Thursday, July 17, 2014

How to Host a Pinochle Party

For many years now, one of my favorite ways to entertain has been through card parties….in particular, playing the bidding and trick-taking game, PINOCHLE. My husband and I will host one of our pinochle tournaments on a Saturday night, about once every 4 to 6 weeks.

We started out playing pinochle about 20 years ago, with two other couples. Over the years, we’ve gradually introduced the game to others and brought in about 15 other couples to the group. It’s a fun way to unwind and relax with friends. It can be a no-stress way to entertain.

Usually we’ll start the pinochle party around dinner time. Often we’ll just have “hearty snacks,” and all the munchies we’re eating while we’re playing cards serves as our dinner. I’ll make a few snacks ourselves (nachos, hot wings, spicy meatballs, cookies, veggies and dip, cheese and crackers, etc.), but usually our guests will each bring a snack-to-pass too. We’ll set the snacks out on the buffet table, along with some dinner-sized paper plates, and then everyone can have their munchies next to them while they play the game.

Want to try your “hand” (no pun intended!) at hosting a pinochle party? Here are my suggestions:

1. We play two-handed pinochle, meaning we play with two teams of two people each. So this means your guest list will need to be in multiples of four. Once you know who’s coming, write everyone’s name down on a piece of paper and put them in a hat (or basket or bowl or whatever). Usually we play as couples, so we’ll just write down surnames and put them in the hat. After everyone has arrived, draw the names from the hat to see what couples play each other.
2. We usually invite at least 3 other couples to our pinochle nights, so that we can have the game going at two different tables. However, we have had as many as 12 couples over for a pinochle party, meaning we have six pinochle tables set up. If you’re going to do this often like we do, it’s nice to have a folding card table or two you can use, plus some extra folding chairs.

3. If you start playing this a lot, you will probably have your “regulars” who come over every time or fairly regularly. But of course, I’m really into hospitality and getting to know new people, and helping others get to know new people too. So I like to invite a new couple every now and then as well. By “new couple” I mean people who have never played the game before. I always try to reassure them that mostly we’re just having fun, and that pinochle, with us anyway, isn’t a super competitive game. It’s also very easy to learn. Usually I’ll put the new couple at a table with people who are very experienced at the game, who can do a practice round and help them out a bit. Of course, sometimes we’re surprised because newbies often beat the pants off the rest of us!

4. Have a sheet of paper or notepad and a pen at each table, along with a deck of pinochle cards and the instructions which are printed below (even experienced pinochle players sometimes forget what type of meld is worth what!). If you’ve got a “newby” at your table, he or she will probably find the instructions very helpful!

5. Usually we’ll play one game at first. That’s when one of the teams at your table gets to 150 points. Once every table is finished with one game, then we’ll rotate. The winners will usually play the winners. So if we have two tables, the winners of each game will play each other, and then the losers will play each other. Often times, there’s so much talking going on during the evening that we only play two games. Sometimes we’ll end up playing more if everyone’s focused. If there’s time for a third round, we’ll rotate teams again. Winners play winners, or at least, new teams play each other. The team with the most wins for the evening walks away with the pinochle trophies that we have had made up. These rotate among the couples in our pinochle group.

6. I have typed up our instructions for pinochle. Everybody probably plays this game a little differently. What I have, below, is how we play:

Pinochle Rules

Two teams of two.
Use a 48-card deck (89 each of Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack and 9)

In trick-taking phases of the game, the cases, tens and Kings are worth points. Queens, Jacks and 9s are not worth points (although they can take tricks).

For each round, deal out all of the cards, so that each player has 12 cards in his/her hand. Once the cards have been dealt, the players pick up, sort, and examine their hands. Then comes the bidding.


The winner of the bid gets the right to name the trump suit and the right to receive cards from his/her partner, and the right to lead the first trick.

Minimum opening bid is 15. The dealer’s left has the first opportunity to bid. When the bid reaches you, you have two options: Bid at least a 1-point higher bid than the last bid, or say “Pass,” thereby removing yourself from the bidding for this round. When only one person has not said “pass” that person has won the bid.


When the winning bidder has named trump, the bidder’s partner selects three cards to pass to him or her (obviously face down so that the opponents can’t see the cards!). The bidder picks up these three cards and sorts them into his/her hand and then chooses three cards to send back to his/her partner as replacement cards. Only the bid-winning two-person team gets to exchange cards.


After the winning bidder and his/her partner has exchanged cards, all four players lay down their melds. This is the 1st phase of accumulating points for the round.

Points are accumulated for the following types of melds:

Marriage (King and Queen) in trump suit = 4 points
Marriage in any other suit = 2 points
Run (A, 10, K, Q, J in trump suit) = 15 points (A “9” in trump suit can be added to the run for an extra point)
4 Aces (one in each suit) = 10 points
4 Kings (one in each suit) = 8 points
4 Queens (one in each suit) = 6 points
4 Jacks (one in each suit) = 4 points
Pinochle (Queen of Spades and Jack of Diamonds) = 4 points
Double Pinochle ( 2 Queens of Spades and 2 Jacks of Diamonds) = 30 points

You can “double duty” individual cards with your melds, as long as they are different types of melds. For instance, if you lay down 4 Queens, each of a different suit, for 6 points, you could place a King of Diamonds next to the Queen of Diamonds and have a marriage as well.

When laying down melds, partners can not add to what each other has put down. For instance, if one player lays down a Pinochle and his/her partner also has a pinochle in his/her hand, he/she cannot add that pinochle to his/her partner’s pinochle and claim a double pinochle. All four players each put down their own melds. Once points have been added up and recorded for melds, players pick up their melds and put the cards back in their hands, so that they can start the trick-taking part of the round.


After players have their cards back in their hands, the winner of the bid leads the first trick. Proceeding to the left, each player plays a card on the trick. When all four cards have been played for that trick, the highest-ranking card of the trump—or, if there is no trump in the trick (which there probably isn’t going to be during the first few tricks), the highest-ranking card of the suit that led, wins the trick. If there is a tie for the highest-ranking card, the trick is won by whichever of the equal cards was played first. The player who played the winning card leads the next trick.

There are some rules which must be followed when laying down cards during tricks:

**The first, or lead card, may be anything in the leader’s hand. Trump cannot be the lead card, unless trump has been “broken,” meaning in a previous trick, someone put down a trump card to take the trick. The only exception is if the leader has nothing but trump in his/her hand, he or she can still lead with a trump card, even if trump has not yet been broken.

**If you have a hard of the same suit as the lead card, you must play it. If you cannot follow suit, you can play any other suit card. This means you could lay down a trump card if you have it, because then you would take the trick—unless a player after you lays down a higher trump card.

**The first of two identical cards beats the second.

**Each team should designate one partner to “pull” the tricks or gather them from the center of the table over to the pile for their team.


Once all 12 tricks have been played, both teams collect their stacks of pulled cards and count up their points collected during that round. Aces, tens and Kings are each worth 1 point. The other cards are not worth anything. The team that won the last trick gets an additional 1 point. There are a total of 25 points available during the trick-taking portion of each round.

If the declaring team “makes the bid” (meaning they collected enough points through melding and trick-taking combined to meet or exceed the amount of their bid), all the earned points are added to the team’s previous score. If they do not make their bid, they do not score any points from their melds or tricks they took, and their previous score is reduced by the amount bid.

If the non-declaring team (the team that didn’t win the bid) fails to take any tricks, they do not get the points from any melds they laid down at the start of the round.

150 points = GAME

Have fun!!!

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