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Pinochle

Pinochle is a derivative of Bezique, a 2 player game of French origin still widely played in Europe. Bezique was popular in Paris gaming establishments in the 19th century, and appeared briefly in Britain around the 1860s but never really gained in popularity. In America, however, the game was eagerly embraced and quickly gave rise to a number of variations of which one of them is Pinochle.

Pinochle is a great card game for two players that employs a combination of meld-making and trick taking. It has two distinct stages of play, so the objectives and dynamics shift.

The Objective

The objective is to score points by making melds of certain combinations as set out below, and by winning tricks with valuable cards in them. Because each player has twelve cards, and the stack will be exhausted after twelve tricks, the play has two very important stages, and the rules and the objectives shift.

The game can be played to a grand total of 1000 points over several hands.

There are many variations, but most of them concern the number of cards or value of melds. The basic dynamics of the game remain the same, so we will explain a standard version here.

The Deck

Take two decks of standard playing cards and strip out the 8’s and down. That will give you two decks of 24 cards that you combine to make one deck of 48 cards. Therefore you’ll have two of each card in your deck. A total of 8 Kings, 8 Queens, 8 Jacks etcetera.

Rank and Value

For the purposes of Trick-Taking, the cards rank A, K, Q, J, 10, 9 .

The value of those cards won in a trick and counted up as points at the end of the hand are:

  • A = 11
  • K = 4
  • Q = 3
  • J = 2
  • 10=10

The Deal

Players cut to deal, and 12 cards are dealt to each player, in batches of three and four, whereupon the next card is turned face up and left protruding from beneath the remaining stack. This card determines the Trump Suit.

Left of the dealer leads first, and thereafter whoever wins the trick leads to the next. A player leads by placing a card face up on the table, and the opponent responds by playing one of their cards face up in reply. After each trick, each player draws a card from the stack, winner first, until it is exhausted, and then they play out their remaining cards in hand.

While there are still cards to draw, the following rules apply.

  • A player may lead any card, and the opponent has no obligation to follow suit
  • The trick is won by the highest Trump card played to it.
  • If no trumps are played, the Trick is won by the highest card of the suit led
  • Upon winning a Trick, a player may meld

Upon winning a trick, a player may meld. Of course, that means that if you don’t win the trick, you can’t meld. There is no particular incentive to win tricks in this stage, unless they offer a valuable card or the player wishes to meld. The players use this period of play to through off certain cards they don’t want, and prepare their hand for the Play-Off.

There is, however, the opportunity to make melds and score points that way. And this is an opportunity that doesn’t last forever. After just twelve tricks, the stack will be exhausted, and then the time for meld-making is over, and the rules change.

Rules on Making Melds

Upon winning a trick, and before drawing from the stack, a player may meld any of the combinations displayed below, and score immediately its point value. A player may make only one meld in turn.

Class A
Royal Flush
A,K,Q,J,10
in Trumps
150 pts
Royal Marriage
K & Q
in Trumps
40 puts
Common Marrieage
K & Q
in matching suits
20 pts
Deece
The Lowest Trump
10 pts
Class B - Four of a Kind
A♠ A♥ A♣ A♦
100 Pts
K♠ K♥ K♣ K♦
80 pts
Q♠ Q♥ Q♣ Q♦
60 pts
J♠ J♥ J♣ J♦
40pts
Class C - Pinochle
Q♠, J♦
40 pts

The Pinochle is always the Q♠, J♦ regardless of the Trump. However, some play that if Spades or Diamonds are Trumps, pinochle is redefined as Q♣ , J♥ .

A player melds by placing one of the combinations face up on the table, where they remain until they are played or led to a trick at the player’s discretion, as if they were cards in his/her hand.

As far as taking cards from one meld and combining them with others to make a another meld the following rules apply

  • At least one card must come from your hand. You can’t just re-arrange cards on the table and call them melds. You have to draw at least one from your hand.
  • You can meld up, but you can’t meld down. That means you can take a card or cards from a lower meld class, and place them together with some cards from your hand to form a meld in a higher class. The meld doesn’t have to be of higher value, per se, just further up the tree.
    Therefore you can also meld up in the same class. In such a case the new meld must be higher scoring.

For example, if you had the Pinochle laid down, the Q♠ J♦ and then later found the three other Queens in your hand, upon winning a trick, you could place the three Queens down, and place the Queen of Spades next to them to complete the quartet. Likewise, you could use one of those Queens to make a marriage or join the Trump Flush in the A – Class, remembering that at least one card must come from your hand to make a meld. But, you couldn’t take a King or Queen from a Marriage (Class A), and use it to meld a quartet in Class B.

What about adding just one King or one Queen to an already existing marriage? The answer is no. Not even if you have played one of those cards out to a trick. If you want another marriage in the same suit, you must use an entirely new pair of King and Queen in that suit. They can come one from your hand and one from a lower meld – that’s o.k. – but not adding a different King to the same Queen.

Melding the Deece

The ‘deece’ is the lowest trump, which is the 9 in a 48 card deck. Melding this on its own gives you 10 points. It is not necessary to ‘meld’ the deece in the manner that you do all other melds. You simply need to declare it, which can be done as you lay out another meld. At this time, you can exchange the deece face up for the original trump turned up at the deal. ‘Melding the deece’ does not constitute a ‘melding turn’.

You can also collect the 10 points for the deece simply by declaring it as it is played to a trick.

