Natty Bumppo’s euchre columns

from the publishers of

The Columbus Book of Euchre

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

The third-hand loner – December 3, 2004

The player in third chair ordered the king of spades up to my partner to go alone. The maker had the right bower plus queen, ten and nine of trump, and the ace of hearts. My partner held the ace of clubs, the ace of diamonds, and the queen, ten and nine of hearts when he was ordered up.

Spades ordered alone:
What to discard?
What did he discard? Why, the nine of hearts, of course.

But if he had discarded the ace of clubs – as he should have – we would have stopped the loner on the first trick.

I held the jack and nine of diamonds, the king and nine of hearts, and the king of clubs; and I led the king of clubs, only to see the maker take it with the queen of spades – although my partner could have overtrumped had he discarded his ace of clubs. Here’s the hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory if you want to play with it.

A convention won’t work if you don’t play it. When the player to your right orders you up to go alone, discard something to give yourself a void (unless it was the nine ordered up, it is your only trump, and your only void choices are aces). And, if you have a choice of voids, discard “next. Your partner will know to lead it if he, too, plays the convention.

Yes, the maker could have squelched even the convention by trumping in with the ace of spades instead of the queen – but he didn’t have the ace of spades. Besides, trumping in with the ace (or the left bower), without all three top trump, would set up an opponent’s guarded king.

It does make sense to hold two aces against a loner, but you lose the advantage of discarding when your partner has the lead and you don’t create a void. And if you are the dealer, one of your aces will be “squeezed” out if your partner does not lead to one of them. They’re not as pretty as they look, when you don’t have the lead.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

“Carrying” your partner – November 19, 2004

The inanest insult in euchre is not “So's your old man!” or “Your mother drinks Air Wick!” It’s “Your partner sure carried you!“ (or, “Your partner sure saved your ass!”).

Or sometimes you will hear one partner taunt another – often in rejoinder to a criticism or even to a gentle suggestion for wiser play – “You should talk! I’ve scored all the points!” (or, “All you’ve done is get euchred! ”).

What planet are these people from? Are they not aware that euchre is a partnership game? Do they think everyone is going alone on every hand?

When one partner dominates in the scoring or trick-taking, it is often because of the other partner’s smart play. When the partner who did not make the call takes all the tricks that make the point, or spears a trick on what might appear to be a boneheaded lead, it is not necessarily a matter of his “carrying” or “saving” his wounded comrade. It is just as likely that the comrade sensed where the cards were and made a brilliant call or a brilliant lead. This is how the principles of “next” and “across” work. You don’t make those calls from strength in your own hand, but from a reasonable conclusion that your partner has the strength to support the call.

Sometimes you act on the reasonable conclusion that if you don’t make the call, an opponent will smash you with a loner. I am not talking about a “donation” – a call on which you expect to get euchred. I am talking about a call that has a chance to take advantage of your partner’s hand and will result, at worst, in two points for the opposition. So, yes, often you will find the “saved” or “carried” partner getting euchred what may seem, to idiots, an inordinate number of times – sometimes two, three, or even four times in a game. That does not mean that he is a bad player. How many marches and loners did his calls stop? (Even if it stopped only a march, and not a loner, it broke even: It’s two points for the opponents either way.)

If players are not cheating with codes, gestures, telephones or “instant messages,” they cannot know what is in the other hands; they can draw only reasonable conclusions. Fate and the universe being what they are, those conclusions are not always correct. Sometimes the weak call or odd lead works like a charm; sometimes it falls on its face. That’s called “luck. When a brilliant call or lead is successful (i.e., “lucky”), it does not mean that the player that made it was simply “saved” or “carried” by his partner. And when it fails, it does not mean it was stupid. It was just “unlucky.

Which brings us to another inane insult: “Lucky!” (or, “u2 sure sure were lucky”). Thank you very much. I will take that as a compliment, of my sage and gracious invitation to the Lady.

And the next time you “save” or “carry” your partner, thank him or her for making it possible.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

The jury is still out – November 5, 2004

The jury is still out on this one:

As dealer’s partner you hold jack and ace of clubs, ten of spades, and king and ten of diamonds. The dealer has turned down the queen of hearts, and the player on your right has passed. It’s early to mid game, with the score close. What do you do?

Second hand (dealer’s partner);
queen of hearts turned down
o call clubs
o call spades
o call diamonds
o pass

Here’s the evidence:

Exhibit A:

First hand

Third hand

Second hand

(See it and play it in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory. This is set up for a spade call; but you can change it to clubs or diamonds, or even pass, on the scenario page.)

Exhibit B:

First hand

Third hand

Second hand

(See it and play it in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory. This, too, is set up for a spade call; but you can change it to clubs or diamonds, or even pass, on the scenario page.)

And here were the closing arguments:

Natty Bumppo, Attorney for Spades:

Clubs work better in Exhibit A, and spades get euchred if the lead is the ace of diamonds and the leader’s partner sluffs his nine of clubs. But if a club is led -- not clearly a bad lead from king-queen -- spades work.

In Exhibit B, clubs get euchred and spades earn a point.

Return your verdict for spades: Spades give you three potential winners, not just two: Left-ten of trump and ace of clubs. You have no suit ace if clubs are trump.

Tom (Ten O’Clock) Scolar, Attorney for Clubs:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with all deference to learned opposing counsel, you should give a spade call your attentive consideration. But render your verdict for clubs. The hand has more trick-taking potential with clubs as trump, and you will have more control over the play with clubs as trump.

With clubs as trump, a diamond lead would probably set up what could be a third trick in your own hand. You could pitch the ten of spades on a heart lead and count on your partner on that trick. On a trump lead you could go up with the right bower and return your low diamond. With spades as trump, a heart lead would make you uncomfortable. You would want to trump it, but with what? The ten? The left bower?

Rodney Bimbert, Friend of the Court:

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, with deference to both learned counsel, and in accord with the learned counsel for clubs, I would not term a spade call utter lunacy. But although it may give you three potential winners, it gives you also the potential to get blanked.

And you have great assurance of taking two tricks in clubs. Even if the ace of clubs is snagged, there remains a chance for a diamond trick. And you know that old maxim, “Count on your partner for a trick. There’s your third trick, and the point.

You must not pass this issue – you must return a verdict for spades or clubs: There’s a defensive benefit as well. It’s fairly unlikely that your partner, having turned a heart down, has a red jack; and it is unlikely also that the opponent on your right has one, since he did not call “next. And if those two don’t have them, and you don’t have them, guess who might? No third hand loners on your watch.

Thank you.

The jury retired, and deliberated, and came in with a split verdict – somewhat in proportion to the weight of the closing arguments: Seven of the jurors had voted for clubs, and two had voted for spades.

And the other three jurors had voted to pass (the two jurors dismissed as alternates immediately before the deliberations confided to counsel that they, too, would have voted to pass). And the Judge, after he had sent the jury back for further deliberation, snickered to counsel: “There’s further confirmation that you should never trust your fate to a jury of your ‘peers’!”

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Two (or more!) bowers in your hand – October 15, 2004

You will find in lists of euchre axioms and commandments one suggesting that you should always order when you hold two bowers in your hand. That is true, in general, if you or your partner will get the card that was turned (i.e., if you or your partner dealt) – but, take it with a grain of salt if you won’t get that card.

If you hold such a hand left of the dealer, you almost always should pass. Normally you should wait to call “next” – the other suit of the same color as the card turned. “Next” is probably a better suit for you, since you would not be giving a trump to the opponents by ordering. And by ordering you would be wasting an opportunity to euchre the opponents if the dealer should pick the card up (or his partner should order).

A time to be extremely wary of ordering with two bowers is when you have two “dry bowers” in third chair (i.e., both bowers and no other trump. It’s an absolute no-no in first chair). If you have two or three suit aces to go with them, well, maybe. But if your partner has no trump to lead – or if she is too stupid to lead trump if she has it – you may have to use one of your bowers to ruff. And then you are in trouble. If the “dry bowers” are all you have, trust your partner – if he is any good, he will call “next. If she doesn’t, dump her.

