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Rules of Tichu

Tichu is a card gabe that is usually played in teams of two vs two players. Other variants for three, five or six players are found in the Internet. In the variant for four players, those players sittint opposite to each other form a team.
The first team to reach a score of 1,000 points or more will win the game. If this should happen to both teams simultaneously (such as a final result of 1,060 to 1,040 points), the team with the higher score wins.
A draw is theoretically possibe yet very rare, it could happen if, for example, one teams leads by 980-920 but then looses the last round with 20-80 points.

The game uses the usual cards from Deuce to Ace, but in suits that are made look "chinese" - instead of clubs, spades, heards and diamonds, Tichu cards go as Swords (black), stars (red), jade (green) and pagoda (blue). Additionally, the game uses four extra cards: the dragon (the highest card in the game), the phoenix (acts as a joker), the dog and the so-called "Mah-jongg" (which is basically Chinese for "sparrow"):

'dragon' card
'phoenix' card
'dog' card
'mahjongg' card
example: Ten of Swords
Ten of Swords
example: Queen of Jade
Queen of Jade
example:'Ace of Pagodae
Ace of Pagodae
Example: Seven of Stars
Seven of Stars

Game start and exchanging cards

At the beginning of the game, each player holds 14 cards. Before the game really starts, one card is exchanged with the team mate and each opponent.

To get an idea of how "strong" a card is, the following estimation may be of help, ranking the cards on a scale from 0 to 100 points:

Cardvalue points
phoenix (joker)95
Seven and lower00

The Internet offers statistics that claim that a king would have a chance of 30% to win a trick. A Nine or a Ten may look like a quite high card at a first glance, but in real gameplay, they show being at best moderately powerful. In most cases, such a card may win a trick if the opponents decide against outbetting it because they want to save their higher cards for later. Of course, even a Nine may be the highest card remaining in game, but the lower a card is, the more higher cards must have been played for that - and the less lower cards are still in the game to play it on. Because all players will aim to get rid of their lowest cards first, even an Eight can quickly become the lowest(!) remaining card.

About the topic of "Which cards should I give away?" lots of ideas and opinions can be found online. Generally speaking, a player would give his partner a high card, and low cards that cannot be used for anything go to the opponents.
Other recommendations aim to avoid accidentally helping the opponents to get "Four of a Kind" (a.k.a "quads"), a very high and powerful combination that can beat nearly everything else. This, then, shall then be achieved by splitting up a low pair and giving a card of the same value to each of the opponents; or by in-team agreements to give a card of "even" value (deuce, four, six, ...) to the right while giving "odd" values (a three, a five, a seven, ...) to the left. There are some player who exchange cards in such a way that they keep something like 3-4-5-6 and try to get the last missing card for a straight, or that they keep a low triplet (such as three Deuces) and hope to get the fourth deuce. In this case, it may be best to take note of what sort of cards other players give you (and what sorts of cards you will never get).

Game course

The player who holds the "Mah-jongg" (that yellow card with a digit "1") will be the first who has the lead; and this player may now play cards from his hand to form one of the valid combinations listed below. The "Mah-jongg" may be played immediately, or may be kept for later use. The valid combinations may have taken a hint from Poker, except a Flush does not have a counterpart:

A single card:
any card as a single card

A pair:
two cards of equal value

A pair:
this here counts as
a pair of Nine's

The joker can only replace
cards from Deuce to Ace.

Triplet (Three of a kind):
three cards of the same value

A triplet may contain the joker.
This example counts as three Eight's.

Full House:
A triplet and a pair

Full House with joker
this example equals Q Q Q 6 6

Possible but ambiguous
In this case, the player could choose if
the joker shall be a king or a ten

Five or more (!) cards of any suit,
and with ascending values

The "Mah-jongg" may be used as a "1" in a straight

In Poker, an ace can replace a "1";
but not in Tichu!

Used in a straight, the joker can replace
any card from deuce to ace.

This example counts as 2-3-4-5-6.

This example is legal, but
it counts as 10-J-Q-K-A.

The dragon can only be played
as a single card

Example of a 10-card-straight:
Contrary to Poker, in Tichu a straight
may contain more than five cards.

Two or more pairs of ascending values

Of course, the joker may replace
a missing card... (example above: 7-7-8-8)

... but it cannot stand for another "1".

Such a "row of pairs" can have any length

Quads (a "bomb")
All four cards of one value

The joker is not allowed to use in a "bomb"

Straight Flush (a "bomb")
A straight with all cards having the same suit.

