Pinochle: Variations on a Theme

If I'm playing pinochle with three other players, I generally want to stick with the rules as I presented them on my main page. Sometimes you don't have four people handy, though. Nevertheless, you can still play pinochle. Here are my recommendations for how to accomodate other players.

Two Players

Well, actually, although there is a surprisingly good variation for two, it's complicated enough that I'm not going to try to explain it here; at least not today. I'll come back one of these days and fill those rules in.

Three Players

Use one deck, same as standard pinochle. Deal a "kitty" of three cards face down in the center of the table while you're dealing out cards to players. Bidding should start at 150. Whoever wins the bid flips over the kitty cards so everybody can see them, puts them in their hand, and declares trump. Everybody melds. The bidder puts three cards from their hand face-down on the table. In effect, they've "taken a trick" already. If any of the cards they set aside are counters, they get to score those points at the end of the hand.

Everybody picks up their meld, and the bidder leads. Everything after that is pretty much just like four-handed pinochle.

Five Players

You need to play with 1 ½ pinochle decks, but without the 9s. There will thus be three aces of spades, three tens of hearts, and so forth. Cards are dealt out to all the players. Bidding starts at 150. Whoever gets the bid names one specific card, for example "the Queen of Clubs." Starting with the player to the bidder's left, each player in turn says "I don't have that card" or "I do." As soon as somebody has the named card, stop. That player is now the bidder's partner. The partner passes the bidder three cards, exactly the same as a partnership in four-handed. The other three players will be playing against the partnership.

Everybody's score is kept separately. (If you're scoring with chips, everybody needs their own set.) The partners each score half of the points they earned as partners. The other three players score their own points. If they go set, each player loses half the usual points for going set. There are a total of 370 points to score from tricks, including taking the last trick.

The only other difference is that the scoring table has to be expanded a bit for those insanely rare occasions when somebody has, say, triple Kings Around. I suggest using the same scoring table that you'd use for double-deck pinochle.

Class Meld Single Double Triple
Meld In Suit Basic Run (A, 10, K, Q, JIAQ in trump) 150 1500 2250
KQ in trump (aka “Royal Marriage”) 40 80 120
KQ, not trump (aka “Marriage”) 20 40 60
A nine in the trump suit2 10 each
Meld In Rank
(aka “Arounds”)
A, one of each suit (aka “100 Aces”) 100 1000 1500
K, one of each suit (aka “80 Kings”) 80 800 1200
Q, one of each suit (aka “60 Queens”) 60 600 900
J, one of each suit (aka “40 Jacks”) 40 400 600
Pinochle J of Diamonds & Q of Spades 40 300 600

I think every other version of 5-handed I could find online said use two full decks, no nines. Oh, dear God, no. In standard pinochle you're playing with a hand of 12 cards. Three-handed gives you 15 cards, but the extra cards you get for bidding are completely random, instead of chosen by your partner. If you play 5-handed with two full decks, you'll get sixteen cards and get cards chosen by your partner and there aren't any nines! You'd have to play to 4000 points just to keep the game from ending after the 3rd hand!

Six Players

Use 1 ½ pinochle decks, with the nines. Play three teams of two. Use the melding chart above. There are 370 points available for taking tricks, including last trick. Everything else is like regular pinochle.