Sunday, January 7, 2007

Pinochle, don't start playing if you can't be committed

Ok. So we started playing Pinochle a few months ago and we are hooked. I had heard about this game before and was intimidated to learn how to play, but am I glad my in-laws shared this great game with us. We try to get together once a week with them to play, and that is not enough! Samantha and I have made up our own rules to facilitate 2 person play (Pinochle is usually played with 4 people in 2 man teams). Why is this game so much fun? Well I am glad you asked.

Firstly the game is a game of strategy (a must for me being a melancholic (a personality trait geared towards problem solving and artistic expression).

You can learn more about the personality types here: Personality Plus or here: Wikipedia Personality Plus Page (another thing my in-laws have exposed me to).

Secondly the game is broken into two halves. First there is the bid/meld portion. During this part the teams bid to see who has, or thinks they have, the best hand. The Pinochle deck is made up of two sets of cards from ace to 9. That means there are 2 of each. Another notable Pinochle distinction is the fact that the 10 is the second highest card in a run. So that means that the hierarchy looks like this: Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack, 9. Yeah I know, a little weird, but you'll get used to it.

Now remember, this game is played in teams so each is biding hoping their partner will be able to help them and not knowing if they will be able to. The team who bids the highest wins the bid. The bids usually start at 25 points and always begin with the player sitting to the dealers left (or clockwise).The amount the team is able to bid is based on the points they have in their hand, and the speculation of two factors, what their teammate will be able to contribute and the amount of Tricks (more on this later) they think they will be able to win. If no one bids the dealer is stuck with it and is declared the winner of the bid. The winner then declares which suit is 'Trump' (the suit that is highest or able to overrule other suits when played. Ex. The 9 of trump is higher than an ace of the non-trump suits).

After the trup suit is called the teammate of the person winning the bid will choose 4 cards to pass to their teammate. Who will in turn choose to keep all or some of these cards and pass 4 cards back. At this point each player lays down cards adding to their team’s Meld score. For instance, a family (Ace, 10, King, Queen, Jack) is worth 15 points. A family with an extra marriage (Ace, 10, King, King, Queen, Jack) is worth 19 points and so on. I won't get into all of the different scoring, except the game's namesake. A Pinochle is the queen of spades and the jack of diamonds. This is worth 4 points. And a double Pinochle (both queens of spades and jacks of diamonds) is worth 30! These points are then added up and the team must decide if they will be able to win enough tricks to get or surpass to their bid score. There are only 25 possible tricks (more on this later). If their meld + 25 is less than their bid they will not be able to take enough tricks to win the hand and they go 'set' (and again, more on this later). This ends the bid portion of the game.

Now enter the trick portion. All players pick up the cards they ‘Melded.” During this portion of the game each of the teams lays down cards strategically trying to have make sure their or their teammate's card is the highest thus winning the trick. This part is much like the card game "War" where players turn over cards and the player with the highest card wins. What makes this game so much fun is the team play. If you think your teammate is going to take the trick (Pinochle slang for playing the highest card) you will most likely want to play what is called a 'counter.' Counters are the top 3 cards of the hierarchy (Ace, 10, and King). For those of you who are into math that means there are 24 counters in the deck (4 suits, 2 of each card in the suit and 3 counters per suit. 4x2x3=24). There are 25 possible tricks (or points) available per hand. The team who takes the last trick gets an extra point.

Once all of the cards have been played the points are added up. If the score for the team that won the bid is not greater than the amount they bid they go 'set.' Meaning they subtract the amount of the bid from their total score. This game is cumulative and usually played to 250. The first team to 250 wins. The amount of time this takes can vary greatly. If one team is having a great day the game can be over quickly.

I love this game so much that I created a score sheet in Excel. For those of you who want to learn to play or stop keeping score on a pad of paper here you go. You can view my Pinochle score sheet here: Pinochle Score Worksheet If you would like a copy, you can email me and I will send it to you.

We hope to play lots of Pinochle this year and teach our friends how to play. The moral of this story is, don't start if you can't handle another commitment. OK, well maybe that was a bit strong. Maybe this is more accurate; Pinochle is so much fun that you won't want to stop playing.

God Bless. Keep safe, Jeromy