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Kong-Pie

Contributed by Gabriel Arthur Petrie

Revision May 2008: Rules and suggestions for casino-style play as well as notes on strategy and logic have been made intact in the document instead of shuffled to a separate section in the back. Fatal error in play description "draw four cards from source" (drawing to player's hand is normally done from the stock) removed. All sections more or less completely rewritten and reorganized.

BASIC OUTSIDER'S VIEW: Three players are seated at the table, two holding four cards but one holding just one. Laid out on the table are three separate columns of what look like Rummy melds interrupted by the occasional pair or single card. One player is studying the cards in the columns, the cards in their hand, and the four cards laid out in a row in the middle of the table. Suddenly the player throws down two cards to the row, picks up two, throws down another two, then picks up another two -- including one they threw down just a moment ago. Then they slap three of their cards down at the bottom of one of the columns, saying "kong!" The next player, who's holding one card, then draws three cards and performs very similarly, and this process repeats for the next player -- except the third player does it twice on their turn, exclaiming "glory!" Sitting at the far end of the table, sitting undisturbed the whole time, is a pair of red cards. What are those two little cards about? What's going on? What kind of goofy game is this? Well, it's been described as kind of like Pai-Gow but sort of like Baccarat, or a little bit like Mahjongg meets Poker meets Rummy, but it's not any of those closely enough to be a variation on any of them. No, it's "Kong-Pie"! The term "Kong" is from Mah-Jongg but your guess is as good as mine to what the "pie" is about. In any case, cheers for discovering this strange little game that's been played by literally dozens of people and for almost two hundred games.

[CHANGES TO SPECIAL TERMINOLOGY IN THIS REVISION: The game originally held special terminology that was intended by the inventor to provide some illustration to players as to the purpose and mechanism of the layout's elements. However, the inventor has found that some of the original terms were strange or confusing to players, so several of the special terms have been changed. References to "dough" and "foam" are now referred to as "put" and "pull" (consecutively), and references to "pool" and "fire" are now referred to as "stock" and "discards" (consecutively). Also, through many sessions of play the term "make kong" has seen more actual use than the originally written "play kong", so will serve as that written replacement.]

PLAYERS: Kong-Pie is a game for usually three players, though there is a way of playing for two (which will be described after the normal rules).

SEATING: It's suggested that all three players sit near each other but not near enough to easily see each other's cards. Also, the three should try to face relatively the same direction instead of diametrically opposed; the game's layout has central features that are best used by all three players if they can be seen from the same angle by all (however, experienced-enough players may find it just as easy to play from around equidistant positions).

DECK: 52 cards in four suits (red hearts, red diamonds, black spades, and black clubs) and thirteen ranks, and no jokers.

DEALER: It doesn't really matter who deals, but if there is no house dealer, players may wish to rotate who is the dealer for the sake of fairness.

DEAL: First, cut the deck and draw the top card, then search through the deck for a second card of a different rank and suit but of the same color (black or red). For example, if the card drawn is 7H (seven of hearts), then the second card to search for must not be a seven and must be a diamond (for the remaining examples of the game, we'll suppose that we drew 8D, eight of diamonds). Dealer should place these two cards in a prominent position on the table, somewhere they will not interfere with the rest of the game but are easily visible for all three players; these are the "High-Notes". Then, taking the rest of the remaining deck, shuffle well and place deck face-down as stock. Draw the first four cards from the stock and place them face up in a row where they are each separately and easily reached by all players, but still near enough to each other to distinguish them together as the "Source". Also make an empty space, preferably as reachable as the stock, where the discards will go. Don't deal any initial hands to players, as players will draw their first cards during the phase of replenishing their hands on their first turns.

LOOKING THROUGH DISCARDS: In normal rules, the discards are stacked face-up in one spot and may be picked up and rifled through by any player during their turn in case they may have forgotten what has been discarded (it wouldn't make a difference since all discards have been visible in that case), as long as that player leaves all the discards in their original positions and returns the discards to their place on the table before playing. Experienced players (and casinos) who expect more observation and shorter time spent during turns might opt to not allow players to rifle so, but to keep track of what has been discarded.

