Zheng Fen

挣分

This description is based on an article by Axel Schmale which appeared some years ago in the Pöppel-Revue. He learned it in China during a railway journey.

The name of the game means "competing for points". It is an interesting hybrid between a climbing game and a point-trick game of the king-ten-five group. The mechanics are like those of Zheng Shangyou or Big Two but the primary aim is to win points rather than necessarily to get rid of cards as quickly as possible. The point values of cards are the same as in the popular Chinese point-trick game Da Bai Fen (Hundred).

Players, Cards and Object

From three to six people can play.

A 54 card pack is used, consisting of the standard 52 cards plus two distinguishable jokers, big and small. Generally the red or colourful joker is agreed to be the big one.

The object is to win valuable cards in tricks. The fives are worth 5 points each, and the tens and kings are worth 10 points each. All the other cards are worthless. There are therefore 100 points in total to be won on each hand. A target score for the game is agreed - generally 500 or (for a longer game) 1000. The winner is the first player whose score reaches or exceeds the target.

The Deal

The deal and play are anticlockwise. For the first deal a randomly chosen player shuffles, that player's right-hand neighbour cuts. The Chinese method of dealing is that the players take their own cards. The pack is placed face-down and starting with the player who cut and proceeding anticlockwise, each player takes the top card without showing it. This continues until all the cards are distributed to the players. Some players may have one more card than others - this does not matter. Players can look at and sort their own cards as they pick them up.

The Play

In the first deal, the player who holds the three of hearts leads to the first trick. The tricks in this game are not like those in most western trick-taking games, where the players contribute one card each and then the trick is over. Instead:

  1. The player who leads to the trick may lead several cards at once; when more than one card is played together the cards must form a legal combination in one of the 10 categories described below.
  2. Subsequent players (in anticlockwise rotation) may either play to the trick or pass. If they play, they must play a higher ranking combination of cards of the same category that was led, or one of the special combinations from category J. If they pass, they do not play any cards and the turn passes to the next player.
  3. The trick does not end when everyone has had a turn to play - it continues round the table for as many rounds as necessary until all players but one pass in succession.
  4. If you pass at your turn to play to a trick, this does not prevent you playing to that same trick if the turn comes round to you again.
The trick ends when all the players but one pass in succession. At this point the trick is won by the player who played the final and therefore highest combination. This player gathers in all the cards played to the trick and keeps them in a face-down pile. The winner of the trick leads to the next trick, and may lead a combination from any category.

End of the Play, and Scoring

Eventually the players will run out of cards in their hands. A player who has no cards takes no further part in the play, but play continues between the remaining players, until only one player has cards left. The players with no cards simply miss their turns. If a player with no cards is due to lead, having just won a trick by playing their last card(s), the lead passes to the next player to the right who has cards. When only one player has cards left, the trick in progress is completed - i.e. that last player is allowed to beat the combination played by the second last player left in if able to - and is gathered by the winner of the trick as normal.

The player who runs out of cards first has an advantage in the scoring, and the last player who has cards left is at a disadvantage. Before the scoring, all the cards in the tricks taken by the last player, and all the cards remaining in the last player's hand at the end, must be given to the first player and added to that player's tricks.

Each player then counts the the total value of card in their tricks (10 for each king or ten, and 5 for each five) and adds it to their score. The player who came last will of course score nothing. There is a total of 100 points to be scored on each hand. If someone has reached or gone above the target figure the game ends and the player with the highest score wins.

Differences in the Second and Subsequent Deals

The player who came last in the previous hand shuffles. The player who came first takes the first card in the deal, and it continues anticlockwise. The player who came first in the previous hand also leads to the first trick (rather than the holder of the 3).

Playable Card Combinations

The possible card combinations are given below. Note that a combination can only be beaten by a higher combination of the same category, or by a combination from the special category J. The general ranking of the cards, from low to high, is:

3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A - 2 - small joker - big joker

This ranking is used both to determine which cards beat which others, and which cards are in sequence.

A: Single Card
Any single card. The ranking is as given above.
B: Pair
A pair of cards of equal rank - such as two sixes or two queens. The ranking is the same as for single cards.
C: Triple
Three cards of equal rank. The ranking is the same as for single cards.
D: Quartet
Four cards of equal rank. The ranking is the same as for single cards.
E: Sequence of pairs
Three or more pairs in unbroken sequence - such as 8-8-9-9-10-10-J-J. Note that 2-2-3-3-4-4 would not be a legal play, as 2's and 3's are not adjacent (2's high and 3's low). On the other hand, K-K-A-A-2-2 is legal. The rank of the highest pair determines the rank of the sequence. If the highest pairs are equal, a longer sequence beats a shorter one. So 5-5-6-6-7-7 beats 4-4-5-5-6-6, but 4-4-5-5-6-6-7-7 beats 5-5-6-6-7-7.
F: Sequence of triples
Three or more triples in unbroken sequence, such as 7-7-7-8-8-8-9-9-9. The rank is determined by the rank of the highest triple.
G: Sequence of quartets
Three or more quartets in unbroken sequence. The rank is determined by the rank of the highest quartet.
H: Full House
This is not quite like a full house in poker. It consists of three cards of the same rank plus two other cards, but the two cards do not necessarily have to be a pair. There are four legal types:
  • triple + pair (e.g. 5-5-5-Q-Q)
  • triple + two adjacent cards of the same suit (e.g. 7-7-7-clubA-club2)
  • triple + any three + any other single card (e.g. 5-5-5-3-10)
  • triple + any two counting cards (i.e. fives, tens or kings) (e.g. J-J-J-5-K)
The rank of a full house is determined by the rank of the triple. If the triples of two full houses are of equal rank (which is possible using jokers as substitutes - see below), neither beats the other. The type of full house and the rank of the other two cards have no effect.
I: Suit Sequence
Five or more cards of the same suit in unbroken sequence (e.g. spadeJ-spadeQ-spadeK-spadeA-spade2). The rank is determined by the highest card in the sequence. If these are equal, the longer sequence beats the shorter. So diamond7-diamond8-diamond9-diamond10-diamondJ can be beaten by heart8-heart9-heart10-heartJ-heartQ, which in turn can be beaten by club7-club8-club9-club10-clubJ-clubQ.
J: Special
There are three special combinations. In ascending order they are:
  • five, ten and king of mixed suits
  • five, ten and king, all in the same suit
  • four twos
These beat any combination in categories A to I.
In categories B to I, jokers are wild - that is a joker can be used as a substitute to represent any card needed to make the combination (or two jokers can be used to represent two such cards). In category A (single cards) jokers are themselves - the highest two cards in the ranking. In category J (special) jokers cannot be used as substitutes - the cards must be real.

Note that there is no suit ranking, and that certain cards and combinations are therefore equal in rank. To play to a trick, it is necessary to play higher than the previous combination. Therefore between two equal combinations, whichever is played first to a trick prevents the other one from being played to the same trick.

When a joker is used as a substitute it has exactly the same rank as the card it represents. So for example the triple 8-8-8 has exactly the same rank as 8-joker-joker. Neither can be played to beat the other. The same is true of full houses: for example 9-joker-joker-3-6 is equal in rank to 9-9-9-A-A.

Note that jokers have zero scoring value, even if they were used to substitute for a king, ten or five in the play.