Not a "bomb"
This is possible, but counts as a straight only
(as if the joker was the red Seven, for example)

Not a "bomb"
The "Mah-jongg" does not have a suit.
This example is legal to play,
but is only a normal straight.

Straight Flushes, too, can contain more than just five cards

Not a "bomb"
This is a possible combination, but here
the player abstains from this being a "bomb".

The game is then usually continues counterclockwise (an agreement to play clockwise may be made). Every player whose turn it is may choose to "bet", so to say, by playing a higher combination of the same type, or he/she may choose to "pass" for the moment. The player who has the lead is not allowed to "pass" ("skip" may be a better word here), but everybody else is. In contrary to other games, Tichu knows no obligation to play any cards - even if you could outbet the cards played, you do not have to. Note that "passing" is not as final as in other card games, every player may decide to wait and play cards later in the same trick. This means that the same player may have played cards multiple times before somebody wins the trick.
An example: Player A plays a pair (5,5). Player B outbets this by playing (6,6). Player A outbets player B again by playing (8,8). Player B plays (10,10). Player A plays a pair of queens, player B hopes to win the trick with a pair of kings, and player A ends this by playing a pair of aces.
As said before, even a player who has "passed" (better: skipped) before may still play cards. For example, let's say somebody holds three kings. Somebody plays (4,4,4). The player with the kings, hoiwever, decides that this is too low to waste the kings for, and decides to "pass". Somebody else outbets (4,4,4) wit (9,9,9). Another player plays three Ten's, then three Queen's are played - and now, the player decides to claim winning the trick by playing his triplet of kings.
Only when one player plays cards and all other players "pass" immediately after, the player who played the highest combination wins the trick. If this player did not play all of his cards already, he/she will have the lead in the next round.

What is higher than what?

Generally speaking, only combinations of the same type are comparable. Contrary to Poker, a pair cannot be outbet by a triplet (= three of a kind), and a triplet cannot be outbet by a straight. Pairs can be outbet only by higher pairs, and triplets can be outbet only by higher triplets. The suits of the cards are of no importance, except in a straight flush (a "bomb") where all cards must have the same suit. Maybe you know this from other games of cards that a Deuce of Diamonds that was played first will win a trick against a King of Spades that was played later; Tichu does not have such a rule. There is no rule that forces to follow suit either. For example, a king can be outbet by any ace.
When playing a straight, the number of cards is important. A straight can be outbet only by a higher straight with the same number of cards. That means that, for example, 3-4-5-6-7 may be outbet by playing 5-6-7-8-9, but playing 5-6-7-8-9-10 is against the rules (it would be one card too much). The same rule goes for stairs: if 4-4-5-5 has been played, to play 8-8-9-9 is possible, but to play 8-8-9-9-10-10 is not. On the other hand, stairs and straights are not limited in length. If a player gains the lead by his partner playing the Dog card, he/she could even play all of his/her cards at once by playing a straight from deuce to ace, or by playing a stair like 2-2-3-3-4-4-5-5-6-6-7-7-8-8.
A full house is higher than another if the triplet involved is higher. The pair involved is of no importance. That means that a Full House like 4-4-4-K-K is very weak, it is just slightly better than three Four's and would waste the kings. It may even allow an opponent to beat this by playing 5-5-5-2-2, and dump his very weak pair of deuces on the way.

The dragon equals "Ace + 1" in value, and is the highest card in the game. On the other hand, the dragon can be played as a single card only, i.e. it cannot be combined with the joker to form a pair, neither can it be part of a straight. Additionally, the whole trick won with this card must be donated to one of the opponents.

The phoenix (joker) has a varying value when played as a single card. hat als Einzelkarte einen ver√ɬ§nderlichen Wert. The value of this card depends on what it was played on. If played on an ace, the phoenix will have a value of "Ace + ½". But if played on a Seven, this card will count as a "Seven and a half", which means it is higher than the Seven played, but lower than an Eight. That means that the phoenix is not always a card that beats an ace! Its maximum value is "Ace plus a half", which means that the phoenix can never be higher than the dragon.
If the phoenix is the first card played, its value as a single card will be that of a "One and a half", which makes it higher than the Mah-jongg but lower than a deuce.

The dog is another card that can be played as a single card only, and it can only be played by the player who has the lead. To play the Dog card means to pass the right of having the lead to the partner. If the partner has no cards left, the next player whose turn it would be and who still has cards will have the lead. If both the partner of the player who played the card and his opponent to his left hand side have no cards left, it is again the turn of the same player who played the Dog.

The Mah-jongg (sparrow) is the lowest card in the came, and it is the only card that stands for an "One". Its option to wish for a card that must be played makes it a quite valueable card; so some players keep this card for later use.