DISCARDS AS RESTOCK: When the stock runs out, the dealer may use the discards as a draw-deck. For normal rules, this should be allowed to happen however many times are necessary to reach an end game (it takes three to dance) and it is done by simply taking the discards and turning them over face-down in the position where the stock had been. This means that any players will be able to easily tell what card is coming up next in the pile, which means that discarding itself can be done strategically as a sort of nest-egg. However, players may wish to introduce an unexpected twist by shuffling the discards before using them as restock. For home play, I've found it's more fun to let the dealer decide which will be done, and though this does put some control of the game's outcome in the hands of the dealer, this may not matter unless there are chips at stake. For casino rules it is suggested that the discards are turned over as restock without shuffling, and that the house may choose to require any players who wish to remain in the game to increase the kitty by an additional chip any time the discard is turned over as restock (otherwise, there is the absurd possibility of players discarding endlessly and failing to end the game). If the scoring and betting schemes are left as-is, this means the house will end up keeping any of these additional chips, so players may tend to play more aggressively their first round. Additionally, the house should not allow play to continue through a second restock, and if players have not determined a winner by the time the stock has been used up the second time, the house should keep the entire kitty (and jackpot as well).

DIRECTION OF PLAY: Play goes around circularly, starting from a person seated next to dealer and after everyone else has played a hand, returning for the dealer's turn. Clockwise or counterclockwise is not important, but should be decided or stated clearly before playing.

HOW TO PLAY:

FIRST, THE PLAYER ALWAYS REPLENISHES THEIR HAND: Each turn, the player must first replenish their hand. If the player has fewer than four cards, they must draw one card at a time from the stock to replenish their hand until they are holding four cards. After doing this, the player may choose to do several things from below.

CHECK FOR KONG: The player then checks their hand for any potential kong. A kong is one of five legal combinations of cards:

Making all those low-scoring kongs doesn't push the total winnings up very much, though. The trio are somewhat harder to put together but worth the higher score (2 points), though waiting for the cards to show up may keep the player behind (it's perhaps better made opportunistically), and is of course somewhat unlikely to be accomplished if one of the cards of that rank has been played or discarded. The two noodles and the two high pairs share score values (3 points) and can show up at any time, however it's been typical that a player who has as little as one noodle and just one half of a high pair in their hand may simply hold onto them in the hopes of eventually getting the high kong. I've played a lot of drawn-out games because two players were each holding onto half of the high kong, and I've never seen a high kong (I meant the game that way). If you get the high kong, you instantly win the game, the kitty, and the ongoing house jackpot (or the neighborhood kong crown).

MAKE KONG: If the player can make kong from their hand, then they can choose to do so. To make kong, the player pulls it from their hand (keeping any cards not in the combination hidden in their hand) and place it on the table near where they are seated, face-up and where others can see it. To save space, later kongs should slightly overlap previous kongs in a column, leaving the corner marks exposed. A player is given two opportunities to make kong each turn. After making kong, a player should replenish their hand from the stock and then play as if beginning their turn again, with all of the same options of play. After making their second kong any turn, the player does not replenish their hand -- instead, it's the next player's turn.

CONNECT TO THE SOURCE: The "Source" is, again, the four cards laid out side-by-side on the table. These cards are there for players to swap for cards in their hands, according to certain rules (this swapping is what is known as "connecting"). The purpose of this is to get your hand closer to making kong. The basic rules of connecting are this: you have to swap two cards at a time; the two cards from your hand that you are swapping out ("putting") have to match one another in either suit or rank; and you have to pick up ("pull") two cards from the source, but they can be any two cards -- not including the two you just put. Basically, the player should pick two matching cards, place them near the source, pick two cards which were already in the source up and put them in their hand, and then out of courtesy the player should straighten the two cards they put so the source looks even again (though more experienced players may forgive forgoing this for faster play, and players simply straighten out the source before they start to connect). [If you're just a learner, the rest of this section is mostly about rule variations and casino rules] Now, for any connectable hand (one which has at least two cards that match rank or suit) and given a source with some cards that also match rank or suit with the other cards in the hand, a player could swap out their entire hand in two or three connects. And sometimes the planning and plotting of exactly how to connect again and again in one turn in order to make kong is also complicated, and sometimes the player doesn't seem to know what they want to do (swapping cards out endlessly or seeming frustrated by the puzzling possibilities, which is permissable in normal play). To avoid this problem, players may wish to impose a connect-twice rule, stating that players can only connect twice per kong made each turn, whether it's their first or second kong that turn. In other words, the connect-twice rule is that each kong, players may only go through the sequence of put-and-pull twice, no more. Connect-twice is recommended for casino rules, to avoid players endlessly swapping per turn and to give players an incentive to choose their put cards out of open opportunism (putting cards they plot to use later or knowing that the cards will be attractive to other players, resulting in some turnover). As well, sometimes the plot is to pull certain cards only to put them back immediately in order to pull one of the cards that was previously put along with one that wasn't. In normal play this is permissable, but the players may wish to impose a "short-connect" rule, stating that players may only pull cards that have not been put during that kong (first or second) of their turn. Imposing a short-connect rule usually produces a game that's longer than typical games by a full restock (and thus gives players more incentive to keep track of what has been discarded), and it's not recommended for casino play.

