Pinochle

The Deck

Pinochle is played with a 48-card deck (here US). The deck consists of twelve cards in each of four suits - two in each of the ranks Ace, Ten, King, Queen, Jack, and Nine. Note that the rank of cards differs from standard usage: the Ten outranks everything (within its suit) except the Ace. This is likely to be a stumbling block for many people; however, if you are familiar with the bowers in Euchre or the strange role played by the Queen of Spades in Hearts, you should have no trouble with the transition.

In the trick-taking phase of the game, the Aces, Tens, and Kings are worth points, and thus are called "counters." Queens, Jacks, and Nines are not worth points (although they can win tricks [and influence people]), so they are called "non-counters."

The (at first) unusual order of ranks can be remembered by chanting "Ace, Ten, King" over and over, much as a beginning or infrequent dancer (such as myself) chants "one, two, three" while learning to waltz. "Ace, Ten, King" has become something of a mantra at our pinochle parties.

The Deal

For the first round of a game, the players select a dealer in whatever manner they choose. At our house, it's generally whoever happens to pick up the cards first. (Throughout this document, a "round" will refer to the entire sequence from one deal to the next; the set of cards dealt to an individual player will be called a "hand.")

The dealer shuffles the cards in whatever manner is convenient to mix them thoroughly. (It is considered good form to offer to shuffle and/or deal for somebody whose hands don't work so well.) The shuffled deck is placed on the table to the dealer's right; the player to that side cuts the deck, preferably toward the dealer.

The dealer picks up the deck (cut portion last) and deals the cards evenly to each players, beginning with dealer's left. Some players insist that the cards be dealt one at a time. I was taught to deal the cards three at a time, and continue to do so. Truth be told, it doesn't matter as long as each player receives twelve cards, the dealer receiving the final card(s). All 48 cards will have been dealt.

It is generally courteous to wait until all the cards have been dealt before picking up your hand. This way, if one player does not have enough cards, they can be re-distributed without having to re-shuffle and re-deal the whole deck.

Once the cards have been dealt, the players pick up, sort, and examine their hands. The next phase is bidding.

The Bid

The winner of the bid (hereafter called the "declarer") acquires three rights:

  • the right to name trump,

  • the right to receive cards from his/her partner, and

  • the right to lead the first trick.

The minimum opening bid is 250 points, and the player to the dealer's left has the first opportunity to bid. Bids are made in increments of 10 (or multiples of 10) points. Unlike Bridge, no suit is named along with the point value - the bid consists of a number only.

Bid passes to the left, and when the bid reaches you, you have four options:

  1. Give a normal bid by announcing a number 10 points higher than the last bid.

  2. Give a “jump” bid by saying a number at least 20 points higher than the last bid.

  3. Say "Pass," thereby removing yourself from the bidding for this round. (If it looks as though the other players will be bidding for a while, go get a cup of tea.)

  4. Say "Pass with help." This phrase removes you from the bidding for the round, but can be used to convey extra information to your partner. Note that some people do not allow the use of "Pass with help"; always inquire locally before starting play.

When only one person has not said "pass" (or "pass with help"), that person has won the bid and becomes the declarer. The amount bid is recorded on a piece of paper which is being used as a score pad.

In Pinochle, the dealer is "under": this means that if the other three players pass, the dealer has taken the bid at 250 points.

The winner of the bidding names the trump suit.

Passing Cards

When the bidder has named trump, the bidder's partner selects four cards to pass across the table. Exactly four cards must be sent; no more and no fewer. Once you've selected your four cards, place them in one stack face down on the table in front of you, and slide them across to your partner.

The bidder picks up these four cards and sorts them into his or her hand and chooses four cards to send back across the table in the same way. These may include some of the cards just received.

Laying Down Meld

Now that the cards have been passed back and forth across the table, all four players lay down their meld. My dictionary calls meld "a combination of cards declared, especially by putting them face up on the table," and that definition is appropriate. Each combination is called a piece of meld, and each piece is worth a particular number of points.

There are three types of meld, and an individual card may belong to several different pieces of meld as long as they are of different types. Each player places face-up on the table only those cards necessary to show the value of their meld.

In My Family's Pinochle, the various pieces of meld are worth the following numbers of points:

TYPE I

Runs (all cards must be in trump-- non-trump runs do not count)
  Bare Run (A, T, K, Q, J) .............................   150
  Run with Extra King (A, T, K, K, Q, J) ...............   190
  Run with Extra Queen (A, T, K, Q, Q, J) ..............   190
  Run with Extra Marriage (A, T, K, K, Q, Q, J) ........   230   
  Double Run (A, A, T, T, K, K, Q, Q, J, J) ............  1500

Nine of Trump (called the deece)  ......................    10

Marriages (King and Queen of the Same Suit)
  Royal Marriage (in Trump)  ...........................  40
  Common Marriage (non-Trump)  .........................  20

TYPE II

Pinochle
  Single (one Jack of Diamonds and one Queen of Spades) .......   40
  Double (both Jacks of Diamonds and both Queens of Spades) ...  300

TYPE III

Arounds            One of Each Suit        Both of Each Suit
  Aces  ...............  100   ................. 1000
  Kings  ..............   80   .................  800
  Queens  .............   60   .................  600
  Jacks  ..............   40   .................  400

Although it seems arbitrary, Tens Around is worth nothing. Nines Around, if you really want to meld it, is (facetiously) worth 10 points, because you automatically have the deece.