And then there are “three bower” and “four bower” hands: The principles on these apply to all four hands, not only to the hands opposing the dealer and his partner:

If you have three “bowers” (i.e., both bowers and another jack of the other color), it’s probably a “euchre hand” and you can lie back and either help your partner or euchre your opponents. Especially if you are playing “stick the dealer. Ordinarily you should not order (or even call, on second round) with three bowers. Let someone else name trump.

If you have four “bowers,” you can do whatever you want, of course. But I recommend “sandbagging” – particularly in “STD” games.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Leading trump on defense – October 1, 2004

Debate continues to rage over when – and, even more fiercely, over whether – to lead trump on defense.

The best advice to the novice is, “Just don’t do it. Ever! (Nothing like a little hyperbole to make a point.)

Lead hand; jack of diamonds
ordered by dealer’s partner
But there are times, experienced players know, to do it. Many of those who do it and get away with it a time or two, however, are apt to think it’s the “thing to do” and wind up overdoing it, to their disadvantage (and their partners’).

One of the times clearly not to do it, it would seem, is when the right hand opponent has the right bower. Don’t lead trump to the right bower! (Even when you are the one who made trump.) If the opponent with the right has yet another trump – i.e., a right-high “tenace” – all he has to do is wait to see how high he needs to play to take your trick; and then he has another trick, too.

So, here’s when to lead trump on defense (and, to the right bower):

I held the ace, king and queen of diamonds, and the jack was turned. My other two cards were the queen of hearts and the ten of clubs. My greatest fear was that the dealer would not pick up that bower she had turned. I could not order it myself without expecting to be euchred, and I had nothing to call if it was turned down (“next,” mabye – on a prayer).

Not to worry: The dealer’s partner ordered it up.

I immediately led the ace of diamonds.

Here was my thinking: With all the trump I had, and if the dealer’s partner had enough to order, surely the right bower was the dealer’s only trump; and I could drop it right away, and cost the maker one, too. I had no illusions that my lead would not make my left hand opponent’s left bower good: My intent was to establish my queen of trump, not my king.

But it worked beyond my dreams: Even my partner followed suit (ten of diamonds). And the dealer’s partner laid down the left bower. Now I had the two boss trump – king and queen – and good reason to believe that the nine, if it was out, was in my partner’s hand (unless the dealer’s partner was a stone idiot – a proposition of which we now already had some evidence).

So, when the dealer led back the queen of spades, I ducked. Threw my ten of clubs. Second hand low, and all that. Maybe my partner had the ace.

Dealer’s partner followed suit with king of spades, and – here came that little nine of diamonds! Bingo! BOOM! Euchre.

Turns out it was a poor order from the dealer’s partner. He had two suit aces to go with his singleton left bower (hearts and spades), but he had four suits. Another good reason not to order a bower to your partner. Ever. Hyperbole!

So, why did the dealer return a spade?

Because, that’s all she had (besides the right bower). Jack, queen, ten and nine of spades. We don’t know what she threw away to pick up that right bower ordered to her; but it could well have been the jack of clubs, which did not show up in the play. Would she have picked that right bower up had her partner not ordered it?

I would have. Although she would have had a loner in spades, and help for her partner in clubs, she would have had no defense at all to a call in “next. And she had no way to know that I was sitting there with three diamonds, not three hearts. But that’s another story: Don’t turn down a right bower (see page 40, The Columbus Book of Euchre, second edition). Just don’t do it! Hyperbole!

If she had picked up that right bower on her own instead of having been ordered, I would have been much less inclined to lead trump: No way to strip her, no guarantee of stripping her partner, big chance of stripping my partner, virtually no likelihood both bowers would have fallen on the same trick.

(The score was 3 to 2, dealer’s team’s favor, in case anyone thinks that’s important.)

Playing this hand was a lot of fun. Here it is in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory if you want to play with it.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

(Don’t lead the suit turned down) – September 17, 2004

I received an e-mail from a guy who said, “Let me know if you every need a partner on the conputer love to play euchre with you but don't thin you can teach me anything still would be fun. Ill drink to that.

Maybe someone could teach him how to spell (“every”? “conputer”? “thin”? “Ill”?).

That was the third paragraph of the e-mail. And if you think that first sentence was long, you should have seen the second paragraph. I began reading it but was unable to make any sense out of it; so I counted instead. It consisted of one sentence 132 words long with no punctuation except a period at the end. I doubt that anyone could teach him how to write.

But the first paragraph was quite interesting (if not exactly grammatical). It said:

“I wanted to know why in any euchre book I read it never says don’t lead the turned down suit almost automatically given the opponent’s the first trick.

Well, that’s so basic I just did not think it was necessary. But it’s a good point. Never overestimate the intelligence of a euchre player. So, OK, here goes (insert this on page 59 if you have the first edition of The Columbus Book of Euchre, page 61 if you have an early printing of the second edition, page 63 if you have a later printing, at the end of the essay on “What to lead”):

(Whatever you lead to open a hand, don’t lead the suit turned down. There’s a reason the dealer turned it down. He doesn’t have any. He will trump it if you lead it. This is so elementary that this whole paragraph is in parentheses. I only added it because there was some space left over on this page and I got an e-mail from an expert who mentioned that he had never seen this admonition in any euchre book. So, here it is. Like all rules, this one has exceptions, of course. Don’t ask.)

I ran it by Redd Dogg. “Of course,” he said, “you mean to say that the chances are more than average that the dealer will have none of what he turned down. Playing the percentages, it is best not to lead the turndown.

Well, of course. But instruction – to the uninitiated, especially – gains advantage from hyperbole. Thus, He doesn't have any,” Never lead the suit turned down,” Never order up anything you can’t catch,” Never trump your partner’s ace,” Never go alone with 8 points,” Never sit between the markers,” etc., etc. Don’t ask.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Two points for nothing – September 3, 2004

Dire Straits could get a hit out of this hand. The king of clubs was turned up, and down.

Big Mon, on the dealer’s left, held the ace, queen and nine of clubs, the queen of hearts, and the nine of diamonds. Disappointed not to be playing clubs, he passed again on the second round.

Hillary, the dealer’s partner, held the ten of clubs, the ace, queen and ten of diamonds, and the queen of spades. What the hell? Diamonds were “across” (“reverse next”), and she had three of them. She called diamonds.

Judy, on Hillary’s left, held the jack of clubs, the ace, king and nine of hearts, and the nine of spades.

And Saginaw Phats, the dealer, held the king of diamonds, the ten of hearts, and the jack, king and ten of spades (the jack of spades was his only club on the turn, and it was a club only if he picked up the king, which he would not have been allowed to do in Michigan).

If you think that’s interesting, watch the play:

Big Mon led the ace of clubs; Hillary followed with the ten; Judy played the jack (it could have been a bower!), and Phats took the trick with his only trump, the king of diamonds. He returned the ten of hearts.

Big Mon played his queen; Hillary trumped with the ace of diamonds (her biggest – but, with the king already played, her ace, queen and ten all were equal in her hand). Judy had to follow suit with the nine of hearts, and Hillary had won a very expensive trick.

Hillary came back with the ten of diamonds, her lowest trump (oh, I forgot! They were equal). Judy, who had no trump, played the nine of spades. Phats, Hillary’s partner, who had no trump left, sluffed the ten of spades. And Big Mon finished the trick with his only trump, the nine of diamonds, not quite big enough to beat Hillary’s ten.

So Hillary and Phats already had a point, on nothing. Now Hillary led the queen of spades, looking for help from her partner; and Phats took the trick with his king of spades, topping his partner’s card by one pip. Judy sluffed the king of hearts (saving the ace), and the best Big Mon could do was play the lower of his two remaining clubs, the nine.

Phats, now thinking he had something, led another spade, the jack, to the final trick. All Big Mon had was the queen of clubs; Hillary trumped with the queen of diamonds, and Judy’s ace of hearts was no good.