DISCARD: Discarding can be useful if you have a card that does you no good and you're more interested in what the stock has to offer you when you replenish your hand on your next turn. If you haven't done anything else during your turn, then you can choose to discard one card before your turn is over. Or, if you've made first kong and you haven't connected to the source yet on your second kong, or if you've made second kong, then you also are in a position where you can choose to discard one card before your turn is over. However, if you have connected on your turn but you haven't made kong since connecting, you are forced to discard one card before your turn is over. That's important to remember -- if you connect to the source (putting and pulling one or more times) but it doesn't result in a hand that allows you to make kong, or it does but you for some reason choose not to make kong, then you have to discard one card, plain and simple. If you do discard, it's the last thing you're allowed to do on your turn, after which point it's the next player's turn. To discard, simply choose a card from your hand and lay it face-up on top of the discards. There is no suggested variation to the rules on discarding.

PASS: This is the only other option or action to take during a turn. The player may pass as long as they aren't forced to discard. The player may pass on first kong or second kong of their turn. It then becomes the next player's turn. Now, sometimes all three players pass their turns consecutively, and that is the start of a long problem. You don't have to do anything about that; in normal household play, you could just let this go, but then again you might not want to. I suggest allowing any new players to go without restrictions on passing entire rounds away, just to get a feel for the reasons why it happens and the reasons why it shouldn't, and a better sense of why there are many suggested restrictions on continuous passing. All of that is covered in the section "More About the Source", later. That is a chapter that should be read by anyone who wants a complete understanding of the game or intends to play with casino rules.

GOAL OF THE GAME: First player to play four Kong ends the hand! This player is considered the "Winner".

SCORING*: For the purpose of betting, Kongs score as follows: 4-In-Suit, one point; 3-Of-Kind, two points; Noodle, three points; High Pair, three points.

BETTING*: For each game, players pay eight chips to the "kitty" and one fixed payment to the "jackpot" (a token).

PAYOUT*: The winner of the game is the first person to make four Kong. The winner is paid a number of chips from the kitty equal to the total points scored by all players for all of their kongs that game. The house keeps the remaining chips from the kitty which is emptied for the next game.

(OPTIONALLY FOR CASINOS) GLORY*: If the winner can also get "glory" (playing a fifth Kong immediately after their fourth, as a 2nd-Kong), then the winner also gets to take back a jackpot payment for that game.

(OPTIONALLY FOR CASINOS) 1ST-PLACE*: The "1st-place" goes to the player whose Kongs scored the highest. After a winner is declared, whichever player makes 1st-place gets to take back a jackpot payment for that game. Any player may qualify for 1st-place, including the winner. If the winner earns 1st-place and also gets glory, they would be qualified to take back two jackpot payments for that game. This is not paid out if 1st-place is a tie.

THE HIGH-KONG JACKPOT: As for the jackpot, in a casino the jackpot payments for each table would be kept in a running total which is won by any player who can make "high kong" at that table.

