Fans of traditional Euchre can turn to Three Handed Euchre if they are down a single player. This is because the traditional game is played with four and structured to work best with that number, but Three Handed Euchre is not that difficult to learn as a good substitute.
To begin, the deck of 52 cards is stripped in the same way as the traditional game – with only the Ace through nine, plus a single joker, being used for play. This means 25 cards in the game.
To begin a game of Three Handed Euchre, the dealer gives each player five cards. There is also a fourth “dummy” hand dealt to the right of the dealer. The remainder of the deck is laid face down in the center of the table with the top card flipped over and laid beside it.
The player to the dealer’s left declares whether or not the revealed card is the trump, or may alternately pass. Whichever of the three declares the card the trump becomes the “maker” and will be playing against the other two players for the remainder of the trick.
When a player establishes trump, they must incorporate the contents of the dummy hand into their own. They do this by choosing the best cards from the dummy and blending these with the best cards in their original hand, but they are limited to holding five cards. The remaining five cards are placed in the discard pile.
A game of Three Handed Euchre follows the traditional format. This means that the player to the dealer’s left leads the trick by laying down a card in the same suit (if available) or any other card. A trick is won by the player who played the highest card of the leading suit, unless trump cards were played. The highest trump always wins the trick. The winner of each trick leads the next one.
The way the trump suit is described and ranked in a game of Three Handed Euchre is as follows:
- Joker=Benny, or Best Bower
- Jack=Right Bower
- Other jack of same color as trump suit=Left Bower
Each hand continues for five tricks, and then the points are tallied. Keeping score is the responsibility of each player, and the game is won when a player reaches ten points first.
Should a maker win three or four tricks, they are awarded a single point. If they have won all five they get three points. If the defenders get three or more tricks, they are given two points each. The benefit of being a defender rather than the maker is that it is a game of two players working to defeat the single player. This can make a much more interesting game than single combatants working to defeat one another.
There are a few variants to Three Handed Euchre, one is called Cutthroat and has rules that are a great deal more complicated than the more straightforward Three Handed Euchre version.