Telefunken

This page is based partly on information contributed by: Cindy Basaure, Lee Beiermann, Laura Noritz de Carrera, Maria Luisa Hernandez Ron, T.D.Mullikin, Bill Smead, George Wittig.

Introduction

Telefunken is a contract rummy game played in certain South American countries, especially in Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and also to some extent in Colombia. I'm told that it owes its German name to the fact that it was brought to South America around the time of World War II, at which time many German Jews and Nazis fled to South America. In German funken means "to broadcast", and Telefunken was the name of a German radio and television company. There is no obvious connection to broadcasting, but perhaps the people who brought this game to South America had some connection with the firm Telefunken. As far as I know, Telefunken is not played in Germany nowadays, though other forms of contract rummy are known there.

On this page I first describe the version of Telefunken that is played in Venezuela. In the variations section there are some details of the different versions played in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia, and a North American variation known as "Farmer's Rummy".

Players, Cards and Objective

Telefunken is normally played by four people, using a double pack of cards with four jokers - 108 cards in all. A supply of chips or tokens, 7 per player, is also needed.

As in all rummy games, the object is, by drawing and discarding, to collect sets of equal ranked cards and runs of consecutive cards of a suit, which can then be melded (laid down). Since it is a contract rummy game, your first meld in each deal must consist of specific combinations (the contract). After that you can get rid of further cards by adding them to your own or other players' combinations or even (in this game) meld fresh combinations with the ultimate aim of getting rid of all your cards. The other players then score penalty points for any cards left in their hands.

Melds and Contracts

There are two types of combination that can be melded:

  1. A set of three or more cards of the same rank. A set of 3 equal cards is known as a trío, a set of 4 equal cards is a cuarteto, and a set of 5 equal cards is a quinteto.
  2. A run of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit, known as a sequidilla. In a run, an ace can be high (...-Q-K-A) or low (A-2-3-...) but cannot be used in the middle of a run (K-A-2 is not valid).

A joker may be used as a substitute for any card, but not more than one joker can be used in any set or run.

A game of Telefunken consists of seven deals, and the contract for each deal is as follows:

  • Deal 1: one set of equal 3 cards (trío), which must be pure (limpio) - no joker can be used and the cards must be of three different suits.
  • Deal 2: two sets of 3 (2 tríos)
  • Deal 3: one set of 4 (cuarteto)
  • Deal 4: two sets of 4 (2 cuartetos)
  • Deal 5: one set of 5 (quinteto)
  • Deal 6: two sets of 5 (2 quintetos) - all players discard before the play begins
  • Deal 7: one set of 3 (trío) and one run (seguidilla) of 7 or more cards and the player must go out on that turn.

Note: It is only in the first deal that the set of 3 required for the contract must be pure. In later deals, identical cards and a joker can be used to complete a set.

Deal

Before the first deal, each player is given seven chips, which are used to "buy" cards.

Deal and play are counterclockwise. The first dealer is chosen at random and the turn to deal passes to the right after each hand. The dealer shuffles and places the cards face down on the table. The player to his left cuts by lifting a block of cards from the top of the pack: for clarity I will call these cards the top portion of the pack, and the block left behind on the table the bottom portion. The cutter looks at the bottom three cards of the top portion, and if any of these are jokers, he takes them, shows them and keeps them as part of his hand. He then places the remainder of the top portion of the pack face down on the table alongside the bottom portion.

The dealer takes the bottom portion of the pack and deals from it one card at a time around the table until each player has 11 cards. (If the player to dealer's left has taken any jokers, this player must be given correspondingly fewer cards in the deal.) The dealer then turns the next card face up and puts it on the table to start the discard pile.

If the dealer is able to complete the deal and turn up a card without exhausting the bottom portion of the pack, and has some cards left over, these remaining cards are place face down on top of the top portion. The stack thus formed is the drawing stock, from which players will draw cards during the game. If the dealer runs out of cards in the bottom portion, he picks up the top portion and continues the deal using that, and whatever remains is returned to the table face down alongside the face up card. If the player to dealer's left managed to leave a bottom portion containing the exact number of cards required for the deal (45 for four players if no jokers were taken by the cutter), the cutter is rewarded with an extra chip (which can be used later to buy a card from the discard pile - see below).

