Classic Pinochle (also sometimes spelled Peanuckle or Pinuckle) is a trick-taking card game. In trick-taking games, the goal is to win tricks or pots of cards generated by both players during their turn. The game is closely related to Bezique.
To win a trick, a player must play a card that is considered better than the leading card. If the player presents the highest ranking card to the trick, they win the trick.
This is a “meld” game, where specific combinations of cards and suits (♥♦♣♠) grant more points.
Melds are calculated at the start of the hand, and the value of cards from tricks won are calculated at the end of the hand. The two scores are added together to calculate the score of a particular round.
How to Play Pinochle?
Learning how to play as a beginner is easier than it might appear. Below we will guide you step-by-step.
The game utilizes a special deck, called a 48-card Pinochle deck.
These decks are special because instead of the normal 1-10 and face-card configuration, this deck is only numbered 9-Aces. In this game, Aces are high.
This deck looks like the following:
9, 10, J, Q, K, A
In this deck, there are still the same four suits one is familiar with (♥♦♣♠), and there are two copies of each card. This means, for example, there are two copies of the K♣, or two copies of the 9♦.
Pinochle is traditionally a two-player card game, however, in the modern day, partnership Pinochle, played with four players, is considered the standard.
In Two-Handed Pinochle, each player will be dealt 24 cards and will compete against each other. In a four-player game, you will play with two teams. The two partners will combine their scores at the end of each hand.
A game with 3 players has a special rule due to the odd number of players. Each player in the game will be dealt 15 cards, and 3 cards will be discarded into a pile separated from the play area. This pile is called the “kitty” or the “widow’s hand.” Three-handed Pinochle has some elements of the Skat card game in it.
A game begins with the deal. Depending on the number of players, the dealer will distribute cards in the above proportions.
Next is the bidding phase. Like another fun trick-taking game, Spades, Pinochle operates on a system of “bids” or “contracts.” However, unlike in Spades, bids or contracts are optional here.
Before the start of each hand, players may choose to predict the score that they expect to receive in a given round. In the case of a four-player partnership game, bids will be made on a team basis.
The player clockwise of the dealer is obligated to bid. The dealer role also shifts clockwise, meaning that the player obligated to bid in the previous hand will be the dealer in the current hand.
Bids are traditionally made in increments of 10. For example:
- Team 1 Bids: 200 points
- Team 2 Bids: 220 points
The Team or Player that bids the highest at the start of the hand is allowed to declare the trump suit.
However, keep in mind that a Team or Player that breaks their bid, meaning that they do not meet or exceed the number of points predicted in the bid, will have their total score subtracted by the failed bid. If Player 1 bids 200 points, but only receives 190 in a round, Player 1’s total score will be reduced by 200 points.
After bids are made and the trump card is declared by the highest bidding player, players will calculate the melds in their hands.
A Pinochle cheat sheet will be provided below in the “Scoring” section. In a four-player Partnership, it is a common rule for the two partners to swap four cards with each other before melds are calculated.
If swapping cards, or “passing” is allowed, then the following rules apply:
- Four cards must be passed to the other teammate.
- You may not look at your partner’s hand, nor may you show yours to them.
- The four cards passed must be hidden until they are passed. Players may not communicate about their cards.
- Melds will be calculated after the pass phase.
Once the pass-phase and/or the meld-phase is complete, the trick-taking phase of the game may begin. The Dealer will lead the first trick and then all subsequent tricks will be led by the winner of the previous trick.
Like in many trick-taking games, the lead card determines the suit of the trick. Players taking their turn after the leader must “follow suit” if they are able to.
- Trump suit is ♣
- Lead plays 9♦
- Player 2 has a 9♦ in their hand, and must play it, even though they have an A♣, therefore losing the trick.
The trick-taking phase of the game continues until all of the cards in each player’s hand have been exhausted. At this point, the point value of all cards in the last trick will be combined, and added to the Team or Player’s total score.
Most games of Pinochle play to a score limit of 1,000. However, variations exist which play up to 1,250, 1,500, and 2,000. Depending on how long or short one wants the game to be, the score limit can be adjusted accordingly.
Below we listed the essential rules for Pinochle.
- Aces are high.
- Bidding Process >Melds >Tricks
- A player must follow suit if they are able to.
- A player that fails their bid will have their bid subtracted from their total score.
- Players can have a negative score.
