Mitch

This game is named after Mitch Gunzler, who invented it at the UCLA Computer Science department around 1983. The version described on this page, which is based on contributions from Mark Banilower and Patrick Phair, is close to the original as played in the 1980's. A later variation Revolution is described by the inventor on a separate page

Players and cards

"Mitch" uses a standard 52 card deck and is best for about 3 to 5 players, though it is possible (but less interesting) for two to play.

Cards are ranked with King the highest and Deuce the lowest. Suits (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds, Clubs) are relevant, but there is no relative ranking of the suits. Aces are used as markers in the deck, to make the game length variable.

The tableaux

The general idea is to win suits, by having more cards in that suit in your "tableau" when the play ends than the other players have in theirs. A player's tableau consists of up to four columns of cards. Each column contains cards of a single suit, arranged in descending order from top to bottom. You cannot have more than one column of the same suit - the suit of each column is different. Your tableau starts empty and you add cards to it during the game; cards once placed in a tableau cannot be removed. Cards in suits that you already have in your tableau may only be added to the bottom of the column for that suit - so you can only add a card of a suit that you already have if it is lower in rank than the lowest card in your column for that suit. You can place any card of a suit that you don't yet have in your tableau, to start a new column. Since you want to fit as many cards into each column as possible, you would ideally like to start each column with a high card, to leave the maximum amount of room.

To start

Each player is dealt 5 cards, with the remaining cards placed face down as a stock in the middle of the table. Beside the stock pile, a face-up discard pile will be formed from the cards discarded by the players. Any Aces held by the players are immediately discarded and new cards are drawn until each player again has 5 cards. Ace discards are displayed separately from the central discard pile, so that all can see how many Aces have appeared.

The play

The play of cards is divided into two phases, before the third Ace is drawn and after the third Ace is drawn. Note that if three or four Aces are uncovered in the starting procedures, then there is no first phase and the second phase starts immediately.

Play starts at the left of the dealer and continues clockwise.

In the first phase, each player's turn starts by the player drawing the top card from the face-down stock. If it is an Ace, it must immediately be discarded and a new card drawn from the stock to replenish the hand, and the player's turn continues.

Whether or not an Ace was drawn, the player must either

  1. discard one of the six cards in his hand face-up, on top of the central discard pile, or
  2. place one of his six cards into his own tableau.

Once the third Ace is drawn, the second phase commences with the player who drew the third Ace. This player discards the Ace and does not replenish his hand. Play continues in the same way as in the first phase, except that no cards are drawn from the stock. At each turn, you must either discard a card or place a card in your tableau. This continues until players have no cards remaining.

Winning suits

For each of the four suits, decide which player has "won" that suit. This is the player with the longest (decreasing) sequence in that suit in his tableau. Ties are broken by the largest smallest card in that suit. For instance, if one player has a 5-long sequence of clubs ending with the Three and another player has a 5-long sequence ending with the Deuce, the first player has won the clubs suit.

Scoring

This is an issue of much debate among Mitch players. You can read Mitch Gunzler's scoring method on the Revolution page. Mark Banilower's personal favorite scoring system is as follows.

  • For each suit won, a player adds 4 points.
  • For each card played in a suit which did not win, subtract 1 point.
  • In addition, there is a 10 point penalty for any player who had an opportunity to play a card in the first phase of play, but did not do so. In other words, if you have had (at least one) chance to play into the tableau before the third Ace appears, but have not done so (because you always discarded instead), the penalty applies.

Variants

The above description is the version of the rules that Mark Banilower recommends.

Below are some variations that have been tried, with vaying degrees of success.

  1. The players can choose to pick a card from the deck or off the top of the discard pile. (MB says that this is not very interesting.)
  2. Same as 1., but if a player picks from the discard pile, he must place that card in his tableau immediately. (Much more interesting than #1. - MB)
  3. You can change the scoring system to encourage different types of play. (MB's personal experience leads him to believe the scoring above leads to the best play.) Mitch Gunzler suggests that the following variations are particularly worth trying:
    • In deciding who wins a suit, when players have equal numbers of cards, the player whose lowest card is lowest wins it.
    • The shortest winning suit, and in case of a tie the one with the lowest card scores double. (In case of a tie for lowest card in equal length suits, look at the next lowest and so on.)
    See the Revolution page for other possibilities.
  4. If there are a lot of players - 6 or more - you can introduce a second deck into the melee. This leads to some necessary tweaking of the rules, such as methods for breaking ties.
  5. You can change the number of cards a person can hold from five to any practical number. (MB has played the three-card version, and reports that it leads to some brutal decision making. Even the zero-card version might be playable, but this loses something, since much of the fun is trying to deduce what other players are holding, particularly in the second phase.)
  6. High/Low: The second card of a suit played on your tableau can be higher or lower than the first card. If lower, subsequent cards of the suit must be played in descending order as usual. If higher, subsequent plays of that suit must be in ascending order. In case of a tie for length, the winning suit is the one whose last card is further from the end point in the direction the suit is being played. If the distances are equal, the descending sequence beats the ascending sequence.