How to Play Pinochle the Card Game (Rules and Instructions)

Learning the Pinochle rules can be a challenge even for experienced card game players. But once you are able to understand the game you and your pals will have many intense yet entertaining rounds.

If you already play card games such as the Hand, Knee, and Foot card game or are familiar with the rules to Conquian, the concept of forming melds and making a score off of them is not too dissimilar when playing Pinochle.

And there is of course the added bonus that once you’ve mastered Pinochle, you can add a challenging yet rewarding game into your regular card game nights.

So if you’re somebody looking to learn a new game, or need a bit of extra help in understanding any parts of this card game, read on to find out more about the Pinochle rules.

What Is Pinochle?

Pinochle Card Game Info Image

Pinochle is an American card game that derives from the German variety of bezique known as ‘Binokel’. Translated into English as ‘eyeglasses’ or otherwise known as two eyes.

The name ‘two-eyes’ allegedly refers to the original picture cards that form a Pinochle when the game was first played. Each royal displayed on the cards in that particular deck had 1 eye showing each in their pictures profile, so scoring a pair forms the two-eyes.

Interestingly, the German connections to the game forced the city of Syracuse, New York to outlaw the game during World War 1.

Number of Players Required: 4 players, in pairs of 2.

Who Can Play It: Anyone, although best played by teenagers and adults.

Difficulty: Medium.

Length of Play: 20 to 30 minutes.

Similar to: Conquian; Pitty Pat; Hand Knee and Foot; Gin Rummy; Michigan Rummy

Main Objective: Accumulate 150 points across the game by winning tricks and forming melds before the other player/team.

Why we love it: You and your pals may not be masters of the game before you start playing. But if you stick with it long enough and pick it up we’re sure you will agree it is a game definitely worth learning and the satisfaction of victory will become even sweeter.

Playing Pinochle – What You’ll Need

Like most card games, 2 standard 52 card decks will be enough to play. Some cards you will need to take out if you do choose this option, but that will get covered in the setup part of the guide.

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Having a pen and paper to write scores down is a good idea too, as not writing these down as you go can lead to confusion while you play.

Alternatively, look into buying a Pinochle set if you are a beginner with the game. It will come with the correct amount of cards alongside scoring guides to help you out with point tallying.

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How To Set Up Pinochle

If you have a Pinochle deck already, you will have the correct number and card type already. If using a normal deck, then you will need to make some amendments to the decks before playing.

Get two decks, and separate the following cards: Ace (high); King; Queen; Jack; 10; 9 (low). Be sure that you have these cards from both decks, and discard the rest. This should leave 48 cards left to play.

Have each player or team draw 1 card from the established Pinochle deck, with the highest card starting the game as the dealer. If the same card gets drawn, then redraw until there is a clear winner.

Regardless of whether you play the game in teams or in singles, have the dealer draw 12 cards to each player. Show cards face up at all times.

If playing with 2 players, the rest of the unused deck gets used as the stock and turned over face down.

Pinochle Rules and Gameplay

The game has 3 parts to it, the bidding phase, the melding phase, and the trick-taking phase.

Starting the Game – Bidding

The game of Pinochle begins with the bidding phase. This is where players bid on how many points they believe they can make in that round, starting from 20 points.

Players either increase on the previous bid or pass, with the highest bidder choosing which suit will become the trump.

If playing in pairs, then the winning bidders can swap 3 cards between their decks, but only 3 cards to potentially be able to form melds and score points.

How to Play Pinochle – Video Tutorial

Melding Phase

Once both teams know what the points contract is, they look at their decks to see if they can form any melds. The combinations are:

  • Trump Run – 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of the trump suit is 15 points
  • Double Trump Run – Having two trump runs is 150 points
  • Pinochle – Queen of Spades and the Jack of Diamonds is 4 points
  • Double Pinochle – Two Pinochles is 30 points
  • Royal Marriage – King and Queen of the trump suit is 4 points
  • Common Marriage – King, and Queen of the non-trump suit is 2 points
  • Nix – 9 of the trump suit is 1 point
  • 4 Aces – 4 Aces is 10 points
  • 4 Kings – 4 Kings is 8 points
  • 4 Queens – 4 Queens is 6 points
  • 4 Jacks – 4 Jacks is 4 points
  • 8 Aces – 8 Aces is 100 points
  • 8 Kings – 8 Kings is 80 points
  • 8 Queens – 8 Queens is 60 points
  • 8 Jacks – 8 Jacks is 40 points

Once the melds get formed, and you’ve written the scores achieved down, the game progresses onto the next phase.

Trick Taking Phase

This part of the game is where things start to get more tricky and requires skill and patience to be able to be successful. 

Players place cards in the middle to try to outrank the other players and take the trick. The player within the duo who was successful in the points contract at the beginning starts by playing a lead card.

Tricks are where each player lays down a card and the player who lays down the highest value card wins the trick. As cards are always visible to other players, the highest possible card must get played that is the same suit as the lead card.

Only cards of the same suit as the lead can outrank the lead card, but if a player does not possess this they can lay down a trump card instead. If they cannot lay down a trump card, then they must pick any card in their deck.

Each ace, king, or 10 that gets laid down in the trick gains 1 point, and taking the last trick is also worth an additional 1 point. The winner of the trick gains the hand and adds the relevant number of points earned to their total.

The player who wins the trick picks the first card for the next trick until the 12th round of tricks finishes.

Scoring In Pinochle

Both teams add up the number of points that they managed to score in both the Melding and the Trick phase of Pinochle.

If the team with the points contract succeeds in hitting their target from the start, this gets added to their total. If they failed, then that amount gets deducted from their total instead.

The game ends once a team has managed to gain 150 points before the other team. The game continues from the start if neither team has managed to hit this total.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Pinochle rules can you adjust to make the game harder or easier?

Usually, players can adjust the difficulty by increasing the number of cards used to 64 by adding the 7 and 8’s as well. This makes the melds harder to form, as 7 and 8 do not have any points or possible melds that can get formed with them.

Can you play Pinochle with 3 players instead?

You can definitely play Pinochle with 3 players, in the version known as Cutthroat Pinochle.

The difference between Cutthroat and Classic is that 15 cards get drawn to players instead, with a 4th set drawn known as ‘the widow deck’. The player with the successful bid gets to form melds and tricks with the widow deck after getting rid of 3 cards from that deck.

Normal play then proceeds following the same rules detailed in our guide.

Alternative games to Pinochle

Pinochle is definitely an exciting game that mixes luck with a bit of strategic thinking to reward the most successful players.

If you are looking for more card games that you can play with a 52 card deck lying around the house, you are in luck with some of our other guides. 

Have a look at the palace card game rules, nines card game rules, 66 card game rules or check out how to play spoons for a card game that is a bit different from the norm.

We even have games that are unique in which they require a specialized deck of cards, such as 5 crown as a great example of this.

Alternatively, have a look at some board game guides we have as well, if you like trivia be sure to check out the logo board game rules or the rules to trivial pursuit.

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