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.