Pinochle is a popular American card game. The basic game is played with two players, but there are several popular variants that incorporate more players, most notably auction pinochle and partnership pinochle. The game is a combination of trick-taking and melding, coming off like a mix of euchre, rummy, and canasta.

Rules of the Game

The pinochle deck
A pinochle deck is made of forty-eight card, two each of the ace, 10, king, queen, jack, and 9 in each suit (and with that rank; 10 is higher than the king but lower than the ace). One can often find specially made pinochle decks at most department stores, but it's easy to make your own out of two identically-backed decks.

Dealing
The dealer gives twelve cards to each player after shuffling, then turns the next card up and places it on the bottom of the deck face up, so that both players can see the card under the deck. This card's suit is trump.

Playing the game
The game is played in two distinct phases, divided by whether or not there are cards left in the deck.

Phase 1
As long as cards remain in the stock, the game is in phase 1. The player who did not deal leads to the first trick, then the dealer plays any card from his or her hand to the trick; the second player is not required to follow suit or trump in phase 1. The highest trump takes the trick; otherwise, the highest card in the suit that was led takes the trick. If the cards are identical, then the first player takes the trick. The winner of the trick takes the top card of the stock and puts it in their hand, the loser of the trick then takes the next card from the stock and places it in their hand. The winner of the trick sets the two cards won off to the side in a winnings pile, scored at the end.

The winner of the trick is now allowed to meld if they wish; see the part about melding below. The winner of the trick then leads a card to the next trick; note that the cards on the table in the meld are still considered to be part of the hand and are played as such. The purpose of melding is to gain points by showing your opponent what you have in hand.

Play continues as above until their are no cards left in the stock. When the stock is down to one face down card and the remaining trump card, the winner of the trick may choose which card to take. After picking up these last two cards the winner of that trick may still meld.

Phase 2
In phase two, no more cards are drawn. The remaining hand is played out, except now the second player must follow suit if possible, and if not, must play trump if possible. Melds are impossible during this phase unless a player has been holding one in hand for strategic reasons, as no new cards are added to the hand.

Melding
The purpose of melding is to earn some points by revealing cards from the hand to the opponent. There are only certain kinds of melds that are allowed, and each one earns certain points. These legal melds are:

Meld name         What it is
---------         ----------
Run               A-K-Q-J-10 in same suit
Marriage          K-Q in same suit
Royal Marriage    K-Q in trump
Aces around       One A in each suit
Kings around      One K in each suit
Queens around     One Q in each suit
Jacks around      One J in each suit
Pinochle          J of Diamonds & Q of Spades
Double pinochle   Two simultaneous pinochles
Dix               9 of trump

Meld name         Value (points)
---------         ----------
Run               150
Marriage          20
Royal Marriage    40
Aces around       100
Kings around      80
Queens around     60
Jacks around      40
Pinochle          40
Double pinochle   300
Dix               10

A few notes: you only get 260 points if you add another pinochle to a pinochle already on the table. Also, when you play the dix, you exchange it for the trump card on the bottom of the deck face up, and add that card to your hand.

Scoring
In addition to the points above (which should be noted immediately before they are played and disappear from the table), at the end of the hand, all points from the cards taken from tricks are added up as follows: 11 points for each ace, 10 points for each ten, 4 points for each king, 3 points for each queen, and 2 points for each jack. A running total is kept, and the first person to break 1200 points wins.

Basic Strategy

The first lesson you will learn is that if you have half of a pinochle, hold it at all costs unless you can take something with it. This is especially true if your opponent has already dropped a pinochle to the table.

Another lesson is to play the melds when you get them (unless you are an experienced hand). If you don't, the other player could get in the lead and stay there, eventually destroying the meld before you can score it. For beginners, it is much more important to simply get the points than to play a game of greater finesse.

Notes

This game is very enjoyable, particularly when some experience in the game is gained and both players are playing with a great deal of finesse. It has a lot of strategy hidden inside the game; I suppose this accounts for its popularity. I, for one, enjoy the game greatly and find it to be a quite enjoyable card game.

