Beginner’s Guide to Three-Handed Pinochle (Simplified) (2024)

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Welcome to our beginner’s guide to the family-fun card game “Pinochle” (Fletcher style). This version of Pinochle described is a nearly traditional form of three-handed Pinochle. I wanted to create a simple beginner’s guide to help first-timers learn to play.

Three-handed pinochle is a card game of bidding and playing for tricks. Each player is independent and competes against the other two players. Points are awarded for melds and wining point-cards. It’s a race between teams to a point count of 150.

A Pinochle deck can bebuilt from two sets of standard poker decks, only using cards of 9, J, Q, K, 10, and Aces. This means there are two of each card, for example, you’ll find two 9, two A♠, etc. Another quick note about this 48-card deck – the order of power goes (lowest to highest) 9, J, Q, K, 10, A. I know you’ll be saying “why is the 10 out of place?” Not sure where that comes from, it’s just the way it is – something to make life interesting I guess. Pinochle consists of three major phases:

Bidding -> Melding -> Trick Play

BiddingMeldingTrick Play
Estimating Meld PointsBid-winner declares Trump suitBid winner plays first
Bid for TrumpThen kitty is shown to allHere’s where you fight for tricks/point cards
– Where Trump is the chosen POWER suitbid-winner picks up kittyTrump suit beats other suits
all members lay down meld combosFollow suit, then trump, else any other card
bid-winner discards three non-melded cardsPartners try to send point cards
Point cards – equally 1 point (K, 10, A)

When you want to bid – There are general guidelines when you would/or would not bid. Generally, you count (estimate) the meld points in your hand, add that to the potential trick points you think you could pull and that is the maximum bid you should go to. There is a nice feature that the bid-winning team gets to pass 4 cards from supporting member to the bid-winner, then the bid winner passes four back. This can dramatically help develop power in your trump and additional meld points. Certainly, there is strategy but much in chance.

Number of Players –Three people can play

The Pack and Rank of Cards –A 48-card Pinochle pack is used. It consists of: A (high), 10, K, Q, J, 9 (low) ineach of the four suits, with two of each card.

The Shuffle and Cut –The Players agree beforehand, who is to tabulate the ongoing scoring of thegame. From a shuffled pack spread face down, each player draws a card. The person with the lowest card deals first and has his choice of seats. If allplayers draw cards of the same rank, they cut again. The Dealer shuffles,then the non-dealer to their right cuts, leaving at least five cards in each portion of thepack (stock). The dealer completes the cut.

The Deal –The dealer gives 15 cards to each player, non-dealer to the left first, dealt three cardsat a time, in clock-wise fashion. Three cards will remain as the “kitty” and should be set asideat anytime during the deal (exception: the last three cards in the deck are not allowed in the kitty). Uponcompletion of the hand, the non-dealer playerbecomes the next dealer. Each deal constitutes a hand. There are usuallyseveral hands played per game.

Bidding – A very importantphase allowing each team the opportunity to wager onthe Trump suit, gaining a significant advantage in getting more points in melds and trick play. Starting with the person to the left of the dealer, each player can Pass, Bid-or-Bunch, or Open (opening starts the bid at25). If no player opens, then the cards are re-delt. If at least one player opens, the opposing team is allowed to counter by sequentially increasing the bid until one team gives in a Passes. The winner of the bid get the honor of choosing the Trump suit.

Kitty–The winner of the bid gets the kitty (three remainder cards from the deal) – some people count on the kitty, others don’t. The bid winner chooses Trump suit, then the kitty cards are displayed to all players. The bid winner then incorporates the kitty cards and all players prepare melds.

The bid winner must discard three cards into their trick pile while their meld is still shown. The three discarded cards must be from non-melded cards. If the bid winner fails to discard:

  • at the first played card, any other player is able to “call out” the bid winner, forcing the bid winner to go set. All other players retain their meld.
  • after the first hand is played, then the bid winner shall discard three non-melded cards (in good faith) and continue play.

Melding – Meld are points you acquire before the trick play begins. Meld and trick play points are added together. If that sum is greater than or equal to your bid, your team wins that hand and the points are added to your total. Same goes for the non-bid-winning team, albeit the numbers are generally much smaller. During the meld phase, all players lay down their melds for review and counting. Below are the meld combinations to look for during the bidding and melding phase.

Meld Point Combinations

Meld NameExamplePoint Value
Family(A 10 K Q J)15
DoubleFamily(A A 10 10 K K Q Q J J)150
Marriage in Trump(K Q)4
Dix in Trump-91
Hundred Aces(A♠ A A A♣)10
Thousand Aces(A♠ A♠ A A A A A♣ A♣)100
Eighty Kings(K♠ K K K♣)8
Eight Hundred Kings(K♠ K♠ K K K K K♣ K♣)80
Sixty Queens(Q♠ Q Q Q♣)6
Six Hundred Queens(Q♠ Q♠ Q Q Q♦ Q♦ Q♣ Q♣)60
Forty Jacks(J♠ J J J♣)4
Four Hundred Jacks(J♠ J♠ J J J J J♣ J♣)40
Marriage in Non-Trump(K Q)2
Pinochle(J Q♠)4
Double Pinochle(J J Q♠ Q♠)30