Hillary and Phats had just scored two points on nothing. Let’s review:

First trick was taken by king of diamonds, a medium trump. Second was taken by ace of diamonds, another medium trump. Third was taken by ten of diamonds, a particularly mediocre trump. Fourth was taken by king of spades, not exactly a power card. And fifth was taken by queen of diamonds, another mediocre trump. For a march.

Big Mon would have been smarter to have led his queen of hearts (you don’t want to lead the suit the dealer turned down); but Phats and Hillary still would score, on nothing, and they still would march, if Hillary let Phats run his little spades.

By now you have figured out what was buried: Besides the king of clubs, which was turned down, it was the ace of spades and both red jacks.

This hand was so bizarre you might have to see it to believe it. Here it is in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s in the value of “reverse next” (or “across”) – the dealer’s partner’s calling a suit opposite the color turned down, if she has the chance, on the second round.

Big Mon would have scored, on the other hand, by ordering up the king of clubs in the first place. But such a weak order is practically begging for a euchre. It’s recommended only when the opponents have nine points, or when you’re seven or eight points behind and have nothing to lose.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Poaching – August 20, 2004

About the beginning of the summer I saw my euchre rating on Yahoo! just plummet – from the 2200’s to the 1400’s. The misfortunes included a 12-game losing streak followed by one victory and then an 11-game losing streak.

And I did the only thing proper to do under the circumstances. I returned to the “intermediate” lounges. (Well, OK, yeah, I will confess, I even dipped in to the “beginners” lounges. It is not easy to get a game with players who think they are hot shit when your rating is less than 1500).

I did manage to return to the “advanced” lounges, however, with a rating comfortably in the 1800’s; and I want you to know how I did it – so that you can do it, too, and will not get depressed when you encounter twelve partners in a row who never heard of leading trump to their partners’ call (or on their own call), or of picking up a jack, or of going “next” (or of leading it once they have called it).

The only consistent ways to a good rating (besides cheating, and browser and software manipulation) are (1) to team up only with people you know (and know to be competent: I don’t have any friends – surprise! – so, that doesn’t work for me), and (2) not to play opponents with combined ratings significantly lower than your own team’s combined ratings.

So, here’s what you do. You stay in the beginners’ and intermediate lounges until you get well. It’s not so bad. You will encounter a lot of dummies, but not a whole lot more than in the “advanced” lounges. And, by and large, they are not as smug and arrogant as the dummies in “advanced” and will not chastise you for every misfortune you encounter.

And you choose your games very carefully. There are two core principles:

1. Make sure your partner has a winning record. It does not have to be superlative: 51 per cent is good enough. Just don’t team up with a loser.

2. Seek opponents with losing records. There are plenty of them in the beginners’ and intermediate lounges.

Ratings don’t matter that much. Yes, it is still true that, there as well as in “advanced,” you will gain more against a higher-rated team and lose more against a lower-rated team. But you will win so often (if you really are any good) that it does not make that much difference. Pretty soon you will be above 1650 (or 1800) again and ready to rejoin the idiots in the “advanced” lounges.

By the way, I said above that other players in the beginners and intermediate lounges “by and large . . . will not chastise you for every misfortune you encounter. That is generally true, but not universally. There are jerks there as well. For example, one player said to me, “Bumppo, if you know so much, how did you manage to lose 5,000 games?” (It mattered not to him that I had won nearly 6,000.)

The reply was easy: “Teaming up with partners like you.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Redd Dogg riddle No. 37 – August 6, 2004

We ended the last column with “Redd Dogg riddle No. 37”: Your partner has picked up the ten of spades, and the ace of clubs is led. You hold ace and king of diamonds and queen, jack and ten of hearts. What do you play?

A reader who calls himself “Dwend” submitted the first correct answer:

Spades trump, ace of clubs led
– what do you play?
“I would play the ace of diamonds. My hand does not have much value if one of my diamonds doesn’t take a trick. The ace tells my partner I have no trump and have the king (boss diamond) to help with, if diamonds are ever led. My hearts are worthless; and if I played one of them on that first trick, my partner might take that as a signal I have higher hearts, which would be a wrong signal to give.

Another reader, Joseph J. Cravero, essentially agreed: “If we do not have 8 points,” he said, “then I tell everyone at the table I have the king of diamonds and three remaining red cards by dumping the ace of diamonds, since that king of diamonds is the only help I have for partner, as Dwend suggests. Joe said his partner should know “that he better lead trump to pull some from both opponents (unless he has right-ace-ten, in which case he leads away from right-ace for the surest route to a point).

Strike the 8 points exception and the parenthetical phrase at the end of the last sentence, and we now have what Paul McCreary (Redd Dogg) was thinking. The play of the ace of diamonds is necessary to induce the dealer to lead out trump when he otherwise might not. And here’s “the rest of the story” for the context.

The dealer, in the hand from which Paul created this riddle, held just about what Joe posited in the parenthetical: Right-king-ten of trump and queen-ten of diamonds. When he takes that opening ace of clubs with the ten of spades, he ordinarily better not lead trump (as Joe suggested in the parenthetical). If his partner has not given him a signal, he cannot necessarily count on that partner for a trick; and the prudent thing to do is to go for an “end play” – get out with a small card (as Joe suggested in his parenthetical) and hope that he loses the trick to his left rather than to his right if his partner cannot take it. That’s a two-out-of-three shot.

But when he sees that red ace sluffed by his partner, he knows that he can safely lead trump. He does not have to rely on an end play for the point, and he can shore up his partner’s king of diamonds by taking a round of trump first. This is true (but not as sure) even if he holds no diamonds to lead to partner: Chances are, the opponent who takes the third or fourth trick will lead a diamond if the dealer doesn’t. And in this case, because the dealer has two diamonds, he even gets to cash his own queen of diamonds for the fifth trick and two points. Here’s the setup in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

Joe asked, “What is the score? If we have 8, I keep the ace and king of diamonds for the last two by dumping the ten of hearts and hope that the diamonds can take two tricks for march and game.

Redd Dogg and I disagree. Having eight points is not a situation of desperation: Better to ensure getting one point than to take a chance on two (and, concomitantly, a chance on getting euchred). The time to take a big chance on two is when you are way down, like 9 to 3 their favor. And in the hand presented, sluffing a heart actually sabotages the two-point try. The dealer has to go for the end play and leads the diamond at trick 2, and the opponent on his right gets the trick with a trump. You still get the point; but the way to get two points (in this scenario, at least) is by sluffing the ace of diamonds on the first trick.

Joe said also, “Partner should know that I have no trump regardless of which red card I pitch. Dwend said the same thing, essentially (“The ace tells my partner I have no trump . . . ”). But that’s not exactly true; and Joe himself pointed that out, however inadvertently, by what he said right before that: The ace of clubs “is a weaksuit lead, and partner should be able to trump.

In the dealer’s eyes, his partner might merely have been playing “second hand low” instead of trumping, even though an ace was led. Generally you should not trump the first trick if you cannot lead trump back to the partner who made it. Ace and king leads create exceptions to that maxim; but, depending on the score, and recognizing that the ace of clubs came from a “weak” suit (“next”), you might be right not to trump that lead even though you can. So: Any red card does say that you have no more than one trump, and that you probably have none; but it does not necessarily say that you don’t have any.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

My kings were squeezed – Part 2, July 16, 2004

“Tell me,” I said in my last column, in which I reported that my kings were “squeezed. And several readers told me.

The most telling telling came from a reader calling himself “Blake” (and/or “bauerpower200”). He wrote:

“You allowed them to be squeezed. By my understanding you should very well have set this hand. You had done perfectly up until trick 4. You had two guarded kings, and you had made one of them boss. You must stick with that one and either live or die with it. . . .

“On trick 3 you did fine by throwing the small spade and unguarding your king of spades. Your whole point in leading the low club was to set up your king as boss, and this you achieved. But on trick 4 you abandon it and save the king of spades. You played the numbers game and got burned by it . . . .

“You have good reason to believe that first is void in one suit, since he has called . . . .

