Wednesday, November 14, 2007

5-handed pinochle

Several generations ago my family invented a version of pinochle that allows 5 players to play, and is won individually (not as a team). I think it speaks to our competitive nature that this is one of our favorite card games whenever we get at least 5 family members together.

At a family reunion this summer I played it a bit, and decided to write down the rules so I don't forget the next time I play... one time we tried to remember them after a long break, and we got it all wrong.

I still remember very distinctly the summer I learned to play this game. My cousin and great-aunt were visiting from the East Coast. After learning the rules and such, we started getting competitive. I remember being dealt an outstanding hand, outbidding my great-aunt (who was a legendary high bidder) with a bid of 72... and I managed to make it. It was a high point of my adolescence, for sure.

5 players
2 pinochle decks, remove the 9s.
Card hierarchy is A, 10, K, Q, J

All the cards are dealt to the players (often in batches of 3 at a time), leaving 5 cards untouched in the middle of the table (which are supposed to be dealt randomly during dealing, and never the last 5 cards). This is the "widow" and the high bidder gets these cards.

The total number of counters in the deck is 50 (counters = A, 10, K), including 2 points for taking the last trick.

One round of bidding starts at 40. If no one bids, then the dealer is the "bidder", and has effectively bid 40 points.

The highest bidder names one suit to be trump. The next person around the table, to the bidder's left, who has the Ace of trump, is his or her partner. If no one has an Ace, then it's the next person with the 10. The remaining three people then become the "other" team.

The high bidder then picks up the cards in the widow and incorporates them into his or her hand. This ability to get 5 extra cards has often driven people to bid too high and pay later!

At this point everyone lays down their "meld". The points gained here are added to the total number of counters taken during play.

Meld points:
Marriage (K, Q of same suit) = 2
Marriage in trump = 4
Pinochle (J of diamonds + Q of spades) = 4
Jacks in all four suits ("40 Jacks") = 4
Queens in all four suits ("60 Queens") = 6
Kings in all four suits ("80 Kings")= 8
Aces in all four suits ("100 Aces") = 10
A, K, Q, J in all four suits ("Roundhouse") = 28 (?)
Run (A, 10, K, Q, J) - trump only = 15

It should be noted that I learned how to play with "Shore rules" but in other branches of the family, there are "Michigan rules". The main difference (that I can remember) is that for Michigan rules, a double pinochle (i.e. 2 jacks of diamonds and 2 queens of spades) is 20 points, whereas in Shore rules it's 8 (2x 4). This nearly caused an incident this summer, but was thankfully ameliorated by the person with the double pinochle being outbid.

After playing all the meld and counting it up, the high bidder discards 5 cards (and must disclose to the other players if he or she discards any trump cards). If the high bidder has an amazing hand and could meld all their cards without leaving at least 5 out, then he or she has to remove some meld in order to discard. Then the high bidder leads, and must lead in the trump suit.

The play proceeds as standard trick/trump games go. The person who plays the highest card of the suit led takes the trick and leads the card for the next round. Play proceeds in a standard clockwise direction. If someone no longer has any cards of the suit led, they must play trump. If more than one person must trump, the second person must beat the first person's trump card, if they can. In the case of a trumped round, the person who played the highest card in the trump suit takes the trick and leads the next round. If a player is out of the suit led and is out of trump, he or she can play any card of any suit but has no chance of winning that round.

Play continues until all players are out of cards.

Each team then counts the number of "counters" they took during game play. These are A, 10, and K of any suit. The team that took the last trick gets an extra 2 points.

The counters are then added to the meld points. Each person on each team gets the points accrued by their team during that hand.

The bidding team must have beaten their bid (i.e. if they bid 50 points, then their meld + counters must be at least 50). If they do not make their bid, then the bid amount is SUBTRACTED from their overall score (ouch!).

The "other" team, made of the three non-bidders, must take at least one trick during the hand in order to "save their meld". If they do not take at least one trick, they do not get any points for the hand.

The game proceeds until one person reaches 240 points.


The great thing about this game is that your partner is almost never the same person from hand to hand. Bidding can get out of control and then the unlucky person with the Ace of trump can end up being taken down by the high bidder... it's a game full of drama and strategy.


Anonymous said...

We have played 5 handed pinochle for years and years. The rules we play are a little different. Bidding starts at 50. Double pinochle is 30, triple pinochle is 75. The winner of the bid picks up the 5 cards and then asks for one specific card. The first person to his left that has the card is the partner. So, you are always assured of at least one card. The partner gives them the card and then they must give one back. A double run is 150 points. a single run is 15 or 20 depending on who you are playing with. This is my family's favorite game by far.

Anonymous said...

We always played 5 handed by dealing all the cards out. When you bid and you need a card to finish your hand, you can ask for it after you won the bid. the person that has the card is your partner for the hand and the other 3 are partners for that hand.Then you give a card back to the person that had the card you needed.
I have played the other way but find this way much better. You never know who will be your partner, hopefully not someone ahead of you. Do not go broke or partner mad at you. Also you do not have to take a partner if you do not need a card to make a good hand.

