Auction Pinochle - card game rules

Auction Pinochle

Introduction

This page is about Single Deck Three-Player Auction Pinochle, which was perhaps the best known and most widely played form of Pinochle in the early to mid 20th century. Over the years, Pinochle has evolved and a huge number of local variants have become established. Towards the end of the century this 3-player game seems to have been overtaken in popularity by 4-player partnership Pinochle and games using a double deck, but 3-player Auction Pinochle still has a devoted following. This page is devoted to the classic version which is perhaps characteristic of the East Coast of the USA. Typically it is played for small stakes, each hand being a separate event which is paid for in chips or cash before the next deal.

After the deal each hand begins with an auction and the player who commits to winning the largest number of points plays alone against the other two players who form a temporary partnership. Points are scored for winning tricks containing valuable cards, for winning the last trick, and for melds, which are scoring combinations of cards in the bidder's hand that are declared before the play of the cards begins. The winner of the bidding has the privilege of exchanging three cards and choosing the trump suit for the hand.

The main description in the page is based on a contribution from Bob Bassin of a version played in Brooklyn. On a separate page you can find rules for a different version of 3-player Auction Pinochle from South Dakota, which is played to a target score and features higher scores for double melds.

Players and Cards

Brooklyn Pinochle is a single-deck three handed individual game with a deck of 48 cards, in which one player, the winner of the auction, plays against the other two, who form a temporary partnership. Four people can take part in a game, in which case they take turns to sit out while the other three play. Deal and play are clockwise.

The deck has two copies of each card. In each of the four suits the cards rank in the order Aces (high), Tens, Kings, Queens, Jacks, and Nines (low). Note that in Pinochle, unlike many card games, the Tens are high cards ranking between the Ace and the King. The cards have point values when taken in tricks as follows:

Each Ace 11 points
Each Ten 10 points
Each King 4 points
Each Queen 3 points
Each Jack 2 points
Each Nine 0 points

There is an extra score of 10 points for winning the last trick, making a total of 250 points in the deck.

A single hand of Pinochle consists of 5 phases: dealing, bidding, melding, playing the cards and scoring.

Dealing

The first dealer is chosen by any convenient random process, for example by drawing cards from a shuffled deck, lowest dealing. Subsequently the turn to deal passes to the next player in clockwise after each hand.

The dealer shuffles and the player to dealer's right cuts. The dealer than deals the cards in packets of three to the three active players, in clockwise order beginning with the player to dealer's left. After the first round of the deal, the next packet of three cards is dealt face down in the centre of the table to form the kitty. The deal then continues until the deck is exhausted and each player has 15 cards. If there are four players at the table the player to dealer's right receives no cards and takes no part in the bidding and play, but is involved in the payments at the end of the hand.

Bidding

The player to the left of the dealer has first bid, and players speak in clockwise order. Each bid is a number, and the highest bidder is committed to scoring at least the number of points of the final bid in order to win.

The first player must bid at least 300. Each subsequent bid must be a multiple of 10 and be higher than the last. Bids ending in 40 or 90 such as 340, 390, 440 are not allowed. A player who does not wish to bid can pass, and then cannot bid again during the auction. The last player not to pass wins the bid with the amount of the last and highest bid.

If after an initial bid of 300 the other two players pass, the original bidder can either take on the 300 bid or require the dealer to take over the bid for the default amount of 250. 

Taking the Kitty, Making Trump and Melding

The player who won the auction ('declarer') turns up the three cards in the kitty for all to see and then picks them up. The declarer, who now has 18 cards, chooses and announces the trump suit, and 'buries' three cards by placing them face down on the table, leaving 15 cards in hand. Any three cards may be buried, including cards that were picked up from the kitty. The point values of these buried cards will count towards fulfilling the declarer's bid.

The declarer now melds by placing scoring combinations of cards face up on the table. Cards that have been buried cannot of course be used for melds. The combinations that can be scored as meld fall into three classes.

Class 1 Run The top five cards of the trump suit: A 10 K Q J 150 points
Dix The 9 of trump 10 points
Royal Marriage King and Queen of trump 40 points
Common Marriage King and Queen of the same non-trump suit 20 points
Class 2 Pinochle Jack of diamonds and Queen of spades 40 points
Class 3 Aces around One Ace of each suit 100 points
Kings around One King of each suit 80 points
Queens around One Queen of each suit 60 points
Jacks around One Jack of each suit 40 points

A single card can be used in two or three melds in different classes, but cannot be used in more than one meld in the same class. For example a Queen of hearts can be a member of a “Hearts marriage” (Class 1 meld) and a member of “Queens around” (Class 3 meld), but cannot  also be a member of “Run” (Class 1 meld) if hearts are trump since it already appears in the hearts marriage.  The points for the melds presented are totalled and count towards fulfilling the declarer's bid.

Note that unlike some forms of Pinochle, this version has no extra score for double melds. Eight Kings simply form two 'Kings around' for 160 points, and a player who melds both spade Queens and both diamond Jacks scores just 80 for two Pinochles.

Since the result of the hand depends only on whether the declarer scores enough to fulfill the final bid, the declarer's opponents do not meld and any combinations that they hold are irrelevant.

