Six-Card "Racehorse" Pinochle Rules

by Dave LeVasseur

Last Revised: 12-Aug-01

Here are the rules to six-card "racehorse" pinochle, as taught to me by Bill Hurney with the additional assistance of Lew Tollefson. If you don't understand any of the following, or you find an error you'd like me to correct, send me an e-mail: pinochle& (change "&" to "@". This is my sneaky way of keeping junk e-mailers from getting my address.)  You can also play pinochle on-line at's pinochle page (new as of August, 2001).  If that doesn't work, try starting from their home page:

While the term 'racehorse' generally refers to the practice of passing cards among partners, this version of the game does not. Bill insists that it is called racehorse because it plays quickly, and it is his game after all. If anyone can provide me with a convincing argument why it should NOT be called racehorse, I will pass it along to Bill to see what he says.

This document may also be downloaded and printed from: which is an MS Word version 7.0 document. A Rich-Text (RTF) version may also be obtained at

For the rules on a similar, more standard version of double-deck pinochle, refer to:

Six-Card "Racehorse" Pinochle Rules - According to Bill Hurney and Lew Tollefson

The deck consists of a standard pinochle deck: two cards of each suit and rank 9-A (thus, there are two Aces of each suit, two 10s of each suit, etc.) Card ranking is, from lowest to highest: 9, J, Q, K, 10, A (note that 10 beats K - this is standard in pinochle, different from most other card games). Players must cut the cards to determine which player is the first dealer - the holder of the highest pinochle-ranked card. In a case of a tie between two or more high-card holders, the cards must be cut once again by all players (one tie, all tie).

Six cards are dealt to each player. The player to the left of the dealer starts the bidding process. When only two players are present, an "open" (minimum) bid is five points. For three or more players, the minimum bid is six. If all players up to the dealer pass, the bid defaults (is dumped) to the dealer who is required to make the "open" bid. Auction bidding is not allowed. (Unlike other versions of pinochle, it is not necessary in this version for a player to have meld points in order to bid)

If the bidder fails to make the bid, that player goes "set" (bid points are subtracted from current score) by the amount of the bid. Scores may go below zero.  A bidder who feels his or her hand is not strong enough to make the bid may throw the hand in and take it as an automatic set. See section on ‘throwing in’ the hand below for more details on this.

After bidding, the bidder declares which suit is trump. Each player may discard as many cards as desired, except as noted below. New cards are dealt to each person singly starting with the person left of the BIDDER. Each player receives enough cards to total six in their hands. If there are too few cards to fulfill the bidder's request, the bidder is forced to take only as many cards as remain in the unused deck and keep enough cards to total six in hand. (This could only occur if there are more than four players).

Card replenishment:

2, 3 or 4 players: each player may receive up to six replacement cards

5 players: each player may take up to four new cards, the bidder can take up to six from those that remain.

6 players: each player can take up to two cards and the bidder can take up to six from those that remain, OR, as an alternative version of the game, the dealer sits out that hand and the cards are replenished and played as though there are only five players.

After new cards are dealt, meld is determined.. Each player must declare his or her meld points by showing them to the other players. Important: If the bidder decides to 'throw in the hand' it must be done immediately after meld has been declared by each player before actual play begins. See the section below that describes the process of 'throwing in' the hand.


Note: Having double 9s in trump is worth only 2 points in this game (other versions of pinochle may differ on this)

Note: A queen may be used to form two kinds of meld if they are different. For example, KS and QS and JD is worth eight points as meld. A single King or Queen may NOT be shared to form multiple marriages. (No bigamy)


The bidder starts play by placing a card face up in the middle of the table. Each following players must follow with a card of that suit, or play a trump card if they have no suit cards. If a player has one or more cards that can beat the cards already played, the player must play one of those cards ("ya gotta kill"). Trump MUST be played if no suit cards are available, even if it can't beat the trump cards already played (ya gotta play 'dead' trump). If the player has no cards in the suit that was lead and also has no trump cards, the player may play any card remaining in his or her hand.

The "gotta kill rules" in summary:

1. Follow the suit that was lead and you must beat the highest suit card played if the suit has not yet been trumped.

2. If you can't follow suit, you must play a trump card if you have one, even if you can't beat a trump card that was already played.

(You don't have to beat a suit card with a higher suit card if the hand has already been trumped)

The hand is awarded to the player with the highest trump card, if any were played, or the highest card in the suit that was lead if no trump cards were played In the case of a tie, the player who played the first card of the highest ranking wins the hand, trump cards taking precedence over suit cards.

If you break rule 1 or rule 2, you have "reneged", which in some pinochle groups is punishable by the removal of one finger for each infraction after the first. Hint: watch out for pinochle players who can't easily hold all their cards.

After all cards are played, points are counted:

Point cards: A, 10, K in any suit (collected after the hand)

The last trick of the hand is worth one point to the player who took it.

A player must take at least one point card in a trick or take the last trick of the hand to count a score during that hand. If no tricks are taken, or none of the taken tricks contain a point card, or the player did not take the last trick, the player loses all meld points for that hand and scores a zero for that hand. (Hey, its a cruel world out there)

The game is over when any of the following occur:

1. The bidder's score reaches or exceeds 50 and the bidder has taken enough points to satisfy his or her bid - even if the hand is still in play. The bidder is the winner in this case.

2. If a non-bidder reaches or exceeds a score of 50, the entire hand must still be played out to assure that the bidder's score could not reach or exceed 50. If the non-bidding player's score reaches or exceeds 50 and the bidder's score did not reach or exceed 50, the player with the highest score at or above 50 is declared the winner. In the rare event that two players tie with a score at or above 50 and the bidder did not reach or exceed 50, the players with the tied scores may cut for highest pinochle-ranked card or play an additional hand or hands to determine the winner.

Explanation of rule 2: The bidder's score takes precedence: even in the case of a tie at or above 50 with a non-bidding player, the bidder is declared the winner. This rule puts the greatest risk/reward on the bidder - as it should be.


Players may "smear" points to a another player by placing one of the "point" cards (A,10 or K) on a trick. This strategy can help make the bidder go "set" which is usually a good idea when the bidder is ahead of or reasonably close to the other players' scores. (This can also be used to keep an exceptionally good player "at bay"). Kings are good choices for to play when smearing points since they are relatively weak.

If you have a "lone ace" (single ace in a suit with no other cards in that same suit), play it as early as possible so you won't lose it to the other ace of the same suit.

If you're the bidder and your hand is not particularly strong, consider playing a queen in trump to flush out the other trump cards. This works well when there are three or more players. Also makes the other players emit sounds of exasperation as the trump cards fall from their hands.

"Throwing In" the hand:
If the bidder feels he or she is unable to garner enough points to make the required bid, the bidder may ‘throw in’ the hand. This must be done after melds are shown and declared and before playing the first hand. In this case, each player keeps his or her meld points only. This tactic, while extreme, helps the bidder to cut his or her losses if a hand is clearly too weak to win. It may be used to keep a non-bidding player from winning if that player is within close reach of the 50 point ‘win’ limit. Used to excess, this tactic is frustrating to non-bidding players, but may be successfully employed by experienced players from time to time.

Dave LeVasseur

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