Pinochle is usually a four-player game played in two teams of two players each. However, a two handed variant is also popular, pitting a single opponent against another. In fact, Pinochle was originally a two-player game derived directly from the popular 17th Century French game Bezique.
Know the card rankings unique to Pinochle before play begins. The only significant deviation from standard rankings is that the 10 outranks all cards except the Ace. Thus, from highest to lowest, the cards are ranked as follows: Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9. Remember that a standard 48-card Pinochle deck includes double copies of all cards from 9 to Ace.
Place the entire deck (called the "widow") face-down between the two players.
Begin the hand-building process by having the dealer draw the top card of the widow. That player may elect to either keep the card in her hand, or discard it face-down in a separate pile ("rejecting" it). If the player keeps the card, he then draws a second card, and without looking at it places it face-down in the reject pile. If the player rejects the first card, the second card he draws must go in his hand. The other player then takes a turn, following this same process.
Complete the hand-building process by cycling through all the cards in the widow, then all the cards in the reject pile until all 48 cards are held in hand, 24 by each player.
Proceed to the auction part of the game of two handed Pinochle. Here, each player takes turns declaring a "bid," which is an approximation of the number of points the cards in her hand could potentially score. The player who makes the highest bid (called the "contract") wins the right to declare the trump suit. The player with the winning bid must score a number of points at least equal to the contract, or will suffer a penalty of the difference between the 2 being subtracted from his overall score.
Move on to the melding phase of the game. Here, "melds" are played (specific groupings of cards are displayed, counted for points, then returned to the player's hand). Four melding possibilities exist: flushes, pinochles, marriages and arounds.
Know that a Pinochle "flush" consists of the Jack, Queen, King, 10 and Ace of the trump suit only. A flush is valued at 150 points, while the extremely rare "double flush" wins 1,500 points. A double flush consists of two complete flushes in a single hand. A special sub-type of flush is called the "dix," and it is comprised of the 9 of the trump suit, melded by itself to score 10 points. A "double dix" scores 20 points.
Understand the pinochle melding combination. It is made up of precisely the Queen of Spades melded with the Jack of Diamonds. A single pinochle scores 40 points, while a double pinochle--both Jacks of Diamonds melded with both Queens of Spades--tallies 300 points.
Realize that a "marriage" in Pinochle play is made up of Kings and Queens of the same suit. When the suit is trump, a "trump marriage" meld is made and 40 points are scored. When the suit is not trump, the marriage is worth 20 points. Unsuited Kings and Queens cannot be married (for example, the King of Hearts cannot be married to the Queen of Diamonds).
Meld any "arounds" in your hand. An around is made from four face cards (Ace, King, Queen, Jack) of all four suits. For example, "Queens around" is made up of the Queen of Hearts, the Queen of Clubs, the Queen of Spades and the Queen of Diamonds. "Double arounds," which is the rare situation in which a player has all eight cards of a face rank, are worth 10 times the value of a single around. Single around values are ranked as follows: "Jacks around" wins 40 points, "Queens around" tallies 60, "Kings around" nets 80 points and "Aces around" is worth 100 points.
Remember that cards can only be melded once. Thus, a Queen of Spades used to make a flush cannot then be reused to make a pinochle with the Jack of Diamonds.
Play the trick-taking portion of the game. Here, the player who won the auction leads a trump card, which the other player must attempt to outrank using a trump card in her hand. The suit led must be followed, or else trump must be played. For example, if Spades are trump and the Ace of Spades is led, the opposing player must play a Spade. If Spades are trump and Hearts are led, the opposing player must either play a Heart or, if she does not have one, a Spade (trump). The highest-ranking card played (trump cards outrank higher cards of non-trump suits) wins the trick. The winner of the trick leads the next, and points are tallied when trick-taking play ends. Traditional Pinochle trick scoring runs as follows (though several simplified variations are common): a trick taken with an Ace wins 11 points, a trick won with a 10 scores 10 points, King-won tricks win 4 points, Queens win 3 points, Jacks win 2 points and tricks won using a 9 do not score any points.
Add the points scored during melding with the points scored during trick-taking to tally the sum of points each player scored during the hand. Generally, the first player to reach 1,000 points wins the game, though a different ceiling (minimum score required to win) can be agreed upon.
Study Pinochle strategy to improve your game play. Pagat's website (see Resources below) offers a helpful strategy guide for beginners.