Each play then consists of a lead, and a play. The winner has option to meld, and then winner first, each draws a card from the stack. Eventually, however, after just twelve tricks, the stack is exhausted. As you draw to the close, the winner of the 12th trick has the option to meld as usual, and then draws the last face down card from the stack and shows it to their opponent who draws the face up card, the last and final card of the stack. Now, the rules change, and we play a different game.

The Play-Off

This is the home stretch, the last mile, the dash and pound to the finish line. It’s about this time that you’d be thinking Pinochle would be a better game if you had to follow suit.

As usual, the winner of the previous trick leads first and the following rules apply.

  • Each player must follow suit to the card led, if possible, and try to win the trick by playing a higher card.
  • If unable to follow suit, a Player must play a Trump if possible
  • If a Trump is led, a Player must try to beat it with a Higher Trump

In this manner the last 12 Tricks are played out. The winner of the last trick scores 10 for it. Players then take all the cards they have won in their tricks, and count up their value. This total is added to their score as points. Counting up all the Aces and all the Kings, Queens, Jacks and Tens equates to 240 points. So, between the two players, there should be a total of 240. For example, if I score 130, you must have 110!

Points are awarded in increments of 10. So anything smaller than 7 is rounded down. That means that if you score 136, that equals 130, but if you score 137, that equals 140. If both of you score totals like 126 v’s 114, each scores 120 and 110 respectively, and the missing ten points are simply lost to the game.

The points you score, come from melds which you have made within the first 12 plays, which you award as they are laid down.

And you score points as the total value of all the cards you have captured in Tricks which you count up at the end of play.

Scoring

Because Pinochle can be a fun fast rolling card game, many players draw chips from a common stack to represent their score. As you lay down a meld, you merely draw the number of chips that represent its value and lead to the next trick. This way you’re not hampered by pencil and paper, stopping and writing, while you’re playing cards.

Variations

There are many variations in Pinochle and some of them concern the rank and value of cards, or the number of cards or decks used. The basic strategies and objectives remain the same, and in this regard Pinochle remains true to its derivative, Bezique.

Some play that the cards rank A, 10, K, Q, J, 9 with the same point values as listed above. Some also play that in the first twelve tricks, the 10s ranks above the Kings, but in the last 12 tricks the 10s rank as usual between the J and 9. Their point value (10) nevertheless remains the same.

Also, for scoring purposes, it can be easier math to value the cards Ace and Kings at 10 points, Jacks and Queens at 5, and Tens like 9s, no value at all. This is common practice and makes scoring much less tedious.

Some play that the winner of the 12th trick may look at, and choose which of the last two cards they prefer.

There are many more variations of Pinochle that involve numbers of decks, and the point-value of melds, double melds and so on.

Once the basic game is played within these rules, then the variations become ways of extending the game, or placing more emphasis on one aspect more than the other.

Pinochle should not be looked upon as a passive meld making game like Rummy, where you lay down melds till you run out of cards. In Pinochle, your hand is always being replenished, and new opportunities arise. Building a basis from low melds can lay the building blocks for higher melds, like a kind of march forward that lays out more and more of your cards on the table, while scoring handsomely for them.

Of course, the flip side is, all your cards are out so it’s pretty easy to see what you’ve got.

While you’re making melds and drawing cards, you also need to be spending some time brushing off and getting rid of cards you really don’t want later, when you have to follow suit. Your attention should be quietly arranging your cards, setting up your hand to see you through the home stretch at the play off.

That’s why Pinochle is such a good game. It has these two stages, and there are always opportunities to score.

Auction Pinochle - Three Player Pinochle

Although the game can be played almost identically above by three players, that practice gave way to a much more popular form of Auction Pinochle, which, it just so happens, has the unusual peculiarity of being an excellent game for three players.

Objective: The player who calls the highest bid, the Bidder, attempts to fulfil his/her contract by scoring points in melds and cards in tricks won.

The other two players team up to defeat the Bidder.

The Deal

A standard Pincochle 48 card deck is dealt out to each player in batches of 3 and 4 in such a manner that each player ends up with 15 cards, and there are 3, face down cards in the middle called the ‘Widow’.

Beginning left of the dealer, each player takes it in turn to bid or pass. Once having passed, the player cannot re-enter the bidding process. Beginning at 300, each bid must be higher than the previous. The bid represents the number of points the player thinks he/she can score.

Once the bidding is settled, and the contract made, the Bidder turns the three cards of the Widow so that all players can see, and then adds them to his/her hand.

The Bidder then names the Trump suit and lays out his melds and scores for them as usual as set out in the table above. No other players meld. Only the bidder.

Once this is done, the Bidder takes up his cards and discards 3 face down for the Widow. These will be counted at the end of play together with the cards he/she wins in tricks.

The Play

The Bidder leads first, and thereafter whoever wins the trick leads to the next. The same rules apply as in the play off. You must follow suit. You must try to win the trick, if possible.

At the end of play, the Bidder takes up his/her cards, including those discarded to the Widow, and counts up his/her total. The points he/she has made in his melds and won in his tricks make up his total.

If the Bidder’s total is greater than or equal to the amount he bid, he makes his contract and each player will ‘pay’ him the amount of his bid and no more. If the Bidder has scored more, the opponents only pay him the amount bid. That means, if the Bidder called 300, it’s a deficit of 300 points from each opponent and a reward of 600 points to the Bidder.

On the other hand, if the Bidder fails to make his bid, he/she pays an amount equal his bid to each opponent – in the above example that’s 300 to each player, a deficit of 600 points. And each of the opponents gains 300 points.


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