Well, as “Blake” indicated in that last paragraph, saving the king of clubs instead of spades fits the “minimum suits hypothesis” as well as the idea of saving a “boss. A trump maker – even one going next – is more likely to have two or three suits than four. And already we have seen three; so we can reckon another club more likely than a spade.

Here’s the scenario again, postulated in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory. Just for fun, swap the maker’s ten of clubs for your partner’s queen. The result is not pretty.

For even more fun, bury the ace of clubs and give the maker the queen and the ten (and your partner the nine, replacing it with the ten of diamonds in the maker’s partner’s hand). In this scenario it’s not so clear. It still makes sense to keep the king of clubs by the “minimum suits hypothesis” (but if the maker’s remaining club is the ace and not the ten, the jig is up). And the argument for saving the king of spades (this is hindsight) is that the maker’s partner does have the queen of spades.

See what I’m doing? In keeping with the principle “Never apologize,” I am looking for a way to blame my partner.

Setting up a king, by the way, is a tactic that will work on occasion; but leading the jack of clubs to set up the king was not the “whole point” of the lead to the second trick. Setting up a king works most often leading through strength, not leading to strength (unless you have a king-queen to lead from). I led the jack of clubs not just to set up the king but also in hope that one of the black kings would fly – e.g., the maker himself might have set up my king of spades by leading the ace on third trick (or it might have been boss all day as, in the initial scenario given, it was – once trump were gone).

Thanks for writing.

- - -

Here’s Redd Dogg riddle No. 37: Your partner has picked up the ten of spades, and the ace of clubs is led. You hold ace and king of diamonds and queen, jack and ten of hearts. What do you play?

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

My kings were squeezed – Part 1, July 2, 2004

Ron burst into my house, a little early for the euchre game, and white as a sheet, but nonetheless full of excitement and life.

“Natty!” he exclaimed. “I’ve found something better than dope!”

He had been traveling a back road at 80 miles an hour and missed a curve hidden by a hill, and had ridden a barbed wire fence (at 80 m.p.h.) in his Chevy Suburban for about 80 yards before regaining the road (and maintaining direction and an upright position). Gave him quite a rush.

Well. I have found something more frustrating than having your aces squeezed – you know, when you have two aces off suit, and the maker leads trump one more time, and you have to decide which ace to sluff (and it’s always the wrong one)?

It’s having kings squeezed. Here’s the deal:

A ten of diamonds is turned by my partner, and the first player passes. I am holding both black bowers, both of them guarded by kings, and the left bower (jack of hearts). I don’t think so. I pass too.

The third player has nothing, and passes. My partner holds two queens – one of them being the only diamond in her hand, the other being her only club. She, too, passes (and wisely, in my opinion. Her other cards are the ace and ten of hearts, which is “next,” and the ten of spades).

So the first player calls “next,” as he should, and leads it, as he should. His trump holding is king and queen of hearts. His other cards are the ace and ten of clubs and the king of diamonds.

My jack of hearts is now the right bower, not the left; and it is still the only trump I have. So, I take the first trick, as the other opponent plays the nine and my partner plays the ten. Not believing in leading a guarded king, so early in the hand, I lead back one of my black jacks. At random I choose the club. The opponent on my left plays the nine of clubs (she has nothing, remember); my partner plays the queen, and my lead finds its way to the first player’s ace of clubs for the second trick.

Now, he has to decide: Another trump? King of diamonds? Ten of clubs? Not a pretty choice. The ten of clubs would be a disaster for him. He does not know that, but he does not lead it. His king of diamonds would take a trick but would get him euchred eventually; and, fortunately for him (and fortuitously), he does not lead that, either. He leads trump again – his last one.

So already I am squeezed. I unguard my king of spades, playing the jack, and now hold two black kings. The other opponent has nothing, again (plays nine of diamonds), and my partner takes the trick, with the ace of hearts. Trick score at this juncture: We, 2; they, 1.

And my partner leads the queen of diamonds, and the guy who called trump puts up the king, which is good, of course, for a two-to-two trick score, and – I do not know which black king to throw away on the trick. Eeny, meeny, miny, moe, he played a club once befo’e, but – so did his partner. The percentage is with spades. I keep my king of spades. Down the drain goes my king of clubs.

And opponent No. 1 takes the last trick with the ten of clubs, as there go my king of spades and my partner’s ten of spades (surprise! The other opponent played the queen of spades).

Now the questions:

1. On the third trick, should I have gone for broke, throwing the king of clubs and keeping the king of spades guarded? Or was I right to keep both black kings?

Tell me.

2. And on that fateful fourth trick, should my partner have led the ten of spades instead of the queen of diamonds?

There’s one reason she should not have led the diamond: She had seen me play the jack of hearts, and if I had had a tall diamond to go with it, I would have had a reason to order the ten of diamonds to her – and I hadn’t. In fairness, however, she had seen me play two black jacks, which she might consider sufficient reason for me not to have ordered the diamond. (This begs the first question, I realize: If I had kept the king of spades guarded on the third trick, she would have seen me play only one black jack.)

3. And, on that fateful fourth trick, should I have coughed up my king of spades and kept the king of clubs?

Tell me.

(Hindsight not allowed.)

If you want to play with the hand, here it is in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

(And, one reader told me. See next column.)

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Call it a “safety” – June 18, 2004

Here was the question in a poll on line: At 6-6 the ten of hearts is turned up and you sit left of the dealer with the ace of clubs, the ace of spades, the ace and ten of diamonds, and the queen of hearts.

That is, you have all the aces off suit but only one small card and no stopper in the suit turned. Do you order up, or do you pass?

Eleven of those who responded to the poll said pass. I was among the two who said order it up.

The mathematicians agree that the probability one of the opponents will cash a loner in this scenario is not better than 3 per cent.

One of the respondents to the poll calculated the probability at less than 3 per cent and reasoned further that he had a pretty good shot at scoring in “next” – i.e., in diamonds – if the heart was turned down. He pointed out that the dealer would have to have, in order to make a loner, at least three trump in addition to the one he picked up (the dealer’s partner would have to have four to begin with) – and all without guarantee that the partner of the player with three aces, i.e., the player in third chair, did not hold the right bower (and that possibility was factored into the calculation). And even if an opponent had four trump without the right bower staring him down, the player with the aces had one chance in three to stop the loner on the first lead, and, that failing, still a 50-50 shot on the last trick with one of his other two aces (that’s a 2-out-of-3 shot all day). So why, uh, er (ahem!) donate?

In the first place, I would not call it a “donation” to order up in this situation. It’s a “safety” play. Most “donations” are. They are “donations” only if they result in a euchre, and not all of them do. (Why don’t they call a “safety” in football a “donation”? The opponents always score on a “safety” in football. Not so in euchre. By the way, I cannot resist pointing out that the opponents’ score on a safety in football is the same as it is in euchre: Two points.)

In the second place, I am not one to invoke the “safety” as often as many players do. I think it is done too much (in euchre).

This is not a case of “ordering at the bridge. You have to be “at the bridge” – i.e., you must have nine points – to “order at the bridge. And if you have nine points, and your opponents have six or seven, and you do not have a sure trick in the suit turned, you must order up. That’s “ordering at the bridge. It’s a matter of survival, with another chance to win, dealing, ahead 9 to 8 or, at worst, tied, 9 to 9.

In the scenario of the poll, the score is 6 to 6. Discretion is allowed, and advised. Ordinarily I think that ordering with a high likelihood of being euchred (“donating,” if you will) should not even be considered unless the opponents have 6 or 7 points (or you have a huge lead to protect, like 9 to 3. And it should never be done when the opponents have four or five points).

But all of the above is, for me, only part of the story on the poll question.

First, analyze the hand: Three aces off suit with one small trump is not a good hand, except in support of a partner. There are too many suits (is that five, or only four?), and there are no bowers. I do not at all share the one respondent’s optimism over a “next” call (with ace-ten of trump and still three other suits) if the little trump is turned down. I find little likelihood the card will be turned down in the first place. And I find, from the hand held, not much better than a 50-50 chance of making it on “next” and not much less than 50-50 of getting euchred, for a net minus score, and not unlikely minus 2, even if you are lucky enough that everyone passes on the first round.

