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Norbert Chan
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Tichu is a partnership trick taking game, designed by Urs Hostettler and published by the Swiss company, Fata Morgana Spiele in 1991. The four player game is first discussed, followed by a brief discussion on the 6 player game. The components are a standard deck of cards and added are four new cards: the Mah Jong card with a value of 1, the Dog, the Phoenix and the Dragon. The dealer deals out 14 cards to each player. Before play begins, you must pass a card to each of your opponents, and a card to your partner across the table.

When a player has the lead, they may play

a single card,
a pair,
three of a kind,
a straight of any length,
a run of consecutive pairs (eg 6,6,7,7 or 2,2,3,3, 4,4 can be played),
full house,
four of a kind (also known as a "bomb"),
straight flush (another "bomb").

The player following the lead must follow with a higher card combination. If a singeton was led, the next player may only play higher value singletons. If a full house was led, only higher ranking full houses may be played. If a seven card straight was led, only a higher ranking seven card straight can be played. The only exception to this rule is that a player may play a bomb on any card combination. Once three players pass, the winner of the trick can lead another card combination. Play continues until three out of the four players have gotten rid of their cards.

The person with the Mah Jong card gets to lead. They may make a "wish" or request a certain card. The next player that can legally play that card, must play that card. If in the current trick, the wish cannot be fulfilled, the wish still stands for the next trick. The Dog card allows your partner to lead, skipping the opponent. The Dragon is the single highest card. However, the winner of the trick with the Dragon must give that trick to one of their opponents. The Phoenix card is a wild card, but cannot be used as part of a bomb. As a single card, it is worth one half more than the current card, but cannot be played on top of the Dragon.

Scoring: After each hand, players examine the tricks they have taken. The first person who gets rid of all their cards first, gets the tricks of the last player who still has cards.
The cards of the last player are given to the opposing team.

Points are awarded as follows:
King: 10
Ten: 10
Five: 5
Dragon: 25
Phoenix: -25

Note that if one team goes out first and second, that team score 200 pts and there is no need to tally the point total as listed above. There is also a gambling aspect to this game.

When cards are first dealt out, anytime before the ninth card is picked up by a player, they may call "Grand Tichu", meaning that person is gambling that they are getting rid of their cards first. If they succeed, the team scores an additional 200 pts. If they fail, they lose 200 pts! Anytime after a player has received their cards, but before playing their first card, they also have the option to call "Tichu"; if that person gets rid of their cards first, they earn a bonus of 100 pts. A failed Tichu subtracts 100 from the team score. Tichu can also be called before the passing of the cards.

General gameplay strategy: Like any other climbing games, you generally play your weak cards first, then try to exit first or second with your strong cards. It is best to ignore the point value of the cards. For instance, if an opponent plays down two Kings early in the hand, and you play your two aces to presumably capture twenty points, you may find yourself with no way to exit, and your tricks will go to the opponents anyways!

If your partner has called Tichu or Grand Tichu, you should strive your utmost to support him. This may mean passing a few times if your partner is on lead to get an idea of what cards he has left in his hand, and to enable him to play their cards out faster. For instance, if your partner starts playing pairs, and you have a few pairs, you may want to hold off until it is clear your partner cannot play anymore, then attempt to take the trick and lead back something he can play on. In this example, if they have only one card left, then after taking the trick, lead back your smallest singleton.

Once one player has gone out first, and a player on another team has gone out second, then the players remaining can start worrying about the points. For instance, if you have the Phoenix left in your hand, you may consider leaving it in your hand to give it to your opponents, provided the tricks you have taken are not worth a lot of points. On the other hand, if you know you have lots of points in tricks, then you have to strive to exit the hand to preserve those points.

Notes on passing of cards. The generally accepted convention of passing cards is pass even cards to the right, odd cards to the left and your best card to your partner. The convention of "even right, odd left" is attributed to Aaron Feugi [http://scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/Games/Tichu/frame_strategy.html] and this method prevents you from giving away a bomb to your opponent or pairs. However, this convention does not defend against the danger of giving your opponents a sequence.

You generally pass your "best" card to your partner, so they have an idea of what your hand looks like. If you pass an ace, for instance, they know the ace was your highest card, and if they have the Mah Jong card they can make a wish for it out of their opponent's hand. Now if you have three aces, you would obviously not pass one of them to your partner. You would generally pass your best singleton. So if I had three aces and a king, I would pass the king to my partner. My partner knows I will not have Kings, but I may have Aces. They may even pass an Ace back to you to give you a bomb!

