Saturday, January 22, 2011


So I decided to start teaching Kyrie and Elijah to play pinochle. I have so many fond memories of playing pinochle with my grandpa, uncles, etc. that I really wanted to be able to play with them. My dad might be the only one who enjoys hearing all these details about how I taught the kids pinochle, but here goes.

Pinochle is a crazy complex game, and people always seem to be intimidated to learn it, so I figured I would start out simple with the kids and try to build it up slowly. Usually attempts to teach people the game go through it chronologically: explain bidding, and then explain meld, and then explain playing hands (winning tricks). I realized in thinking about it these last two days that the reasons these explanations usually get all tangled up is because the chronological explanation is really backwards. The bidding is one of the most complex parts of the game, because it requires a knowledge of both melding and playing hands. The place to really start is with playing the hand. Once they understand that, then they can be taught to meld and then they will be better able to understand why you might want to pass certain cards before others (or lay down, in three-handed); only after they understand all that might they be able to understand how much their hand is worth and bid on it.

So I started today just by familiarizing them with the deck, making sure they knew all four suit names, showing them how each suit has the same set of cards and how each card is doubled, showing them the order those cards go in (A 10 K Q J 9) and such. Then I told Kyrie to deal the cards out to each of us until the whole deck was done, while I went and switched the laundry loads. When I came back, Kyrie thought something was off with the cards, so we each counted ours. I had 17, Kyrie said she had 15, so I let her pick one out of mine to even it up.

We laid all of our cards down on the table, and I showed how to put the cards in order to make it easier to see what you have. (I am aware that highly skilled players sometimes avoid sorting their cards in order to avoid giving away clues to their hands. I do not believe my 6 and 7 year olds need to worry about that anytime soon.) I realized that I had forgotten to pick a trump suit, so I closed my eyes and put my finger down in a random spot on my own laid-out cards. So trump was spades.

We played the hand out, with me explaining about trumping and sluffing (although I forgot to tell them it was called sluffing) as it came up, and trying to ingrain in them the concept of playing your lowest card when you know you're going to lose a trick. I told them briefly about aces, tens, and kings being counters worth one point each, but I figured we would cover that mostly when we got to the end of the hand and added up all the counters.

However, that was not to be. Kyrie probably would have won; she took quite a few more tricks than Elijah or I did. But as we got down to it, I suddenly noticed that Kyrie had four cards to Elijah's two (and my three). Apparently I shouldn't rely on the kids to count their own cards in the first place. So I declared a misdeal and we gathered up all the cards. This might have been fortunate; if Elijah loses his first round of playing pinochle, he will probably decide he doesn't like it and not want to play again.

I dealt us out another hand (remembering to turn a card over to decide trump this time, since we weren't bidding). We were almost all done laying our cards out in order when Gabe spilled water on the table. About 5 of the cards were soaked, so we had to stop the game so I could lay them out to dry. And there you have it. Maybe next week we will make another go at it and see if we can finish a couple hands.

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