How to Play Pinochle


Pinochle was developed in Europe out of the popular card game Bezique. In this article, we will look at the rules and strategies of several different varieties of Pinochle -- including Partnership Pinochle, Two-Handed Pinochle, and Cut-Throat Pinochle.

Melds in Pinochle, Points, & Bids
These are the combinations that will score you big points in Pinochle:

Flush (A-10-K-Q-J of trumps), 150 points

Royal marriage (K-Q of trumps), 40 points

Plain marriage (K-Q of any other suit), 20 points

Pinochle (Q-J), 40 points

100 Aces (A-A-A-A), 100 points

80 Kings (K-K-K-K), 80 points

60 Queens (Q-Q-Q-Q), 60 points

40 Jacks
(J-J-J-J), 40 points

Dix (pronounced "deece") (9 of trumps), 10 points

(If you declare a flush, you may not also declare the royal marriage it contains.)

 

In addition to the melds, there are two other ways to score in Pinochle, points and bids.

Scoring Points
When play is over, points are counted in tricks as follows:

Ace, 11 points
10, 10 points
King, 4 points
Queen, 3 points
Jack, 2 points
9, 0 points
Last trick, 10 points

Scoring Bids
If you make your bid, collect points from each opponent as follows:

250-290, 5 points
300-340, 10 points
350-390, 15 points
400-440, 25 points
450-490, 50 points
500+, 100 points

For bids over 300, spades score double.

Let's get started with basic Pinochle, commonly called Auction Pinochle. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Three (or four, with the dealer sitting out each deal).

Object: To scroe points in melds and in play.

The cards: A 48-card Pinochle deck is used. You can put one together from two standard packs by dropping all deuces through 8s. Cards rank -- from high to low -- A-10-K-Q-J-9.

Dealing: Deal 15 cards to each player. By tradition, deal in bunches of three, or one bunch of three followed by bunches of four. Deal three cards (not the last three) to a face-down widow, or kitty.

Bidding: Starting with the player at dealer's left, each player bids or passes. The lowest bid is 250 points, and bids increase by ten points thereafter. Once you pass you can't reenter the bidding, but bidders can continue raising the auction. The auction is closed once two players have passed. The aim is to score at least as many points as you bid.

The player who wins the bid becomes the bidder. If you are the bidder, turn the three widow cards face up and add them to your hand. It may be clear at this point that your total of melds and cards taken in play won't reach your bid. You may concede at this point, losing the amount you bid.

Otherwise, table your melds, including cards from the widow, and announce a suit as trumps. If the bidder has already reached or exceeded the value of his or her bid, play ceases immediately, and he or she scores the value of the game (see "Scoring Points and Bids").

Your two opponents will temporarily unite in their play against you. In order to reduce your hand back down to 15 cards, choose three unmelded cards to set aside, face down, to add later to the tricks you win. Pick up your melds and lead any card to the first trick.

The winner of each trick leads to the next. You must always follow suit, and if you cannot follow to a plain suit, you must play a trump if possible. When a trump is led, play a higher trump than the previous player if possible. Tricks are taken by the highest card of the suit led or by the highest trump if they are played. When two of the same card, say two As, are played to a trick, the one played first is considered the higher of the two.

Scoring: If you make your bid, collect points from each opponent according to the scoring table. If you concede, you lose points to each opponent according to the scoring table. If you play the hand and miss your bid, lose double to each opponent for going bete (pronounced bait).

Example: You bid 370 and make 405 in spades. You receive 30 from each opponent. If you had bid 400 and made 405 in spades, you'd win 50 from each. But, if you bid 410 and made only 405, you'd go bete in spades and lose 100 points to each opponent.

Tips: Don't count on the face-down widow, or kitty, to provide you with the melding help your need. There's just better than a one in six chances that one particular card will be in the widow to give you the points you may be considering. In calculating the points you'll lose in play, figure that each opponent may put a high card on your losing tricks.

As defenders, remember the cards you've seen the bidder meld that you can beat. These are cards you should be sure to win. Occasionally the bidder will have even more cards of that suit in his hand, as a side suit in addition to trumps.

Variations: Bidding practices have their own traditions. In one, after two passes the dealer must take with a bid of at least 250. In another, the dealer passes out the hand, or opens it at 290 (but not at 250) or at 320 or higher. A third treatment requires the first hand to start at 300, and it is allowed to throw the hand in for the minimum-stake loss.

In the next section, we will learn how to play an exciting variation of the regular Pinochle game, Partnership Pinochle.

