Things I Remember to Write Down

52-card Tichu

52 card tichu is an adaptation of the commercial game Tichu, which itself is a combination of elements from Bridge and a Chinese game commonly known in the US as “deuces” or “president”. It uses a standard 52-card deck, and requires exactly 4 players in 2 teams of 2.

I made this adaptation for two reasons - one is that I often found myself wanting to play this game but only had a regular deck of cards. The other is that the original is, quite frankly, full of racist Chinese stereotypes, and I kind of don’t feel like playing with those cards or that terminology.

I also found that I usually wanted a slightly shorter game, and one that was suitable for competitive play, so the scoring system has been reworked a bit. Only using the difference in scores makes it possible to quickly lose by overzealously calling Tichu (as opposed to simply drawing out the game).

Rules for 52 card Tichu

General Setup

Players sit around 4 sides of a table, with partners across the table, as in bridge.

Objective

Each team has a combined score. Game ends when one team is ahead by 400 points, or when 10 rounds have been played and the score isn’t tied. Since only the difference in score matters, in scoring we only keep track of which team is ahead by how many points. The scores are only updated at the end of a round.

Scoring

Teams are awarded points by:

(+100) for completing a tichu
(+100) for breaking an opposing tichu
(+200) for a skunk (in this case the piles are not counted)
(+200) for completing a grand tichu
(+200) for breaking an opponent's grand tichu

(+5) for each 5 in each partner's pile
(+10) for each 10 or Q in each partner's pile
(+25) for the `A♠` in either partner's pile
(-25) for the `A♢` in either partner's pile

Note that the pile points always net 100. (4*5 + 8*10 + 25 - 25)

Preamble

The entire deck is dealt. Players secretly exchange one card with each other player. Play continues until either:

  • Only one player has cards remaining in their hand. In this case their hand and their pile are given to the pile of the player who emptied their hand first, and the piles are scored.
  • Both members of a team have emptied their hands, and both opponents have cards remaining in their hands. This is called a skunk. In the event of a skunk, the piles are not counted.

Calling Tichu

At any point when a player has 13 cards in their hand, they may call tichu. When a player has called tichu, they are making a bet of 100 points that they (not their teammate) will empty their hand first. If successful, their team gains 100 points. If unsuccessful, the opponent’s team receives a bonus 100 points.

Note that the only condition for calling tichu is to have all 13 cards. A player can pass for as long as they like, and call tichu late in the game. A player will often call tichu as they are playing their first cards. In contrast, a player may also pre-emptively call tichu before cards are passed.

A grand tichu is the same as a regular tichu, except that it is worth 200 points, and can only be called when the player has seen only 8 of their cards. It is customary to deal each player’s first 8 cards separately, in case anyone wants to call grand tichu before picking up the remaining 6 cards.

Playing a Trick

At the start of the game, whoever has A♣ in their hand has the lead. The player with the lead plays a set of cards in one of the below formats. After the first play of the trick, the format is fixed for the rest of the trick. Play continues to the left, and each player has the opportunity to strictly beat the last play, or pass to the next player. If three players pass in a row, the last player to play takes the played cards and puts them face-down in front of them in their pile. This player has the lead for the next trick, and may choose a new format.

Formats

The formats are as follows:

  • Single cards 4, 8, J
  • Pairs 4 4, 5 5, K K
  • Triples 3 3 3, 10 10 10
  • Consecutive Pairs 4 4 5 5, 5 5 6 6 or 2 2 3 3 4 4, 9 9 10 10 J J
  • Straights of 5 or more cards 2 3 4 5 6 7
  • Full House 3 3 3 J J, Q Q Q 2 2

Notes:

  • For Straights and Consecutive Pairs, there is no limit to the length - but the length is considered part of the format. So on top of a 7-card straight, only a higher straight with exactly 7 cards can be played.

  • Full Houses are compared only by comparing the triple. For example, J J J 2 2 can be played on top of 3 3 3 K K, since J is higher than 3.

Aces

Aces are neither high nor low - they may only be played according to their individual rules:

  • A♠ (“the spade”): This card has value infinity. It can only be played as a single card - never in combination with others. If this card wins a trick (i.e. is on top of the played cards when three players pass), the player of this card must choose an opponent to give the pile to. When the points from the pile are counted, this is worth 25 points.
  • A♢ (“the diamond”): If played in combination with other cards, this is a wild card, and can take any value from 2 to K. When played as a single card, it adds 0.5 to the value below it. For example, 6 A♢ 7 is a valid sequence of single card plays. It can be played on top of a K, to form “King and a half”. A♠ beats King and a half.
  • A♡ (“the heart”): This card can only be played on an empty table, when the player has the lead. It is immediately put into the player’s teammate’s pile, and the teammate leads the next trick.
  • A♣ (“the club”): This card has value 1, and can be used either as a single card or in a straight (e.g. A♣ 2 3 4 5). The player with this card in their hand takes the first lead. When this card is played, the player may optionally make a “wish” for a value from 2 to K. The next player who can legally play that value must do so. The wish remains in effect until a card of that value is played - between tricks, rounds, and even games.

Bombs

There are two kinds of bombs: Four of a Kind (e.g. 3 3 3 3), or a Straight Flush of 5 or more cards (e.g. 2♣ 3♣ 4♣ 5♣ 6♣ 7♣). They cannot contain Aces, including A♢. Bombs can be played out of format, and out of turn. A bomb is considered higher than all non-bomb plays, and can only be beaten by a higher bomb. Bombs are compared with the following rules:

  • Straight Flushes are higher than Fours of a Kind
  • Longer Straight Flushes are higher than shorter ones, no matter the value
  • Straight Flushes of the same length are compared by their high card

Notes, Edge Cases, Conventions

  • For the card exchange at the beginning, no cards are exchanged until each player has made their selections. Usually the cards are laid out in front of each player face down, facing the player they wish to trade with, and trade between partners first before trading with opponents.

  • The wish also applies to bombs - if a player has a bomb containing the wished value, they must play it unless they can fulfill the wish another way.

  • Since bombs can be played out of turn, a player may pre-empt their own turn with a bomb to get around having to fulfill the A♣‘s wish. For example, if there is an active wish for a 2, and a player’s hand contains 2 4 4 4 4, they may play the bomb before their turn, allowing them to pass without fulfilling the wish.

  • An A♢ played on an empty table has value 0.5. A player can legally play a 2 or an A♣ on top of it.

  • If a player’s only remaining card is A♡ and they do not have the lead, it is impossible for them to ever empty their hand.

  • An efficient way to count pile points is to only count one team’s cards, double the number, and subtract from 100. That team takes a loss of that number of points (or, if negative, gains that number of points).

  • To prevent inadvertently passing the same card to an opponent and giving them a pair or a bomb, it is a loose convention to pass an even card left and an odd card right.