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Pinochle is a card game played with a 48-card pack consisting of two copies each of cards of the ranks 9, jack, queen, king, 10, ace in the four suits (spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs) found in the more widely used 52-card bridge or poker pack. Note that 10's rank higher than face cards.

Variants of pinochle can be played by two, three, four, five or six players. In general, dealing and play proceed from right to left. Hands are played until a player or team reaches 100 points. Each hand is played in three phases: bidding, melds and tricks.

What is being bid on is the right to name a suit "trump", or higher ranking than all other suits in the taking of tricks. Bidding starts at a defined minimum level (150 for four handed pinochle). A player who has not yet "passed" has the option of exceeding the current highest bid, or "passing". Bidding starts to the dealer's left. If all players other than the dealer pass, the dealer names trump at a "price" usually one less than the minimum bid.

Meld consists of specific combinations of cards. Possession of these combinations adds points to one's score, and also confers partial information about one's hand to one's teammate and opponents. Values of melds are as follows:

Class I (rank melds)

"Aces" - 4 aces of different suits - 100 points

"Kings" - 4 kings of different suits - 80 points

"Queens" - 4 queens of different suits - 60 points

"Jacks" - 4 jacks of different suits - 40 points

It is important that they are different suits. The SA, HA, HA, and CA does not qualify for aces because you are missing the DA. Also, there is no "Nines" or "Tens".

Class II (suit melds)

"Trump Marriage" - King and Queen of trump suit - 40 points

"Marriage" - King and Queen of nontrump suit - 20 points

"Flush" - ATKQJ of trump suit - 150 points

"Dix" - 9 of trump - 10 points

Class III (pinochle)

"Pinochle" - Jack of Diamonds and Queen of Spades - 40 points.

"Double Pinochle" - both Jack of Diamonds and both Queen of Spades - 300 points.

Each card may be used in at most one meld of each class. So, HK HK HQ only counts as one marriage. But, with SK SQ DJ, the spade queen may be used both for a marriage and for a pinochle. As a shorthand, some people divide all scores by 10 points.

Also note that a marriage in each suit is worth 240 total points. As a shortcut, this is called a "roundtable".

Play of the hand

As normal with trick-taking games, the winner of each trick leads to the next. The high bidder leads to the first trick. Each player must follow suit if possible. Otherwise, each player must trump if possible. This rule is unique to pinochle. When trump is led or played, you must beat the previous card played. So, if the trump king is led, you must play the ten or ace if you are next to play. If you have neither of these cards, you may play any trump you wish, and if out of trump you may play any card you wish. Further, when a previous player has ruffed and you also must ruff, you must overruff if possible. So, if player A leads clubs, and player B and C have no clubs, both player B and C must ruff, and player C must overruff player B if possible.

Points are scored based on the play of the hand. There are several ways to count up the points for play, but they add up to 250 points under all methods. The last trick is worth 10 points under all methods.

Method #1 - simplified

Aces and Tens are worth 10 points, kings and queens are worth 5 points, jacks and nines are worth zero.

Method #2 - classical

Aces are worth 11, tens are worth 10, kings are worth 4, queens are worth 3, jacks are worth 2, and nines are worth zero. The disadvantage of this method is that it takes much longer to count the score at the end of each hand. The strategy is not much different from method #1

Method #3 - streamlined

Aces, tens, and kings are worth 10, queens, jacks, and nines are worth 0. This method elminates much of the strategy of method #1. It is useful in double-deck games where 2X48 = 96 cards are used.

Note that in each method, there are 60 points in each suit, plus 10 points for last, for a total of 4X60+10 = 250 points.

Variations Based on Number of Players

3 players - to 1000 points Each player plays for himself. 15 cards are dealt to each player, and 3 in the middle (called "talon"). The bidding starts at 300 (250 for an easier game). The player to the left of the dealer bids first. A player that has meld (not including 9s) must open the bidding. If the first player to bid has no meld, he may pass or bid. If he passes, the obligation to bid (if holding meld) passes to the next player. Bids increase in multiples of 10. An optional rule is that bids ending in 40 and 90 are not allowed, so after 330 the next bid is 350. Once a player passes, he is out of the auction.

