Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tichu: The Basics

In writing this I assume that the reader is familiar with the rules of Tichu, but not necessarily the strategy. I recommend for those who don't know the game at all to go read the rules first.

I first learned the game President (aka many other names, some of them bad), at a summer science camp in Indiana, at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. For that three week period, my days were about 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working on our project and learning the basics of computer programming, and 8 hours playing either President or Euchre.

For those who don't know, President, like Tichu, is one of a family of 'climbing' games, in which the goal is to be the first player to run out of cards, and you can play cards which are of the same type as the previous play (i.e. singles, pairs, straights, etc), but higher values. The Great Dalmuti and Dilbert, Corporate Shuffle are other examples.

These games are sometimes described as trick taking games, which is highly inaccurate. In a trick taking game, each player plays exactly one card, in order, and then the highest card takes the trick. The goal is generally to take tricks. In a climbing game, play continues around and around until all players in a row (except the last to play) pass consecutively. Players may either pass or play. The last player to play takes the cards, but the goal is generally not to take the cards, but rather to get cards out of your hand.

By playing President, I learned the 'Big Rule Of Climbing Games' (BROCG). That is that cards, or sets or cards playable together, are of four types:

Type 1: Winners. Winners will gain you the lead when played, because others will not beat them. A single of the highest value for example, is a winner. In Tichu, an Ace is usually a winner as well, along with the Phoenix and Dragon. Other winners include bombs of course, and very high pairs or triples.

Type 2: Losers. Losers are cards that you will be unable to play (or very unlikely to be able to play, except when you have the lead, and which will be beaten by others. A single 3 is a good example of a loser. So is the Dog.

Type 3: Losers that wont get beaten. That is, you wont ever be able to play this set of cards unless you have the lead, but if you do play it, no one will beat it and it will be your play again. A good example of this is a 9 card straight.

Type 4: Cards you will be able to play sometime, but will not win the trick. Most mid level cards are in this category. A single Jack for example, or a pair of 9s. You'll play this at some point when the cards are going around.

The Big Rule Of Climbing Games is that you must save one winner for every loser you have. If you do not, you will get stuck holding the losers and will not be able to go out. Further, the purpose of a winner is to gain the lead, to enable you to play a loser. The purpose of a lead is to get rid of losers, because that is the only time you can get rid of them.

Thus, if you get the lead, you will first lead things which are losers that cannot be beaten. But only if they really cant be beaten. This isn't the time to lead a 5 card straight or a two pair stair or a full house. An 8 card straight or a 3 pair stair is okay.

Next, one would lead their worst loser, usually a low single, but occasionally a pair ,straight, or whatever.

If one is in a position where they have as many winners as losers, they are in good shape.
If not, they must wait until others play high cards, like aces, such that their kings could become winners.

If one is in a position where they have as many winners as other sets of cards, for example, the hand AAJ77, then they are ready to make a move to go out. If one added a 9 to this, they would have to wait until the play allowed them to get rid of one of their other sets of cards, the 9, J, or pair of 7s, and then they would be ready to go for it.

I have seen many times where players in climbing games will play high cards to get them out of their hand, when they would not win a trick, and they did not have as many winners as losers. These players end up stuck with a low card at the end and don't get to go out. I have likewise seen times where a player will get the lead and just lead high cards, trying to keep the lead. They are then stuck with a couple low cards left at the end. They likewise will not go out. These people do not understand the Big Rule Of Climbing Games.

So how does this apply to Tichu? First of all, it helps you know when to call Tichu. The biggest question new players often ask is: 'How do I know when to call Tichu?' To which the common response is 'when your hand is good enough'.

Well, here is a better response:
Sort your hand into Winners (Aces, Phoenix, Dragon, or maybe a pair/triple of Kings), sets of cards you will be able to play at some point (face card singles or pairs, possibly stuff like 10s, 9s, etc), sets of cards that you need the lead to play but which will not be beaten (very long straights or stairs), and Losers (low singles, low pairs, etc).

If the number of Winners is greater than the number of Losers, you can probably call Tichu. Thats it. Now, for a more refined system, if the number of Winners is just barely more than the number of losers, and you have a bunch of 'cards you will be able to play at some point', then you probably don't want to call it. If in this case you have several Winners and only one loser, you can probably control the lead enough to make it work. Or if a bunch of your cards will disappear in a long straight play which will give you back the lead, then it will again work, even if your number of Winners is only one greater than the Losers.

This will tend to work for you more often than not, however, you can still fail to make the Tichu due to bombs or very good hands for your opponents. If someone has already called Tichu, and you are considering it yourself, then you must have more than you otherwise would to call it. For example, you must have something like at least 2 more winners than losers, and you had better have most of your cards in things like a long straight, a full house, long stair or something, and not in 'cards that you can play at some point, but wont win'. Because when someone else is attempting to go out for their Tichu, you probably wont get a chance to play those cards.

Finally, on calling Grand Tichu, I tend to call it if 3 of my first 8 cards are Ace, Dragon, Phoenix, or Dog, or one of those plus a bomb.


Next week I will cover more advanced topics, such as how to pass.

5 comments:

Jasen said...

A great start Alex. I like the card categorization you've adopted. Looking forward to the next installment.

Linnaeus said...

Nice start, Alex. I've played enough to be more or less competent, but seeing something formalized like this is going to help a lot.

Scott Krutsch said...

>> I first learned the game President (aka many other names, some of them bad), at a summer science camp in Indiana, at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. For that three week period, my days were about 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working on our project and learning the basics of computer programming, and 8 hours playing either President or Euchre.


Oh yeah, those were the days! I learned how to play Euchre at dear old Rose, and we had a great all-night game of Civilization - Titan was big on the weekends too.

Chad Krizan said...

I could Tichu, but I'd have to charge.

Aaron D. Fuegi said...

I wrote a Tichu strategy guide long ago that covers things in a lot more detail and it is at http://scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/Games/Tichu/frame_strategy.html

I also have a general Tichu page with links (including to my strategy article and also to a pretty optimal passing convention in regard to Alex's next post here) at http://scv.bu.edu/~aarondf/Games/Tichu/

Although Alex's points here are generally right, there are some things I would disagree with but I think pointing you to my article is more sensible than debating the specifics.

I didn't notice this till now or would have posted it long ago.