Discard before play

In deal 6, when the deal is complete, everyone may discard any number of cards from their hands face down. The dealer gathers these discards together, shuffles them, and deals them out to the players, giving each player as many cards as he discarded.

Play

The player to dealer's right begins, and play continues counterclockwise around the table. A normal turn consists of

  1. drawing a card from the face down stock;
  2. optionally melding some cards by placing them face up in front of you (or adding cards to your own or other players' melds);
  3. discarding one card face up on top of the discard pile.

Drawing

In the first turn of the deal only, the player to dealer's right is allowed to take the face up card turned up by the dealer instead of drawing from the stock, without paying a chip and without taking any extra cards.

For the remainder of the hand, every player's turn begins by drawing the top card of the stock. A player who wishes to take the top card of the discard pile has to "buy" this card, which costs one chip and one extra card drawn from the stock - see "buying" below.

Melding

After drawing, you may meld sets and sequences from your hand, playing them face up on the table.

If you have not previously melded, then on the first turn on which you meld, you must put the exact cards required by the contract for the current deal. At the same time you may if you wish put down additional sets of three or more equal ranked cards, and you may put down runs of three or more consecutive cards in a suit. You may also extend sets and runs put down by other players, by adding cards to them. However, you cannot extend the sets that are part of your contract until your next turn.

If you have already melded in a previous turn:

  • You may extend your own or other players' sets and runs.
  • You may also put down additional sets of three or more equal cards or runs of three or more consecutive cards of a suit.
  • You may take a joker from a set melded by yourself or another player if you add in its place two cards from your hand of the same rank as the rest of the set.
  • You may not take a joker from a run, but if a joker is at one end of a run, and you have the card that it represents, you may replace the joker by the real card and move the joker to either end of the extended run. For example, if there is a run of joker-diamond6-diamond7 on the table and you have the diamond5 and the diamond9, you can replace the joker by the diamond5, move the joker to represent the diamond8 and add the diamond9 from your hand. The joker is no longer at the end of the run, so cannot be moved again, even by a player who holds the diamond8.

Note on deal 1: The pure trio required for the first deal contract is distinguished from other combinations that may be laid down by placing one card of the pure trio crosswise. This trio can be extended to four cards by adding an equal card of the fourth suit. It is then complete and cannot be added to.

Discarding

To end your turn, you discard one card from your hand face up on top of the discard pile.

Buying Cards

Any player who has not yet melded in the current deal can buy the card discarded at the end of a player's turn. If two or more players want to buy the same discard, the player to the right of the discarder, whose turn is next, has highest priority, then the following player, and so on counter-clockwise round the table.

Buying a card costs one chip. You take the discard and draw one card from the top of the stock, adding both cards to your hand. Then the player whose turn it was to play draws as usual. If you buy the discard when it is your turn to play, you draw two cards from the stock - one for buying the discard and another to begin your ordinary turn.

After you have melded, you are no longer allowed to buy cards from the discard pile.

Tip: You only have seven chips for the whole game. Once you have used them all you can no longer buy. It is wise to save several of these chips for deal seven, which is the most difficult.

End of play

Play continues until one of the players "goes out" by emptying his hand. This can be done either by melding all one's cards, or by melding all except one card and discarding the final card. At the point the play stops and the hand is scored.

It may sometimes happen that the stock pile is exhausted before the play ends. In this case the discard pile is turned face down and shuffled to form a new stock, and play continues.

Note on deal 7: In this deal, you are not allowed to lay down any cards until you are able to go out in the same turn. You need to lay down one set of exactly three cards, one run of seven cards or more, plus as many extra sets and/or runs as are needed to use all your cards, or all but one, which you discard. It follows that in this deal, only one player will be able to lay down cards, and no laying off is possible.

Scoring

A cumulative score in penalty points is kept for each player. At the end of each deal, each of the players score the value of the cards remaining in their hands, according to the following schedule.

    2 - 9 . . . face value
    10 - K . . . 10 points
    Ace . . . 11 points
    Joker . . . 15 points

The player who went out, having no cards, scores zero for the deal.

