fourth. But it can be fun for four players, too (or even more – for five or more players, just add cards to the deck, beginning with the eights).

My friends and I were all sore at one another the other night: No one wanted to play with anyone else as his partner, but we all wanted to play euchre. So Ron suggested that we just play four-handed bid euchre.

In the standard three-player vesion of bid euchre, you deal four hands – one of them as a “widow. If the player to the right of the dealer does not like the hand dealt to him, he may trade it for the “widow” (sight unseen). If he declines the trade, the dealer may trade his hand; and if the dealer, too, declines, the age may trade. Then the bidding begins – and it really is bidding in bid euchre (hence the name). The age declares how many tricks he will take if he is allowed to name trump (or no trump, which is normally allowed in bid euchre). Or he can pass. Then the next player may outbid him or pass, and then the dealer may outbid or pass; and the bidding continues until there are two passes beyond the last bid (and some play that you can bid six, even though you won’t make it, in order to prevent a march by a player who has bid five). The player with the high bid declares trump (or no trump, which is a safe call only for the player with the lead if you do not have all four suits stopped).

Each player begins with 15 points, and you get a point off your score for each trick you take. Game is zero. You are euchred – and go up five points – if (a) you get to call trump and fail to make your bid, or (b) you are merely playing and fail to take a single trick. To avoid a euchre as a player who did not get the bid, you can decline to play a hand – but only if you have more than five points.

With four players, you still deal four hands, right? And you wind up with the same stock of four cards remaining as in three-handed bid euchre (and you do not turn the top card of the stock, in bid euchre).

And so we dealt, and B. Woods – who some say is the Brightest of the Killer B’s – still wanted to swap his hand. Even though there was no full hand to trade for.

So, here’s what we came up with after a little argument (I was the only one opposed to swapping at all): The player to the left of the age (opposite the dealer, in a four-handed game) could keep one card and trade the rest of his hand for the stock. If he declined, the player to his left (on the the dealer’s right, in a four-handed game) could trade, and so on to the dealer and the age, as in three-handed bid euchre.

The effect of trading is a bit like the effect of a 24-card deck as opposed to euchre’s original 32-card deck: It empowers the hands, and makes a tougher game. We found that it seemed also to delay the game – which is fine, if you like to play euchre – i.e., making it harder to win.

And then Chris the Clever came up with a couple of variations on the new theme:

1. Allow the swapper to keep as many of the cards in his original hand as
he wants, and trade the rest.

1(a). Allow other players, in turn, to trade for unclaimed cards in the stock.

2. Turn the top card of the stock before the swapping begins.

2(a). Allow the turned card to be included in the swap (whether or not
playing variation 1).

2(b). Do not allow the turned card to be claimed in the swap (whether
or not playing variation 1).

Well, B put his foot down on these “cleaver” alternatives. Absolutely not, he said.

He won, of course.

Try it. You might like it.

One way or another.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2007] [next]

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