Pass or play? Which suit is trump? You hear these questions repeated over and over again while playing Michigan’s favorite card game, but the real questions we should ask are: where did euchre originate? And, why are Michiganders obsessed with this game?
The game we now know as euchre evolved from the German game, Juckerspiel. In both games, the most powerful cards are the jacks, otherwise known as the bowers (Bauern in the original German game), and you must win three “tricks,” or hands, out of five. This simple game was brought to the Midwestern United States by German immigrants.
In the game, there are four players divided into two teams, and each player receives five cards. Next, the players decide which card will be “trump.” If the card is made trump, it means that suit (hearts, diamonds, spades or clubs) would win the hand when played against higher cards of a different suit. The goal of the game is for you and your partner to win three out of the five tricks. You do this by playing the most dominant card in the round (either the highest card of the suit that started the round or the highest trump).
It only gets more complicated from there, but that is the game of euchre in a nutshell. Most people learn by watching others or by diving right in and playing.
Many times, children are taught to play from a very young age. Andrew Zakerski, a music education major from Grand Ledge, Mich., was one of those kids.
“I started learning to play euchre when I was probably 8 or 9 years old by watching my uncles play at night when we were on camping trips,” Zakerski said. “I watched them for a while, and I was probably 10 years old when I first started to play.”
This may be a common experience for children born and raised in Michigan, but in other states nobody has any idea what you mean when you talk about euchre. Kelly Guess, a journalism major from Alaska, had no clue what the game was before coming to Michigan for college.
“I know euchre is a card game and you can play in tournaments with it, but that’s basically it. That’s actually all I know,” Guess said. “I honestly don’t know why we don’t play it in other states. I guess it’s a cultural thing in Michigan or the Midwest.”
Even though euchre is a way of life in Michigan, locals like Christopher Brennan, a zoology major from Detroit, realize that it’s not as widely known in the rest of the country.
“I feel like Michigan is definitely the Euchre state,” Brennan said. “All I’ve ever heard is that euchre is a ‘Michigan thing,’ and I can’t say I’ve met anyone from Ohio or Indiana who has even heard about the game.”
So why are Michiganders so obsessed? What about the game has created a cultural phenomenon in the great state of Michigan? One reason could be the sense of community that it creates. If you attend a family gathering in Michigan, chances are it will include a game of euchre.
This is just one explanation, but there are many reasons to love the game itself. For Brennan, it’s the complexity.
“I like the strategy. It’s a very think-y game, if that makes sense. There are a lot of ways to play any given hand.”
Zakerski, on the other hand, enjoys the fast-paced nature of the game.
“My favorite part of the game is that it goes by quickly. If you get stuck with bad cards, it’s not a huge deal because pretty soon you will be dealt a brand-new set of cards to work with.”
Whatever you enjoy about the game, one thing is clear: euchre is here to stay, and it’s pure Michigan.