The winner of each of the seven deals wins a small stake, and the player who has the lowest cumulative score at the end of the 7th deal wins a larger stake.

Variations

There are many local variations of this game. For example:

The number of chips given to each player at the start can be varied. Some give 12 or 13 chips to each player.

Some reward a player who cuts the exact number of cards required for the deal by deducting a number of points (25 or 50) from his score, rather than by giving him an extra chip.

Some play without the "discard" at the start of the 6th deal.

On the other hand, some play that there is a discard at the start of the fourth deal, and two discards at the start of the 6th deal: everyone can discard any number of cards; the dealer shuffles these and distributes them to the players; then the players can discard a second time, as many cards as they like, and the dealer shuffles these and distributes them again so that everyone has 11 cards.

Telefunken in Ecuador

In Ecuador, a different sequence of contracts is normally used:

  1. 1 pure set of 3; no buying
  2. 2 sets of 3, one of them pure
  3. 1 set of 4
  4. 2 sets of 4
  5. 1 set of 5
  6. 1 set of 3 and 1 run of 4 (chueca)
  7. 1 run of 7 (escalera)

Each player starts with 12 chips for buying. A player buying a card must draw two cards from the stock - if you buy at the at the start of your own turn you must therefore take 3 cards from the stock altogether.

Only one joker can be used as part of the contract in deals 2, 4 and 7, and no jokers in deals 1, 3, 5 and 6. A joker can be taken in exchnage for the card it represents only if it is taken from the melds placed by another player to fulfil their contract and only if you immediately use it as part of your own contract.

Card values are as follows:

    2 - 9 . . . 5 points
    10 - K . . . 10 points
    Ace . . . 15 points
    Joker . . . 50 points

David Dawson describes a variation of this in which the contracts are not played in sequence, but the each dealer announces, having looked at his cards, which contract will be played that time. Each contract can only be played once, so the choice narrows as the game progresses.

Telefunken in Peru

Lee Beiermann describes a version of Telefunken from Peru. The contracts are:

  1. 2 sets of 3
  2. 1 set of 4
  3. 2 sets of 4
  4. 1 set of 5
  5. 2 sets of 5
  6. 1 set of 6

Instead of dealing a card face up to begin the discard pile, the dealer receives 12 cards in the deal and begins the play by discarding one of them.

To go out, a final discard is required. It is not legal to meld all your cards, leaving yourself with no discard, but it is OK to discard a card that could have been melded.

Each player starts with only 6 chips for buying. If you have unused chips left over at the end of the game, there is a bonus: you subtract 10 points from your score for each remaining chip.

Card values are as follows:

    3 - 9 . . . face value
    10 - K . . . 10 points
    Ace . . . 15 points
    Twos and Jokers . . . 20 points

There can be no wild cards in sets, only in runs. The number of wild cards in a run cannot exceed the number of natural cards in the run. If you have the natural card that a wild card represents, you may take the wild card in exchange for the natural card and reuse the wild card in you own new run, but it must be used immediately. This may be done at any time, including in the turn when you initially lay down your contract.

If the drawing stock runs out the discard pile is not reused. Instead, the play ends and everyone scores penalty points for the cards remaining in their hands.

When a set of equal ranked cards becomes large, the owner may, for convenience, store some cards of the set under the discard pile, keeping the minimum number of required cards to represent the set.

In runs, not only can the ace count as high or low, but can also be in the middle of a run, such as K-A-2.

George Wittig describes a variation of this using 3 decks (6 jokers) which can be played by 6 players. In this version, twos and jokers are wild and an unlimited number of wild cards can be used in a set. A melded wild card can be exchanged by the holder of just one natural card of the rank represented, if he has already laid down his contract.

Another report describes a similar game with the name Delifante (which is presumably a modification of the name Telefunken) for 2 - 6 players, using 1/2 a deck per player, but with 13 cards each dealt rather than 11. In this version aces cannot be used in runs. In an extended version called Super Deli the number of cards in the deck is doubled, 18 cards are dealt per player, each player has up to 10 buys, and there are 12 deals: after 1 to 6 as above the game continues with 2 sets of 6, 1 set of 7, 2 sets of 7, 1 set of 8, 2 sets of 8, 1 set of 9.