"Bombs" - the highest combinations

Four cards of equal value, or a straight with all cards having the same suit (= what would be a straight flush/royal flush in Poker) are calles "bombs". Those "bombs" are higher than everything else, except for a higher bomb. They can be played on whatever type of combination may have been played. A "bomb" can even be played if it is not that player's turn. Instead, a player can announce that he/she wishes to play a "bomb", and it immediately becomes that player's turn.
A "bomb" is higher than another "bomb" if it contains more cards (four aces can be beat by playing 2-3-4-5-6, and 2-3-4-5-6-7-8 is higher than 9-10-J-Q-K-A); of if, having the same number of cards, the highest card is higher (four queens are higher than four Eight's; 4-5-6-7-8 is higher than 3-4-5-6-7). The suits do not have a ranking, which means that 4-5-6-7-8 in red is equal to 4-5-6-7-8 in any other suit.

Like a straight, a straight flush (in Tichu called a "large bomb" sometimes) can consist of more than five cards. The highest combination possible would be to have all thirteen cards from deuce to ace in one suit. The chance to ever get this is as good as zero.

"Bombs" are not allowed to contain the joker. For example, 8-8-8-phoenix is an illegal combination, and "green 4"- "green 5" - "green 6" - phoenix - "green 8" counts as just a normal straight (such as if the joker replaced the 7 of another suit).
If a player holds a "bomb", it is not mandatory to play it as such. If it seems to be better, a player may choose to split his "Four of a kind"; or to play 4-5-6-7-8 in one suit just as part of a longer straight, such as 2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q. This may be lower than the "bomb" would have been; but the player would have less "weak" cards of low value left.

Bombs can even beat the dragon. There are some players who play a "bomb" to beat the dragon if it was played by their partner or even by themselves, because if they do so, it was not the dragon but the bomb that won the trick, and nothing has to be donated to the opponents.

Card scores

  • Each King is worth 10 points
  • Each Ten is woth 10 points, too
  • Each "Five" counts 5 points
  • The dragon scores 25 points, but the points of all cards involved in this trick must be donated
  • The phoenix (joker) has a negative score of -25 points to compensate for its flexibility.
All other cards do not score any points.

The dragon is indeed a generous being. If a trick is won by playing this card, all cards involved must be donated to one of the opponents. That means that if a Ten and a King have been played before, 45 points out of 100 go to the other team for the time being. Some players prefer to first play the joker, and then play the dragon upon a card played by another player, because then the trick donates scores zero points.
The points scored by the cards is always the same
  • It makes no difference if the dragon was played as the first or the last card, it has to be donated anyway.
  • It makes no difference what sort of card the phoenix may have replaced. The joker is the joker, and will always score -25 points.

Wishing for a card

If a player plays the "Mah-Jongg" (the "1"), he / she may wish for a card value from Deuce ro Ace that must be played by the next player who can legally do so. It is not possible to wish for the dragon or the phoenix. The next player is forced to play such a card if he can play the same type of combination that contains such a card. Only a player who does not have a card of the value wished or cannot play it legally is allowed to play something else or to pass. The wish will then remain until it was either fulfilled, or this round comes to an end (= all players except one are out of cards).

The "Mah-Jongg" (the "One") can only be played as a single card, or as part of a straight. A pair is not possible because not even the joker can replace a second "1". That means that the combination to be served will either be a straight or a single card.

A few examples:

  1. Player A plays Mahjongg-2-3-4-5 and wishes for a queen. Player B has a single queen, but cannot form a straight of six cards that includes the queen. In this case, Player B cannot serve the wish, and is allowed to pass or to play a straight like 2-3-4-5-6-7.
  2. Player A plays Mahjongg-2-3-4-5 and wishes for a queen. Player B holds 4-5-6-7-8-9 and four queens. In this case, playing (Q,Q,Q,Q) would be a legal way to fulfil the wish, and would therefore this would have to be played. Playing the straight instead is not possible because it does not fulfil the wish.
  3. Player A plays the Mah-jongg as a single card, and wishes for a Five. Player B does not have a Five, and wants to play the joker instead. In this case: The joker "is" never the card it shall replace, the joker is the joker. Playing it in this situation would be legal, but the wish would remain unfulfilled.
  4. Player A plays the Mah-jongg as a single card, and wishes for a Five. Player B does not have a Five, and plays a Seven. Player C has a pair of Five's. In this case, the wish would have been to be fulfilled by playing a singe Five. The Seven that was already played makes it impossible for Player C to do so. Player C could play a card that is higher than a Seven, or may choose to pass.
  5. Player A plays the Mah-jongg as a single card, and wishes for a Five. Player B does not have a Five, and plays a Seven. Player C has a quad of Five's. This would be similar to the second example - playing the "bomb" (5,5,5,5) would fulfil the wish and is legal to play, to Player C would be forced to play this.
  6. Player A plays the Mah-jongg as a single card, and wishes for a Five. Player B has all four of them. In This case, Player B is not allowed to pass because the wish can (and must) be fulfilled, but this is possible by either playing (5,5,5,5) or by playing a single Five.

