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.