That’s OK. “Next” is largely a defensive call in the first place: If you don’t hit your partner, you hold the opponents until you get to deal. And you can afford a two-point setback at 6 to 6. But is it any better to be set back two points on a “next” call than on an order?

The chance of losing to a loner may be relatively small, but the chance that someone will order, assist or pick up that ten of hearts for a point or a march is relatively high. It might be you or your partner. And if the opponents are the ones likely to make a point anyway (or maybe two, with a march), why not hold them to two with an order? Allowing them the chance at the loner could be fatal.

It’s not a "donation." It’s an offensive tactic with defensive overtones (if you’re an optimist. If you’re a pessimist, it’s a defensive tactic with offensive overtones). Your chance of making the call is arguably as good as the opponents’: Who has all the suit aces? Who gets to lead the first trick, with a trump, to clear out some other trump to make those aces good?

The hand is actually better on the first round than on the second. On the first round it has three bona fide aces. On the second it has only two, as one of the three becomes a sophomore to two bowers in whatever suit is called.

Why not take a chance on scoring and, at worst, holding the opponents to two points? It might put you down 8 to 6, but at least you win the deal (in the same game).

You want to play with this? Try it in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Stone idiots Nos. 25 & 26 – June 4, 2004

Tex – holding the jack of diamonds, ace of hearts, ace of diamonds, and nine and ten of clubs – ordered the ten of hearts to his partner, Ugly Bill.

Ugly Bill’s hand
The lead, by David, was the jack of clubs. Tex had to follow low, of course, and David’s partner, Lamb, ruffed with the right bower as Ugly Bill dropped the king of clubs. Lamb then led the ace of spades; Bill followed suit with his other black king; David played the ten, and Tex took the trick with his left bower. He led back his other trump, the ace of hearts (which was boss by then, of course).

Lamb was already out of trump, of course, and sluffed the nine of spades. Bill played the nine of hearts, and David played the queen.

Let’s count trump, now: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 played – two out. We know where the ten is, remember? (thank you for not false-carding, Bill). And the king of hearts has not yet been seen.

Tex then led the ace of diamonds; Lamb played the king, and Ugly Bill trumped with the ten of hearts. David overtrumped with the king and cashed the jack of spades for the euchre (catching Bill’s ace of clubs in the bargain).

All Ugly Bill had to do to guarantee the point was to lay off his partner’s ace of diamonds on the fourth trick (yes, sluff his ace of clubs). If Tex’ ace of diamonds flies, that's the point. If David trumps it with the king, then Bill’s ten of hearts is good for the third trick and the point. Guaranteed. No risk. But, nope. Ugly Bill (rated 2168 on Yahoo!) trumped his partner’s ace – not only with no good reason, but with a very good reason not to.

You can see and play this hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

Idiot No. 26: My partner, Figmuffin (rated 2175 on Yahoo!), never led trump on his call or mine, and always led trump to the opponents’ call (dropping both our bowers on the same trick twice in the game). Believe it or not, it was a close game. But we lost. And as I was pointing out one of the reasons, Figmuffin booted me, with the admonition, “Learn how to play the game!”

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Underplaying partner’s trump – May 21, 2004

Mike ordered the ten of spades up to his partner, Hank; and Sir Edwin, on Hank’s left, opened with the ace of hearts. Mike trumped in with the queen of spades; Bobby’s Girl (Sir Edwin’s partner) followed suit with the queen of hearts, and Hank undertrumped his partner, with the ten of spades.

What’s going on? Was Hank “trump tight”?

No. Couldn’t have been, from the point of view of his partner, Mike, who had three trump. Hank held only three trump himself – left bower and ace-ten of spades – with the ace and jack of diamonds. So, why didn’t he sluff the jack of diamonds on the first trick?

Mike’s hand (dealer’s partner)

Hank’s hand (dealer)

(ten of spades ordered up by Mike)
Mike asked him that very question after they marched for two points.

Because, Hank explained patiently, he was sick and tired of partners who interpreted all sluffs as demands for leads in the suit sluffed. The game was on Yahoo!, and Hank did not know Mike. Of course the correct play would have been to sluff the diamond loser – if you could trust your partner. But Hank did not want to invite a diamond lead from his partner. He wanted to make sure his partner led trump.

And if Mike had led his nine of diamonds – as so many partners would have – Bobby’s Girl would have had to follow suit, but Sir Edwin would have clobbered Hank’s ace with the nine of spades. Mike and Hank still would have got a point, but . . . .

So, what did Mikey lead? No, he didn’t even get that message. Instead of diamonds, or trump, he led the ace of clubs. That was even dumber, since clubs were “next” and even likelier than diamonds to be trumped by one of the opponents. But it was luckier, also: Hank had the good sense to clobber his partner’s ace of clubs with his ace of spades (trump) – preventing Sir Edwin’s taking the trick with the nine of spades. And Hank then led back his left bower – taking Sir Edwin’s nine of spades away from him (and his partner’s king of spades. Bobby’s Girl showed out).

Hank’s ace of diamonds was quite safe now; he cashed it; and he led the little jack of diamonds back for his partner to claim with the right bower (taking Bobby’s Girl’s previously guarded king of diamonds with it).

As our friend Ryan Romanik would say, “Lead trump, damn it!” Had Mikey led the second trick with his right bower, Hank could have followed with the left bower; Mike’s ace of clubs would then have been a much safer lead (and Hank could ditch his jack of diamonds then), and Mike could get back to Hank with the diamond or the trump either one for the last two tricks.

Or, Mike could have made a more conservative trump lead, the king of spades. Either way, it works; and either trump lead tends to secure his ace of clubs and his partner’s likely ace of diamonds (which he nonetheless had reason to suspect, from his partner’s trump sluff).

Next time Hank plays that hand with Mike, he will overtrump his partner and lead back the left bower. Maybe Mike will get the message then.

Big trump are for taking little trump. And taking trump is for making aces good.

Here’s the hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory if you want to play with it.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

“Dirty” deals – May 7, 2004

An amazing apology appeared recently in the messages of the Yahoo! group Euchre 4 Money:

“To all of my old friends that know me, I apologize for the methods I used to win tonight. However, ‘when in Rome . . . ’!

“I abhor . . . this type of play while playing with friends, but I was accused of playing dirty. With the old group, this type of play was unnecessary; however with the new type of players that are playing in our club today, I find it necessary to play as they do.

“I am disturbed to be forced to play against my old friends this way . . . . I am truly sorry . . . .

Well! I had not attended that tournament, and this was the first I had heard of this incident, and it sounded, well – just awful!

And I was quite curious. So, in a posted reply, I asked this guy just exactly what he (and “the new type . . . playing in our club”) did. And I pointed out, in passing, that the only way to cheat on line is by conversation with your partner – either “out loud” in the chat line, or, worse, privately, by telephone, instant message, sitting in the same room, etc. After all, you can’t renege on line; you can’t steal the deal on line; you can’t stack the deck or deal off the bottom on line; you can’t lead or play out of turn on line.

And the player replied, “No mention was made about cheating. . . . I was called a dirty player because I employed the tactic, that has been used against me, of donating. My opponent feels that this is dirty playing, but ‘when in Rome . . . . I again apologize to my friends, but this type of play has now been cast upon us.

Oh. What it was, was (as Andy Griffith might say) “donating.

That's “dirty”?

I assured the guy that I was not making any accusations; I just wanted to know what had happened. But when I was growing up, as I recall, we saved the word “dirty” for cheaters. I even belonged to a baseball team called the Sandlot Dirties, and our motto was, “Cheating never wins – but it helps!”

Just to be sure, I looked up “dirty” in my dictionaries. None of them used the word “cheating” in the definition, but they got close enough: “unscrupulous,” “dishonest,” “illegal,” etc.