I remember watching some beginners play Tichhu a while ago. People were passing away the Phoenix and the Dragon to their opponents! The thinking was that the Phoenix is worth -25 pts, and when the Dragon takes a trick, that trick must be given to an opponent. These two powerful cards let you take control of the hand. The Phoenix can be used as a wild card to fit a long sequence (and aid a Tichu call) or used as a single card to retain control of the hand. The Dragon also lets one control the hand when single cards are led. What about passing the Dog to your opponents? This is also generally not recommended. The Dog, when played at the right time can be a crucial card that let's one team exit first. I have called Tichu before, and been passed the Dog by one of my opponents. I thought about that play and came to the conclusion that yes, you don't want to be stuck with the Dog in your hand near the end, but the Dog is also too valuable to be sent the opponent's way. For instance, if your opponent's call Tichu, and your partner is working extremely hard to prevent them from exiting first, once you take the trick and lead the Dog to give your partner the lead, that can be devastating to the opponents.

Most people I play with pass cards as described above. However, I have run into the "Me First" players. These players, on most hands, do not pass their best cards to their partner. They usually pass a not so good card. The Me First players reason that it's easier for one hand to Tichu this way. These players also tend to call Tichu on a wing and a prayer, failing as often as they make it, making it difficult for their team. Also, when one partner's hand is left weak, it makes it easy for the other team to roll over the partner and exit before them, winning the cards in their hand. I've seen Me First partner's accept an Ace from their partner and give their partner the Dog. Their partner has just given them the best card, possibly with no way to ever get the lead back and get stuck with the Dog. This is generally not fun for the partner of a Me First player. Also, the partner of a Me First player is less likely to have a Tichu kind of hand, and depending on the skill level of the players, you may have a less experienced player attempting to make the Tichu call, rather than the stronger player.

Yes, there are times when you need to be self centered. If you pick up a hand, and you feel one good card from your partner will give you a Tichu, then you do have to be self centered for that hand. You can also call Tichu before cards are passed to warn your partner, but that also has the double edged sword of alerting your opponents and they will do everything in their power to stop you. When the opponents call Tichu before cards are passed, and you think you may have a chance to stop them, then it is perfectly acceptable to not pass your partner your best card. Your partner may pass you a good card to round out your hand to stopping the opponents. For instance, if you have a bomb in your hand, and your opponents call Tichu, that is a perfectly acceptable time to be self centered in this hand.

There are also times when you have to assess that the opponents are going to make their Tichu call, and wasting an Ace on a trick only to be taken by the opponent's Dragon would be a waste. You do not want to waste the values in your hand, and give the opponents the chance of making the Tichu call and going out one and two.

Comparison to other card games: Tichu does get mentioned in the same breath as Gang of Four. Gang of Four is not a partnership game, but everyone plays for themselves. Gang of Four differs in that flushes are allowed, and straights can only be of length five. However, if someone leads a straight, other players are not restricted to straights. They can play flushes or full houses as long as the card combination played beats the last cards played, by poker rank. In my mind, both are very good games, and I do like Gang of Four only slightly better because of the flexibility of the play of the five card combinations.

The ultimate partnership trick taking game is bridge. Bridge is my favourite partnership trick taking game. Bridge is a quick game to learn but many years to master. Tichu has a much less learning curve than bridge. In bridge, you have to learn how to evaluate your hands, review bidding conventions with your partners and play the hand to make the contract you bid, or play defence against your opponents. In addition, you have to deal with a partner, who can be potentially abusive if you make "mistakes". If you think dealing with a Me First partner in Tichu is hard, try playing bridge. I generally get along with all my partners in trick taking games. If I call a Grand Tichu, and fail miserably, I apologize sheepishly and focus on the next hand. It's amazing what a simple apology can do for team cohesion. Remember, the next hand is more important than your last failed Tichu call.

Another decent partnership trick taking game is Mu. This game has the novelty that you can have an uneven number of partners on one team (eg 3 players vs 2 players) if you have exactly five players. Also the partners are changing from hand to hand as everyone accumulates points. If I am in the mood for a trick taking game, and I have four players, I would play Tichu. If I have five players, I would play Mu. I would also be negligent in my duties if I didn't mention another climbing game from Doris and Frank, called Frank's Zoo. You can play Frank's Zoo with partnerships, but our gaming group usually plays everyone for themselves.

Six player Tichu. In this version of Tichu, it is a partnership of three vs a partnership of three. The partners all sit with an opponent between them. All the cards are dealt out as normal with the following exceptions: 1) A Grand Tichu call must be made after looking at only six cards. 2) You pass one card each to only your partners. Scoring: If all three team members exit first, that is worth 300 pts. The last player remaining gives his tricks and all their cards to the opposing team, while the fifth player gives their tricks to the winner of the round.

