Playing Tichu

Introduction: Playing Tichu

Tichu is a Swiss card game I received and learned from a Swiss friend I met in Hong Kong during my internship project there. The game is very easy to learn, and according to the makers it is "not to be explained":

Tichu is not to be explained
(If we had believed that there would be no rules with this pack. But we brought Mr Chuang round. He drummed up a game in the backroom of the souvenir shop of the Confucian temple. At first we were only allowed to watch. Then we played and the Chinese experts gave us good advice. A first rate introduction to the game, by the way. We recommend this method of learning most warmly.)

However, me being a bad boy and all, and due to that I have found it so nice and entertaining during my internship, I wanted to spread the joy, doing so by writing this Instructable.

Tichu comes in a nice, shiny, metal box, which is neat because you can bring the deck anywhere you like without the cards being damaged.


  • I will try to update step 6 (tactics) when I think of new considerations and actual tactical moves.
  • The game can also be played with 3, 6 or 5-12 players, however the basic rules are the same and those are the ones I want to explain. If you find yourselves in a different setup of available players, you can find the additional rules here.
  • There is a whole bunch of questions that have been asked to the makers. You can find them and the answers on their FAQ.
  • If you do however have any questions, you can always ask them here, and I will try to answer them a.s.a.p.

Lastly, if you liked my Instructable, please don't forget to vote! :)

Step 1: The Deck

As mentioned in the introduction, the game comes in a a metal box. Inside this box are 56 cards and a German rules booklet (so far for not explaining it...). (See first picture)

The deck consists of 52 "standard" cards, in four suits (Sword, Star, Pagoda, and Jade) as shown in the first picture, and 4 "special" (Joker) cards (Mah Jong, Dog, Phoenix, and Dragon), shown in the second picture.

The observant people might say that this game could be played with a standard card deck containing 4 jokers. This is correct, and that's why this intstructable might be so interesting: (almost) anyone can play this at home.

The special cards each have their own abilities, which will be explained after the basic rules.

Step 2: Goal

The goal of the game is to cumulatively reach a predetermined number of points, usually set to 1000.

You will have to play several rounds, each possibly earning your team points in two main ways:

  • winning the round
  • winning a bet

Both methods will be explained in the next few steps.

First, the way a round is played is explained. After which the scoring of points is explained separately, and consecutively the betting has a separate section. I have done this because of the following philosophy:

If you are not familiar with this game I would suggest trying to play one or two rounds without taking into account the scoring and betting to get the hang of the game. After playing a (few) round(s), you can always count the points to check out the results of the round, but thinking too much about your points will affect the fun and speed in the game at first. Moreover, you will only be able to start betting on your game after having played a few rounds.

Step 3: Basic Play of a Round

The traditional version of Tichu is played with four players and runs counter-clockwise (apparently, so do most Swiss and Chinese games). A player forms a team with the player sitting across him or her, and keeps the same team during the whole game.

Every new round, the winner of the previous one deals the cards.

  1. First, each player is dealt 8 cards;
  2. Now, each player can place a bet called the "Grand Tichu", explained in the betting step (5);
  3. Then the remaining 6 cards per player are dealt;
  4. Now, each player can place a bet called "Tichu", only if he or she did not place the "Grand Tichu" bet, and may be done until he or she has played his or her first card. This will also be explained in the betting step (5);
  5. Each player then chooses 3 cards for simultaneous exchange. You will give and receive one card to and from each other player. If a player calls Tichu, the cards destined for exchange can be changed. Choose wisely, you have one "ally" and two "enemies";
  6. The person that has the Mah Jong card at this point can start the round and leads the first trick by playing any card combination (see all examples in the pictures above):
    • single card (e.g.: 3)
    • a pair (e.g.: 8,8)
    • stairs (e.g.: 8,8,9,9(,10,10))
      • consecutive pairs
    • three of a kind (e.g.: 9,9,9)
    • full house (e.g.: 9,9,9,8,8)
      • not necessarily consecutive: 7,7,7,A,A is also possible
      • rank of three cards determines which one is higher (e.g.: 9,9,9,8,8 beats 7,7,7,A,A)
    • straight (e.g.: 8,9,10,J,Q(,K,A))
      • at least 5 consecutive cards, colour does not matter
    • Bombs (special combinations, usually only used to top another combination)
      • 4 of a kind (e.g.: 9,9,9,9)
      • straight flush (e.g.: 9,10,J,Q,K from the Swords suit)
  7. Each consecutive player has the choice to:
    • pass (checking in poker); or
    • play a similar combination of higher value (same value is not accepted)
      • one exception: you may play a bomb over any other combination, even another bomb, as long as it is of higher value.
  8. After 3 checks, the last card played wins the trick, the winning player then collects all the cards from that trick and starts a new one (step 6);
  9. The first player to have an empty hand is the winner of the round, but the round ends when only one player is left with cards in his or her hand. Then, the players proceed to count the point as mentioned in the Counting Points step (4).
  10. Until the goal is reached, a new round is started, and the above steps are repeated.

