Let’s Put Down These Cards And Go Fish


Card games were a popular pastime of the 19th and 20th centuries. Game language remains part of the vernacular today:

Don’t get lost in the shuffle

The deck is stacked
against you

Learn to play the hand you’ve been dealt

Jack of all trades

He has an Ace up his sleeve

She holds all the cards

My grandparents were the 1947 New Hampshire State Bridge  champions but the only card games I play are Gin Rummy and Go Fish, sometimes together by mistake. If there is a greater argument for evolutionary degeneration than this, I have yet to read it in my Highlights Magazine.

The thing with playing cards is that there are many kinds, they all do different things at different times in different games, and who cares.

In Bridge alone, terms like these (which are not made up, because how could we top them?) are tossed around the table:

Third from even, low from odd
An opening-lead method in which the third highest card is led from even length, the lowest card from odd length; part of (and the most distinctive feature of) Journalist leads against suit contracts.

Backwash squeeze
A squeeze in which underruffing is one of the victim’s fatal options.

A two-notrump bid asking partner to bid three clubs, after which a suit bid is weak, in conjunction with direct three-level suit bids to show values; applications include responses to one notrump over an intervening overcall and advancing the takeout double of an opposing weak two-bid.

Wolff signoff
After opener’s jump to two notrump, a three-club rebid by responder asking opener to bid three diamonds (some allow support for responder’s suit), after which a rebid of responder’s original suit is weak.

Bath coup
A hold-up from ace-jack after LHO’s lead from king-queen.

I suffered a backwash squeeze during a dental cleaning last week, and emitted such a rinse fountain the hygienist had to take a bath coup after.

Daily newspapers still carry columns summarizing Bridge games: The Declarer had to draw trumps without losing. West started the defense with three rounds of hearts. East leaned back too far in his ace rocker and fell out the window onto a garden spade. “Gazpacho!” we all yelled, and broke for ice cream sandwiches.

Euchre  is a card game popular in our part of the Midwest, even in places where we now have TV and internet. I first saw it played in a Wisconsin pub. The people at the table really seemed to be enjoying themselves. The table looked like a used stein factory, but still.

There are Wisconsin Euchre tournaments  and a local variation called Sheepshead, which is played with a 32-card deck divided among five players, all of whom wear seersucker bowties and stand on live sheep.

I may have fabricated that last part. I find it more fun to write my own rules than to memorize somebody else’s, which is why I retook Introduction to High School Calculus 10 to the 7th power times.

As with Bridge, the colloquial Euchre vocabulary is evocative. These are actual terms used by Euchre players in various parts of the world:


Cut thin to win

Don’t send a boy to the mill

Turn down a bower, lose for an hour

Milking the Cow

Fishing out

Waiting in the bushes

Playing policeman

Lay-down loner

Having a dog from every county

I tried to learn Euchre, but invariably at some vital juncture in the game the veterans paused and looked at me expectantly, at which point I dropped all my cards, stood up and yelled “Waiting in the bushes!” and then did.

People should really play cards more often. Just not with me.

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