Tong Its

This page draws on information collected by Dave Holdsworth and Adva Dar.

Introduction

Tong-its is a three-player knock rummy game that has become popular in the northern Philippines in recent years. Both the name and the structure of the game suggest a relationship to the American game Tonk. Tong-Its appeared in the late 20th century and seems to be an extended version of Tonk, played with 12 card hands.

Players and Cards

Tong-Its is a game for three players only, using one standard Anglo-American deck of 52 cards (without jokers). The cards in each suit rank: Ace 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Jack Queen King. An Ace is worth 1 point, Jacks, Queens and Kings are worth 10 points each, and all other cards count their face value.

Objective; Melds

The object of the game is, by drawing and discarding, to form sets and runs, and to to minimize the count of unmatched cards remaining in your hand.

A run consists of three or more consecutive cards of the same suit, such as heart4, heart5, heart6 or spade8, spade9, spade10, spadeJ. (A-K-Q of a suit is not a run since aces are low in this game).

A set consists of three or four cards of the same rank, such as heart7, club7, diamond7. A card can belong to only one combination at a time - you cannot use the same card as part of both a set and a run.

The Deal

The first dealer is chosen randomly. Thereafter the dealer is the winner of the previous hand. The cards are dealt one at a time counterclockwise, starting with the dealer: thirteen cards to the dealer and twelve cards to each of the other players. The remainder of the deck is placed face down to form the stock.

The Play

The dealer starts the play. The dealer may optionally expose one or more sets or runs face up on the table, thereby opening his or her hand, and must then discard one card face up to the centre of the table to start the discard pile. Discarding a card completes the dealer's turn and it is the turn of the next player, the player to the right. Play is counterclockwise.

Each turn consists of the following:

  1. Draw. You must begin by taking one card from either the top of the stock or the top card on the discard pile, and adding it to your hand. You may only take a card from the discard pile if you are able to create a meld (a set or run) with it, and you are then obliged to expose the meld.
  2. Exposing Melds. If you have a valid meld or melds (sets or runs) in your hand you can expose any of them on the table in front of you. Melding is optional if a card was taken from the stock; you are not obliged to expose a meld just because you can, and note that melds held in hand do not count against you at the end of the play. A player must lay at least one meld on the table for the hand to be considered opened. In the special case that you can meld a set of four and you have not drawn from the discard pile to complete the meld, you can lay the set of four down face down. By doing this you can "open" your hand without losing the bonus payments for a secret set of 4 and without revealing the cards to the other players.
  3. Laying off. (sapaw) This is also optional. If you wish, you may add cards to sets or runs previously melded by yourself or others. There is no limit to the number of cards a player may lay off in one turn. A player need not have opened their hand to lay off. Laying a card off on another player's exposed meld prevents that player from calling Draw on his or her next turn.
  4. Discard. At the end of your turn, one card must be discarded from your hand and placed on top of the discard pile face up.

Note: you cannot take the top card of the discard pile in order to lay it off on a meld - the discard can only be used to form a set or run along with at least two cards from your hand.

End of the Play

The play continues as above until one of three things happens:

  • The stock is exhausted. If the stock pile runs out the game is over when the turn of the player who drew the last card is completed. At this point any player who has not opened by placing at least one meld on the table automatically loses. The players who have opened count the point total of the unmelded cards in their hands. The player with the lowest point total wins. In the case of a tie for least points, the player that picks up the last card wins if he is involved in the tie. In the case of a tie between the other two players, both having a lower score than the player who took the last card, the winner is the player whose turn would have been next - the player to the right of the one who took the last card.
  • A player calls Tongit. If you are able use all your cards in combinations or by laying them off on melds that are on the table, you may call Tongit during or at the end of your turn. You may end this turn with a discard, or you may keep all your cards without discarding, if all the remaining cards in your hand form valid sets and runs.
  • A player calls Draw. A player who has opened, and believes that both the other players have a higher point total or will fold, can call Draw at the start of his or her turn (before picking up a card). You cannot call Draw if someone laid off on any of your melds since your previous turn, or if you laid off on your own melds in your previous turn. In either case, you must wait until your next turn before you are able to call Draw.

If a player calls draw, the other players in turn can either fold or challenge the draw. If the other players both fold the player that called draw wins. If there are any challenges, the players compare cards and the player with the lowest point total wins. In the case of point ties the challenger wins all ties against the player calling draw. For ties between two challengers, the player to the right of the player calling draw wins. A player must have opened his or her hand in order to challenge a draw. If a player has opened and calls draw and no others have opened, the player automatically wins since no one can challenge the draw.

A player who has not opened when the play ends is considered burned (sunog). A burned player has to pay the winning player an extra penalty.

Scoring

After each individual game, the winner receives from each loser:

  • 1 chip for winning
  • 1 chip for each ace the winner is holding in hand or has in her own exposed melds. (Aces that are laid off on other players' melds do not count - neither those that the winner has laid off on other players nor those that they have laid off on the winner. Also, aces held by players other than the winner or placed in their melds have no effect on payment.)
  • 1 chip penalty for being burned
  • 3 chips for each secret set of 4 equal cards belonging to the winner - that is each 4-card set that is face down on the table or concealed in the winner's hand.
  • 3 chips instead of 1 for winning by Tongit
  • 3 chips for winning a Draw after a challenge

Additionally players create a side pot to which they add 2 chips before each deal. In order to win this pot a player must win two games in a row.

Variations

Some play with more special hands that earn extra chips - for example 3 chips for any 5 card or longer run that the winner has.

Some play with a payment of only 2 chips instead of 3 for secret sets of 4, Tongit and winning a challenge after a Draw.

Other web sites and software

From www.tongits.net you can download a program (Windows or Mac) with which you can play Tong-Its against the computer.