Pinochle is an interesting but fairly complicated card game that features elements from trick-taking variations like spades and games with melds, like rummy.
Pinochle rules aren't the easiest to learn, and it may take you a little while to figure them all out and memorize them correctly.
The same goes for pinochle scoring, as the game features a rather complicated scoring system.
If you’re a fan of simple and straightforward games, this one might not be your cup of tea.
Learning how to play pinochle correctly will take some time and effort, and you’re bound to make some mistakes during the learning phase.
On the other hand, the Pinochle game might be the perfect choice for you if you enjoy a good challenge.
It's easier to learn and play than bridge, for example, but still complicated enough to be about more than just the pure luck of the draw.
- Pinochle – the name of the game and one of the meld combinations containing a Jack of Diamonds and a Queen of Spades.
- Pinochle deck – a deck of 48 cards made up of two standard decks, containing duplicate cards, Nines through Aces (i.e., two Jack of Spades, two Kings of Diamonds, etc.).
- Trump marriage – a meld containing a King and a Queen of the trump suit.
- Non-trump marriage – a King and a Queen of the same suit that’s not the trump suit.
- Trump run – a meld containing 10, J, Q, K, and A of the trump suit.
- Going set – failing to make your bid in pinochle.
Pinochle Game Preparation
To play the game, you’ll need what’s known as the “pinochle deck.” The good news is that these aren’t some special cards that you’ll need to buy so that you could play.
The pinochle cards deck consists of cards from nine to ace, but each card is duplicated. So, there will be two aces of spades, two kings of diamonds, etc.
So, to play pinochle, you’ll need two standard decks of playing cards, and you’ll remove all eights and lower cards from both decks.
The pinochle card game is usually played by four players divided into two teams. Players in the same team will seat across from one another.
Finally, you will need a pen and paper to keep track of the score. With the complicated pinochle scoring system, you most certainly won’t be able to track numbers in your head.
Pinochle Rules – Know The Basics
You’ll need some patience to learn all the pinochle rules. At times, the game can get really confusing, especially if you’re just getting the hang of it.
Don’t let this fact frustrate you or cause you to give up on the pinochle game. Things get easier with time, promise.
The Objective of Pinochle Game
The objective of an individual round of a pinochle game is to achieve the number of points that you or your partners have bid.
If you're on the defending side, the goal is to try and prevent the other side from making their bid while scoring as many points as you can for your side.
The objective of the full pinochle game is to be the first partnership to achieve 150 points. Once either side makes it to the 150 point mark, the game is over.
In the event both sides make it to 150 points on the same round, the side that won the bid on the round will win the game.
For example, if Players A and C won the bid on the last round and ended up with 154 points after the round, they'll still win, even if Players B and D end up with a score of 157 points.
Card Rankings in Pinochle
Pinochle has an interesting system of ranking cards, which is different from Texas Holdem and most other games with cards.
- Aces are the highest-ranking cards.
- Tens are the second-highest-ranking cards.
- Kings are next, followed by Queens, Jacks, and Nines.
Since pinochle is also a trump game, all trump suit cards always beat any cards that aren't trumps.
Of course, if there are two or more trumps played on any trick, the highest-ranking trump wins the trick.
Dealing Cards & Bidding Points in Pinochle Card Game
At the start of a round of pinochle, each player is dealt 12 cards, face down. The deal starts with the first player left of the dealer and moves clockwise. Cards are usually dealt three or four at a time.
Once all players have their cards, the bidding process begins with the first player to the dealer’s left.
The player has an option to bid the number of points, or they can pass. The action then moves on to the next player, who can also make a bid or pass, etc.
When the first bid is made, the next player to act can either pass or bid a new number that must be greater than the bid in front of them.
For example, if Player B bids 13 points, Player C can pass or make a bid of at least 14 points.
The bidding phase ends once three players pass on the opportunity to re-bid, and the last bid stands. The player who won the bid and their partner will now try to make at least the promised number of points.
The player who won the bid also determines the trump suit for the round before cards are shown for the first round of scoring.
As mentioned, pinochle scoring is probably the most difficult and confusing part of the game. It consists of two parts, one taking place before the play starts and the other after the play finishes.
The first part of scoring is based on the melds, while the second part focuses on tricks won.
Counting melds in pinochle
Before the play starts, all players will count melds in their hands and mark the number of points.
Prior to counting melds, the side that won the bid will exchange three cards. If Player A won the bid, their partner, Player C, will pass three cards to them (like in hearts). Player A will take the cards, look at them, and then choose three cards from their hand to pass back to Player C.
The non-bidding side doesn’t pass any cards between them.
Melds in pinochle are valued as follows:
- Trump run – A, K, Q, J, 10 in the trump suit: 15 points
- Marriage in trump suit – K and Q in trump suit: 4 points
- Regular marriage – K and Q in non-trump suit: 2 points
- Four Aces of different suits: 10 points
- Four Kings of different suits: 8 points
- Four Queens of different suits: 6 points
- Four Jacks of different suits: 4 points
- Nine of the trump suit: 1 point
- Pinochle – a Queen of Spades and a Jack of Diamonds: 4 points
You can also get extra points if you have any of these doubled, i.e., having both trump runs, all eight cards, or both possible pinochles:
- Double Trump run – 150 points
- All eight Aces: 100 points
- All eight Kings: 80 points
- All eight Queens: 60 points
- All eight Jacks: 40 points
- Double Pinochle – 30 points
Points from the melding phase are counted for each player. You'll show your hand and present all the point-scoring melds.