Playing the Cards

The declarer leads to the first trick, and the the winner of each trick leads the next one.  Tricks won by the declarer's opponents are added to a common pile.

The player leading to a trick can play any card they wish, but other players must follow the restrictions below:

  • They must follow suit, playing a card of the same suit as the card that was led, if they have any.
  • A player who has no card of the suit that was led must play a trump if they have one.
  • A player who can neither follow suit nor trump can play any card they wish.
  • If trump is led to the trick, each player must beat the highest trump so far played to the trick if they can. (This only applies if a trump is led. If a non-trump is led and neither of the other players has a card of the suit they must both trump, but since a trump was not led the third player is not obliged to beat the card played by the second player.)

The trick is won by the highest trump in it, or by the highest card of the suit led if no trumps were played to the trick. If two identical cards are played the first of them ranks higher than the second.

Scoring and Payment

At the end of the hand each side counts the total value of the cards in their tricks, using the values given above. When the 10 points for the side that won the last trick is included the total should be 250 card points.

If the declarer's total card points plus meld score equals or exceeds the bid, the declarer has won the hand: if not the declarer has gone set.

The stake should of course be agreed in advance. The table below shows the amount that the declarer receives from each opponent if successful and the amount paid to each opponent for going set, as a multiple of the agreed stake. These amounts depend only on the declarer's bid - there is no extra payment for points in excess of the number bid.

Declarer's bid Win Set
250-330 1 2
350-380 2 4
400-430 4 8
450-480 8 16
500-530 16 32
550 or more 32 64

If spades are trump, all payments are doubled.

If after exposing the kitty, the declarer sees little or no chance of scoring enough points to win, there is the option of throwing in the hand and accepting a 'voluntary set'. In this case the declarer pays only the same amount that would have been won if the bid succeeded, i.e. half the amount that would have been lost if the hand had been played out. In case of a voluntary set, the declarer does not have to name a trump suit, so there is no double for spades trump.

If there are four players at the table, the player who sat out wins or loses with the declarer's opponents - so the declarer collects from three players for a win and pays three players for a set.

Since the players settle up after each hand, there is no score keeping and no fixed end to the game. The session will end by mutual agreement, ideally after each player has dealt an equal number of times.

Variations

This style of Pinochle was popular through most of the 20th century, and numerous different versions of the rules can be found in the literature, many of which are probably still played. Here are some ways in which they commonly differ from the Brooklyn game described above.

When four played it was often the dealer who sat out rather than the player to dealer's right.

The minimum bid allowed varied from place to place. Usually any multiple of 10 above the minimum was allowed, including bids ending in 40 or 90.

Some groups simplified the card values by making Aces, Tens and Kings worth 10 and all other cards zero. There was also an intermediate version in which Kings and Queens had a value of 5 each.

Some groups recognised an extra type of meld called a 'Roundhouse', which consists of a King and Queen of each suit. The score for this was 240, which is the same as what would be scored for the Kings around, Queens around and four marriages that it contains. The difference comes when a player holds a Roundhouse and a Run, using the same King and Queen of trumps for each. Some groups scored this as 390 (240+150) while others scored it as 350, arguing that the Royal Marriage component of the Roundhouse could not be scored at the same time as the Run of which it was a part.

There were numerous different scoring schedules, most with a more gentle increase in payment for higher contracts than in the table above. For example:

300-340 1 1 2
350-390 2 3 3
400-440 4 7 4
450-490 6 10 5
500-540 8 13 6
550-590 10 16 7
600 or more 12 19 8

In some circles, the basic stake was tripled when hearts were trumps.

Auction Pinochle with a Pot

It was common to play with a pot, which collected like an additional player when a player was set, and paid out for a successful bid that was more than some agreed amount, such as 350 or 400. Here is an example of this type of game based on a contribution from Br. Paul Medvit. The following assumes 5 cent per 50 points.

To begin the game each player puts 25 cents in the pot. If the pot is won everyone must put in 25 cents again before the next deal. The minimum bid is 250 and if the first two players pass the dealer must bid at least the minimum.

If the bidder wins he is paid by both opponents - divide the bid by 10 and round down to the next 5 cents, so a bid of 250-290 is worth 25 cents, 300-340 is worth 30 cents, and so on.

If the bidder loses he pays the opponents and also the kitty. For a single set (given up without play) the bidder has to pay the same amount per player that the bid would have won, plus the kitty; a double set (played and lost) costs double.

Any bid with spades as trumps wins or loses double. So for example if you bid 330, play the hand out in spades and lose you have to pay $1.20 to each player and $1.20 to the pot.

A player who wins a bid of 400 or more takes the pot in addition to the money won from each other player.

Since the only result on each hand is whether the bidder wins or loses, the opponents of the bidder do not meld. Once the bidder has enough points to win, or acknowledges defeat, the play stops, the hand is settled up and the next person deals.

It is possible, and even preferable, to play this version with more than three people at the table. Only three people are dealt cards in each hand; the rest take turns to sit out, and thus have time to go to rest room, get something to eat, drink and so on. The players who are currently sitting out take part in the payments as though they are opponents of the bidder. If the pot is won, everyone contributes to the new pot, including those that were sitting out.

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2020. Last updated: 31st October 2020

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