You may find learning how to play pinochle rather complicated. There are many rules, points, and melds to master, plus the skill of playing to maximize the hand you are dealt. However, let that not discourage you. As with any other game, the fun of playing takes away the tedium of learning. There are many variations of Pinochle; the one below is for a standard play for four people, making two teams of two players each.
Pinochle is played with two decks of playing cards, except that only the 10s, 9s, Kings, Queens, Jacks and aces of all suits are used, making 48 cards in all. Partners sit across from each other. The dealer shuffles the cards, lets the person seated at his right cut the cards, and then deals the cards equally to all players. Each player ends up with 12 cards.
Before commencing play, the players should understand the technicalities of melding and winning tricks. Learning these details is tricky, but it is best to stay with it.
Bidding. Players make bids on how many points they think they can win from the cards they have on hand, either by melding or by trick-taking. So you should calculate the points you make from the melds you have, add to them the points you think you can make by trick-taking, and start your bid from the sum of the two. The number you bid does not have to be exact; you just have to make your best calculated guess. After playing for some time, you’ll get the hang of bidding. The bids of partners in a team are added up.
The bidding starts from the dealer’s left, with the minimum bid being 250. Bids must be higher than the ones made before, and should be in multiples of 10. If any player cannot bid higher, then that player must pass; bidding continues round, getting higher, until two players declare a pass. The highest bidder wins the bid (not the game, yet). The highest bidder has the advantage of naming the trump suit (whatever suit he chooses that makes the most of the cards he has), and if he wants, he can ask his partner for four cards. He then assesses all of his cards, decides which ones to keep, and gives four cards back to his partner.
Melding. Players combine their cards to make the highest possible scores. Melding can be done in various ways:
a) Around – four cards of the same rank in various suits, but the 10 and 9 Arounds are worth zero points. If you have all 8 cards (same rank, four suits), that’s a Double Around.
The scoring of an Around depends on the rank of the cards. Aces, 100; Double, 1000. Kings, 80; Double, 800. Queen, 60; Double, 600. Jack, 40; Double, 400.
b) Marriage – a meld of the king and queen in the same suit. If they constitute the trump suit that was chosen by the winning bidder they’re called a Royal Marriage, and get a higher score than a Plain Marriage, one that’s not the trump suit.
Scoring: Royal Marriage, 40. Plain Marriage, 20.
c) Flush or Run – ten, Jack, Queen, King and ace in the trump suit. Other Runs do not score points. When a player melds a Flush or Run, the Royal Marriage it contains is not counted. If you have an extra Queen, King, or both in the trump suit, each one gets 40 points in addition to the score of the run.
Scoring: 150 points; Double, 1500. Add an extra 40 for each extra King or Queen unless it’s a Double Run.
d) Dix – the 9 of trump. It’s actually not melded, but a solo card. The name comes from the French word “dix” (pronounced “deese”, meaning ten).
Scoring: 10 points
e) Pinochle – the Jack of diamonds combined with the Queen of spades.
Scoring: 40 points; Double, 300.
A card can be used in two melds as long as the combination includes melds of different types. For example, a Queen can be declared for an Around and a Marriage, but not for two Marriages. Also, partners cannot share cards. The only sharing allowed is at the start of the game, when the winning bidder can ask for four cards from his partner.
After the scores are done, each team checks its score to figure out if it can match its bid, taking into consideration the possibility of scoring from tricks. If it can’t meet its bid, it’s better off going “set”. This means forfeiting the round. The amount bid is deducted from the score from the previous round.
Taking tricks. The winning bidder leads with a card from the cards remaining in his hand. Whatever suit he puts down should be topped by the other players in order to win. The play goes clockwise. If a player has no card of the same suit, a trump is played; if no trump, then any card will do. A trump card will always beat other cards regardless of rank. The highest card wins the trick; the winner leads with another card. The play goes on until all cards are played, which is the end of the game.
Scoring the Tricks. Each card has equivalent scores, which is why winning tricks is important: it allows you to boost your score considerably. Ace = 11 points; 10 = 10; King = 4, Queen = 3; Jack = 2; 9 = 0. Winner of last trick = 10 points. Score the cards won in tricks.
The winning bidder’s team gets additional points according to the amount of the bid, provided it meets its bid. Otherwise, it gets zero points for all its melds and tricks, AND its bidding amount is deducted from its overall score (this is why it’s better to go “set” – and keep the meld points –than to go all the way and risk losing more). The non-winning bidder’s team gets scores in the same manner but it does not get penalized for not matching its bid. Whatever points it makes from melds and tricks get added to its overall score.
Now you know the technicalities of how to play pinochle.