Partnership Pinochle

This four-player version of Pinochle is sometimes also called Racehorse Pinochle. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Four, playing pairs. All players
draw from a deck to determine partnerships. The two players who draw the highest cards form one team. The two players who draw the lowest cards form their opponents. Partners sit opposite each other.

Object: To be the first team to score 1,500 points or more. (See the sidebars in the first section of this article to find out how scoring works.)

The Cards: A 48-card Pinochle deck. The deck can be made up from two standard 52-card decks by removing all 2s through 8s. Remember to use decks that look the same on the back. Cards are ranked from ace (high)-10-K-Q-J-9 (low).

Dealing: Cut to high card to decide dealer, who
deals clockwise. By tradition, deal three cards at a time to each player until each player has 12 cards, the dealer receiving the last batch.

Bidding:
Bidding starts at dealer's left. Players may bid or pass on any round. The first bid must be at least 250 points. Bids are raised in ten-point increments. You may pass and then bid later, but three consecutive passes closes the auction. If there is no opening bid during the first round of bidding, the hand is thrown away, and the next dealer shuffles and deals a new hand. Otherwise, the highest bidder becomes the declarer.

With your partner's Q you now can meld a Pinochle and a Flush for a score of 100 points.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
With your partner's Q you now can meld a Pinochle
and a Flush (in spade trumps) for a combined score
of 100 points. You also have an additional 20 points
for a plain marriage in diamonds to total 210 points.
Through passing, you have voided your hearts in
order to trump heart leads.

Passing: After the declarer names the trump suit, he or she receives four cards from partner. The declarer examines the cards and then passes four cards to partner. The return can include none, some, or all of the cards first passed.

Melding: After this exchange between declarer and partner, all players lay their melds on the table, which are scored for each side.

Scoring the meld: Let's say you win the bid at 360 with a hand of K-Q-J-Q-J-10-A-A-10-K-K-J. You declare spades trump, and your partner passes you the Q, 10, K, Q. You return the A, K, Q, 10 to your partner.

Since you have a good chance of making your
contract (even if your partner has no meld points, you only need 150 points in your winning tricks), you decide to play the hand. If, however, your combined meld points are 100 points or less, it would be impossible to make your contract because only 250 points are available in play. In that case, you should not play. As the declarer, you do not need the consensus of your partner to play or not to play. If you don't play, you cannot score your melds and your opponents score the value of their melds plus a 250-point bonus. If, however, you decide to play and your opponents set your contract, you receive no points for your melds and the cards won during play. Your opponents receive the points from their melds, a 250-point bonus, and the points from the cards they took in tricks. When a contract is met, both sides keep all their points.

Playing: The player to the dealer's left leads to the first trick. Play continues clockwise. The winner of each trick leads to the next. You must always
follow suit, and if you cannot follow to a nontrump suit, you must play a trump if possible. When a trump is led, you must play a higher trump than the previous trump. You must always play a higher card, if possible. The highest card of the suit led (or the highest trump) wins the trick. When the same card is played twice in a trick (such as the K), the card played first wins the trick.

Tips: You'll probably need to achieve 80 or more melding points to make any bid, and much of this depends upon how the hands wind up after the card exchange. Before sitting down, players can discuss their exchange strategies and decide what type of cards high bidder's partner should send.

Variation: Partnership Pinochle without an auction is also quite popular. Trump is determined by turning the last card up as trumps, which becomes part of dealer's hand. Players table their melds, and then player to dealer's left makes the first play. Each side scores the points it makes in tricks and melds. First side to 1,500 wins.

That's not all the Pinochle we have for you. Keep reading to learn a two-player version of the game, Two-Handed Pinochle.

Two-Handed Pinochle

Two-Handed Pinochle once was the most popular card game for two in the United States. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Two

Object: To score the most points by
melding and by taking tricks. A game is won when one or both players reach or pass 1,000 points, with the highest score declared the winner. (See the sidebars in the first section of this article to find out how scoring works.)

The Cards: A 48-card Pinochle deck. The deck can be made up from two standard packs by removing all twos through eights. Remember to use decks that look the same on the back. Cards are ranked from ace (high)-10-K-Q-J-9 (low).

Dealing: Spread the deck facedown, and
draw a card. The highest ranked card determines the dealer. If both players draw the same ranked card, draw again until the dealer is determined.

Cards are
dealt in groups of three or four cards until each player has 12 cards. The remaining cards form the stock.

