A recent article posted to The Awl brought up some fond memories of my high school years. It contained a lot of the card game, euchre.
Article author Jason Boog takes readers through a quick journey of the rise of euchre in the 1800’s and its eventual decline in the 1900’s U.S. where bridge took its place as the more fashionable card game of “polite society.” In my own life, there has been a decline in play as I have moved across the country to various areas where there are only small pockets of players or no pockets at all. Boog also covers the basic spread of where you can find this game, alive and well, in many town halls, bars, and homes.
It appears that euchre began as a form of a similar, older card game that German immigrants brought to the U.S. in the nineteenth century. Actor Joe Cowell wrote of early games on a Mississippi river cruise in 1829, and playing card scholar David Parlett more recently found evidence that juckerspiel, a game played in the Alsace region of France in the 1800’s, a region which borders Germany, could have represented the beginning of its spread through that region of Europe and then across the ocean.
The word “euchre,” Boog reports, could be an Americanization of “jucker….” Furthermore, the “bower,” the highest-ranked card in any hand of euchre, could be the Americanization of the German word “bauer” which refers to a farmer or peasant.
In euchre, there are only six cards in each suit of the deck — nine through ace. The bowers, two jacks of a trump suit, take the high spots above the king and ace in the card game. It is the rise of peasants above their kings. If you make spades trump, for instance, you will end up with the jack of spades, jack of clubs, and then the ace, king, queen, ten, and nine of spades as your most powerful cards in that order. The game is simple:
“Four players split into two teams, with the average game taking less than a half hour to play and requiring just twenty-four cards — a skinny deck of nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings and aces,” Boog explains. “Before any cards are played, players must decide which suit should be trump, the most powerful in the game. Each time a card is played, players try to top it and win the ‘trick.’ The first team to collect three tricks wins the round and scores; the first team to score ten points wins.”
Unfortunately, it is this simplicity which allowed bridge to take over. Bridge is more complicated and lends itself to more verbose strategy; thus it lends itself to lengthy explanations in print and in audio/video. The history of euchre, however, shows that, before bridge was to supplant it, prominent organizations such St. Johns hospital would hold tournaments as fundraisers which would find success due to the game’s enormous popularity.
Euchre has since faded to the background where it is most visible, according to the article, in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. I found it played in at least one area in northern West Virginia but have missed its presence in Maine and, more recently, Virginia where pinochle, another trump-based and trick-taking game, rises to the top.
Further details in Boog’s analysis shows that euchre only has a meager popularity on the Internet and has even been dropped from the once-booming Yahoo! games portal. I remember playing that in my early years of learning the game. Now, there is only a Euchre 3D app that appears to separate the social aspect of the game from its mechanical aspects. Mechanized, computer players that work as stand-ins for real people are also failing to keep the game alive because of their poor play and lack of social cooperation.
I’m searching now for anyone in Utah who wants to play a few rounds. Well, I’ll need at least three others to make that happen. But here’s for hoping that the future will be brighter. If nothing else, Boog’s article could teach readers a thing or two. I definitely learned a bit of history today and will continue my quest for a few more players here in the West.
Image: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.