Monday, March 06, 2006

Paying Al

Euchre QOD: “Sometimes losing is a winning strategy”

Euchre Haiku:
Your cards may be weak
Opponents in the pasture
Order to stop four

Euchre Palaver
“Donation” – This is a defensive strategy in which you order up knowing full well that you will probably get euchred. Your intent is to concede 2 points to the opponents hoping to prevent a 4 point loner. Also called “Columbus Coup” by at least one euchre author. In Chicago, we call it “Paying Al”.

Savvy Strategies
To some, the idea of ordering up when you have a pretty good chance of losing feels like “dirty euchre”. No doubt, these are the same kind of people who frown on the practice of not trying to make a ball when shooting a game of pool (pocket billiards). But these people are hung up on the immediate object of both of these games and miss the overall aim, winning. In euchre, the object is to win points. In pool, it is to sink balls. Employing a strategy which goes against those goals is abhorrent to some.

Don’t be one of these people! Remember, the object of euchre is to win the game. If you are beating your opponents 9-6 or 9-7 and they order and make a loner, you lose! It would’ve been much better if you got euchred and “donated” 2 points. That way the score would be 9-8 or 9-9 and you still have a chance to win the game.

Use the donating tactic with care however. You don’t want to be giving up point willy nilly. The following are guidelines to follow when deciding whether to donate or not.

  1. Donate when the opponents are in the pasture (have 6 or 7 points). The object of the donation play is to prevent losing the game from a loner. This can only occur when the opponents have 6 or 7 points. When they have 8 or 9, the donation play is not applicable. If you donate in these situations, you will lose the game!!

  2. Do not donate if you have a sure trick. This may seem obvious but it’s worth stating. If you have a sure trick, the opponents will not make a loner so there is no reason to donate. A sure trick is the Right bower or the protected Left (that is the Left bower with another trump).

  3. Donation is a defensive tactic, the dealing team should not use it. Generally, the dealing team is not in a position to donate. Certainly, the dealer’s partner should never donate. The dealer may donate if she has a “feeling” that the player in the first seat is sitting on a great hand and will order up a loner in a different suit. This is a rare case. It is also not as useful for the dealing team as they will be giving up the deal on the next hand and will lose their advantage.

  4. The player in the first seat controls the donation play. It is up to the person in the first seat whether the team should donate or not. If she has a “sure” trick then she should pass. If she has no sure tricks then she should donate. The player in seat 3 has no donating responsibilities. But she should assume that if her partner passed, she must have at least 1 sure trick. So, if she has 2 winning cards in her hand, she should order it up.

It may still seem odd to you to be ordering up when you know you are going to lose. But good euchre players employ this tactic to great advantage. Computer simulations also demonstrate that donating is a better strategy than passing. Start donating and you will win more games.

League Night
Tonight is the start of euchre play-offs. Looks like we ended up solidly in 10th place which means we’ll play our friends Kevin and Chad. Yikes! I hate playing my friends. When you lose you feel bad that you lost. When you win, you feel bad that you beat your friends. Fortunately, it is double elimination so when we do win, we won’t bounce them from the play-offs right away.

The play-offs are a bit different from the regular season. The matches are best of 3 instead of best of 5. I think it makes it much tougher to win because winning 2 games against superior players is much easier than winning 3. In a 3 game match format, the luckier players win a lot more often. No matter, skill should win out in the end. I’ll let you know how it goes.


Kevin said...

I'm very confused as to how you would be able to tell if someone other than yourself has a lone hand, and furthermore whether you have a guaranteed trick in your hand.

Best case scenario I can figure out is the dealer has just served himself up a Jack (say, of spades), and you're sitting on a jack of clubs and a low spade (then you're guaranteed a trick). In that case though, it's very unlikely that the dealer will call a lone hand, or even has a strong enough hand to pick up the Jack.

At our Euchre club, we don't have the tightest lips with regard to table talk, but I still can't tell when someone is intending to go alone (with a very good chance for all five tricks - they usually have three guauranteed and hope for the last two tricks to work out).

I have a feeling if I ordered it up on the dealer with full intent to get euchred, I'd never be able to convince anyone it was a good strategy!

Perry said...

Thanks for your comments!

Unless you're playing someone who has absolutely no poker face, you can't know whether someone is going to go alone or not. That's why as the dealer, you would only rarely use the 'donation' strategy.

Many good euchre players would call up a lone hand without having the Left. Especially if they have 6 or 7 points. Even though it's not a great chance, there is a chance that they could win the game outright. In fact, I always order it up alone if I have 4 trump even if they are K,Q,10,9. If you run thousands of hand simulations, the payout in points is greater than if you order it up with your partner or you pass. The chances of getting set are quite low.

Your best case is the only time you'd pass if a Jack was turned up. Or maybe if you had the ace and 2 other trump.

You probably would have a tough time convincing people in a euchre club. It doesn't immediately make sense. But if the score is 9-6 the chances of your team winning doesn't change that much if the score becomes 9-8. But if someone has 6 points and makes a loner, the chances of you winning the game are 0 because you just lost.

Kevin said...

What I meant was that if I had Jc and a low spade, and the dealer served himself up Js, that's about the only time I'd know I had a *guaranteed* trick, and thus should pass by your criterion. If it's any other card (than a Jack) on the kitty, I have no idea what trump is going to be when I'm in first seat, so I can't possibly know if I have a guaranteed trick in my hand.

Perry said...

Oh I get it. Then in that case, you would order it up. Since you can't know whether you have a certain trick, you should order up (when the opponents have 6 or 7 points and you have the lead)

Tim said...

When the first seat donates, should the first seat lead trump, and if so why? I believe they should not because their partner will not know if they are donating if they lead trump. Others believe that it will draw trump out, thus promoting your partner's possible aces, or your single ace.

Perry said...

When you donate, you don't anticipate winning, so it doesn't much matter what you lead. It also doesn't matter whether your partner knows you're donating or not. They'll get the picture by the time the hand is done.

However, you wouldn't necessarily mind winning so to give yourself the best chance you should NOT lead trump. It's likely that you have less trump than your opponents and trumps in your partner's hand give you a better shot of winning than Aces.

Anonymous said...

OK...I understand donating...but why is it first seat and not third?...what if the dealer's partner were to order?...i've seen it happen many times.

Perry said...

First seat should donate because they can decide whether their team has one stopper or not and prevent a loner call from the second seat. If first seat passes, third seat knows they will win at least 1 trick.