“Donation” is ordering or picking up or calling trump with the expectation (even with the intention, if you take the word “donation” seriously) of getting euchred, to prevent a suspected loner against you. I.e., you are donating two points to the opponents to prevent their scoring four. It’s called the “Columbus coup” in Southern Indiana (and some kind of “coup” is probably a better term than “donation” because, even when you call or order with the expectation of getting euchred, you should nonetheless play to score; and sometimes you do).

It’s probably overdone, but it’s a legitimate stratagem used on appropriate occasions by all good players. I have written elsewhere – in my book and in other columns – about when and when not to “donate” or stage a “coup,” and I won’t belabor the stratagem here. (See, e.g., pages 33-35 of The Columbus Book of Euchre and the columns Ordering at the Bridge and Trust Your Partner.”)

I had no idea anyone considered it “dirty. But, then, I have always been curious about those protective rules, common in some regions, allowing defending alone when the maker is not going alone (that will stop “donation” in a hurry; it’s a rule on Playsite), prohibiting the making of trump without one already in your hand, requiring the dealer to discard before he picks up the turned card, prohibiting the lead before the discard, prohibiting the dealer’s partner’s ordering up (without going alone) – that sort of thing. I guess those things are “dirty,” huh?

And if those things are “dirty,” where does that leave “sandbagging”? You often see messages in the games rooms’ lobby chat such as, “Don’t play with so-and-so – he’s a bagger! As if that’s a social or legal no no.

Sandbagging is lying back with a possibly or probably makeable hand, hoping an opponent will call trump in your suit so that you can get twp points (with a euchre) for the price of one. (The term, as used in games play, derives probably not from the use of a bag of sand to fortify a levy or a bunker, but from its use as a blackjack – something you use to whop someone on the head after sneaking up on him from behind.)

I don’t get it: If it’s within the rules and helps you win, what's wrong? Both the apologist and I received e-mail from a mutual acquaintance who had read the exchange on Euchre 4 Money: “All’s fair except for out-and-out cheating,” she remarked. Another message on Euchre 4 Money congratulated the guy on a game well played: “With the score as it was, it was an intelligent maneuver on his part.

The only thing wrong is, you have to be careful with these stratagems; they can backfire on you. One common form of sandbagging is a dealer’s turning a card down, with a makeable hand in the suit turned down, but with equal or better strength in “next. That doesn’t help much when “next” is not called by your left hand opponent, however. Few tactics are risk free.

Here’s something that is not sandbagging but frequently draws the accusation: Player to left of dealer has two jacks in the suit turned; all pass to the dealer; dealer picks up and gets euchred. "What!" he or his partner will yell. “You had both bowers and didn’t order? Bagger!”

Well, hell no, you don’t order with that. You wait for the dealer to pick up, if he will, to give you a good shot at scoring two points. If the dealer turns it down, you can still score one, two, or even four points in “next. It’s not “bagging.

But all kinds of good play will get you a bad reputation in the lobby.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Another lesson in “next” – April 16, 2004

Here’s another report from Joe posted to the Yahoo! group Euchre Science:

Score 0-0, queen of clubs turned. First hand has the ace, king and ten of diamonds and the king and queen of spades; second has jack and nine of clubs, nine of diamonds, ten of spades and king of hearts; third has ace of clubs, nine of spades and jack, queen and nine of hearts, and Joe – the dealer – has the ten of clubs, the ace of spades, the jack of diamonds and the ace and ten of hearts..)

After six passes the player in third chair calls hearts.

The ace of diamonds is led; the dealer’s partner follows suit, and the maker, in third chair, sluffs the 9 of spades.

If Joe sluffs too – the ten of clubs – he and his partner will get the euchre if another diamond is led and his partner trumps. If Joe trumped that first trick with the ten of hearts, his opponents would score no matter what else happened. Here, play it out in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

Joe asked, “Is this just an anomaly, or should I discard to play after the maker with such a strong hand?”

It’s a fluke (funny way to spell anomaly). It should not have gotten that far. We’ll get there.

Hand to left of dealer (yours)

Dealer’s partner’s hand

Hand to right of dealer

Dealer’s hand (Joe’s)

(queen of clubs turned)
Joe asked these “secondary questions”:

“If you were the dealer’s partner, would you have ordered up the queen of clubs?”

No. You have one sure trick and four suits. There’s a reason for that Canadian rule that the dealer’s partner must go alone if he orders, and that’s to encourage him to keep his mouth shut.

“If you were the dealer, would you have picked up with two aces off suit but no defense against spades?”

Probably. Depends on the score, and whether you can afford a euchre (you can, at 0-0). With two red aces, it’s an even better shot. But you have at least three suits after you discard, and your trump are few and small. Countin’ on your partner for two tricks? Your aces give you a pretty good loner defense whatever is called.

“If you were left of the dealer, would you have ‘donated,’ or called diamonds, or spades?”

“Donate?” No way. That’s a long shot at best, and so what if you’re down 4 to 0 with the deal? The game is young. Play cards.

Diamonds? Why? Sure, you have three; but where are the red bowers? Where are the black aces? Chances are much better than two out of three that one of those red bowers is in one of your opponents’ hands, and chances aren’t bad that both are in the opponents’ hands. Did they want those black clubs? And what good are your spades with red trump? You don’t even have an ace. Maybe your spades will take one trick. Long shot.

Spades? Absolutely. They’re “next” (and this is why making it at third hand was a fluke. The call should never have got to the dealer’s partner, let alone to your partner). “Next” is a call “for my partner”: If you don’t have a bower, there is a good chance he does; the opponents turned that color down. And even if you get euchred, it’s no big deal; you may have stopped a loner in the opposite color, for the same reason – your opponents shunned the color you are calling.

Here’s Joe’s scenario set up again in the Euchre Lab with a call in spades (“next”) by the player to the left of the dealer. Play with it. Lead a spade, as you must do when you call “next. And you should lead low trump (easy enough in this scenario; that’s all you have) because your partner may have an unguarded bower: The only indication you have is what the opponents do not have, not a direct indication of what your partner does have.

Joe will take the first trick with the ace of spades (unless his partner stupidly goes up with the left bower, in violation of the “second hand low” principle). Only if Joe returns a lead of the lowly ten of clubs and you trump it (forgetting “second hand low”) will you be euchred.

And Joe and his partner have the top two trump in this scenario. That’s not the usual case. You have to play for the average scenario, not one that’s given. The only hand you know of the four at the table is your own.

One group member said, " . . . I’d call diamonds. Why? Because I’ve been keeping mental track of when ‘next’ works and when not. Have been doing this for several months now. ‘Next’ seems to have no significance when the card turned down is lower than an ace. . . ."

There is a reason to call diamonds in this situation, but that’s not it. The reason is, you have to keep your opponents guessing. If you always call “next” when it has a prayer, an alert dealer will “suck you in” to a “next” call that he can handily euchre – even though he might have been able to make a point in the suit turned up. When I call off color in this situation I explain to my partner, “Ya gotta call ‘green’ once in a while just ta keep ’em honest.

Empirical evidence can be convincing (look at what the American Cancer Society did with smoking and lung cancer), but it is no substitute for probability. And one player’s “mental track . . . for several months” will not pass many statistical tests. The pip of the card turned down has little to do with the application of “next”; it’s the color that counts. The question is whether the dealer’s team has a bower in the color of the turned card (a downturn is a probable “not”). That’s easy to know if it’s a bower turned down, but a bower turned up is rarely turned down. If you’re calling “next” only when a bower or an ace is turned down, you’re not taking full advantage of the principle (and if the dealer who turned that bower down is a good player, that’s particularly when you had better be on your guard against getting “sucked in”).

There is a question also of what is meant by “when ‘next’ works”: It “works” not only when it scores; it works also when it gets euchred but stops a loner in the opposite color. And it “works” in ways not so easily seen, as when it induces the opponents to pick up cards they don’t want, or to turn good cards down in situations in which they think there is more profit in a chance of “sucking you in.

