Vietnam is one of the few Asian countries that prohibits its citizens from engaging in any form of gambling. This, however, does not deter its locals from betting in a few card games such as Phom or Ta La.
The Vietnamese government has intensified its crackdown against illegal gambling rings. Just recently, about 380 Chinese individuals were detained as they were caught whilst operating online gambling websites at a tightly guarded area in Haiphong City, about 100 kilometres east of Hanoi. The individuals are aged 18 years old to 24 years old and are found to operate online platforms prodding Chinese gamblers to bet on lotteries and sports games, with transactions amounting to an estimated 3 billion yuan or roughly $437 million.
For its local citizens, gambling is illegal. The laws for foreigners are different, though. Foreigners are allowed, even encouraged to gamble in their local casinos. Early last year, the government announced that they are to allow some local citizens to gamble in some selected casinos on a trial basis.
Locals who want to have some clean fun with friends are allowed to play cards, gamble small amounts of money, provided they are within the confines of their home and no law enforcement officials will get wind of their activities. One of the most popular card games in Vietnam aside from Tien Len is Phom or Ta La. If you are a foreigner who wants to have some fun with your Vietnamese friends, you might want to know how to play Phom.
What is Phom?
Phom, also known as Ta La, is a card game played like a Rummy. It uses a standard deck of cards with the objective of exchanging cards in a hand to create card combinations or phoms while reducing the number of points left in the cards, not in any phoms. This card game is widely played in Vietnam, particularly in the northern provinces.
How to Play Phom in Vietnam
Phom is all about having valid combinations. Accepted phoms or combinations are:
- Three or more cards with the same rank
- Three or more cards with the same suit
The game can be played with two to four people, with the ideal number of four people. Each player will receive nine cards, except for the first player which will receive 10 cards. The remaining cards will remain in the centre of the table.
The first player with 10 cards will dispose of one card from his hand. The succeeding player can meld that card if he has two or more cards that can form a phom. If the card is melt, the player is not required to show the other cards he used for melding. If the next player cannot meld or chooses not to meld, he must take a hit from the deck of cards. After hitting or melding, the player must discard one card from his hand and the game will proceed until everyone gets their turn.
The game ends when one player can arrange all of the hands into one or more phoms. This winning is called rummy or ù. If there is no player who successfully makes a rummy win, the game ends automatically after four rounds. Before throwing in the cards in the last round, the players must show all the phoms in their hands.
Note: Any phom must not contain two cards taking into the hand by melding. Each player can arrange the phoms any way they prefer before showing it to others. While the game is in play, each player must make sure that the remaining hand is valid at all times.
Rounds of Phom
As mentioned, a phom game ends after four rounds if no one wins via rummy. In each round, each player will take on, on average, one card from the remaining deck. Each player may meld one or more cards in a round and avoid hitting a card from the deck. In one round, a player can take up to three cards, while others may take nothing at all.
Some players shift the trash cards in counter-clockwise whenever a card is melt to keep track of the current round and when it ends. Once a player plays more than one time in the last round, he can put down phoms whenever he plays.
Once a player wins via rummy, he automatically wins six bets from each of the player on the table. The total winning is doubled if the rummy occurs before the player discards and still has 10 cards in hand.
In a normal game with no player winning a rummy, each player will count his point as the number of dots in his hand, counting J, Q, K, as 11, 12, and 13. In phom, the lower the point, the better is the hand. A hand which fails to create a phom is called a móm and is the worst hand a player can get.
The winner of the game is the one with the best remaining hands. Losers then rank themselves according to the points and pay one, two, or three bets to the winner. The player with a móm must pay four bets to the winner.
It is normal for a game of phom to end with players having the same point. If this happens, the person to discard the last card loses.
Penalty Rules in Phom
Players of phom must take note of these three penalty rules:
- If a player (A) discards a card melt by the next player (B), player A must pay one bet to Player B. If it is the last round, player A must pay four bets to player B.
- If player A allows player B to meld three cards and player B wins with rummy, player A must shoulder the losing bet for all other players on the table.
- If the phom game ends with a rummy in the last and final round, the last player to melt will automatically be penalized and must shoulder the losing bets for all other players on the table.
Phom is popular because it allows player to guess the possible cards his opponents have. When guessed correctly, the players can strategise on what to discard and prevent the other player from melding. The game requires tons of practice to master. It is a popular variant because of its low penalty compared with other rummy games. To up the chances of winning, most focus on getting a rummy while denying the next player of the chance to meld phoms from discarded cards. While some consider phom as the Vietnamese Rummy, a number of variations exist in Vietnam.
Playing Phom in an Online Casino
Phom’s popularity in Vietnam has made online casino operators to include it in their roster of card games. Some online casinos offer phom that allows the player to play the game easily. Most online phom uses a program that automatically checks whether the hand can meld a card. The program will also signal the player to discard a card when it is their turn to discard.