Trick Play – After all melds are displayed, counted, and picked up, the bid-winner leads the first card. Each team is fighting for the most tricks/point cards. A trick consists of one round of each player playing a card, clockwise from the player that starts the trick. General notes:

  • point cards are K, 10, and Ace (1 point each). These are totaled at the end of trick play.
  • Total points available are 25. There are 24 point cards and last trick gets 1 point
  • Trump suit always beats non-trump cards, regardless of card value
  • each player must follow suit from the first card led
  • if no cards left in led suit, you must play a trump
  • if neither above, then you can play any remaining card
  • a team partner wants to pass point cards to their partner’s winning card
  • if you have a card that can win the hand, you must play it

Additional Notes – there are many subtleties around this fun game, most can be learned from more experienced players (or in more detailed instructions online) 🙂

Shooting the Moon = if you’ve bid up, but failed to get meld points you expected, you can say “I’m gonna shoot-the-moon!” This implies you (bid winner) will take every trick. You do not show any melds, opposing team does. If you shoot the moon, you can earn 50 points!!!

Bid-or-bunch = this is a bidding option that says, “I don’t really like my cards and want a re-deal, but if someone else bids, I’ll bid.” If all players say either pass or bid-or-bunch, then the cards will be re-dealt. This is a pass-cheat… 🙂

Card Passing = after your bid winner chooses trump, you can be thoughtful of your passing cards. If trump is spades, you might assume they have queens and might want to pass any Q♠ and J (you just might make a double Pinochle for 30 points), otherwise pass the obvious trump cards and Aces 🙂

5/6 Nines = if you are dealt five nines (and no meld points) or six nines, you are able to toss in your cards and force a re-deal 🙂

Have fun and good luck!

Written by Bryan Fletcher

Beginner’s Guide to Three-Handed Pinochle (Simplified) (2024)


How do you play 3 handed Pinochle? ›

The person with the bid begins by "leading" any one card from his hand. The other two players in turn each play a card, and who ever plays the highest ranking card of the suit that was led wins that trick, unless it was trumped. Cards of the trump suit which was chosen by the bidder beat all cards of any other suit.

What is the starting bid for a 3 handed Pinochle? ›

A typical bid for a hand with three legs of pinochle (all but one card for a double pinochle) is 350 points (or more, depending on your other cards). In a three-handed game (single deck with a three card kitty), the opening bid is 150, and a typical high bid is between 200 and 250.

How many cards dealt in 3 handed Pinochle? ›

To begin, 15 cards are dealt to each player in sets of 3 cards. The fourth set to be dealt is placed faced down to form a “widow”. Bidding then commences like Classic Pinochle. The player who makes the bid, gets the widow and melds as much cards as they can.

How many points is triple Pinochle? ›

been eclipsed in popularity by double-deck pinochle, in which the 9s are stripped from two standard pinochle decks to produce an 80-card deck. Besides the basic melds, there exist triple aces (150 points for three in each suit), triple kings (120), triple queens (90), triple jacks (60), triple pinochles (45

What does meld mean in Pinochle? ›

Melds are specific combinations of cards. Before presenting you with a detailed list of all melds, we clarify the Why of it: At the base, melds simply enrich your score. To receive the points for the combinations in your hand, you need to meld them. That means showing your fellow players the cards you want to meld.

What is the best meld in Pinochle? ›

Meld is made of 'marriages' (Q,K of same suit), 'arounds' (J,Q,K, or A of each suit), 'runs' (J,Q,K. 10, and A of same suit), ”Pinochle” (J of Diamonds and Q of Spades), and the 9s of trump are always meld. Better meld is a double Pinochle, doubles around, and double run.

What is meld worth in Pinochle? ›

There are occasionally different meld values for a run and a pinochle; a run being 250 or 150 points, and a pinochle being 150 or 40 points. All other aspects of the game generally remain the same. If a player is dealt 13 or more non-counters and no aces, the player may declare a technical misdeal.

What is the opening bid in Pinochle? ›

A bid is the minimum point score a player claims the partnership will make if allowed to name the trump suit. The player at dealer's left must make an opening bid of at least 10 (15 or 20 in some circles). Each player in turn may thereafter pass or make a higher bid. A player having once passed may not bid again.

How many hands do you play in Pinochle? ›

Four-handed pinochle, or "partnership pinochle" is played with two teams of two players each. Partners are seated opposite from each other. Each player is dealt 12 cards. The opening bid is typically 150, but can be a higher agreed on value.

How many cards do you pass in three handed Hearts? ›

Setup. In a 4-player game of Hearts, each player gets 13 cards. In a 3-player game, the 2 of diamonds is removed, and each player gets 17 cards.

How many people can play Pinochle? ›

Deal 12 cards to each player.

Pinochle works best as a 2-player or a 4-player game with teams of 2. Shuffle the Pinochle deck and deal cards clockwise around the table, starting with the player to your left. Deal 3–4 cards at a time to each player until everyone has 12 cards in front of them.

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