Diamonds do work better than spades in the scenario Joe gave us (you can see that, too, in the Euchre Lab). But that, too, is a fluke. The lady left of the dealer does not know that her partner has the left bower when she calls diamonds, and she has not nearly as much reason to expect it as she has to suspect that her partner has a bower in spades. The proability her partner does not have the left bower in diamonds is 72 per cent, and the likelihood is even greater than that, given the opponents’ rejection of clubs.

What if the opponents have both red bowers? Not unlikely. What’s worse, what if one of the opponents has both red bowers? Or either of them has two diamonds? It’s not so pretty. You don’t analyze a call, when you’re playing, on the basis of knowing what’s in all four hands; you must analyze it on the basis of what is in your hand alone, and what is likely to be in the others. Here’s a case where “next” will work well even when the “green” diamonds will work better. Most of the time “green” won't.

And what if your partner is sitting over there with both black bowers and three little hearts: Is he going to be disappointed with your diamond call, or pissed?

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Lead trump only once on “next” – April 2, 2004

Joe, a member of the Yahoo! group Euchre Science, reported that, sitting left of the dealer and holding the jack of clubs, the king of spades, the jack and nine of diamonds and the queen of hearts, he saw the ace of clubs turned up – and down.)

The score was 7 to 7 and, holding a stopper in every suit, Joe passed. This was not a hand one had to call “next” on. Joe had help for his partner in any suit, and a shot at euchring the opponents if they went either “green” (spades) or “across” (in red). Better to let someone else call trump. The worst that could happen was that he would get the next deal behind only 8 to 7.

Joe’s hand (left of dealer)

Joe’s partner’s hand

(queen of clubs turned down)
So, Joe’s partner called spades. Well, that’s fine. Joe had help for him, and he led it – the left bower. Joe’s partner overtook it with the right bower as everyone followed suit, and he led back the ace of spades. He caught the opponents’ last trump – and Joe’s too, the king. The opponents had all the offsuit winners, and they euchred. Joe and his partner were down 9 to 7 now, at Joe’s deal.

The problem was not only in calling trump, and it was not in leading trump the first time. The problem was in exhausting the partnership’s ruffing power. Yes, lead one round of trump to disarm the opponents. But lead a second round only if you have winners to cash. The caller, after leading his ace of trump, had no more aces and no more trump. He had no idea whether his partner had an ace (and he could be pretty sure Joe had no more than two trump to begin with, since it was “next” and he didn’t call it). What he had to do in that situation was give Joe and himself a chance to ruff the other suits separately – and he didn’t.

This is a general principle in playing “next” (or “across”): Lead trump only once. When the player left of the dealer does call “next” (or the dealer’s partner goes “across”), it’s often thin: It’s “for my partner” – because partner is more likely to have one or both of the missing bowers (than the dealer who turned that color down or than the dealer’s partner, if the call is “next,” or than either opponent, if you are the dealer’s partner calling “across,” because the dealer eschewed the original color), or it’s to stop the opponents’ going alone in the other color. It’s as much a defensive call as an offensive call (which is the reason Joe, in the scenario above, passed; he already had all the defense he needed). And “next” should be played the same way on offense as on defense, whether called by the player left of the dealer or by his partner, unless the one with the lead has winners in suits or a fistful of trump.

The ace and king of trump held by the team that made trump, in this case, would have been winners of the second and third tricks necessary for the point – but only if they did not fall on one trick. And that’s what happened when the maker led trump again on the second trick.

The opponent with the suit power could have achieved the same result by leading trump after taking the second trick with a red ace or the king of clubs. It was not a real good idea for Joe’s partner to take the first trick, and it probably was not a real good idea for him to call trump on this hand in the first place. In general it is risky to call trump with fewer than three, especially at third hand; and he could have given Joe credit for a good defense just from the fact that Joe passed.

You can play with this hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.


Here’s the answer to Redd Dogg’s Riddle No. 8, posed in the last column: Remember the query: “You are playing for a million dollars or the loss of a finger, the score is 9-9, and you have the right-A-Q of trump and no good suit cards: How do you play against the left-K-10-9 of trump and an outside ace?”

You lead losers (until you have two tricks in). Make the defenders lead to you so that they don’t catch your trump.

Rob Wilk submitted the first correct answer, and his prize is – [drum roll] – he still has all his fingers.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Another euchre scholar – March 5, 2004

There’s another euchre intellectual out there, and we know his name: It’s Paul McCreary (a/k/a Redd Dogg). He grew up in Illinois where he learned to play, then moved to Michigan and played tournament euchre in the Detroit area, then moved to Southern Indiana where he couldn’t find a game! (It was Brown County, an art colony, but – that’s where the “Gnawbone gaffe” got its name.)

Paul and his wife wound up in the mountains of southwestern Colorado running a bed and breakfast, where their only hope of a euchre game is entertaining paying guests from the Midwest, the Northeast and Canada (or England, or Australia, or New Zealand).

Your hand

Opponent’s hand

“Redd Dogg Riddle No. 8”
Paul says he’s writing “a relatively mid-level euchre book” that will include some “euchre heaven” hands – for example, jack, ace and king of diamonds and ace and king of hearts, sitting in first chair with a heart turned up. Or, even better, both red jacks, the king of hearts and two diamonds, with the ace of hearts turned. “Of course,” Paul says, “you would never order the dealer; and you would have almost a sure four points if he turns the card down.

“Holding four jacks is almost euchre heaven,” Paul says, “because you can make trump depending on your fifth card; but often four bowers does not mean a sure point or euchre.

Well, that’s a lot of fun, fer shure! But I would call four jacks a “euchre hand,” not “euchre heaven. Bad things can happen even if you get to name trump on your fifth card, and sometimes the call will not get to you and your two bowers will be one trick short of a euchre. But I would not mind playing a whole game with that holding every hand, especially at “stick the dealer. I might not even open my mouth the whole game.

In addition to his dreams of euchre heaven, Paul has a collection of euchre puzzlers I call “Redd Dogg’s Riddles. Here’s Redd Dogg Riddle No. 8 (see illustration above): “You are playing for a million dollars or the loss of a finger, the score is 9-9, and you have the right-A-Q of trump and no good suit cards: How do you play against the left-K-10-9 of trump and an outside ace?” (Redd Dogg and I are not gonna give prizes like that puzzle guy on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday, but I do welcome submissions. Answer in next column – which may be delayed, on account of vacation.).

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Overriding the left bower – February 20, 2004

Fannie picked up the king of clubs, discarded the ten of hearts, and held right bower, king and nine of clubs, ace of spades, and king of diamonds. Let’s face it: It’s not a great hand, but it’s eminently makeable; and it was the best shot she had, even if she had turned down and faced “next.

Chardonnay, on her left, led the queen of hearts; Fannie’s partner, Ruffy, covered it with the ace, and ChevyCoupe, the right hand opponent, ruffed with the left bower. Without hesitation Fannie covered the left with her right and led her king of diamonds.

And got euchred. Chevy took the second trick with the ace of diamonds (Ruffy had a diamond and no trump anyway; he was out of action after playing his ace of hearts on the first trick). Chevy then led the queen of diamonds. Fannie, worried about an overruff on her left, ruffed with the king of clubs as Chardonnay sluffed the queen of spades. Fannie then led her ace of spades; Chardonnay trumped it with the ten and led back the queen of trump, and school was out.

You can play with this hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

OK, back to the drawing board. What if Fannie had led the ace of spades? That works, but it does not work if Chardonnay is void in spades.

What if Fannie had led trump? The nine of clubs gives Chardonnay a gift trick with the ten and sets up her queen of trump when Fannie has to use her king to trump Chevy’s lead back of the queen of diamonds after he takes his ace. The king of clubs would take a trick, and the ace of spades would still work; but that’s risky: You don’t know where the ace of clubs is (turns out it's buried, but who knows? If it’s in either opponent’s hand, Fannie is in big, big trouble leading clubs).