Telefunken in Bolivia

Cindy Basaure has described Bolivian Telefunken, which differs from the Venezuelan game as follows.

Four or five people use a double pack of cards with four jokers - 108 cards in all. If more than five playing, a third deck with two jokers is added, for a total of 162 cards. In Bolivia, rather than playing with actual chips, the scorekeeper keeps track of "buys" used during the game. The usual limit is 7 buys.

Although the game is traditionally played counter-clockwise, some groups now play clockwise.

A player who cuts either the exact number of cards for the deal, or enough for the deal plus the initial face up card (for example 44 or 45 cards with 4 players) is rewarded with an extra buy.

There is no special privilege for the first player to take the face up card without buying it: if the first player wants this card it costs one buy and an extra card must be taken from the stock, as at any other time.

In Bolivia a set of 3 equal cards is called a "trica", 4 of a kind is a "cuadra", 5 of a kind is a "quina" and 6 of a kind is a "sena". A run of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit is called an "escalera".

The contracts are:

  1. one pure set of equal 3 cards (trica limpia)
  2. two sets of 3
  3. one set of 4 (quadra)
  4. two sets of 4
  5. one set of 5 (quina)
  6. two sets of 5
  7. one run (escalera) of 7 or more cards, of which only one card can be a joker

Unlike the Venezuelan game, in Bolivia, there is no discard in deal 6 and in deal 7 there is no requirement that the player who lays down must go out at the same time, he/she can continue to hold cards and meld as opportunity arises.

When putting down a contract, you first show the cards needed for the contract, and can then in the same turn lay down additional combinations and add cards to any sets and runs on the table, including your own.

In the first deal, equal cards of any suit can be added to a trica limpia: the requirement that the suits be different applies only to the first three cards.

When a large number of people play - say six or more - there is a rule that no one can meld at their first turn to play. Players must wait until everyone has had an opportunity to draw at least once.

You may never take a joker from any of your own melds. When taking a joker from another player's set, most require only one matching card to be substituted, though some play that two cards are required as in Venezuela.

In Bolivia, buying is allowed even after a player has melded, though buying after you have melded is considered foolish. If more than one person is wants to buy the card, the one who shouts "Compro!" (I buy) first gets it. If there is any dispute about who was first, the card goes to the person whose turn comes sooner - the person nearest to the right of the discarder if playing counter-clockwise. Players are chided and risk getting their hands slapped if they draw too fast on their turn, and don't give the rest of the players time to see what was discarded, in case they want to buy it (it is too late to buy once the next player has drawn).

When scoring, aces and jokers have a higher value than in Venezuela. Aces count 15 points and jokers count 30. Some play that if the same player wins two hands in a row, the other players' points are doubled for the second hand. For the third win in a row the points are tripled, and so on.

Variant: Carla and Fernanda Basaure have developed a variant called Telefunken Desordenada ("disorganised" Telefunken).

Farmers' Rummy

T.D.Mullikin sent a description of this American game, which is strikingly similar to Telefunken, but with a few notable differences. Two decks are used for 4 players, 3 for 5 players and 4 for 6-8 players. Two jokers are included with each deck. 11 cards are dealt to each player. The contracts are as follows:

  1. 1 set of 3 - no wild cards
  2. 2 sets of 3
  3. 1 set of 4
  4. 2 sets of 4
  5. 1 set of 5
  6. 2 sets of 5
  7. 1 set of 6
  8. 2 sets of 6

No runs can be played. After you have put down your contract, card may be added to your own or other players' sets.

Twos and jokers are wild. Wild cards can be used in all sets except the first set of 3 on deal 1, but natural cards must always outnumber wild cards in each set. Wild cards cannot be added to a set that is already on the table - neither your own nor an opponent's. However, wild cards can be discarded.

Each player begins the game with 10 coins. Buying the discard out of turn costs one coin and you must draw two additional cards. When buying in turn you pay a coin and get the discard plus three cards (the third being the draw to start your turn).

A final discard is required when going out.

The cards values at the end of the play are:

  • Jokers: 50 points each
  • Each two: 20 points each
  • Cards from King down to Eight: 10 points each
  • Cards from Seven down to Three: 5 points each