The number of total points from this phase is noted, but it's not entered into the official scoreboard just yet.
Counting trick points in pinochle
After the melding phase, there will be the trick-taking phase, which is explained in the next section, How to Play Pinochle.
When the trick-taking phase is over, points will be calculated once again.
- For every Ace, King, and Ten won in tricks, you'll get 1 point.
- You'll get 1 point for taking the last trick.
After this, points from the melding phase and the trick-taking phase are added together to make up the round's final score.
In the event the partnership that made the bid fails to make the promised number of points, that number will be subtracted from their total score. This is known as “going set.”
For example, Players A and C won the bidding for a total of 35.
- They make 21 points from melds.
- They win further 8 points from the tricks.
That’s a total of 29 points, which falls short of their bid of 35 points. Thus, they will lose all of their melded points and all of their trick points. The total number of points for the round will be negative 35 (-35).
As for the non-bidding (defending) side, they need to win at least one trick during the play phase. If they fail, they’ll lose all points from the melding phase.
How to Play Pinochle – Master The Game
If you were able to keep up with pinochle rules up to this point, the good news is that the actual gameplay isn’t nearly as complicated.
Learning how to play pinochle is much easier than remembering the complicated scoring system and making sure you properly count all the melds in your hand.
Once the bid and the trump suit have been determined, and all melds accounted for, the trick-taking phase begins.
The bid winner will take the lead on the first round, playing any card from their hand. The action moves to the next player to the left, who must abide by the following pinochle rules:
- If possible, they must follow suit.
- If they can't follow suit, they must play a card in the trump suit.
- If none of these two options are possible, the player can play any card.
- When following the suit, the player must play a higher card than the lead card, if possible. For example, if Player A leads with Jc and Player B has Qc and 9c in their hand, they must play Qc.
- The above rule applies regardless of whether your partner or the opposing side had the lead.
- If two players play the same highest-ranking card in the trick, the player who played it first wins the trick.
The player playing the highest card of the suit or the highest trump card wins the trick, and they have the lead on the next go.
Of course, trumps beat all other suits, so 9 of trumps will beat even Aces of a non-trump suit.
The play continues until all players have run out of cards. When the last trick has been taken, points are counted and added to the meld total as described in pinochle scoring rules earlier.
The game will go on for as many rounds as is required for one side to reach 150 points. When this happens, the pinochle game is over, and the new one can begin.
Pinochle Card Games Tips & Strategy
Learning how to play pinochle is a challenge of its own, but actually learning to play this game well is quite difficult.
While advanced Pinochle game strategies are quite complicated, I’ll provide a few simple but effective tips you can fall back on when starting.
If you happen to fall in love with the pinochle game and just can’t get enough, you’ll find plenty of resources out there to help you get to the next stage.
Pinochle Game Tip #1: How to Bid Correctly in Pinochle
The first thing you’ll need to figure out is how to bid correctly according to your hand strength. You want to bid as high as required to take control of the hand and determine the trump suit, but not too high, where you’ll fail to make your bid.
Remember, failing to make your bid in pinochle will cost you a lot of points.
There is no simple strategy that will give you an answer to this problem. You should take a close look at your hand and figure out how many points you can count with (what melds are already there).
Next, figure out what cards you’re missing to create certain melds and try to calculate the maximum number of points you’d have if you got all the perfect cards from your partner.
Compare these two numbers and try to aim for a bid that’s somewhere between the two.
Again, this isn’t the perfect system, and sometimes you’ll end up with unexpected results, but, in general, this should lead to a realistic bid that you’ll make more often than not.
Pinochle Game Tip #2: Calling Trump
If you do win the bid, you need to choose what suit to make the trump suit for the round. It’s probably a good idea to know what you want as trumps even before the bidding is over.
Usually, you’ll want your longest suit as trumps, especially if you have an Ace and five additional cards to go with it.
Pinochle Game Tip #3: Choosing Cards to Pass to Your Partner
When your partner wins the bid and calls the trump, it will be your responsibility to help them as much as possible with the three cards you’ll pass on to them before counting melds.
In general, you should be sending them any trumps you have in your hand; the stronger, the better. You want to make the partner's hand as strong as possible.
Besides trumps, off-suit aces are also quite powerful, so you can send these over as well.
If the partner calls for spades, you should consider sending them Jack of diamonds if you have it. If they call diamonds, send them Queen of spades.
The idea behind this move is to try and help them make the double pinochle, which will bring you 30 meld points straight away.
Summary: Have Fun Learning & Playing Pinochle
As far as card games are concerned, pinochle is probably one of the hardest ones to learn besides bridge, which is in a different category entirely.
To learn how to play pinochle, you’ll need a lot of patience and will have to not get frustrated by mistakes you do along the way, as you’re pretty much guaranteed to make some.
The effort will be worth it, as pinochle is a really rewarding and engaging game that you can enjoy for hours.
If you have some previous experience with other tricks and trumps games, the learning process will likely be smoother, so perhaps it would be a good idea to first give a game like spades a try before trying to learn how to play pinochle.