Trumped – A Pinochle Tale

Photo by Amanda Jones on Unsplash

When I ask people if they play pinochle, most say no. They’ve heard about it, maybe seen it in a movie before, but they don’t play.

Does anyone play cards anymore?

We used to, especially when the boys were racing dirt bikes. There were many nights spent at the table in the camper playing cards. Now that we’re four independent adults at home, it’s a rare occasion that we can play. With college, jobs, dates, and home projects, we just don’t have the time. Lately, we’ve taken up playing pool instead. The game is shorter, and we don’t all have to be ready to play at the same time.

The word “trumped” is such a visual for me. Whatever you are doing, when it seems everything is going against you, you’re about to lose the whole thing, and then BAM, trump card.

You don’t know what a trump card is? Well, let me explain.

Without getting into all the nitty-gritty details, one player in each round of pinochle picks the trump suit and those cards beat all the others. You want to pick the suit that you have the most of, naturally. Then as the other players lay their cards down, K, 10, A…you’re turn comes up and you can’t beat those cards, so you throw down your trump card and you win the trick. It’s vital that you drop that sweet card dramatically and then, with a flourish, sweep the cards to your pile in triumph. I think it’s a rule.

Games are just mini-non-binding versions of real life, pinochle included. You usually play with a partner. There is the whole game and there are rounds within it. You can be winning several rounds and then lose the whole game and vice versa. Sometimes you get crappy cards dealt and you have to do the best you can that round. A good partner that knows the rules and has predictable patterns of playing is a plus. And then there’s the trump card, that card that gets you out of a jam. Hopefully, you have more than one!

What’s my trump card in life?

It depends on the situation, I suppose. When I was a kid, it was my brother. Bored, nothing to do? Can’t go to the park alone? Need someone to ask a question at the store? There was my brother! Problem solved. I win the trick.

And then there’s when someone trumps you. There you are, humming along, all your ducks in a row, and then someone trumps you and you lose the round. Once I was dating a guy I worked with and thought I had it made. He was tall, amazingly handsome, super fun to be around. I mean, he had a car of his own! A card gets slapped down out of nowhere…he dumps me for a roller-skating snowflake in the Christmas Parade. Trumped.

These days my trump card is my short attention span. It used to drive me crazy that I couldn’t focus on one thing for very long, but over the past few years, I’ve learned to use it to my advantage. When there’s just too much to think about or something big and scary looms ahead, I can feel overwhelmed with panic and worry. But then something always comes along to distract me; the dishes need to be done, my son needs help with a term paper, there’s roadrunner in the front yard, and my brain is on to something else. I trump your stress with my short attention span! Win!

The key to winning this game is knowing what your cards are and how to use them. Yes, Kenny Rogers was right. “You got to know when to hold ‘em.” We’re dealt one hand when we’re born, one as we grow up, another as we become adults, and on and on throughout our lives, one round after another. With each hand, we organize and use our cards as best we can to win as many tricks as possible, rack up the points, and move on to the next round.

Eventually, we come to the end of the game and, unlike a game of cards, no one really wins in life. We only play well or play badly. We can enjoy the game, the camaraderie, the snacks and drinks while we play whether we’re winning or not. Or we can grumble and complain about the poor hand we were dealt and our partner’s lack of focus. Both attitudes get us to the end of the game, but only one makes for a pleasant experience.

What’s your trump card?

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