"Bombs" allow a trick that may be of interest: "Bombs" can be played even if they do not fulfil a wish! Lets say you hold a long straight like 3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J, it includes the only Seven you have and that dude to your left wishes for exactly that Seven. Normally this would be pretty annoying because it leaves you with a bunch of low cards that could now be played as single cards only. But if you hold a low "bomb" like (2,2,2,2), it is legal to first play this and "blow up" the combination played (so to say), and play the straight as a whole afterwards. The wish to be fulfilled would remain, but the obligation to play a single card would not.

Player's placement

Last place

The last player who still has cards must give away all points he scored:

  • points gained by winning tricks go to the player who finished first, which may be the partner of this player
  • points of the cards this player still holds go to the opponents in any case. Among those may be the phoenix, and the opponents get a donation of -25 points.

This rule is important when it comes to the question to whom a player should donate the trick he won by playing the dragon. The player may choose to which opponent (one who still has cards) he wants to donate this, giving up those points to this opponent for the time being. But if exactly that opponent comes last place, the points he scored are all lost to the player who finished first - if that was not the other opponent, the points are gained back this way.

It may make sense to finish last place intentionally if a player has a negative score; for example he could not win any tricks and holds the phoenix and a Five (-20 points in total). This negative score will then go to the opponents. On the other hand, if you cannot avoiud finishing last place but you partner came first, you would want to win as many tricks as possible with your remaining kings and ten's because those points stay within your team. If you keep those cards, those points go to your opponents.

Because of the rule that the player who finishes last must give up all points scored, winning tricks is not the only thing a player should take care of. It is equally important to see how "expensive" winning a trick would be, and what cards would remain afterwards. To triumphantly beat a Full House K-K-K-10-10 by playimg A-A-A-7-7 leads to nothing if that player comes last and loses the points he scored.

Third place

To finish as third place meants that this player will at least keep the points scored. It is possible to make up situations where a player with a negative total score could intentionally decide against being third place even if he could reach this; but that requires to know exactly how many points have been scored by winning tricks so far.

Second place

If a team mamages to finish as first and second place (a so-called "double victory"), this team scores 200 points regardless of any trick won. That means that to keep high cards to aim for this may be more important than winning a single trick. To finish as second may, too, be important to stop the opponents from getting such a "double victory".

First place

The player who managed to get rid of all of his cards first will get the points made by the player who finished last.

Maybe you have read something like "whoever finishes first, will win", but in the personal opinion of the author, this is counterproductive nonsense. It is more important to see what is best for the team as a whole. At Tichu, the team whose members score more points together will have success, and not the team where one of the players comes first place most often. A player who plays egoistically and sees his/her partner only as "that dunce who shall help me coming first place" won't win very often.

Calling Tichu

There are two ways to call a "Tichu".

First, a player is given only eight of his total 14 cards. Basing on this, the player could call a "grand tichu". That means this player would bet by 200 points that he/she will finish first place. In case of success, this team scores 200 points extra; but in case of a failure, 200 points are lost. The resulting score can even drop into the negative in this case.

After the cards are exchanged with each of the others, a player may call a "small" Tichu as long as he / she has not yet played any cards. It is of no importance if the other players have played cards already or not - but once somebody else has finished, to call a Tichu is, of course, nonsensical.

Note that "finishing first place" has to be taken literally. If the partner of the player who called Tichu comes first, the bet is lost!

To win Tichu togethewr with a "double victory" can be deceisive because the points add up. The "double victory" alone is worth 200 points. Together with a "small" Tichu being won, this add up to 300 points. Together with a "grand Tichu" being won, this even adds up to 400 points.

It is allowed that multiple players call Tichu at the same time. In this case, points are evaluated for each player separately. That eans if both players of a team would call and one of them finishes first, this would result in a positive score for one of them but in a negative score for the other. There are rare situations like that the partner of a player has called Tichu but is about to lose, his partner may call Tichu, too, to reduce the loss of points. Only the case of both players of the same team calling "grand tichu" is not permitted.

  • Calling Tichu does not affect who has the lead first, that is always the player who holds the "1".

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