In-depth: Pinochle Pt. 4 – Playing as defender

In previous posts we looked at bidding techniques and playing as the declarer, now we’ll take a look at the basics of how to defend against declarer (we’ll assume here that you’re playing against the declarer which isn’t always the case, but that’s what usually happens).

Let’s say that declarer has taken the bid for 250 and melds the following (Spades are trump):

Declarer has 140 meld, so we need to hold him to 10 tricks or fewer. The first thing to do is note what non-trump he melded, because we know each of those is going to be a loser for him and a winner for the defense (remember he can’t go down with anything he melded). You don’t need to remember the exact cards, just say to yourself something like “2 Clubs, 2 Hearts, 1 Diamond”. If declarer melds all but one suit, just remembering that suit is probably good enough; we’ll see why in a bit.

You have the following hand:


Declarer leads off with the A♣. RHO (your fellow defender) follows with the J♣ and you’re forced to give declarer your K♣ giving him an extra counter right off the bat. Declarer continues with the Q♣, RHO puts on the other J♣ and you win with the A♣. Now you have to decide what to lead back.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, oftentimes declarer will be trying to establish a second suit, so you don’t want to help him by continuing that suit (Clubs in this case). But here you have both of the 10♣ so you can go ahead and play them back. Deciding what to lead in cases like this is tricky and something I’ll go over in a later defending post.

So you decide to follow with the 10♣. Declarer puts the 9♣ on and RHO adds the Q♣. This is where noting what declarer melded comes in handy; remember he melded a Club marriage, so he still has the King. You can now play your other 10♣ knowing he still has at least one Club left. So you play your other 10♣, declarer puts the other 9♣ on it, and RHO trumps it with the 10♠.

RHO now leads out with the A. You put the K on, and declarer follows with the J he melded. RHO leads out with his other A, you put you other K on, but this time declarer trumps it with his K. Now we know he’s out of Diamonds, which is a critical piece of information. And of course we’re remembering to count the trump, right? 😉

Now declarer plays the Q, RHO follows with the K, and you win the A, leaving you with the following hand to lead from:

So what do we do? Start pounding declarer with Diamonds. We know he’ll have to trump them, so we can start burning off his trump. We’ll go ahead and play the Q so we don’t give him a counter, even though declarer will probably get all those Diamond counters eventually by trumping in.

At this point you may be saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. Declarer rid himself of Diamonds so that he could trump in and win all the Diamond counters, and now we’re obliging him by playing Diamonds and letting him trump? Shouldn’t we play something else?” I know it seems weird to play the suit that lets declarer take a bunch of counters, but it really is the only choice. Playing Clubs or Hearts doesn’t do anything other than give us the tricks we’re inevitably going to get. Declarer made a good play when he rid himself of Diamonds, now the best we can do is pound him with them and try to burn off his trump.

Declarer trumps with the 9♠ and RHO puts the 9 on. Declarer comes back with the Q, RHO adds the 9, and you win with the 10. We lead another Diamond and get the exact same result: Q, 9♠, 9. Declarer leads the K, RHO puts the J on, and you finally win with your A. You’re left with the following four cards:

We’ll lead our last Diamond. Declarer trumps with the J♠ , and RHO puts the J on. Now we’re left with three trump and we know there are four others out there, since we’ve been counting them. Declarer leads the K♣, RHO trumps with the Q♠, and we go up with the K♠. We lead our J♠, declarer puts the Q♠ on, and RHO wins his A♠. Unfortunatley declarer wins the last trick of 10 ,10 ♠, A♠ for three counters plus last trick.

We end up with 8 tricks, RHO only gets 3, and declarer makes 14 so he makes his bid easily. We couldn’t have done much better; declarer had too many trump and too few Diamonds for us.The fact that we had a ton of counters and RHO barely had any hurt too; he wasn’t able to contribute much to our winning tricks. We got all the tricks we were entitled to but the distribution of the cards kept us from getting any more.

So that’s a basic look at defending in pinochle. The main thing to remember is try to find declarer’s short suit and pound him with it every chance you get. Count the trump, pay attention to when you can help your partner by playing a counter, and keep pounding declarer and you’ll do well defending.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “In-depth: Pinochle Pt. 4 – Playing as defender

  1. One day I’ll learn this game and better understand these posts. 😀 They seem well-written, though. And of course I’m impressed with all the red hearts and diamonds!

    • dantherpgman

      Thanks! Yeah I know this is pretty hard to follow if you don’t play pinochle, so I appreciate you looking at it anyway 🙂

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