Gong Zhu

gong-zhu
Gong Zhu (拱猪), which roughly translates into English as Chase the Pig or Catch the Pig, is a Chinese trick-taking game for four players, similar to Hearts. The “pig”, of course, is the Q♠, which reprises her role in Hearts as the card to avoid at all costs; here, she’s worth a whopping –100 points!

Object of Gong Zhu

The object of Gong Zhu is to avoid being the first player to reach a score of –1000 points by avoiding capturing certain cards (chiefly hearts and the Q♠).

Setup

Gong Zhu is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. We certainly recommend that you use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards. You’ll also need something to keep score with, such as pencil and paper or a scorekeeping app on your smartphone.

Shuffle and deal the cards out one at a time until the entire deck has been dealt. Each player will have been dealt thirteen cards.

Game play

On the first hand of the game, the player with the 2♠ begins play by leading it to the first trick; in every other hand, the player that captured the Q♠ on the previous hand leads whatever card they desire. Each player to the left then plays a card. They must follow suit if they can; otherwise, they may play any card they wish. The trick is captured by whoever played the highest card of the suit led.

When a player wins a trick, they do not add the cards captured to their hand. Instead, they pull out any point-scoring cards (see below) and place them face up in front of them, then put the other cards face down in a discard pile in front of them. The player that won the last trick then leads to the next one.

Game play continues until thirteen tricks have been played, at which point the players have run out of cards. The hand ends at that point and is scored.

Scoring

The only cards relevant for scoring in Gong Zhu and their point values are:

  • Q♠ (the pig): –100
  • A♥: –50
  • K♥: –40
  • Q♥: –30
  • J♥: –20
  • 10-5♥: –10 each
  • 4♥, 3♥, 2♥: 0 each
  • J♦ (the sheep or goat): +100

In addition, capturing the 10♣ doubles the net point value for the hand. So if a player captured the Q♠ and K-Q-8♥, their point score for the hand would be –180; if they captured those cards and the 10♣, their score would instead be –360. (Note, however, that the 10♣ can well be beneficial if the J♦ is captured alongside it. It can also be useful when shooting the moon; see below.) If the 10♣ is captured without any other point cards, it has a value of +50.

No other cards have any bearing on scoring.

Exposing cards

Prior to the first trick, the players holding the A♥, Q♠ J♦, and 10♣ may elect to reveal these cards to the other players at the table. In so doing, the cards’ effects are effectively doubled:

  • If the A♥ is exposed, the point values of all hearts (not just the ace) are doubled.
  • If the Q♠ is exposed, its value becomes –200.
  • If the J♦ is exposed, its value becomes +200.
  • If the 10♣ is exposed, it quadruples the net point value for the hand.

Using the above example, if a player captured the Q♠ and K-Q-8♥, and the A♥ had been exposed, the player would score –260, because the –80 they scored for the hearts would be doubled to –160 (and the Q♠ would score –100 as normal).

If a player chooses to expose a card, it cannot be played on the first trick of that hand where that suit is led. This is to allow the other players an opportunity to get rid of cards that may force them to capture the exposed card. (If the exposed card is the only card of the suit led that the player holds, they must still play it in order to follow suit, as normal.)

Shooting the moon

Collecting all of the hearts (including the 4♥, 3♥, 2♥) is called shooting the moon. Instead of scoring –200 points, a player who does this instead scores +200. If the pig is captured in addition to all of the hearts, it scores +100 instead of –100, for a total hand score of +300. The J♦ and 10♣ continue to function as normal, as well, so if all the hearts are captured along with Q♠-J♦-10♣, one would score a whopping 800 points (200 for the hearts + 100 for the Q♠ + 100 for the J♦ = 400 × 2 for the 10♣). Multipliers for exposed cards are also applied when shooting the moon, leading to the possibility of four-digit positive scores.

Ending the game

The game ends when one player reaches a score of –1000 points. That player loses the game. (If you desire a winner be named rather than just a loser, the player with the highest score can be considered the winner.)

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Hearts strategy

In our last post, we discussed the game of Hearts. Now that you know the rules of the game, here’s some tips that might help your game.

Choosing what to pass

In may card games, what you’re dealt is what you’re stuck with. Not so in Hearts—you have the opportunity to shape your hand somewhat by choosing to pass cards to the next player.

The gut reaction of most players is to pass the Q♠ when she has been dealt to them. This is not always the best play; sometimes, it’s easier to avoid capturing the Q♠ when you can control when she comes out. A good time to hold the queen is when you only have a few cards in some other suit—when you run out of that suit, you can play the Q♠, and you will be immune to capturing her because you did not follow suit. If you are considering holding the Q♠, make sure you have some other spades to play when some other player leads with spades—otherwise you may be trapped with only the Q♠ as a valid play.

The two spades higher than the Q♠, the K♠ and A♠, should be treated with nearly as much care as the Q♠. You do not want to be forced into playing one of these cards early in a trick and have the Q♠ come out after you. If you are short on spades, pass them.

High hearts are almost always a good option to pass, unless the spades situation is more pressing.

If you have a lot of cards of a particular suit, you might consider passing some of them on—if you’re running long, at least one of the other players is guaranteed to be running short, so they will be using tricks of that suit to unload their undesirable cards. You don’t want to be forced to lead that suit over and over again because of a lack of anything else to lead with.

