If you’ve ever been to the Philippines and got into one of the card games they are playing, you’ll notice that Tong-its is a popular choice. It’s a fun and exciting game that also involves huge betting opportunities. While the card game is widely played in the Luzon area, its exact origin remains unknown.
Tong-its is highly similar to Gin Rummy that sometimes it’s even called a three-player rummy. It also shares some similarities with Tonk and Mahjong. So, if you’re curious about how to play tong-its, here’s a rough guide that you can use:
Tong-its can be played with three to four players, but the ideal player count to maximize winnings would be three players. It uses the standard card deck.
The goal of playing Tong-its is to become the first player to play all the cards or end up as the player with the lowest score. This means that each card is equivalent to a particular value. Face cards (J, Q, K) and the 10 card are valued at 10. While number cards 2 to 9 are equivalent to their numerical values, and the ace equals 1.
To play your cards, you need to meld cards in various ways:
Players can also remove cards from their hands by laying cards on the cards that their opponents have previously melded. This is only possible, though if the opponent has laid their melded cards down.
There are four different ways on how you can win Tong-its. You can finish off all your cards and declare a Tong-it. You can also aim to simply have the lowest score among all the players. You can also challenge someone to a draw where you and the one who accepts your challenge will see who has the better hand. The other option is to challenge someone else’s draw. In some cases, this draw can be used as a way to bluff the opponents (more on this later).
Now that we’ve laid down the basics let’s proceed to how to start the game.
As mentioned, you should have three players. But Tong-its can be played with two to four players. Remove the jokers from the standard deck. Anyone can choose to shuffle the cards, but if you want to be pedantic about it, you can choose to decide who deals the card by rolling a dice. For some players, getting the first deal is important because they will get 13 cards, which is one card more than the other players. This gives an advantage because they can choose which ones they want to remove from their hand.
The dealer will distribute the cards face down clockwise starting from them. The dealer will get 13 cards, while others will get 12 cards. For a four-player game, the number of cards per player would be ten for the dealer and nine for the other players. Since there will be remaining cards, these must be placed faced down at the middle of the table. This stockpile is where players will draw cards when it’s their turn.
The dealer with the 13 cards will choose one card to discard from their hand. They will not draw from the stockpile. They can select which of their cards they don’t need. Take note that this move evens out the number of cards for each player.
Once the dealer has discarded a card, the next player can choose to draw from the pile or claim the discarded card. They can only do the latter if they will use the card to complete a set.
For example, the dealer throws a King. The next player can claim this if they have two Kings. They can put down all three Kings at once to create a 3-suited King set. They can also claim the discarded card to complete a straight flush of King, Queen, and Jack.
The player must also expose their meld. Once they get the discarded card, they can no longer draw from the stockpile. Once they’ve placed their set in front of them, they will need to discard one card from their hand.
The next player can then choose to get the discarded card or draw from the stockpile, so it’s best to think about what card you’re going to dispose of. If they choose to draw from the stockpile, they need to discard one card to finish their turn.
In case the player completes a set after drawing from the stockpile, they are not required to expose their melded set. However, not having a meld can also mean they cannot challenge the player who wishes to draw, except when they have a four-of-a-kind.
Note: Players can only challenge a draw when they have an exposed set.
Repeat the sequence until the stockpile is completed, someone declares a Tong-it, or a player challenges a draw.
There are ways on how you can prevent a player from declaring a draw. One is when a player has melded a set of their own, as this can “bluff” the opponent they have a good card. The other way is to lay off a card on the other player’s melded set. For example, a melded straight flush of Queen, Jack, and Ten can be laid off with a King, and 9 cards until it reaches the Ace. Remember, once you lay your cards on top of exposed melded cards, you can no longer reuse them as they are as good as discarded cards.
If the other players fold and decide not to challenge, the one who called the draw is not inclined to show their cards. This way, other players will not know if they bluffed their way to winning the round.
Some players will choose to challenge a draw if they believe they will have no way for them to win when it comes to tallying their scores at the end of the game, so they will bluff other players to think they have a good hand.
In case no player did not achieve Tong-its, the game automatically ends once the stockpile is exhausted. This is the time where players will tally their points. Again, the values are as follows:
If a player is able to play all of their cards, they must declare Tong-it during their turn. This can happen if they are the first player to meld, lay-off, or dispose of their cards. Declaring Tong-it is only allowed during the player’s turn. So, if another player is able to play all their cards before your turn completely, they are the ones to win the game.
Players can also choose to end the game early by calling a draw. Ideally, this must be done if you think you have the lowest tally points. Take note that melded cards do not count against you. Only loose cards will be included in the tally. For example, you have seven cards in total, three of them are a set of three Queens, and the other three are a 6,7,8 set, and you have a loose Ace. Your score is 1.
Take note that you can declare a draw if someone has laid a card on your exposed meld. However, you can challenge a draw if someone calls one. If the challenger has the same tally score as the one who called the draw, the challenger wins the round.
Betting on tong-its can be done in different ways. The most basic would be having a pot bet, wherein the first bet can be $5 for each player. After each round, each player must add $1 each on the pot. This pot can only be won if the player wins two consecutive rounds. The pot can really pile up if none of the players can win two straight rounds.
The winner for each round can also win, depending on the initially agreed amount. Some examples:
The players can choose different side bets to make the game more interesting.
Now that you know the rules of playing Tong-its, why don’t you gather your friends and start an interesting game? Test it out and see which one of you can declare Tong-its or win from a draw! Play Tong-its now and have a blast with your friends.