The high bidder wins the auction. He turns up the 3 cards in the middle for all to see. Then, he adds those 3 cards to his hand and discards any 3 of his 18 cards. Then, he names trump and lays down his meld. Then, the other 2 players lay down their meld. Then, the hand is played. A player must take at least one trick to gain credit for his meld, even if that trick contains no points. The 3 cards discarded by the high bidder count towards his score for the hand, so there is always a total of 250 in cards. If the high bidder fails to make his contract (meld + points from the play), then his score for that hand is negative the amount of his bid.

After seeing the 3 cards in the middle, the high bidder may concede the hand and take a negative score for the amount of his bid. However, he still must name trump and the other 2 players get to score their meld. Conceding the hand does save the points the opponents would score playing the hand, although the opponents will not have an opportunity to lose their meld by failing to take a trick. A player may not attempt to play the hand for more than 250 points. For example, if the bid is 350 and a player has only 80 points in meld, that player is forced to concede. (If a player is about to win, it may have been worthwhile to play the hand and try to deny that player a trick. Remember that the decision to concede a hand must be made before seeing the opponents' meld.) A player who was forced to take the bid for 300 points may choose to concede "without looking" at the "talon". He goes back 300 points and the opponents do not score anything for the hand. This strategy is useful when another player is close to winning. Even when holding a hopeless hand, it pays to look when nobody is close to winning, because the odds of drawing 2 to a flush is usually justified. (Not true when playing "check pinochle".)

The game is won when one player reaches 1000 points. It is possible for 2 or 3 players to go over 1000 on the same hand. There are 3 methods of resolving ties: Method #1. Highest score wins. If there's a tie, play another hand. This is the least desirable method. Method #2. "Overtime rule" The game is extended and is now a contest to 1250 points. If 2 player go over 1250 on the same hand, the contest is now to 1500 points. This holds even if people go minus and everyone falls below 1000 points. Method #3 "bid and out rule" If 2 players go over 1000 on the same hand, then whichever of them took the bid wins. If 2 non-bidders go over 1000 on the same hand (extremely rare), then it reverts to Method #2 or Method #1. The advantage of this method is that it very interesting when 2 or 3 players are close to 1000.

4 players - to 1000 2 teams of 2 players, seated opposite from your partner. Play is to 1000. The opening bid is 150. Each player gets 12 cards. There is no "talon". High bidder names trump. Both the bidder and his partner have their score count towards making the contract. Each hand must meld separately. In other words, if your partner has a spade marriage, you may not put down the diamond jack for a pinochle; you must also have a spade queen. As in the 3 handed version, the first player is forced to bid when holding meld. Optional rule: when there are 3 initial passes (i.e., the first 3 players have no meld), the dealer is forced to bid 190 if he has meld.

3 player - check pinochle This is a gambling variant. It is the same as to 1000, except that you keep track of "checks". If you are playing $1 stakes, each check you gain means that the other 2 players owe you a dollar. The following events cause a gain/loss of checks.

Flush +1 check

Aces +1 check

Roundtable +2 checks (marriage in each suit)

Note that checks for meld can be earned either by the bidder or non-bidder. Checks are kept even if you do not make your bid or "throw it in".

Looking at the "talon" and losing the hand (either by conceding or playing) -1 check

Playing the hand and losing -1 additional check (optional)

Not looking at the talon and conceding 300 points. - no gain or loss of checks (happens when forced to bid)

Double marriage (2 marriages in same suit) +1 check (optional)

Double pinochle +1 check (optional)

Double Aces, Double Kings, Double Queens, or Double Jacks +2 checks (optional)

Winning the game +5 checks or +10 checks

7 nines +5 or +10 checks (optional) (do not need to win the bid to get credit)