Me: When spades is trump, the jack of clubs is the left bauer. And when clubs is trump, the jack of spades is the left bauer. The left bauer is the second-most powerful card after the right bauer. The same goes for red, hearts and diamonds. The jack of hearts is really a diamond when diamonds is trump. The card may have a heart on it, but it’s a diamond. And the jack of diamonds is really a heart when hearts is trump. Why is that so hard for everyone to understand? Little Ann, look alive. We’ve got a long way to go.
[We’re at the kitchen table. It’s almost midnight and we've been drinking. It’s me, Ann, Little Ann and Z. There’s a deck of cards on the table.]
Ann: Why do we HAVE to learn Euchre again?
Me: Because it’s tradition. A Midwestern tradition. And I’m going to keep it alive. It’s like when immigrants came to New York way back when. They kept their heritage alive by eating whatever food they ate back in the old country and wearing big fuzzy hats and speaking their native language. We’re going to keep parts of our Midwestern culture. In may ways we’ve already assimilated, but we’re not going to forget Euchre.
Z: Why do I need to be here? I’m not part of the family, and I’m from LA.
Me: Because we need four people. Now listen up. I’ll start over with the rules because I have a feeling you all weren’t listening before. You only use 24 cards: nines, tens, jacks, queens, kings and aces. The rest can be put aside. Except for two pairs of sixes and fours; you use those for the score cards. The first team to get ten points wins.
Z: How do you get a point?
Me: I’m getting there. Nobody talk for ten minutes, how about that? Z, you’re sitting across from me so you’re on my team. Ann and Little Ann are on the other team.
Ann: But what if I want to be on your team?
Me: You’d have to switch seats with Z. Do you want to be on my team?
Ann: Do you WANT me to be on your team? It doesn’t seem like it. Otherwise you would have sat across from me. Because you knew that whoever you sit across from is on your team and you didn’t sit across from me.
Me: Fine, switch with Z.
Z: But I’d like to be on your team. You’re the best player here.
[Ann stands up.]
Ann: I would like to be on your team. It’d be good for US. This is a new thing in our relationship and it’s be good if we weren’t competing.
Z: Oh God, this is so lame.
Little Ann: More gin.
[I pour him more gin.]
Me: Everyone stay where you are. We can switch teams later if we want.
[Ann sits down.]
Me: OK, so the dealer deals each person five cards. BUT. And this part is important. You don’t deal one card at a time. You deal one person two cards and then the next person three cards and the next person two cards and yourself three cards. Or you start with three cards and then deal two and then three. Or you start with one and then deal four, or you start with four and then deal one. You get it? Each person has to end up with five cards and you have to go around the table twice. Not once, not three times, but twice. Here we go, I’m going to deal them out and we’re going to play a game with the cards showing. That’s the best way to learn. Ordinary you’d breast your cards so no one sees them.
[Little Ann is laughing now.]
Me: What’s funny? Oh. Breast your cards? That’s funny to you? No more gin for you. [I take ways his drink. I deal everyone five cards.] Shit. We forgot to shuffle.
Ann: It doesn’t matter. You’re not cheating. And if you were cheating, well, you’re the only person here who cares about this, so cheat away if that you would make you feel like a big man.
Me: Give me your cards. [They do. I shuffle the cards and then offer them to Ann to cut.]
Ann: What do you want me to do?
Me: Cut the cards, Jesus. [she does, and I deal out five again] After everyone has five cards there will be four cards left over. That’s the kitty. The dealer flips over one of those and lays it on top of the other three. [I flip it over. It’s an ace of clubs.] Now we go around in a circle, starting with Little Ann because he’s to my left, and we decide if we want that suit to be trump. So, if you want clubs to be trump you say, Pick it up. If you don’t want it to be trump you say, Pass.
Ann: Well how do we know if we want it to be trump? You’re going to fast, I have no idea what I’m doing.
Me: I’m getting to that. If you have a good clubs hand, then you’d want to me to pick it up. Oh, right, I should mention that if someone orders up the card, then the dealer picks it up. He adds it to his hand and discards his shittiest card.
Ann: HOW DO WE KNOW IF WE HAVE A GOOD CLUBS HAND?
Me: I’m getting to that, Jesus. So, it’s Little Ann’s turn. He has a nine of hearts, a nine of diamonds, a jack of clubs, a queen of clubs and a ten of clubs. That is a good clubs hand. The jack of the clubs is the right bauer; it’s the most powerful card in this hand, if clubs is trump. Look at my hand. I have the jack of spades. That’s the left bauer. It is actually a club, if clubs is trump. It is not a spade. It has a spade on it, but it is a club. So, Little Ann would say, Pick it up. Can you say that, buddy?
Little Ann: Gin!
Me: You can have more gin if you say pick it up.
Little Ann: Pick it up. [And I pick it up and discard a card and pour my son more gin.]