In addition tes' writeup, I will add some more detailed information about the phases of the game of Pinochle, as well as some general strategies. Note that the variation of Pinochle that I am writing about differs from tes'. Although similar, this is a different style of play, and has different scoring and strategies.

Phase 1 - Bidding:

Bidding is probably the most important and complicated part of Pinochle, and also the hardest to master. Depending on the type of bidding, each player has one or more chances to "bid" on their hand. The two most popular types of bidding are auction bidding, in which players can go back and forth on bidding, and one-shot bidding, where you only get one chance to bid.

The bidding takes place in a clockwise fashion, with the player to the left of the dealer bidding first. Bidding usually starts at 21 for auction bidding. The next bidder can increase the bid however many points they wish. You only want to bid if your hand is good, which I will elaborate upon later. If a player does not choose to bid, they can "pass," which alerts the other players that the passing person has elected to stop bidding or not bid at all this round. The bidding continues until only one person has not passed; in effect, they have bid the highest and have won the bid. If all players left of the dealer pass, the dealer is then "stuck" and counts as winning the bid. A dealer can never pass. The stuck player counts as having bid at 20.

Bidding is done by point values. These point values represent how much points the team that won the bid must take to "make the bid." If they do not make the point value that they bid on to win the bidding phase, then the team will recieve a penalty in points, which is often referred to as "going up." When this penalty is incurred, the team that did not make the bid subtracts the bid total from their total score. For example, if my team bid 25, and we only made 23 points for the hand, we would "go up," have 25 points subtracted from our total score, and recieve no points for that hand, regardless of how much meld we had, or how many tricks we took.

If the team makes the bid, they simply recieve the points they made that hand. The team that did not win the bidding does not have to make any specified number of points. However, the more tricks that they take away from the bidding team, the more points that they can steal, which in turn could cause the bidding team to "go up."

Phase 2 - Trump and Melding:

By winning a bid, a player has precedence to set one suit of their choice to represent the "trump" suit. This is why winning a bid is important.

By naming a suit trump, a player increases the power of their hand. This is because a trump suit automatically beats any other card played, unless it is of the same suit and higher in the order of power. Therefore, a player who names trump takes the suit with the most power in their hand, and names that suit as trump. We will review the use of trump cards in play in the next phase.

Now that the bidding is over and trump has been named, each player must display their "meld." Meld is important, as it gives you points at the beginning of the hand, before play even begins. Each player looks at their hand, checks for meld, and lays it on the table. Each team adds up their total meld score, and the scorekeeper records it underneath the team's total score.

Here are the melding combinations and their associative points values:

One-hundred Aces: One ace of each suit - 10 pts.
Eighty Kings: One king of each suit - 8 pts.
Sixty Queens: One queen of each suit - 6 pts.
Fourty Jacks: One jack of every suit - 4 pts.
A run: An ace, ten, king, queen, and jack, all in the same suit - 15 pts. (a run is only worth 15 points if it is in the suit that was named trump, otherwise it is worth nothing)
A marriage: A king and queen of the same suit - 2 pts. (4 pts. if the suit was named trump)
Pinochle (Queen of Spades, Jack of Diamonds): Exactly what it says - 4 pts.
Thirty Pinochle: Both queens of spades and both jacks of diamonds - 30 pts. (in some variations, this is worth 8 pts.)
Nine of Trump: Exactly what it says - 1 pt.

After the melding points are recorded, the players return their meld to their hands, and play begins.

Phase 3 - Play:

The actual play of Pinochle is simple. Each player takes a turn throwing one card. The player who ends up with the highest of the four cards out on the table wins the trick, and keeps those cards on their "trick pile."

The order of power in Pinochle looks like this:

Ace
Ten
King
Queen
Jack
Nine

When the first card is played on a trick, each other player must follow suit, meaning they must throw a card with the same suit as the card that was first played. For example, if I threw a jack of diamonds, the next player must play a diamond. Also, most importantly, the player whose turn it is to throw a card MUST beat the highest card on the table.

