Pinochle is a trick-taking card game played, in its standard form, with three individual players or four players partnered into groups of two. It evolved from the 17th-century French card game Bezique, which to this day remains a virtually identical two-player variant of Pinochle.
Know the Basics of Pinochle Game Play
Get a standard Pinochle deck from your local hobby or department store. A proper deck consists of 48 cards, and varies from a regular deck in having double copies of the 9 through Ace of all four suits.
Know how Pinochle card rankings deviate from standard form. The only departure Pinochle makes is that the 10 is the second-highest ranking card. Since Ace is always high, the card rankings, in order from highest to lowest, run as follows: Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9.
Agree upon an opening bid amount. The "bid" is part of the auction which begins a Pinochle game. During the auction, players take turns predicting the number of points their hand will earn. When a player is given the opportunity to bid, he may declare a new bid amount or "pass" to the next player. The player who submits the highest bid (called the "contract") is then permitted to name the trump suit.
Understand "melding." After trump has been declared, players take turns, beginning with the winner of the bid, showing "melds," which are legal combinations of cards. There are four types of melds: arounds or "rank melds," marriages, flushes and pinochles.
Know what a "rank meld" is. A rank meld consists of four of the same face card (Ace, King, Queen, Jack) containing at least one card of each suit. For example, four Aces of different suits makes "Aces around." The four possible rank melds all have specified point values attached: "Aces around" is worth 100 points, "Kings around" is worth 80, "Queens around" is valued at 60 points and "Jacks around" scores 40 points. Any player with a "double around," which is all eight of a single face card (such as all eight Kings), scores 10 times its usual value. All eight Aces, for example, would score a player 1,000 points.
Learn what a Pinochle "marriage" is. A marriage always consists of a King and Queen being used together to score points. If both the King and Queen are in the trump suit, it is called a "trump marriage" and is worth 40 points. A simple "marriage" occurs when a King and Queen in a single non-trump suit are melded to score 20 points. Note that Kings and Queens of differing suits cannot be married. If a player has enough Kings and Queens to create a marriage in all four suits, he scores 240 points.
Know what a "flush" is. Also called a "family," "rope" or a "run," a flush contains the Ace, 10, King, Queen and Jack of the trump suit. Flushes cannot be scored using non-trump suits. A flush is worth 150 points, increasing tenfold to 1,500 points if a player can make two complete flushes with the cards in her hand.
Be aware that a "dix" consists of the 9 of the trump suit as a stand-alone card. Melding the 9 of the trump suit scores a player 10 points.
Know what a "pinochle" meld is. The namesake of the game, a pinochle occurs when a player holds the Jack of Diamonds and the Queen of Spades. This combination is worth 40 points. Any player who holds both Jacks of Diamonds and both Queens of Spades scores 300 points. This is called a "double pinochle." Note that each card in your hand can only be melded once. A player cannot use the Queen of Spades to make a pinochle, then re-use the Queen of Spades to make a flush or a rank meld.
Play to take tricks. Trick-taking play begins after melding has been completed, beginning with the player who won the bid auction. That player must lead trump. The object is to play a card which outranks the card led or the last card played. The highest card played takes the trick, and the winner of the trick then leads the next trick. Players are obliged to follow suit if possible. In other words, if Clubs was led, you must play a Club if possible. If you cannot, you must play a trump card. If you cannot, you may play any card you wish, but you will not win the trick. If a player before you plays trump because they cannot follow suit, you must play trump as well if possible (even if you can follow suit). In the case of a tie, the player who went first wins the trick.
Total the points each player won during the trick-taking portion of the game. In all cases, the total number of points available is 250. The last trick taken scores the player who took it 10 points. From there, cards are ranked. A player who won a trick using an Ace scores 11 points, players winning a trick using a 10 score 10, Kings score 4, Queens score 3, Jacks score 2 and the 9 scores nothing. Several simplified variants on the trick-taking points system exist, which the players may agree to use before the game begins.
Tally the total number of points scored by each player, including both the melding and trick-taking portions of the game. The object of Pinochle is to score the most points.
Learn Single Deck Pinochle for Three Players
Deal out 15 cards to each player, leaving 3 cards in a separate pile in the middle of the table (called the "widow").
Bid for trump. Any player who passes cannot bid again until the next hand is played. The player who wins the bid turns the widow over, revealing it to all players. Some versions allow for the bid winner to put these cards in his hand, but classic Pinochle rules simply call for the widow to remain face-up but out of play.
Meld your cards, beginning with the winner of the auction. Each player's points are tallied as melding progresses.
Play the trick-taking portion of Pinochle after melding has been completed and total the points scored by each player. Note that an auction-winning player who fails to reach his "contract" (the point bid that won the auction) has the difference subtracted from his overall score.
Continue play until 1 player reaches or exceeds 1,000 points.
Learn Single Deck Pinochle for Four Players
Sit opposite your partner at the table. The 4 players are divided into 2 teams of 2 players apiece.
Deal 12 cards to each player. Note that this totals exactly 48 cards, so there are no leftover cards to form a "widow" as in three-player Pinochle.
Play out the auction, remembering that both the bidder and his partner have the sum of their scores totalled to count towards the contract. The winner of the bid names the trump suit.
Meld as in three-player Pinochle, noting that you cannot use cards in your hand to complete melds in your partner's hand. For example, if you hold the Jack of Diamonds, you cannot use it to complete a pinochle meld with your partner's Queen of Spades. Total the melding scores, combining each team's score into a single sum (so that 2, not 4, point totals exist).
Play the trick-taking portion of the game as in three-player Pinochle, again keeping in mind that a partnered team has a single unified point total. Tally the points and add them to each team's overall score.
Try to "shoot the moon" if you have an exceptionally strong hand. This means you are going to attempt to win all the tricks without your partner's help. If you succeed, you score 1,000 points and win the game. Four-player Pinochle, as with three-player, is played until a team reaches or exceeds the 1,000-point barrier.
Know when to call a suit trump. A good general guideline is to call trump when you hold at least five or six cards of a given suit, especially if one of those cards is the ace. Perfect your game with helpful tips and strategy at Pagat's website (see Resources below).