Me: OK. So it’s settled. Clubs is trump. Little Ann is the to the left of me, so it’s his turn. The goal is to win tricks. A trick is one go-round of each player playing a card. There are five tricks. If you called trump it you have to win three tricks to get a point. If you win all five then you get two points. But if the other team wins three then you are officially Euched and the other teams gets two points. If the team that didn’t call it somehow wins all five tricks, which never happens, then they would get four points. But you’d have to be playing against a monkey to not order it up and win all five tricks.
Z: I have a question. So the ace of clubs is worth less than the jack of hearts? All jacks are better than clubs that aren’t jacks?
Me: NO. NO. NO. The jack of hearts is only a bauer if hearts or diamonds is trump. In this case, clubs is trump so the jack of hearts is just the jack of hearts. The jack of diamonds is just the jack of diamonds. In this hand, the nine of clubs will be more valuable than the ace of hearts and the ace of diamonds. You follow?
Z: Kind of.
Me: OK, so Little Ann is going to lead. Lead, Little Ann.
[Little Ann plays the nine of hearts.]
Me: That’s a bullshit lead, buddy. That’s one of the worst cards in the whole game right now. You could play your right bauer, because you know that no one can beat it and it would flush out the other people’s trump.Rright. I forget to mention this, and it’s really really important: You have to follow suit. So if he leads with clubs, and you have a club, you have to play a club. If he leads with hearts, you have to play a heart. If you don’t have whatever suit he leads with, you can trump it and beat him. If he leads with the ten of hearts and you play the queen of hearts, you’re beating him. If he leads with the jack of spades, which is the left bauer, then you have to play a club. Because that jack is really a club. So in that case the only card that could beat him would be the jack of clubs, the right bauer.
[Little Ann plays the jack of clubs.]
Me: Now it’s Z’s turn. If you have a club, you have to play it. You do have a club. You have the nine of clubs. Play it.
Z: And that’s it. That’s all I do? This game is so boring.
Me: Euchre is not boring. It’s a classic strategy game, it’s a poor man’s bridge. Have some patience, we’re playing this all night. The problem is you: you’re used to playing video games and watching porn and stuff and you can’t do anything that requires a modicum of patience. Now it’s Ann’s turn.
Ann: I don’t have any clubs.
Me: I can see that. That’s OK. It doesn’t matter what you play this time because your partner is definitely going to win it.
Ann: Why’s that?
Me: Because he played the right bauer. It’s unstoppable.
Ann: If he already won, then why are even playing it out? This hand is over. Shouldn’t we re-deal?
Me: He’s only going to win one trick. There are five tricks. Now play a card.
Ann: What card?
Me: Play a shitty card. One you won’t need later.
Ann: How do I know which ones are shitty?
Me: You have the nine of spades. That card’s worthless. So play it. [she does.] Now it’s my turn. I have to play trump so I’m going to play my lowest trump, the king of clubs. [I play it.] Little Ann wins, so he takes the trick. Hey buddy, I’m talking to you here, take the trick. Literally move those four cards over to you. [he does.] There ya go. Now it’s Z’s turn to lead.
Z: What do I lead with?
Me: That’s up to you. That’s where the strategy comes in. You want to play a card you think might go around without being beat. You have the ace of hearts. That’s a good card. [Z plays the ace of hearts.] Now it’s Ann’s turn. Remember, if you have a heart, you have to play it. If not, you can trump his heart with a club.
Ann: I don’t have any clubs. This game sucks.
Me: Are you angry at the game or angry at yourself about something else in your life?
Ann: I’m angry at my husband for forcing his family to play this bullshit. Here we are in Brooklyn – with all its bars and restaurants and galleries and dancing and shit, and we’re at home sitting around the table in a Norman Rockwell painting. Poor Little Ann’s going to tell kids at school that he plays Euchre with his family and the kids are going to laugh at him for being a hayseed. Why don’t you teach him how to skateboard or spray paint a subway car? You can’t raise him like we’re back in the old country.
Me: Like I said, we’re holding onto our roots.
Ann: Your roots. Euchre is YOUR root. Not my son’s root.
Z: I’m going to go.
Me: Please don’t go. We need four people.
Z: Naw, I’m going to go. This is not what I had in mind when you said come over and get drunk.
Me: I’m not even halfway done explaining the rules yet. I haven’t even gotten to the best part: that’s when one team has nine points. They’re said to be In the Barn. It doesn’t really mean anything, only that you’re one point away from winning. So you do a little celebration: one team member puts the two score cards, the six and the four, behind his ears. Then he extends his hands and crosses his fingers and turns his hands upside down. Then he lowers his thumbs, like this. [I do this with my hands.] If you do it right your hands will look like udders. And now you’re a cow. A cow who is in the barn. The cards behind your ears are cow’s ears and your hands are udders. Then your teammate tugs on your thumbs, thus milking you, and you moo like a cow. Moo! Moo! That’s what being In the Barn is. It’s all part of the glorious drunk Midwesterners’ heritage, and there’s so much more to explain, so much more strategy.
Ann: I’m sure you’ll have plenty of fun explaining it to your next girlfriend.
[Little Ann throws a few cards in the air and they fall to the ground.]
Little Ann: Euchre! I’m in the barn.
Me: See, honey. He likes it.