Let's review the order of power. If I threw a jack of diamonds, and the next player had a choice between a nine of diamonds and a ten of diamonds, they MUST play the ten of diamonds. If the following player has a king of diamonds and an ace of diamonds, they MUST play the ace of diamonds. If you are unable to beat a card, you may throw a card of lesser power.

Often, a player will be unable to follow suit, due to the fact that they have much less of one suit than another. This is where trump comes into play. If you can't play a suit because you do not have any of that suit in your hand, you are allowed to play a trump card.

Trump beats all other cards. Even a nine of trump can beat an ace of another suit. However, the order of power for Pinnochle cards still applies to trump, so if an ace of trump was played, as well as a king of trump, the ace would still take the trick.

Let's review. For our example, let's say diamonds is trump. I am playing a card first, and it is the queen of spades. The next player has no spades in their hand, so they must trump the spade with a diamond. They play a jack of diamonds. The following player has a king of spades, so they must play it because they must follow suit. The last player has no spades, so they must play a diamond that can beat the jack of diamonds. The last player plays an ace of diamonds, and takes the trick.

There are occasions where players will not have any of a suit that was led, nor any trump, either. In this case, they are free to play whatever cards they want, regardless of the suit.

When a player has taken a trick, it is their turn to play first. This process repeats until all twelve tricks are taken.

When each player has no cards remaining in their hands, the hand is over, and the trick piles must be counted. Each team counts their own trick pile. This is the second method of obtaining points.

When counting a trick pile, you only recieve points for cards called "counters." The counters in Pinochle are:

Ace, king and ten

It doesn't matter what suit they are in, as long as you have an ace, a king or a ten while counting, it is worth one point. All queens, jacks and nines are worth nothing. Therefore, if you have 3 aces, 4 tens, 1 king, 5 queens, 2 jacks and 1 nine, you would end up with eight points for the hand. Also, the team that took the last trick adds one point to their trick score for taking the last trick. Finally, the total between the two teams' trick points should add up to 25. Therefore, if a team took all the tricks, they would recieve 25 points.

After the points are counted up, the team that won the bid must total their meld score and their trick score. If it is equal to or greater than the bid number, they succeeded in making the bid, and recieve all the points that they made that hand. If their combined meld and trick score is less than the bid number, they "go up," and recieve no points, as well as having the bid number subtracted from their total score. The team that did not win the bid recieves all meld and trick points that they made that hand, regardless of the results of the other team.

Phase 4 - Repeat:

Players repeat phases one through three, passing the dealer responsibility off to their left each time. When a team has a total score of 120 or more, they are the winners of the game.

There is an exception to this, however. If both teams are very close to 120 points, and both have a chance of equaling or exceeding that number, then it is called a "bidder's game." In a bidder's game, if both teams exceed 120 points in the same hand, the team who won the bid for that hand is declared the winner.


Comments:

There are several strategies and intricacies I did not mention in this writeup. That is because I would have to run through the thousands of possibilities of occurences, and neither you nor I would like to sit through that. However, I will list some common strategies:

- When bidding, if you have a run, you should ALWAYS bid. If you do not win the bid, your run is useless and worth no melding points. If you win the bid, you have at least five trump cards, as well as an additional 15 points of melt.

- When bidding, look at the distribution of cards in your hand. You know that there are only 12 cards in each suit (two aces, two tens, two kings, two queens, two jacks, two nines.) If you have six or more of one suit, you have over half of the cards in that suit in your hand. This bodes well for you, because you could bid and name this suit trump. In effect, this gives you over half of the trump in the deck, and since trump beats any other suit, you're in good shape to trump lots of tricks.

- When meld is being played, check out what your partner laid on the table. Make a mental note of these cards, as then you'll know some of what they have in their hand. Also, check your opponent's meld, because you can sometimes play around the cards they have.

- Purposely passing with a powerful hand can be helpful when your opposing team is stuck. If they can't make the 20 points required when stuck, they will lose 20 points off their score, and your team will add all the points you made for that hand.

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