When all four players have laid down their meld, both teams count their points and record them on the score pad. Here's where it starts to get interesting: There are only a total of 250 points available during the trick-taking phase of the game. If the amount that was bid is more than 250 points above the amount melded by the declarer's team, there is no way that team can make their bid. They are not "on the board," and they will "go set" for this hand. (See the Taking Tricks section for what happens when you've "gone set.")

If the difference between the amount bid and the amount the declarer's team has melded is 250 points or less, the hand can be played out. However, if the declarer feels there is absolutely no chance of making the required points, he or she can "throw in the hand" and the consequences are the same as if that team had not been "on the board". General courtesy calls for all players to wait until the declarer picks up his or her own meld; then they may pick up theirs. This gives the declarer a fair chance to see what he or she is up against.

Taking Tricks

Once all players have picked up their melded cards, the declarer leads to the first trick. Proceeding to the left, each player plays a card on the trick (following the rules outlined below). When four cards have been played to the trick, the highest-ranking card of trump - or, if there is no trump in the trick, the highest-ranking card of the suit led - wins the trick. If there is a tie for highest-ranking card, the trick is won by whichever of the equal cards was played first. The player who played the winning card leads to the next trick, and so on until twelve tricks have been played.

There are some rules about what must be played on the trick. The first, or lead, card, may be anything in the leader's hand (although some plays are smarter than others). The basic rules of engagement are as follows:

  1. If you have a card of the same suit as the lead card, you must play it. If possible, you must play a card that beats the card that currently controls the trick.

  2. If you do not have any cards in the suit led, but you have a card in trump, you must play it, thereby "trumping the trick". If you have no card of the suit led and the trick already contains trump, you must beat it with a higher trump card if you can; even if you can't win the trick you must in any case play a trump if you have one.

  3. If you cannot follow suit and you cannot trump the trick, you may "slough", that is, play any other card.

Notes:

  • The first played of two identical cards beats the second.

  • The rule obliging you to beat the card currently winning the trick applies even if the card you are obliged to beat is your partner's.

  • If you have no card of the suit led, you must play a trump if you can, even if someone before you has already played a higher trump than yours. The only case in which you are allowed to throw a card of a non-trump suit different from the led suit is when you have no cards of the suit led and no trumps.

  • The obligation to play higher only applies if you are able to beat the card that is currently winning the trick. If you are unable to do this you may play any card, subject always to the necessity to follow suit and to play a trump if you have no card of the suit led. For example, if the non-trump lead has already been trumped, and you have cards in the suit led, you cannot beat the trump that is currently winning the trick (since you have to follow suit), so you may play any card of the suit that was led.

Once all four cards have been played to a trick, it should be clear which player has won the trick. Each team should designate one partner to "pull" the tricks, or gather them from the center of the table. For the declaring team, this is usually the non-declarer (giving the declarer time to concentrate on what to lead next). The puller collects the cards, turns them face-down, and places them in a stack in front of him or her on the table. As a courtesy, the puller shows the cards to the other players (especially the declarer) before they are turned face-down.

Counting Points

Once all twelve tricks have been played, both teams collect their stacks of pulled cards and count the Aces, Tens, and Kings (the "counters") collected during the round. Each counter is worth 10 points. The final trick, in and of itself, is worth an additional 10 points. This make 250 points total: 240 for the twenty-four counters in the deck, plus 10 for the final trick.

The scores obtained by each side are recorded on the score pad.

If the declaring team "makes the bid" (earns enough points, through melding and trick-taking combined, to meet or exceed the amount bid), all the earned points are added to the team's previous score. If they do not, they "go set". This means that they do not score any points melded, they score no points taken in the tricks, and their previous score is reduced by the amount bid.

If the non-declaring team fails to earn points while taking tricks (that is, they pulled no counters and failed to capture the final trick), they do not score any points that were melded. (It is said that they failed to "save their meld.") The exception is that if their only meld was one or both deeces, the points are scored. Nines of trump are said to "save themselves". If the non-declaring team does capture points in tricks, the meld is added to their previous score, along with any points earned in tricks.

If the declaring team were not "on the board" (their meld fell short of their bid by more than 250 points) or they decided to throw in the hand without play, they lose the amount of their bid, and the opponents score their own meld. The cards are not played, so there is no score for cards won in tricks. Note that if the declaring side have no chance of making their bid, it is advantageous for them to throw in the hand, as this prevents the opponents from scoring for cards taken in the play.

It is a great coup for the declaring team to take all 250 points during the trick-taking phase of the game. It is also a great coup for the non-declaring team to steal enough points that the declaring team cannot make their bid. This tension, and waiting to see how it will be resolved, is part of the great fun of Pinochle.