After the deal, the dealer turns the top card from the stock faceup; this
upcard designates the trump suit. It is then placed half exposed at the bottom of the stock. If this card is a 9, the dealer immediately scores 10 points.

After each trick, both players are allowed to draw one card from stock, with the dealer drawing last.

Playing: Each deal has two phases, beginning with trick-taking and melding, followed by the endgame.

After the nondealer leads, the dealer can play any card; you don't have to
follow suit. High card wins the trick unless it is trumped. If two identical cards are played, the first card played wins the trick. Henceforth, the winner of a trick leads to the next trick.

Until the final card is drawn from the stock, players do not have to follow suit.

Melding: Melds may be made only one at a time during a player's turn if that player has won the trick but before drawing a card from the stock; the exception is the 9 of trumps, which can be scored with any or no meld. You must use at least one card from your hand to form a meld.

Points are recorded when each meld is built. Melds are left faceup on the table until the final card is drawn from the stock. They then are picked up and kept in
hand. Until the final draw, you may play these cards anytime during play instead of a card from your hand.

Cards played in a trick, however, are out of play for the rest of the hand. A melded card may be used again in a different meld but not for the same kind of meld. Thus, if one
K has been used in a marriage with one Q, that K cannot later be used in a marriage with a different Q, but it can be used again for a flush or four Ks in different suits.

The Dix (pronounced "deece"): If you turn up the first 9 of trumps (or Dix), you score 10 points. The first player who is dealt the Dix or draws the Dix from the stock exchanges it for the upcard at the bottom of the stock. The player with the second 9 of trumps simply shows the card and receives 10 points.

Endgame: When only the upcard and a single stock card are left, the winner of the previous trick takes the stock card, and the loser takes the upcard, which will be the Dix. At this point no further melds can be made.

Players place all melded cards on the table back into their hands. The winner of the previous trick then leads. Henceforth, players must follow suit if possible. When a trump is led, you must take with a higher trump if possible. If a nontrump suit is led and you are void in that suit, you must trump if able.

Tips: Cards played to tricks in the first phase of the game are no longer available for melding. Play a possible melding card only if you're sure you can spare it.

Kings and queens (especially the
Q) are good melding cards. Retain these cards while the possibility of melding with them is still alive. Jacks are not valuable cards to keep for melding (except the J). Four different jacks score only 40 points, so unless you have this meld, don't keep jacks.

If you've seen both
Ks, then all other kings become less valuable, since 80 kings is no longer a possible meld.

If your opponent plays a good melding card early, it's likely to be a duplicate. However, they may be missing the rest of the meld and be strapped for a play.

Use a trump in beginning play to meld some cards and free them for play, or to prevent opponent from melding. In the endgame a long trump suit will bring in several extra tricks, as well as the last trick.

In the endgame, beware the singleton ace. If opponent plays the other ace, you follow suit and lose. Play yours first.

Last but not least, we have one of the most fast-paced Pinochle variations -- Cut-Throat Pinochle.

Cut-Throat Pinochle

In Cut-Throat Pinochle, the action is more intense -- and it's every man for himself. Here's how to play:

Number of players: Three

Object: To reach 1,000 points in
tricks and melds. (See the sidebars in the first section of this article to find out how scoring works.)

The cards: The deck can be made up from two standard 52-card decks by removing all twos through eights. Remember to use decks that look the same on the back. Cards are ranked from Ace (high)-10-K-Q-J-9 (low).

Dealing: Cards are
dealt, in groups of four, sixteen to a player. All play is clockwise from the dealer.

Setting trump: The last card dealt, which is always to the dealer, is dealt faceup. The suit of this card determines
trump.

Point Values for Cards
Each trick can be scored differently, depending on the rank of the cards. Here's how the rankings work:

Aces, 10s: 10 points

Kings, Queens: 5 points

Jacks, 9s: 0 points

The last trick of a hand: 10 points

Playing: The player to the dealer's left begins play. You may lead any card in your hand. In three-handed Pinochle, you must either follow suit or play a trump if you are void in that suit and have a trump. You must always play to win if able. The winner of a trick always leads to the next trick. When two players put down the same card to take a trick, the first player to lay down the card wins the trick. The hand is over when no more tricks can be taken. Count the value of tricks, and sort cards into melds and tally your total score.

Scoring: Cut-Throat Pinochle follows the same scoring for melds as regular Pinochle, except that melds are counted after the tricks have been played and for the use of a different point value assigned to each card rank.

Now that you know about Pinochle and its many variations, you can join the legions of people who have already made Pinochle a lifelong hobby.