Pinochle

Pinochle is a card game that is usually played with four people, sometimes with two, less frequently with three, five or six. It is sometimes called pinocle or penuchle and usually pronounced pea-knuckle. Some people even spell it peaknuckle.

One of the interesting things about Pinochle is the way it combines set making (melding) with trick taking. The melding takes place first and is done openly, providing the other players with information which can be used during the trick taking phase. This also adds an element of a memory game to Pinochle.

There are many different variations with regard to both gameplay and scoring. Note in particular that some players choose to divide all point scoring by ten.

How To Play Pinochle

These are the main rules for one of the common four player versions of Pinochle. There are many variations. In this version the four players form two teams of two, the team partners sitting opposite each other.

A game consists of a number hands, at the end of which each team gains or loses points on their game score. The game is played to a set target, for example 1000 points.

Don't be put off by the length of the rules - the game is asier to play than to explain!

The Pinochle Deck

The game is played with a special deck (pack) of 48 cards. You can buy Pinochle decks or form your own by combining the Ace down to Nine of all four suits from two standard decks (with the same backs of course!).

Note that the 10 is higher than the King. Thus the order of cards is:

A - 10 - K - Q - J - 9

The Play

The Deal

The cards are shuffled and each player dealt a hand of twelve.
Pinochle Scoring Table
8 Aces1000
8 Kings800
8 Queens600
8 Jacks400
4 Aces (different suits)100
4 Kings (different suits)80
4 Queens (different suits)60
4 Jacks (different suits)40
King & Queen of each suit240
King & Queen (trumps)40
King & Queen (same suit, not trumps)20
A, K, 10, Q, J of trumps150
9 of trumps10
J Diamonds & Q Spades ("pinochle")40
Both J Diamonds & both Q Spades ("double pinochle")300
Note: there are many different scoring regimes, this is just one.
Check with the other players before the game begins

The Auction

Each player, starting with the dealer, now makes a bid or passes. The value of the bid represents the total number of points that the player believes their partnership can make from both the melding and trick taking phases combined.

The dealer is obliged to start the auction with a bid of 150. Thereafter each bid must be higher than the previous highest bid. When all four players pass then the auction is over and the highest bidder has won the contract.

A player who passes is not allowed to bid later in that auction.

The winner of the auction gains two significant privileges: Firstly the high bidder declares trumps (no conferring!). Then their team - and only their team - get to exchange cards. The partner of the winning bidder must place exactly four cards from their hand face down. The bid winner picks up these cards and then must return four cards in exchange. The cards returned may if desired include any or all of those passed.

Melding

All players - beginning with the auction winner - may now meld cards. This consists of displaying on the table groups of cards that make certain sets. Points are scored for each meld displayed - a card may form part of more than one meld. A single card can only take part in one meld of any type - thus a King cannot "pair off" with more than one Queen!

The point system is one of the areas that varies considerably between players. One example is given in the score table here.

Once all players have had a reasonable chance to view and hopefully remember the cards melded, all player pick up their cards again and play enters the trick taking phase.

Team points are recorded as a round score. They are not yet added to the game score.

Trick Taking

The game now enters a trick taking phase with the auction winner leading to the first trick and the trick winner leading to each subsequent trick. There are three special rules:
  • You must follow suit if you can and you must play a card higher than the currently winning card if possible. This applies even if the current trick leader is your partner.
  • If you cannot follow suit then you must lay a trump if you are able to. If you are able to beat the leading trump then you must do so, if not then you must play a losing trump.
  • If you are unable to follow suit or trump then you must discard (slough) any card of your choice.

The team that wins each trick collects the cards that were played and keeps them in a face down pile.

Once all tricks have been played the teams score for the cards in the tricks they have taken. Every Ace or King is worth 10 points, every Queen or Jack is worth 5. An additional 10 point bonus is given for winning the last trick. These trick points are added to the team's round score.

Scoring The Round

The round score of the team that won the auction is compared to their contract target. If they have equalled or exceeded that target then their total round score is added to their game score. If they failed to reach their contract target then the target value is subtracted from their game score.

If the team that did not win the auction won at least one trick then the value of their melds and trick cards is added to their game score. If they failed to win even one trick then their game score is unchanged.

If neither team has reached the target score for the game, the cards are gathered up and another round played. Some people also declare that a team has lost if their score reaches a certain negative value - this is to prevent unsporting players dragging out an all but lost game by deliberately winning every auction with impossible bids.