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Pinochle draws together Larimore residents

Wally Lang and other Larimore residents gather for weekly pinochle games. The gathering help the winter months go faster, Lang says. Photo by Ann Bailey/Grand Forks Herald1 / 3
A pinochle player's cards in Larimore. Photo by Ann Bailey/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Wally Lang is the organizer of a long-running pinochle group in Larimore, N.D. Residents of the Grand Forks County town have participated in the group for decades. Photo by Ann Bailey/Grand Forks Herald3 / 3

LARIMORE, N.D.—Camaraderie is in the cards in Larimore during the winter.

On Mondays throughout the coldest and darkest months of the year, 32 men and women, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s gather at the town's American Legion to play pinochle.

"It makes the winter go faster," said Wally Lang, who organizes the weekly pinochle games held during January and February. "Everybody, in December, starts asking me 'Are we going to do it this year?'"

Lang became organizer 16 years ago, and during that time about 100 people have played in the Monday night games, he said. Most of them learned to play the game when they were young and were taught by older siblings or by their parents.

"I sat on my dad's lap while he played," Lang said. After he and his five siblings learned how to play, they had family games of pinochle, which besides being played four-handed, also can be played two- or three-handed.

The game

Pinochle, brought to the United States by German immigrants, is played with a deck made up of 48 cards containing two of each of the four suits. Pinochle decks, unlike other playing card decks are numbered nine through aces. The object of the game is to accumulate points by either winning tricks or "melding" a combination of cards.

Melds and other combinations of cards have value and scores are used to determine pinochle game winners. The 32 players that make up the Larimore group rotate through eight tables of four with the goal of continuing to win and eventually arriving at table one.

Each week Larimore players put $3 in a pot and at the end of the night, the top scorer receives $30, Lang said. The remainder of the money is saved until the end of that season and is divvied out to the top overall scorers.

I like the strategy of it," said Lang, a retired Minnkota Power Cooperative engineer. "Being an engineer probably has something to do with it. There's a lot of thinking."

"You either get it or it frustrates you to the point where you don't want to play," said Joey Voelker. Voelker, 32, learned from his dad Vic, another member of the Larimore group. The younger Voelker enjoys playing at family gatherings and with the Larimore group, he said.

Friendly game

While many of the pinochle players are serious competitors, they keep the games friendly, Lang said. "It's like a friendly game of racquetball, which I also play."

For Sue Applegren, playing pinochle is simply just fun. Applegren, of Grand Forks, joined the Larimore pinochle group after the Grand Forks group she and her husband Mark played with for 35 years moved to Arizona.

"It's something to do with friends, as a family," said Applegren, a lifelong pinochle player. "My family played cards all of the time. I learned to count playing cards. The teacher had a hard time telling me it's not 10, jack, queen, king, ace," Applegren said with a laugh.

Larimore resident Betty Olson, 80, has played pinochle for seven decades, learning from her grandparents who were avid card players. "Every week we played pinochle," she said. Olson has been part of the Larimore group for several decades and enjoys both the strategy of the game and the social aspect.

"Everybody is so nice," she said. "Wonderful people."

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