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Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Invention of Pinochle

It's three o'clock in the morning, at a nondescript pub in a vaguely British country. It's raining outside, and most of the clientele has gone home long ago, but those remaining are waiting out the storm.

They have long since played every card game they can remember, and are tired of them. Giving up on the prospect of another card game, Jack decides to dip into the reserves behind the counter. His cocaine is for emergencies only, but this degree of boredom definitely qualifies.

Each shoots up, going around the circle. After taking in the effects of the narcotics for a while, Oswald pipes up.
"Hey, let's play cards."
"We've already played all the games there are. That's why we're on crack."
"No, let's...invent a game."
"Okay, sure, I'll grab a deck."
"Okay. No wait...grab two. With the same back."
"All right, whatever you say..."

Pete jumps up and grabs a couple decks and throws them at Oswald. He starts to sort the decks, much to the bewilderment of his friends.
"What the hell are you doing?"
"Just's brilliant!"
When he's finished, only the 9's and up from each deck are left, in one sad excuse for a set of cards.
"We can't just play with a normal deck...that's for losers and people who aren't on drugs. We need a NEW deck! And as for gameplay, you can play with tricks, right? Or with melds. But in THIS game, you play with tricks AND melds. But neither of them is going to be quite like other games' tricks and melds. Because that would be confusing."

He explains that first you pass cards, which is a familiar concept. You have a partner, okay, that works.
"So runs are what, a minimum of three?" asks Jack.
"No, they have to be J Q K 10 A. Of the trump suit."
"Wait, you mean 10 J Q K A?"
"Nope, in my game, 10 is the second-highest card, right behind A."
"But 9 is still low?"
"Yep. Oh, and if you have an extra King with the run, you get 2 points, and an extra Queen, you also get two points."
"Oh, I get it. Same for Jacks and 10s then?"
"Nope, just Kings and Queens. But if you have a nine of trump, whether or not you have the run, you also get a point."
"Umm, okay, let's forget the runs for now. What about the pairs?"
"You don't do pairs."
"You see, pairs are stupid. You have to have one of each suit. And you don't call them pairs, they're 'arounds'. Ace-arounds, King-arounds, Queen-arounds, Jack-arounds."
"And 10-arounds?"
"Nope, 10s don't count."
"But they're the second highest, right?"
"Okay, so then you do the tricks?"
"Nope, I'm not done yet. You can also do pairs."
"I thought you didn't do pairs."
"You don't, unless they're married. So kings and queens of the same suit get you two points."
"Umm, okay, that works. Then tricks?"
"No, I've always liked shooting the moon. We need to do something like that. If you get the Queen of Spades and..."
Oswald cuts the deck and picks a card.
"...the Jack of Diamonds, you get four points. Oh and if you get both it's...thirty."
"Thirty points? How much is the run?"
"Okay, can we just do the tricks now?"
"Yeah, I suppose I'm done for now. Now for the tricks, it works like normal, except if you can, you have to try to take the trick. I'm getting tired of making up rules. But I did have this one idea..."
"What's that, Ozzie?"
"At the beginning of the hand, you bet how many points you can get. Kind of like poker. And whoever bets highest gets to pick what suit trump is."
"So...what happens if you don't get that many points?"
"You subtract your bid from your score. Obviously."
"And if you do?"
"Nothing. You just got to pick trump."
"Okay, okay, and what, you get a point for every trick or something?"
"Nope, you get points for the cards in the trick."
"What, 3 points for 10 A, 2 points for face cards, and 1 for 9?"
"Nope, you get one point for A 10 K."
"Wait, just King?"

At this point, his friends are getting a little edgy, and messing with edgy crackheads is never a good idea. But Oswald, being a crackhead himself, doesn't quite understand this. He continues, oblivious. "And as for the end of the game, it's like a race. First person to...150 points. No, make that 1500! That'll be awesome!" Jack pulls out his revolver. Seeing the newly brandished firearm, Oswald nervously attempts to smooth things over. "Okay, fine, we'll just make everything worth 10 times as much. Just add a zero. How about that?"

A shot rings out. Jack was not amused by his concessions, and the world is quickly less one card-playing crackhead. Oswald's friends decide to clean up the mess, call it a night, and head home.

A few weeks later, however, they once again find themselves strung out on cocaine, and without any card games left to play. They come across their dead friend's modified deck, and for some reason unfathomable to anyone who is not on narcotics, decide to write down what they could remember of his rules and try this game. The rest, as they say, is history.

The man the world now doesn't know as Oswald Pinochle gave his life for that of the card game that bears his name, creating a whole new market for modified card decks. Some people hail him as a genius. Those people, however, are also usually using hard drugs. Most of us just wish he'd gone home when it started raining.

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