(MORE ABOUT THE SOURCE, IN A LONG AND VERY DETAILED SECTION MEANT FOR CASINO PLAY) INVOLVING HIGH-KONG-LOJACKING, PASSED ROUNDS, FROZEN GAMES, RESETTING GAMES FOR PAY AND FUN, AND VOTING ON HOW TO CONTINUE: Another rule that is recommended for casino play is that any cards that are potentially involved in the high kong (namely the noodles and the high pair) should not be allowed to be put to the source, since players could potentially work together to get all the necessary cards for a high kong into one player's hand, spoiling the jackpot (referred to as high-kong-jacking). For this purpose, in casino play any time a card matching rank with either high note is put to the source, the card should be pulled completely out of the game by the dealer and a replacement should be dealt to the source immediately (as an aside, this replacement card should not be treated as "put" in cases where short-connect is the rule). This rule, requiring the dealer pulls high-note-rank-matching cards which are put to the source by any player from the game immediately and replacing them with a card from stock, is known as "high-kong-lojacking". Players can learn to use this rule to their advantage, if they are holding half of a high pair that they can't make useful, and they'd like to see what the stock would have to offer if that card were pulled from the game and replaced. Note that this highly necessary casino rule may result in a game that can't be finished because the cards still in players' hands and in the source don't allow a fourth kong to be formed (termed a "frozen game"). In the highly unlikely event that this happens, the dealer may be tipped off to it by consecutive rounds of passing. Any time players are passing entire rounds, the game isn't progressing and something illogical is holding the players up (the players are "passing rounds"). Even though it's good strategy to pass on certain occasions, if all players are passing then it's highly probable that what the player is hoping to accomplish is not going to happen, especially after the halfway point (fifth kong made that game). The dealer should choose whether to entertain a single round of passing in good fun and to get them after the second passed round, or to nip it in the bud right away, depending on atmosphere and attitude. The dealer should stop play during the turn of the player who passed first during all the consecutive passes, and not on any other player's turn (it's the only fair way), and should not allow more than two rounds to be passed consecutively, or for two consecutive rounds of passing to be allowed more than once per game. What happens next is up to the house. In the case of an actual game-freeze (and not just deep statistical strategy between powerful minds), considering that players would have had to have been playing particularly low-scoring games and are already at the point where the next kong made is going to be that player's fourth, the house would best declare the game over and give each player back one chip of kitty per point of score in all of that player's kongs and keep the rest for the house (including the jackpot). However, the house may also offer players the opportunity to keep the game going by taking all hands (taking note of how many cards were in each hand) and the source, dealing out a source of four cards, shuffling the remainder together with any cards which had been pulled from the game, and then dealing back to players how many cards they were holding -- a process known as "resetting the game". If the house is also charging additional kitty for restocking (which is recommended), a similar requirement should be made of upping the kitty by the same amount upon resetting a game. To be completely honest, personally, I'd say that if the casino is going to offer this option of resetting a game then it should be offered any time the players have caused a single passed round (with the moderate exception), considering it does cost them some additional kitty (which they can't possibly win back) and because they obviously are having trouble with things as they are, and if players refuse, then the house can force an end on any occuring passed round thereafter (this way, the players get their jolly passed rounds -- as many as they can pay for -- and then face the consequences). But if the house would like to leave the decision of whether to end the game on a passed round (where each player gets back one chip per point of kongs they've made), or to reset the game on a passed round (and pay the additional kitty), up to the players themselves, then this should be determined by a simple vocalised vote between the troika (either "end" or "reset"), with the player who started the consecutive passing (the player whose turn it is when the dealer halts play) stating their decision first, then the next player, then the next.

ROUGH ILLUSTRATION OF LAYOUT:

....................
.........HN.........
...K1....K2....K3...
..(K1)..(K2)..(K3)..
....................
.....S..S..S..S.....
....................
......Dr....Ds......
P1       P2       P3

Key:

EXAMPLE GAME:

1st Round (Players A, B, C)

Round-2: Source 4S, 2C, 5S, 6S;

Hands: A 8C, 5C, 5H; B QC, 8S, 7C; C QH, JC, JH

Round-3: Source JC, JD, QD, AD

Hands: A null; B 10S, 10C, 9H, 9C; C 2C, 6C, 7C

Round-4: Source QD, AD, 2C, 6C

Hands: A AC, 3D, 9S; B 10C, 9H, 9C; C 10H, JC, JH

Round-5: Source 6D, 9D, 3C, 4C

Hands: A AC, 2C, 6C; B 9C, 10C, KC; C 10H, 9H, 2H

End of Game:

Kongs (point values):

Total points: 22

Bets-breakdown:

* Player-A paid-in 8 chips and 1 token and left the game with 22 chips and 2 tokens.

*House: keeps 2 chips & 1 jackpot token. No HIGH-KONGS, so jackpot is standing +1.

This is a best-case scenario for the player who goes first -- Player-A ended up with a nearly maximum score and both the glory and 1st-place jackpot rewards, all in 5 rounds. However, in a series of many games in a row, examples from every other extreme have been recorded, including: very low-scoring games, even several points lower than the pay-in; games where one player, sometimes the first player to go in the first round, had zero points; games with fairly even distribution of points, no glory, and no 1st-place jackpot reward; and others. And yet, I have not yet seen a single game, whether under controlled rules (where cards that match ranks with the high-notes are immediately pulled from the source by the dealer upon appearing) or normally competitive play (not including scenarios where players are working together to get the highest-scoring cards into a single player's hand) where anyone has played the High Kong (two noodles and a high pair at once). So across several dozens of games, a hypothetical table so far has a standing jackpot of around fifty tokens; as games typically take fifteen minutes to a half hour to play, in a twelve-hour day you could probably expect a jackpot to increase by about fifty tokens, but I haven't done the actual odds.

RULES FOR TWO: Instead of playing to four kongs, you play to six.

"Kong-Pie" by Gabriel Arthur Petrie (*with scoring and betting scheme invented by David Flatt) copyright © 2006, 2008, all rights reserved (with permission to John McLeod to revise, reprint and reproduce with original copyright intact).


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Last updated 6th May 2008