Tichu is a partnership card game for four people. It has the feel of a traditional card game, and indeed the deck, though imbued with a Chinese theme, is a standard 52 card deck – with the addition of four special cards. Gameplay-wise, Tichu feels a little like a standard trick-taking game, although its roots are in traditional ‘climbing’ style games, popular in China, where more than one card may be lead, and players are trying to be the first to get rid of all their cards.
In Tichu, after the whole pack is dealt between the players, the leading player plays a combination – it may be a singleton, a pair or three of a kind; a full house or a straight of five or more cards. A combination can even be consecutive pairs – 2s and 3s for example – or even 2s, 3s, and 4s etc. The other players, in turn, may pass or play a higher set of the same type – a higher pair, if a pair was lead – a higher seven card straight if that was lead, etc. A player who passes can come back in later – and the cards are only won when three consecutive players have passed; play can go several times round the table before this happens. Once three players have got rid of all their cards, the hand is over, and teams add up the points in their collected cards; fives are worth five points, tens and kings ten points. However if both players on a team go out first and second, points in hand are ignored, and instead the winning team scores a whopping 200 points. Hands are played played until one team scores 1000 points, or an agreed target for a shorter game.
Players can also bet on being the first out by calling Tichu – winning (or losing) 100 points for their team. A Grand Tichu call will net or lose you 200 points – but that has to be called before you’ve seen your full hand.
There are other subtleties – after the cards are dealt but before play begins, each player gives a card from their hand to every other player. This is a way to set your partner up for a Tichu call, or to help signal that you plan to Tichu, and it’s also an opportunity to dump your rubbish cards on your opponents. Then there are the four special cards – each one very powerful in its own way, but each requiring careful play to avoid back-firing.
And then there are the bombs. Four of a kind or a straight flush of five or more are special combinations called bombs. A bomb can be played at any time, even if it’s not your turn, and instantly wins the trick (unless re-bombed by a higher bomb). The presence of a bomb in you hand is a rarity, but usually demands a Tichu call, as you’ll be able to steal the lead and immediately play that 12 card straight you’ve been sitting on.
Games of Tichu are highly exciting – the bombs, the Tichu/Grand Tichu calls – there are many subtleties that only reveal themselves after repeated play. There’s no denying, Tichu is at heart a traditional card game – if you don’t like those, you probably won’t like Tichu. But if you do, Tichu is absolutely one of the best partnership card games you can’t play with a regular 52 card deck.
I love card games, especially partnership games, and I think I love Tichu more than any other – it’s just so exciting! A great Tichu hand will have tales told about it for the rest of the evening, and a game will inevitably contain huge reversals of fortune, tense stand-offs and victories snatched from the jaws of defeat.
There’s no denying the rules are fiddly at first – one of the best ways to learn is with two old hands and two newbies, with each team being a combination of pupil and teacher. The other way is to download one of the available mobile apps – if you can play a few tutorial games you’ll have wrapped your head round the intricacies and can get playing in the real world.
Tichu is a veritable classic.
You're trying to take your opponents down, and they're trying to do the same to you. But your partner's got your back, so no-one's going to feel ganged-up on.
No great down time - and you should share shuffling and dealing duties of course - it's only good card play etiquette.
There are quite a few little rules to understand, and it will take a few games to get them really bedded in.
This has the timeless appeal of all good card games - Tichu will keep you entertained for many sessions.