Tong-Its

Tong-Its is a rummy game for three players. A Philippine offshoot of Tonk, Tong-Its is a lively game that introduces a bluffing aspect to rummy. Since players are not penalized for keeping their melds secret, a player may declare the end of the hand believing they have the lowest unmatched card total. But if one of their opponents thinks they’re wrong, they can challenge them, and potentially snatch the victory away from them!

Object of Tong-Its

The object of Tong-Its is to reduce the number of unmatched cards in your hand by forming combinations of cards called melds.

Setup

To play Tong-Its, you’ll need a standard 52-card deck of cards. You can choose any kind you like, but we really think you’d enjoy using Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. Scoring in Tong-Its is usually done with the hard score method, so you’ll need a bunch of something like poker chips, beans, or other markers to keep score.

All player ante two chips to a pot in the center of the table. Shuffle and deal twelve cards to each player, starting with yourself. After all players have received twelve cards, deal a thirteenth card to yourself. The remaining fifteen cards are placed in a pile in the center of the table, forming the stock.

Game play

The dealer goes first. Their first order of business is to identify any melds they may hold. If they so desire, they may open their hand by placing some or all of their melds (see below) face-up on the table. They then end their turn by discarding a card, starting a discard pile, and the turn passes to the left.

Starting on the second player’s first turn, and for the rest of the game, a player starts their turn by drawing a card. They may draw the top card of the discard pile only if they can complete a new meld from their hand with it, and this meld must then be placed face-up on the table. Otherwise, they must draw from the stock. After a player has drawn, they may lay down any melds they may have in their hand. Then, they may lay off cards on any existing melds they or their opponents have laid down. Finally, the player ends their turn with a discard.

Melds

There are two types of melds in Tong-Its, both of which should be familiar to a connoisseur of rummy games. These are three or four cards of the same rank, and the sequence, which is three or more consecutive cards of the same suit. Of note is that aces are low in Tong-Its, so A-K-Q is not a valid sequence; any sequence involving an ace must also contain the 2 and the 3 of that suit. A card must be counted toward only one meld; it cannot be shared between multiple melds.

Notably, unlike other rummy games, a meld still counts for the player if it is kept concealed in the hand. In fact, there is a special bonus for holding a concealed four-of-a-kind in the hand. Keeping melds concealed can be a good idea, as it prevents your opponents from laying cards off to them. However, if you do not open your hand by exposing at least one meld, you risk taking penalties should the hand end before you do so! Remember that whenever a meld is formed with a card from the discard pile, that meld must always be exposed.

There is one special situation involving the four-of-a-kind. A player may place a concealed four-of-a-kind face down on the table. A player who does so is considered to have opened their hand, yet they are still eligible to receive the concealed four-of-a-kind bonus at the end of the hand.

Ending the hand

There are three ways the hand can end: by a tongit, by a draw, and by the stock running out.

Tongit

When a player runs out their entire hand, they can call tongit and end the hand immediately. A player calling tongit may play out all of their cards by melding them, or they may end their turn as usual by discarding their final card.

Draw

A player who thinks they have the lowest deadwood (unmatched card) total can end the hand by calling “draw”. A player can only call “draw” if all of the following are true:

  • They have opened their hand.
  • They did not lay off to their existing melds on the previous turn.
  • No other player laid off to their existing melds since their last turn.

When a player calls “draw”, their opponents may choose, in turn, to either fold or challenge the draw. Only a player who has opened may challenge. If both opponents fold, the hand ends, with the player calling “draw” winning the hand outright.

However, if one or both opponents challenge, the player calling “draw” and all challengers must expose their hands. Each player calculates their deadwood score: aces count one, face cards count ten, and all other cards their pip value. Whoever has the lowest deadwood score wins. If there is a tie, the challenger wins, and if there is a tie for lowest between multiple challengers, the one to the left of the player calling “draw” wins.

When a player challenges a draw, the value of the hand to the winner increases from one unit to three. If you’re not confident that you have a lower deadwood score than the player who is ending the hand, it may be better to simply fold rather than risk having to pay out three chips!

Exhausting the stock

When the stock runs out, the hand ends when whoever draws the last card ends their turn. All players who have opened compare their deadwood totals. Whoever has the lowest wins. If there is a tie, the player who drew the last card from the stock wins. If there was a tie between the other two players, the player to the left of the one who drew the last card wins.

Payouts

When a winner has been decided, each loser must pay to the winner:

  • For winning:
    • Three chips if they won by calling tongit
    • Three chips if they won by a challenged call of “draw” (whether or not they were the caller or the challenger)
    • One chip for any other kind of win
  • Three chips for each concealed four-of-a-kind in the winner’s hand
  • One chip if the loser did not open their hand
  • One chip for each ace the winner held, either in their hand or in melds (note that aces laid off on the winners hand, or aces that the winner laid off on their opponents’ melds, do not count)

After the payments are settled, the winner shuffles and deals the next hand. All players ante again to the pot. The pot is only awarded to a player who wins two hands in a row.

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