Special cards

The special cards give their owners special powers. They each have different powers that sometimes are nice to have but sometimes do work against you. Know how to play them, and you can be happy with any one of them:

Mah Jong (Hemp-Sparrow)

As mentioned above, the player owning the Mah Jong starts the round. However, to win a round, the card must be played as well. The Mah Jong is actually the lowest single card, but can be played in a straight (also the lowest straight ever). The good part is, you can wish for a specific card (a 7 or an A, but no special ones allowed). The next player who has the desired card and CAN lawfully play it, MUST play it. Someone not owning this card can play any other allowed combination. The wish remains in force until someone enforces it.

The Hound

The owner of the Hound is entitled to play this card only at the lead of a trick, and passes the right to lead to his or her partner. If, however, the partner is already out of cards, the lead passes on to his or her right.

The Phoenix

This is the most powerful card in Tichu. It can be played in any combination as a Joker, replacing any card, but cannot be used to make up a bomb. As a single card, it takes the value 0.5 higher than the last card played (as lead it takes the value 1.5, so the Mah Jong cannot be played after it). The Phoenix does not satisfy the wish of the Mah Jong when played. One drawback: this card counts minus 25 points. More information about point can be read in the next step.

The Dragon

The Dragon is the highest individual card, and cannot be played in a sequence. It counts 25 points, again, this will be explained in the next step. The Dragon has the value of A+1 and cannot be beaten by any other card except a bomb. However, as always, with great power comes great responsibility: if the trick is won using the dragon, it must be given away as a whole (meaning all the points) to an opponent of the winner's choice.

Step 4: Counting Points

After each round, the points will be counted. To this end, the following steps are carried out:

  1. Winning Grand Tichu grants your team +200 points;
    • Losing it grants your team minus 200 points.
  2. Winning Tichu grants your team +100 points;
    • Losing it grants your team minus 100 points.
  3. If both players from one team finish before the two others, they automatically have +200 points, the rest of the counting points can be skipped.
  4. Mostly, case 3 does not happen, and you will have to count the points in the won tricks:
    1. the player to finish last gives all his or her cards from the remaining hand to the opposing team.
    2. the player to finish last gives all his or her won tricks to the first player out
      • Note: this does not necessarily mean you give all your cards to the same team.
      • Now, each team combines all their won tricks and proceeds to count the points:
        • 5 points for each card of value 5
        • 10 points for each card of value 10
        • 10 points for each card of value K
        • 25 points for the Dragon
        • minus 25 point for the Phoenix
      • A maximum of +100 points can be earned per round, which means that only one team needs to count their points, the other team automatically has +100-<points-opposing-team> as a score.
      • Until the goal (usually set to 1000 points) is reached, the players proceed to start a new round.

        Some extra notes:

        • You can maximally win 400 points by both winning before the other team, and by having won the Grand Tichu.
        • You can get negative points by losing your bet. This means you need to subtract these from your cumulative score.

Step 5: Betting

I have deliberately kept this part separate from the rest (as opposed to most rule explanations I've seen so far), because I think the key to play this game right is to understand the concept of the game-round before implementing the extra attributes of the game. Also I think that you will learn much faster by taking it step by step. The betting will come more naturally after having played the game a few times without.

As explained in the previous steps, you can bet at two times during the game: calling the Grand Tichu, after having received only 8 of the 14 cards; or the (regular) Tichu, before playing your first card.

Grand Tichu

This betting form is the most rewarding if you win (+200 points). You can only declare Grand Tichubefore getting your 9th card. By doing so, you actually claim you will be the first to get rid of your cards during this round.


In essence the same as the grand one, however you have the luxury of knowing more cards. You are allowed to call Tichu anywhere between getting your 9th card and playing your first. However others are allowed to change their choice of cards to exchange after the call. Wining this bet will earn your team +100 points.

Losing the bet

If you do not, however, win the round after having called one of the Tichu's, you will lose 200 or 100 points, respectively.

Step 6: Tactics

Simple considerations:

  • Be weary of your bets. You can only get -25 when not betting, however betting and losing it can cause your team a -200 score.
  • Postpone calling Tichu as long as possible. If you are not the one with the Mah Jong, you will know a lot more about the cards in other people's hand, just before you play yours.
  • Don't call Tichu if your team mate called it. Even if you think you have higher chance of winning the round, and assuming you do, you will only nullify your points, sometimes just changing your approach of playing, you can make him or her win.
  • Usually you give away the trick with the dragon to the opponent that will come in last, so that you have a chance of getting the points back during counting.
  • Always play theHound and the Mah Jong on time. You might not win every trick, and keeping them might mean you finish last.
  • When your team-mate is winning a trick, consider if it's necessary to play a higher card: you can save that card for later, when the opponents are winning.

Remember, teamwork is essential for this game. You may not be allowed to communicate directly during the game it might be considered cheating by the other team), so play a lot together and come up with your own tactics that suit your team. I will updating this section by adding new considerations and possibly whole tactics after playing this game more often.

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