- Can be played with two, three, or four players.
- In a three-player game, do not forget to deal out 3 discards for the kitty.
- Officially, the Player clockwise of the dealer must bid. Generally, the minimum bid is 100 points.
Even card game experts might need a cheat sheet from time to time to refresh their memory about the scoring and point system of Pinochle. It is a complicated game to score, after all.
Below is a scoring chart, explaining how to score for melds and tricks.
Meld Score Sheet:
|Name of Meld
|Number of Points
|10 J Q K A of the Trump suit
|Run in Trump
|1010 JJ QQ KK QQ of the Trump suit
|Double Run in Trump
|KQ of Trump Suit
|KQKQ of Trump Suit
|Double Trump Marriage
|KQ of the same suit
|KQKQ of the same suit
|9 of the Trump suit
In order to score tricks at the end of the round during the trick-taking phase, each individual card has its own point value. The final trick taken in a round is always worth 10 extra points in addition to the value of the cards within it.
- Player 1: K♣ K♠ Q♦ 9♣ K♥ J♥9♦ 10♦ K♦ 9♥ K♥ J ♠
- Player 2: Q♣ 10♣ J♣ A♠ 10♣ A♣ A♥ A♦ 9♠10♦Q♥Q♠
- Player 3: J♠ A♦ K♦ 10♠ Q♥ J♦ 9♣ 9♥ Q♦ Q♣ 9♠ Q♠
- Player 4: 10♠ A♣ J♦ A♥ 10♥ 9♦ A♠ K♠ J♥ J♣ 10♥ K♣
The above are possible hands in a single round of a four-player game of Pinochle. This is an example to help visualize the structure of a 48-card deck that is used.
Strategy & Tips
Your cards are dealt before you bid. If you have a hand with many cards of a similar suit, and you believe that your hand could generate a few melds, it is worth bidding very highly. The melds will make up the points for the bid, and then you will have a large number of trump cards, allowing you to take many tricks in the course of the round.
Bidding too highly, however, can be a large detriment and can demolish your score. Consider passing on the bid if you are not obligated when the hand you are dealt is weak meld-wise and does not have a large number of same-suited cards.
Melds generate many times more points than tricks, but melds are completely random. Even when passing cards, the player has very little control over which melds they might receive in a round. Therefore, the Player should try to win as many tricks as they can, in order to maximize their ability to affect the outcome of that same round. Play a trump card whenever you can to win a trick.
If you are playing four-player Partnership Pinochle, do not compete with your partner. If your partner has already played a trump card, and is guaranteed to win the trick, do not waste your trump card beating your partner.
Your scores are combined at the end of the round, so it is pointless to waste a card on a trick you already won through your partner.
Aces are the highest-value cards when played in a trick. In the early game, do not waste aces unless it is the only way for you to win a trick.
In the early game, a Queen might be enough to win a trick where no trump cards are played, but in the late game, other players have saved their Ace and trump cards, and will only be beaten by trump cards of a higher value.
Try not to break up your melds during the passing phase if you are playing with four players. Melds are not calculated between players, but only within each individual hand.
It is better to keep your own high-value melds when possible. Pass your partner the cards that are useless to you, they might help your partner.
In the case of a tie, the player closest counter-clockwise to the Player who played the lead card in that trick will win the tie.
If the Player on the 1st position, and the Player on the 2nd position, were to both play an Ace trump card, the player on the 1st position would take the trick.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards are used in Pinochle?
There are 48 cards in a standard Pinochle deck. There are some special decks with 64 cards which include 7s and 8s as well (These cards are scored 0 points for their trick value, like 9s and Jacks).
What is the lowest card?
The lowest value card in Pinochle is the 9. It forms the worst meld in the game, the Dix, worth only 10 points, and has a trick value of 0.
Which cards are not used in Pinochle?
Only the 9, 10, J, Q, K, and A are used. The cards numbered 1-8 are missing from standard Pinochle decks. There are some decks with 64 cards, and these decks include 7s and 8s.
Is Pinochle hard to learn?
No. It seems confusing because of the large number of rules and obligations on behalf of the player, but watching a single game of Pinochle being played is all it takes to learn for beginners.
Is Pinochle similar to Spades?
However, Pinochle is distinct from Spades because of its unique deck, and the meld-making aspect of it. Spades is strictly a trick-taking game, but Pinochle is a meld-making, trick-taking game.