Remember what you passed, and to whom. Since most of the time, you will be passing on higher, undesirable cards, knowing who holds them can be useful. In particular, if the player holding the Q♠ has already played to a trick, you know there is no way she can be played to the trick.

If you are playing the Jack of Diamonds variant, consider passing the J♦ if there is nothing more pressing to pass. The J♦ is seldom won by the player holding him, since three other cards can be played to collect him.

Play of the hand

A good portion of a winning Hearts strategy involves discovering the most opportune times to ditch cards you don’t want to get stuck with. The easiest method to ditch a card is to run out of a suit—if that suit is lead, you can burn off an undesirable card with no risk that you will end up capturing it. This is an excellent way to get rid of the Q♠ and her accomplices, the K♠ and A♠, as well as high hearts.

Being the last to play to a trick gives you the advantage of knowing what the trick contains. If you see that the trick has no point-scoring cards, you can play a high card and capture it, allowing you to both burn off a high card and choose what the next suit to play is (which might be helpful to get rid of the last few cards of your short suit). If it’s a spade trick, and the Q♠ isn’t in it, you can play the K♠ or A♠. Likewise, if someone has played a high card, you can play a slightly lower card which might cause problems on down the road (e.g. if someone plays the A♥, it’s an excellent time to get rid of the K♥).

If you don’t have the Q♠, it can be a good option to lead spades repeatedly in an attempt to force the Q♠ to show herself, hopefully sending her back to where she came from.

Naturally, keep track of whether the Q♠ has been played. If she’s out of the picture, the K♠ and A♠ are considerably less harmless, and you can ditch them with much less risk.

Keep the lower cards, like twos and threes, around unless you have a specific reason to play them. These cards can be used as exit cards, meaning you can use them in uncertain situations, like leading a trick or being the first after the lead to play, to avoid taking the trick. The 2♥ and 3♥ are particularly useful, since they let you dodge tricks that are often worth up to 4 points.

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Hearts

The thirteen hearts and the queen of spadesHearts is a classic game for four players. Unlike most card games, Hearts works on golf rules—the player with the lowest amount of points is the winner. Winning is generally done by avoidance of certain cards that score points—namely, the hearts, after which the game is named, and also the ultimate old maid, the Queen of Spades.

Hearts received a boost in popularity in the 1990s because Microsoft included a computerized version of it in its Windows operating system.

Object of Hearts

The object of the game is to have the lowest score at the end of the game by avoiding the thirteen Hearts and the Q♠. Or, collect absolutely everything and watch your opponents suffer.

Setup

You will need scorekeeping equipment (pencil and paper, or one of several smartphone/tablet apps that do all the math for you) and a standard 52-card deck of cards. Use Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards for the full effect of the Q♠’s wrath—her role in Hearts is why her artwork on the Denexa deck depicts her with a uniquely…unpleasant expression.

Shuffle and deal out the entire deck. Each player should end up with thirteen cards.

Game play

At the beginning of the first hand, each player selects three cards and pass them to the left; they will receive three replacement cards from the right. On the second hand, cards will be passed to the right; on the third, straight across. No passing occurs on the fourth hand. The fifth hand restarts the cycle, passing to the left, and so on.

After passing has occurred, the player holding the 2♣ leads it. The next player to their left responds by playing a club, if they are able; otherwise, they may play any card except for a heart or the Q♠. The other two players follow in turn. These four cards played to the table are called a trick. After all players have played a card, the player who played the highest club collects the trick and places it into a score pile separate from their hand. The 2 is the lowest card of any suit, and the ace is the highest card.

The player that won the first trick then leads any card, except for a heart; again, all players must follow the suit led, if able. There is now no restriction on what may be played if the player cannot follow suit. After all four cards have been played, the player who played the highest card of the suit led collects the cards and gets to start the next trick, and the process repeats.

When a player who is unable to follow suit plays a heart, hearts are said to have been broken. Hearts can then be led to subsequent tricks.

Scoring

After the thirteenth trick, all players will have exhausted their hand. Each player looks through their score pile and adds up their score, as follows:

  • The thirteen hearts: one point each.
  • The Q♠: thirteen points.

In the uncommon event that one player has managed to score all thirteen hearts and the Q♠—an act known as shooting the moon—rather than scoring 26 points, they score zero for the hand, and all three of their opponents score 26!

The deal passes to the left, the cards are shuffled, and a new hand is dealt. Game play continues until one player exceeds 100 points; the player with the lowest score at that point is the winner.

Variations

The Jack of Diamonds variant of Hearts, also known as Omnibus Hearts, adds a fifteenth point card to the game, the J♦. Unlike the other scoring cards, however, the J♦ is not a penalty; it is a bonus, worth −10 points. Like all other scoring cards, however, it cannot be played on the first trick of a hand, and it must be collected in order to successfully shoot the moon.

Some groups allow a player to opt to score −26, rather than forcing their opponents to score 26, when shooting the moon. This avoids some unfortunate scenarios where a player shoots the moon, forcing an opponent over 100 and ending the game, but causing the shooter to lose to a player that still has a lower score after the 26 points are accounted for.

See also

 

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