By Nancy Covert
The payoff for a nine month-long Pinochle season in Steilacoom is half a year in the future. Four couples who’ve been meeting since September, though, are looking forward to this long-established conclusion to a favorite pastime. When their 2013-14 season concludes next May, they’ll take the winnings in the “Kitty” and enjoy dinner somewhere—the location’s still to be determined.
So—what’s Pinochle—and who plays it anymore?
The once-popular card game, popular with those of a certain age, achieved fame in the early 19th century when it was exported from Europe—is derived from the game “Bezique.” The French word “Binocle” also means “eyeglasses,” and is derived from “Binage”—another French word—for the combination of playing cards called “Binocle.”
Adapted from the German card game “Skat,” it is more similar to whist or euchre. A favorite game of Irish and Jewish immigrants, at least in one city, Syracuse, N.Y., it was banned during WW I because of anti-German sentiment.
This particular group of local players, that included Barbara and Bob Studebaker, Lowell and Jean Bier, Lenore Rogers, Pepper and Barby Roberts and Kate Storaasle began playing about 54 years ago.
The Steilacoom Pinochle Players had its founding in 1959, Bob recalled, when a quartet of male teachers at Clover Park School District’s newly opened Iva Mann School, started the card game. The men all had an interest in Golf.
“It was something for us all to do in the evenings,” he continued. The Season originally ran from May through September. Now that the players are all retired, however, the Season goes from September through May.
“Back in Minnesota, especially during the winter months,” said Lowell, “we all played Pinochle, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. We all sat around the kitchen table. It’s how I learned to count numbers,” he added.
Lenore recalled how strange it seemed to her, as a young adult, to have her former high school art teacher as part of their group.
For those who play, it’s a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or evening. Originally the players met on weekends; this past month’s Game was held on a Friday afternoon.
Pinochle features a special 48-card deck, consisting of two sets each of 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King and Ace from all four sets. It also can be played using standard ranking with simple changes in scoring.
Rather than go into a lengthy explanation of how the game is played—check the Internet or a Player’s Handbook for Game details. Game variations include Triple Deck, Racehorse, Cutthroat, and, of course, there’s even Internet Pinochle!
Back to the Steilacoom players, though. Each monthly game is held at one of the player’s homes. The host is responsible for refreshments, and everyone contributes to the “Kitty” or pot, usually in 40 cent increments.
The Pinochle Pot, though, is not divided. At Season’s End, explained Lenore, the money is used to pay for dinner for the entire group.
“Obviously,” she added, “we have to subsidize our dinner.”
Of all the years they’ve played, recalled Bob, the first time another fellow teacher, George G. played, he placed his cards on the table—four Aces! He added that he had “four more Aces as well in his hand!”
That’s rare, said Bob.
* Former players included Frank and Lorna Trelore, Ken Storaasle and Bill Rogers.