Since you only have 8 or 9 cards in your hand (depending on who the dealer is), the range of hands can vary from quite bad to quite good. I find I don't like the 6 player game as much, since in a four player game you will tend to get more "average" hands. There is also more room for Tichu calls in a 6 player game. If you get two good cards from your partner and you can get rid of two bad cards, you have increased 25% of your hand with good cards, making Tichu a distinct possibility. However, the distribution of the good cards must go to one partner, and this can be done if that partner calls Tichu before the distribution of cards. The opponents, since they do not pass cards to the Tichu caller have less control than the 4 player game, but the opponents themselves can try to prop up one hand to counter the Tichu caller.

Summary. Tichu is quite a popular game, especially in Germany, where thay have a German Association of Tichu Players. If I wasn't 95% illiterate in German, I would attempt to read their website, but I cannot. Tichu is a very good game if you are in the mood for a partnership trick taking game. It may take three or four games for everyone to achieve a certain level of play, but it is well worth it once everyone starts to see the subtleties and has confidence calling Tichu. The tension levels go up and the pressure mounts as the Tichu caller tries to go out first. Making decisions on what cards to pass, and how that will affect your hand is also a very hard decision process. It is these tough decisons that keep me playing this game over and over.
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Jeremy Friesen
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Re:User Review
Norbert Chan (#473324),

Our game group plays with the "me first" method. In essence, each player must estimate if they have a good hand or a not so good hand. If they have a good hand, they pass low to their partner. If they have a bad hand, they pass high to their partner. This method, however, requires a bit more player savvy and certainly has its pitfalls. On average, I'd say this nets a Tichu call around two-thirds of the time with 80% of the Tichu's being made.

That said, I believe the next time I sit down to play at least two games of Tichu in an evening, I will pull my partner aside and suggest the method of passing your highest singleton to your partner.
 
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Mark McEvoy
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Re:User Review
FullTinCan (#481187),

I don't like the 'highest singleton' method because it really takes away a chance to do some signalling to your partner. If I've got a Tichu-able hand and a singleton king, and I pass my partner the king, the partner has no idea whether or not my hand is simply *bad* and the K is the best-I-could-offer, or if my hand is strong. If I pass my partner something that is clearly *not* my best card (usually something 7-10), it's a signal to my partner "I've got a good hand here; do what you can do get me the lead and, if you can, reassure me of any scare cards you have so I know the opponents don't have them". It lets my partner know before my opponents that a Tichu will most likely be coming from me.


Also, if you've got a pair of aces but the rest of your hand is scattershot - pass an ace. Don't mind that it's not a singleton.
 
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David desJardins
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Re:User Review
By the way, if you do have four aces they are usually more powerful when played separately, not as a bomb.
 
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Norbert Chan
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Re:User Review
Thanks for your responses, everyone.

Jeremy: I'm guessing the "Me First" way of playing varies from group to group. A third to a quarter of the people I play with prefer the "Me First" appraoch. Everyone else usually passes their best card. (Unless you have a good hand and want to save your good cards for a Tichu).

I like your idea of talking to partners before hand so they know what to expect and you can discuss card passing philosophies with your partner.

Mark: In the scenario you gave, you could call Tichu before passing cards, then give your King to your partner and they will know it is a singleton then. When you pass your highest singleton, that gives your partner an idea of the strength of your hand; also if they use the Mah Jong card they have a better idea of what to wish for out of the opponent's hand. Again, everyone has their own playing style; sometimes both methods of passing work, other times one other method works better. The trick is knowing when to pass good cards, but if you call Tichu, that helps your partner out, but at the expense of alerting your opponents.

David: The four ace hand can be quite powerful. Once I had a bomb of four kings, called Tichu and had my bomb taken by one of my opponent's four aces! If the rest of your hand is singletons, then yeah, I agree, start playing out singletons and eventually take the trick with one ace to lead out more low cards.
 
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Mark McEvoy
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Re:User Review
Norbert Chan wrote:
Mark: In the scenario you gave, you could call Tichu before passing cards, then give your King to your partner and they will know it is a singleton then.


Whoa, nelly. No, thanks, I don't want "Opponents please pass *me* the dog" painted on my forehead. I *never* make pre-pass non-Grand Tichu calls (unless I have the dog myself to give away)

When you pass your highest singleton, that gives your partner an idea of the strength of your hand

Not really. Suppose you recieve a J from a partner playing this strategy. Does he have a weak hand of a strong hand? Well, if his J was his highest singleton because he had KKKQQQ9988 afterpass, that's a substantially different hand from someone who really has *nothing* (say, 22445778TT).
 
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David desJardins
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thatmarkguy wrote:
Well, if his J was his highest singleton because he had KKKQQQ9988 afterpass, that's a substantially different hand from someone who really has *nothing* (say, 22445778TT).


I don't think you can have 22445778TT after the pass. What two cards did you pass to the opponents??
 
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David desJardins
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DaviddesJ wrote:
I don't think you can have 22445778TT after the pass. What two cards did you pass to the opponents??


Not to mention that you should have 11 cards....
 
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