Sunday, November 11, 2001

We have the river, mills and a card game to call our own.

~ By Bryon Rivers Eagle-Tribune Writer

  The bidder was booked so he took every trick and got 30-days.

If you're not a card player, and not from the Merrimack Valley, chances are you've never heard the sentence above and probably have no idea what it means. (To decipher the code, see the glossary.)

That's because it describes the ultimate achievement during a hand of the card game 45s. A card game played almost exclusively (at least in the United States) in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire.

North Andover's Marty Earley, 71, reacts to
losing a hand during competition in a new
45s league. Opening
night was held at the Knights of Columbus in North Andover, the club Earley's team represented.

"I've been playing since I was 10 years old," said Jim F. Noone, 45, a longtime Lawrence resident. "I sat behind my grandma and grandpa (and watched them play) for three years before they'd even let me play. It's one of my favorite games."

Residents of Andover, North Andover, Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill, Amesbury and other Valley towns have played the game for decades -- casually for money and in tournaments -- and various 45s clubs have been formed through local social organizations, pubs and restaurants. But the large undertaking of setting up a 45s league pitting teams from locations across the Merrimack Valley against each other has been rather loosely organized, until now.

Halloween night, Noone, his brother Tim and their friend Ray Decelle of Lawrence hosted opening night of The Greater Lawrence Tavern, Lounge and Social Club 45s League at the Knights of Columbus in North Andover. More than 70 players, representing 12 teams from local restaurants, lounges, taverns and clubs, came out to play, demonstrating their commitment to a game that has become part of their heritage.

League play will continue for 10 more weeks at various Valley venues with trophies, bragging rights and $1,200 going to the winning team.

Marty L. Earley, 71, of North Andover, part of the North Andover Knights of Columbus team, said he's been playing 45s since he was about 14 years old and learned the game "just hanging around with the guys on the corner."


"That was our thing," he said, "before we went to church on Sunday mornings, we'd play 45s."

Like Euchre in the Midwest and Spoons in the South, 45s is a game tied to a region -- our region. But where did it originate?

According to Decelle, the game came from the Canadian Maritime Provinces and has been in his family for at least three generations, going back to his ancestors from Prince Edward Island.

Robert C. Reichert, a Lawrencian who wrote "Forty-Fives," a handbook on the game, said he has been in contact with folks in New Zealand who have their own version of play., a Web site dedicated to card games, claims 45s was derived from an Irish game called Spoil 5, which was imported to Canada with Irish immigrants. Forty-fives

Ed Briggs of Manchester, N.H., points a mockingly menacing finger at opponent and friend Marty Earley (not shown) during opening night of the Greater Lawrence Tavern, Lounge and Social Club 45s League at the Knights of Columbus Hall in North Andover. Keeping score is Briggs' partner, Tom Giarusso (right), of Methuen.

-- as it is known in the United Sates -- is also called Auction Forty-Fives or One Hundred Twenty, as the game is played to 120 points.

Wherever it started, it has become something of a tradition in this area, a game learned and played by Valley residents of all ages.

"It's never the same," said Jim Noone, explaining his reasons for sticking with the game for so long. "There's so many different ways to play it. Everybody thinks they have their perfect way but everybody makes mistakes."

Cheryl Coon, a 38-year-old from Salem, NH, has been playing weekend games with friends -- including her league partner, Natalee Davis, 24, of Methuen -- for the past four years. Coon said occasionally the friends and relatives she plays with take the game a little too seriously, taking a lost hand to heart.

"I just like playing," Coon said. "It's a game."

"It's a good social game," said Davis.

Both Coon and Davis, who represent a team from Stopyra Post, a Lawrence Polish club, said when they signed up for the league they were worried about being the only women involved. As it turned out, they were not. In fact, three of the four players at their table were women.

I can picture all the old men yelling at us," said Coon. "They get set in their ways."

Erley, who spent much of the league's opening night ribbing his playing partner, Bill J. McMahon, 68, of North Andover, joked about how seriously some players do take the game.

"I like the challenge, but I have fun with it," he said. "But you do make enemies, especially against your partner."

McMahon said the game is also a source of local pride for Lawrencians.

"If you're a Lawrencian you started (45s) at and early age," said McMahon, who has played the game since he was 10 or 12. "Lowell has no concept of how the game is played."

Keeping that "concept" alive was why Reichert decided to write his book, which can be purchased at various Osco Drug stores in the area as well as online at

Reichert wants the rules to 45s to be uniform throughout the Merrimack Valley and wherever else the game is played. He is particularly concerned with rules on penalties for reneging, what a player does when he or she doesn't follow the suit started by the bidder, a rule that as varied from one table to the next for years. His other mission is to spread the game of 45s outside the Merrimack Valley.

"I want to let other people enjoy the game as we do," said Reichert. "Let them know there is a good thinking game out there."