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Subject: Penchant tactics rss

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Jonathan Kandell
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Penchant is a game of constant agonizing choices and time pressure: with only six cards at play one is always choosing between tricks and melds, current, and potential. You must not only think of immediate points when melding, but also build a hand to win brisques in the last phase of play, worth half the score. Ten tricks of play does not allow much room for error. You must also decide between playing-and-thereby-revealing or holding-and-thereby-hiding key cards needed by the opponent. When to set trump to be in a stronger position at end is another difficult choice; if you wait too long your opponent will act. The “all or nothing” brisque bonus creates a constant pressure to reach seven brisques, or prevent your opponent from doing so. Then there is blocking strategy and tactics. A particularly unique challenge of Penchant is how to win 10s (middle ranked) and 7s (the lowest rank).

The order of melding takes some thought: minor combinations are easier to score at the beginning before they are blocked, especially 8s and 9s that can only be used in rare five card combinations. Other things being equal, you should first meld cards you intend on earlier using in tricks.

As in pinochle, combinations should be built up slowly, since they score cumulative points: e.g. a quad is potentially worth 14 pts if drawn out (2+3+8); a straight flush potentially 28.. But of course it may be blocked at any point and you need to finish in ten tricks.

Think carefully about playing a trick from your melds if it removes your block. But, typical of this game, the trade off is sometimes worth it.

Take careful note of the stock, as any melding strategy needs to finish by the time it’s exhausted, and it’s easy to be caught off-guard.

Winning the last trick of the first phase is very important, since that person leads in the Clean Up phase, where every brisque is worth two clean points.

Take careful note of cards played in tricks that could have turned your Besitos and Marriages into larger runs, so you can abandon those plans and avoid fishing for cards in vain. Likewise, conceal in hand as long as possible cards that would create families for your opponent.

The two high-scoring “standout” meld combinations are crucial to monitor: Family Reunions and Quadruplets. The probability of being able to obtain a Reunion across the Gathering phase is about 1 in 10; the probability of a Quad in the Gathering is about 1 in 4. From your first hand be mindful of the two to four potential Quads and Reunions your opponent might hold based on known cards. Keeping a mental checklist pays big rewards.

Going for the “Family Reunion” (Straight flush) is a challenging gambit. Even with luck on your side you have to make sure you hide your intentions keeping as many of its cards unexposed as possible. The Quadruplet is much easier to obtain but still has a nice bonus.

Jacks are especially pivotal, for without them marriages and sets can’t turn into runs. And of course they are the only cards which can set trump.

JQK form the basis for many melds. They also allow domination of tricks in the end game if they are extended upwards. But be careful of letting the opponent sweep a run in the end game by playing a suit you don’t possess.

Aces are most valuable, since they are simultaneously trick winners, brisques, and blockers. Melding aces is often best, since they can be “stored” in the tableau for future tricks, or saved even longer to control the end game, while blocking the whole time. But melding also reveals you have them.

Looking at the different ranks’ versatility in scoring different combinations, the cards go from Q (usable in every combination) to J, K, A/10, 9 to 8/7 (able to be used in only one combination).

The Penchant’s main value is not as a scorer but in setting trump and should be used selectively. There is little point in setting trump before you know both hands for the end-game; however wait too long and your opponent will set it for you. You could also set trump and then build your strong suit for the end-game. The J in your opponent’s strong suit is obviously a strong card to hold to prevent him trumping.

In short: Set trump when you have preponderance in a suit, are scoring badly, when it might help with declarations, and if the opponent will likely trump you in an unfavorable suit.

Winning 7s takes particular skill. You can still “win the book” without them, so one strategy is to win everything else. You can alternatively win 7s by exhausting your opponent’s remaining cards in the suit. Melding 7s early allows you to win them opportunistically in tricks; but leave them on the table too long risks having to play them in the end game, where they usually count against you twice.

The Flush is the only meld that allows you a couple low-card kickers, so it’s a good way to get rid of 8s and 9s, while scoring five points at the same time.

It should be noted that most of the bread-and-butter trick tactics of Whist, Jass, Pinochle and Bridge (e.g. stoppers, squeeze plays, finesses, etc) also apply to Penchant.
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