Anonymous said...

Thanks! This was really helpful :) I like this version.

Anonymous said...

Back in college in the '70s, we played a LOT of pinochle, single-deck, double-deck, usually partners. One day there were 5 of us who wanted to play. We only had one deck of cards. So, we played, "5-handed, single-deck, cutthroat (no partners pinochle.

Each player recived 9 cards, the remaining three were put in a "kitty" which no one saw. Meld followed the lower-point method (without multiplying it by 10): Ace's around = 10, Kings around = 8, Queens = 6, Jacks = 5; a Run (A, 10, K, Q, J) in trump = 15; etc. Bidding started at 15, but if the dealer got "stuck" his "bid" was just 12.

The winning bidder, or the dealer if he got stuck, gets the kitty for their hand, looks his cards over, keeps what he wants, and then discards three cards. No one gets to see the discard cards (except the bidder, obviously!).

The winning bidder lead the first trick, and did not have to lead trump. Typical rules were: had to follow the lead suit if possible, if not had to trump if you had it, if not you could play any suit. Last trick was worth an extra point. Points given only for A, 10, K.

It was (is!) a vicious game! Lots of times the bidder gets put down (set). Game was to 100 points.

Anonymous said...

5 player Pinochle Game
2 Pinochle decks of cards (96 cards)
After all 5 players are seated, cards are cut by each player and the first Ace wins the deal.
Two pinochle decks are riffled at least three times before the deal and the person to the right of the dealer cuts the deck. Cards are dealt three at a time with one card placed in the center of the table for the widow after each round. The deal can be dealt other ways but multiple cards should be dealt to each player and the widow should not be dealt the last 6 cards.
Auction bidding starts at 50. If no one bids, the dealer gets the hand for 50. It’s the dealer’s option to discard the hand but the dealer’s score will take a deduction of 50 points. If this happens, the other players will have their meld added to their score. The winner of the bidding turns over the 6 widow cards for all players to view. Trump is called by the winning bidder and meld is shown by all players. The standard value for all possible meld applies (see Points below). The winning bidder decides if playing alone is desired or if a partner is needed. If a partner is needed, the winning bidder chooses the card that will determine the partner. Usually it’s the Ace of trump but that may not be the card chosen by the winning bidder. The winning bidder then discards 6 cards and only discloses if trump has been discarded (24 trump cards are in the deck and counting trump should be done). Play is begun by the winning bidder. Some require that trump is always lead first but that is a “house” rule. The rule of “heading the trick” (a player must play a higher card if he has one) is used by The National Pinochle Association, Inc. However, many only apply this rule to trump. Players must agree on this rule before play is begun. If a partner is needed, play proceeds until the designated card is played. All tricks collected by the winning bidder and partner are collected together and counted as one score. However, only the winning bidder’s meld is counted toward the final score. After play has concluded, the points are counted and given to each player. There are 50 points in every hand (48 points for cards and 2 points for last trick).
Bidding can be fierce and frustrating. Many players overbid and take a long chance on something that they should know can seldom come through. The widow can sometimes help with one or two cards a player may need but rarely will provide more than that.
Play continues until a player reaches a score of 225.
There are many variations of the 5 handed game but this one has been a favorite with my family and friends.
• Trump Sequence: A, 10, K, Q, J 15 points
• Royal Marriage: K & Q of trump 4 points
• Plain Marriage: K & Q of any suit 2 points
• Pinochle: J of Diamonds & Q of Spades 4 points
• Double Pinochle: 30 points
• Four Aces in different suits 10 points
• Four Kings in different suits 8 points
• Four Queens in different suits 6 points
• Four Jacks in different suits 4 points
• Nine of Trump 1 point
• Round House: 4 Kings & 4 Queens 24 points
• Last trick 2 points

mickmackusa said...

I REALLY need to see a video of how you play your variant out. Can you set up a 5-handed game for me and video it from a bird's eye view or first-person view, so that I can see all of the tabled cards (and one person's holdings if possible)?

I am developing the world's first official Pinochle Notation at and I need to make sure I can accommodate all the zany, tribal variants that are floating around.

I'm sorry to not leave my email address, but you can Private Message or Email me via the software at Power Pinochle.

Thanks in advance!

Unknown said...

Playing 5 handed pinochle with 2 decks of cards...NO NINES

How do you score when one player renegs?????

Anonymous said...

We play this but use just 1 standard pinochle deck with 3 cards in the middle of the table (each player is dealt 9 cards). There are no partners, each one plays for themselves and against the bidder. Opening bid is only 10 with the dealer being stuck for 9. Meld is standard single deck meld. Game is 100 or 5-hands giving each player a chance at being stuck for the bid.