The game of Euchre

By John W. Keller, 1887

Origin of Euchre - CHAPTER 1

Like the origin of cards themselves, the origin of most games at cards is obscure. Naturally, this obscurity has led to many different accounts, resulting from imagination rather than from data that can be substantiated. The origin of cards has been variously located in Egypt, India, China, and Arabia. Some people even claim that cards are pre-historic. But in all these cases, investigation - and the subject has been investigated by learned men for years - has shown that the respective claims are merely imaginative and fanciful. Of the theories mentioned, that respecting Egypt is probably the most popular. It is not unpleasant to the general mind to connect the symbols of cards with the Pyramids, or their mysteries with the Sphinx, and it is concordant with their alleged antiquity to suppose that they furnished amusement for the Pharaohs. Nor. is it less gratifying to the imagination to believe that India, that land of storied jugglery and necromancy, should have furnished the world with playing cards. The fact that gypsies commonly use cards in telling fortunes has led to the theory that these nomads introduced this means of amusement into Europe. This supposition is further fortified by the similarity of Hindustani cards to those of Europe. The facts of the case, however, indicate that cards were introduced from Europe into India, rather than from India into Europe. The allegation that the Chinese invented the familiar cards of to-day is equally obscure and far more untrustworthy. The claim that cards are of Arabic origin, rests wholly upon the statement of a credulous writer to the effect that the Saracens introduced them into Europe by way of Spain. But this writer, although he lived some four centuries ago, had no more authority for his declaration than I have to-day for indorsing the Egyptian, Hindustani, or Chinese theory. In all probability cards are of European origin, and that of more recent date than most people believe. In no writing prior to the fourteenth century is there any mention of cards. Chess, dice, and other games of amusement and gambling are alluded to, and in some instances specifically described, by writers of the thirteenth century, and of the first half of the fourteenth; but nothing is said of cards. While this is only negative proof as to the time that cards came into use, it is better than no proof at all, as is the case with all other theories.

While the origin of games at cards partakes of the obscurity of the origin of cards themselves, it is in a much less degree. For most games at cards are analogous, and their relationship one to another is easily traced. By this means the date of the invention and acceptance of the several games can be approximated, although not definitely arrived at. The majority of people that play cards are very credulous with regard to these questions, and accept almost any story that may be told them. Many people look upon Euchre as one of the most ancient games at cards, and upon Draw Poker as one of the most modern. And yet analogy shows that Poker, traced back through the games of Brag, Post and Pair, Ambigu, and Prime, bears a striking resemblance to Flush, one of the parent games at cards.

Euchre, on the other hand, is traced back easily and directly to Triomphe, a well-known French game, which in turn was probably derived from Trionfo, a Spanish game of the sixteenth century. The French settlers of America brought Triomphe with them, and transformed it into Euchre, which long ago became a national game in this country.

As in all trick-making games, the invention of Euchre is achieved by a change in the ranking order of the cards. This device has been resorted to with marked ingenuity and all manner of results; the most remarkable of which, as noted by Dr. Pole, is that the natural order of cards does not obtain in any trick making game. On this subject he says, "The natural order of the cards is the king, highest, then the queen, knave, ten, nine, and so on down to the ace, which is naturally the lowest of all. But, oddly enough, there is not, so far as we recollect, a single game where cards compete with each other in trick-making, in which this natural order is preserved. In Whist, as we know, the lowest card for playing is put in the highest position, while for cutting it remains the lowest. In Piquet, it is the highest both for cutting and playing. In Ecarte', the ace is put between the knave and the ten. In Bezique and Sixty-six, the ten ranks between the ace and the king. In Put and Calabrasella, the three is the best card; in Euchre the knave is the best in trumps, the ace in other suits; while in Spoil Five the rank and order of the different cards in black and red suits, and in trump and plain suits, is absurdly complex, the five being the best trump, then the ace of hearts whatever suit is trumps, and so on. Now, the philosophy of this feature is well worth study. Every reflecting person must be aware that all these distinctions are mere shams; the playing of the games would be precisely the same without the changes in the rank of the cards; these changes are so firmly rooted in the constitution of the several games, that it would be impossible to eradicate them."

The man who would attempt such eradication would be regarded as a lunatic. Therefore we must accept all these games, Euchre included, with their absurd variations of the order of cards, and study them as they exist. The following chapters will be devoted to every phase of the game of Euchre as it exists to-day.

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