I’ll Teach You Tichu

Urs Hostettler

For those of you who haven’t heard of it, Tichu is an addictive trick-taking partnership card game in the mold of Rook and Bridge. The downside is that it always requires four people to play. The upside is that it’s awesome.

The deck consists of the standard 52 cards plus these four special cards: the Dragon, the Phoenix, the Mah Jongg and the Dog.

Tichu’s rules are fairly simple: the player with the Mah Jongg goes first and plays a singleton, a pair, consecutive pairs, three-of-a-kind, a straight longer than four cards, or a full house. The next player must follow with a higher set of the same type or pass. Once three players in a row have passed, the winning player takes the trick and may then lead with a different set, which the next player must follow or pass. The exception to this rule is a bomb, which consists of four-of-a-kind or a straight flush longer than four cards. A bomb can be played at any time by any player, no matter what type of set is led (except for the Dog), and can only be beaten by a higher bomb.

Those are the basic rules. Are you ready to buy Tichu yet? First, know that the rules aren’t quite that simple.

First, they are complicated by the fact that a player may call “Tichu” at any time before playing his first card in a hand. By calling “Tichu”, the player is betting 100 points that he will get rid of all his cards before the other three players. If he does so, his team gets 100 points. If he fails, his team loses 100 points. A player may also call “Grand Tichu” after seeing only 8 of the 14 cards she is dealt. This is the same as calling “Tichu”, except the risk/reward is 200 points.

After all players are dealt their 14 cards, each player chooses one card to give to each other player, that is one card to his partner and one to each of his opponents. He also receives a card from each player. Then the player with the Mah Jonng begins.

Calling “Tichu” is not the only way to score points, of course. The 5’s are worth five points each, the 10’s are worth ten points each, and the Kings are also worth 10 points each. The Dragon is worth 25 points, while the Phoenix is worth -25 points. After 3 players have gotten rid of all their cards, the only player with cards gives the cards in his hand to the other team. He gives all the cards in the tricks that he has won to the first player to get rid of her cards, which may or may not be his partner. Then the points on the cards are added up, the successful/failed “Tichu call” points are added/subtracted, and the scores are written down. The first team to reach 1000 points wins.

The only exception is in the case of a “double win”, where both members of a team get rid of their cards before any member of the other team does. In this instance, the double-winning team gets 200 points and the hand is over.

There are four special cards, and these are their special powers:

Dragon – The highest singleton, only a bomb can beat it. Though worth 25 points, it can only be played as a singleton, and when it wins the trick, the person who played it must give it and all of the cards won during that trick to a member of the opposing team. The Dragon-player then leads the next trick.

Phoenix – A joker. The Phoenix may be used as a wildcard, but cannot be a part of a bomb. When played as a singleton, it is one-half higher than the last card played. So when played with an 8, it makes a pair of 8’s. When played on top of an 8, it becomes an 8.5 and can be beaten by a 9. It is worth -25 points, so the team who wins the trick it is played in loses 25 points.

Mah Jongg – Also called the Sparrow. It’s holder starts the hand and may or may not play the Mah Jongg, which is equal to a 1. When the Mah Jongg is played, the person who played it may make a request, which subsequently must be satisfied at the first possible opportunity. Therefore, if the Mah Jongg player plays it as a singleton and wishes for a 3, and the next player must play a single 3 if possible. This wish remains in effect until it is satisfied.

Dog – The Dog has no value and so it must be lead, since it cannot beat anything. It immediately gives the lead to the player’s partner. It cannot be bombed.

These simple rules and special cards combine to make an extremely deep game, and the line between strong and weak Tichu players is very fine. It’s best to learn with a group of friends, so that no one has the considerable advantage of experience. After learning the mechanics of the game, it’s a good idea to read about strategy, particularly passing strategies, which help prevent opponents from getting bombs and give your team the best chance to go out first. Some good articles on strategy can be found herehere and here.