What if Fannie had not overtaken Chevy's left bower on the first trick (“let the baby have it”)? It’s a wonderful opportunity to ditch that loser king of diamonds, and then she can ruff either red suit low (that’s all she has in trump besides the right: low) – meaning, in particular, diamonds, since Chevy has no hearts to lead. If Fannie gets in the driver’s seat that way, she can draw one round of trump to shore up her ace of spades (and one round might be enough, with the left gone). Or if she gets in with the ace of spades, she has three trump left – to the right – with which to take two tricks.

So, what if Chardonnay overtrumps a diamond, or ruffs the spade? At least that would give Fannie an end play with at least two trump headed by the right bower (and she would have got an end play from Chardonnay also in the original scenario had she trumped Chevy’s queen of diamonds with the nine of clubs instead of the king).

It’s something to think about with a marginal hand: Let the baby have it.

And it’s a decision that some would call “situational”: If you need only one point or simply cannot afford a euchre (say you have 9 points or your opponents have 8, or both), it’s the safest way to play it (it’s not guaranteed, but the possibility of getting squeezed for the euchre is remote). If, on the other hand, it’s 9 to 8 the other guys’ favor, you might choose to go for broke. And you might as well go for broke if you’re way down, like 9 to 3 or worse.

[The initial issue of this column has been revised to correct errors pointed out by Tom (Ten O’Clock) Scolar.]

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Ten o’clock scholars – February 6, 2004

There is a player who occasionally posts to the Yahoo! group Euchre Science whose ID is “scolar2” (but whose e-mail address is “scolar4” (@somethingorother.something) and who signs his messages “Tom. No one knows his last name, but all agree that he is something of a scholar. So I call him Tom (Ten O’Clock) Scolar.

He consistently comes up with arcane signals and probability findings that no one else thinks of. One of them is a method of signaling your partner what suit to save (or not) in trying to stop a lone hand, by interpreting discards according to the rank of suits in bridge (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs, in that order). For example, if as the maker draws trump you throw your losers high-low, it tells your partner to save a heart in preference to a club if those are the two suits between which there is a choice (or that you have hearts stopped but not clubs). This language takes a prearranged convention with your partner, of course. The instances in which this signaling opportunity will be available to you are quite few, I think; and the instances in which it will work are fewer yet. It takes a lot of remembering (or a crib sheet), given the other things there are to remember and the other possible reasons for discarding in a certain order; but it would give you an edge.

Here’s another of Tom’s discoveries.

You are sitting to the left of the dealer as he turns up a bower, and your partner orders it up. You have the left bower and an ace not trump. What do you lead?

Most participants in the discussion argued for the left bower, but Tom pointed out that if the partner who ordered had at least four trump, only the ace lead prevents a euchre 100 per cent of the time. Although there is no guarantee that the partner who ordered had four trump, another member of the group used probability theory to suggest that the four-trump holding is more likely than any other. A lead off trump increases the chance of being euchred in those others, however, and possibly more significantly than it helps when the maker does have four trump. The question of what to lead thus was left undecided (but the consensus remained with the left bower).

And there is no way to know that your ordering partner has four trump unless you and he are playing a convention by which he will not order a right bower unless he has four trump (or you are cheating). In sum, Tom was absolutely right; but there still is no definitive correct lead when the only information you have is your own hand and the fact that your partner ordered it up to his left hand opponent (without the convention, which is not necessarily a good idea).

Probability analysis is useful in explaining why something works as it does, and why something played out as it did, and why it usually does, and even what to do in some circumstances. But in most cases only general probability theory is very instructive in euchre (e.g., when a dealer’s team passes a particular color, there’s a fair probability they did not have a bower in it. That’s why “next” works – in general).

Tom is something of an intellectual, and he’s a bridge player. He seems to be saying that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – that if intellect is good for bridge, and chess, then it’s good for euchre.

I’m not convinced. Intellectuals will gravitate to chess, and bridge, because of the complexity of those games. Euchre has wrinkles but is not all that profound and will not attract a whole lot of intellectuals. Its very appeal lies in its simplicity and speed, and in its appeal to intuition (and my definition of intuition is high speed intellect jumping synapses). Walter B. Gibson wrote of euchre 30 years ago, in Hoyle’s Modern Encyclopedia of Card Games, “As a fast-moving ‘short game,’ it is hard to beat; and you will find it equally hard to beat a good euchre player!”

Post-hand analysis is fun for serious players (I count myself among them), quite a drag for others (e.g., those who love the “TRAM” and “swoosh!” on Pogo, and have no patience with those who don't). I’m all for figuring out what happened and what’s going on, but let’s play cards. The game begins at 9 (and it’s usually over by 9:30).

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Setting up a king – January 16, 2004

Here’s an example of how leading away from a king can save the day.

SmoothPapa, the dealer, picked up a heart and declared alone.

Hand left of dealer – heart picked up alone
BartSimp, in the lead, held the king and ten of spades, the king and jack of clubs and the queen of hearts. He knew better than to lead trump to a loner (many “advanced” players on Yahoo! don’t know that); and which black suit to lead was, essentially, a toss-up. Eeny, meeny, miny, mo; he chose spades.

And led the ten, not the king.

His partner, Bluebird, followed with the queen of spades (which was as good as Bart’s king anyway), and Papa took the trick with the ace of spades. Papa proceeded to draw trump with the two bowers and the king (Bluebird had to cough up her ace on the second round); and Bart held tight to his king of spades, giving up his clubs (including the guard to his king on the second draw).

And, sure enough, Papa was two-suited with three trump: On the fifth trick all he had left was his second spade – the jack – which fell to Bart’s king, stopping the lone march.

There was no better opening lead. Bluebird could have trumped a club, but Papa could overtrump. The king of spades would have drawn Bluebird’s only spade, the queen, making Papa’s jack good for the fifth trick. A trump lead actually could have worked; but it is too stupid even to consider, and Bart would have had to decide on the second trick which king to protect (or to hold them both for good luck, which would not have arrived). He maximizes the defense with the little spade lead because it gives his partner a chance to trump and it saves his king for a possible trick.

You can play with this hand in Gerry Blue’s Euchre Laboratory.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

The “euchre hand”: Pass – January 2, 2004

This question was asked in a poll in the Yahoo! forum Euchre Science: In a game to 10 without “stick the dealer,” the score is tied 3-3. The dealer has turned down the nine of spades. Sitting left of the dealer you have the jack of clubs, the ace and king of diamonds, and the jack and queen of hearts. What do you do?

Hand left of dealer

(nine of spades turned up – and down)
These were the results of the poll:

50 per cent said to call diamonds.

33 per cent said to call hearts.

No one voted to call clubs.

17 per cent said, “Pass.

I was with the 17 per cent who said, “Pass. Had I had to call trump (by rule), I would have called diamonds, as 50 per cent would have.

Here is the reasoning: Whatever you call, if you make it, will probably get you only one point. But if your opponents call, you are sitting on them, for two possible points.

If your partner calls, you can help, and maybe for two points (maybe even likely, since your partner would have to be pretty strong to call, considering what you have).

And you can get euchred if you call, even in diamonds, for two points in the opposite direction (we call that a “three-point turnaround” if you’re going for a point).

This is the classic “euchre hand” – so called not because it likely will be euchred, but because it is so good for euchring an opponent (not to mention for helping a partner). It has every suit stopped. I almost always pass such a hand. Yes, many of them result in “passed hands” (without STD); I am aware of the danger that this hand will pass altogether, and that then you will not realize the almost sure point you have in diamonds, and I am aware of the danger that the opponents might score a point in clubs.

But, so what? It’s only a point, and it’s only 3 to 3. I’m going for two points by passing.

And I get the deal if everyone else passes.

P.S. I said I almost always pass the “euchre hand. The exceptions are based upon the timidity levels of the other players, if you know them – your partner’s as well as the opponents’.

Natty Bumppo, author,
The Columbus Book of Euchre

Borf Books
Box 413
Brownsville KY 42210

(270) 597-2187 [copyright 2004] [next]

Return to index of columns

back to The Columbus Book of Euchre Links New appendix

Reviews of other books on euchre Guestbook: Sign / Comment View

“Over hamburgers sold!”