By Curt Yeomans
Donna Oliver has been playing pinochle since she was old enough to sit at her mother's table.
Oliver's mother was a member of a pinochle club in Philadelphia. When Oliver was 10, she began to join in the games with her mother. This year, the 59-year-old Riverdale resident is celebrating her 49th year of playing the game. She's become so familiar with it, she helps teach a free class on the game from 1 p.m., to 4 p.m., every Monday, at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale.
Oliver, and her students, play pinochle every day at the center, but the biggest crowds still come out to play on Mondays, she said.
"It's similar to bid whist, but more challenging," said Oliver, when she was asked to describe pinochle.
Pinochle uses a 48-card deck, consisting of two pairs of aces, 10s, kings, queens, jacks and nines from each suit (the spades, hearts, diamonds and clubs). Each player is dealt a hand of 20 cards, and the players at the Frank Bailey center play in teams of two. The object of the game is to be the first team to earn 500 points.
Players get points for the cards in their hands. If a player has four different aces, known as "aces around," he or she earns 10 points. If the player has two sets of "aces around," he or she earns 100 points.
Similar rules apply to kings (eight points, 80 points for a double), queens (6 points, and 60 points for a double) and jacks (four points, and 40 points for a double).
If a player has the jack of diamonds, and the queen of spades, in his or her hand, it is worth 15 points. If the player has a king and a queen in the same hand, known as a "marriage," it is worth two points.
The players start the game by "melding," or combining, their points with the points their partners have. They then make bids, beginning at 50 points, and going up by increments of one point, until they reach 60 points. The players then increase their bids by increments of five points.
The pinochle class is one of four card-playing classes offered at the center. There are classes, which teach seniors how to play pinochle, canasta and bridge. There is also a class on Wednesdays, which simultaneously teaches seniors how to play spades and bid whist.
Earl Link, the prgram coordinator for the center, said there is a simple reason why the card-playing classes are popular with seniors .
"It's a great past time," he said. "It's free, and it's a way to occupy free time."