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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Royal Marriage 40
Aces around 100
Kings around 80
Queens around 60
Jacks around 40
Double pinochle 300
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.
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.
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.
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.