Tong-its: A Strategic Filipino Card Game of Skill and Strategy

tong its

Tong-its is a card game that became very popular in the Philippines during the 1990s, particularly in Luzon, the country’s largest island. Its exact origins are somewhat mysterious, but it’s believed to have been introduced during the 1940s, possibly by the US Military, and may have been adapted from the American card game Tonk from the 1930s.

The game uses a standard 52-card deck and is known for being entertaining, often played at gatherings among friends and family. Players can choose to play for small amounts of money or just for fun. Interestingly, Tong-its has also been played at some Filipino family events, like wakes, to bring a bit of light-heartedness to somber occasions. It has spread to various parts of the Philippines, including Pangasinan, where it’s known as Tung-it.

Objective of Tong-its: How to Win in This Popular Card Game

Objective of Tong-its How to Win in This Popular Card Game

The objective of Tong-its is to be the first player to get rid of all their cards or to have the fewest points in hand when the game ends. Players aim to form specific card combinations or patterns, similar to poker hands, to win rounds and reduce their overall card count or point total. The game typically continues for several rounds, and the player with the best strategy and card combinations wins the game.

How to Play Tong-its: A Step-by-Step Guide

How To Play Tongits Online

Players

  • Tong-its is typically played by 3 players.

Card Deck

  • Tong-its is played with a standard 52-card deck.

Card Values

  • Numbered cards (2 to 10) are worth their face value.
  • Kings, queens, and jacks carry a value of 10 points individually.
  • Aces are worth 1 point.

Dealing

  • The dealer shuffles the deck, and the player to their right cuts the deck.
  • The dealer then deals 12 cards to each player, one card at a time, in a clockwise direction.

Gameplay

  1. Players take turns in a clockwise direction.
  2. Each turn consists of drawing one card from the draw pile or the discard pile.
  3. After drawing, a player can choose to lay down a set of cards if they have one. A set can be either a group of three cards of the same rank (e.g., three 7s) or a run of three consecutive cards of the same suit (e.g., 4, 5, 6 of hearts).
  4. The player then discards one card to the discard pile.

Meld (Bahay)

In Tong-its, a “Meld” means collecting matching cards to win. You have the option to reveal or conceal it.To call or challenge a draw, you usually need to show at least one meld, unless you have a “Secret” or “Sagasa.”

There are different types of melds in Tong-its:

  1. Three-of-a-Kind: This meld consists of three cards of the same rank (e.g., 7♣ – 7♦ – 7♠).
  2. Four-of-a-Kind (Secret or Special): This meld comprises four cards of the same rank or number, and it can be either opened or held at the same time (e.g., J♣ – J♦ – J♠ – J♥).
  3. Sagasa: Sagasa is a special case of four-of-a-kind. It starts as a three-of-a-kind, and then the fourth card of the same rank/number is added by the same player when displayed, with the fourth card drawn from the deck.
  4. Straight Flush (Escalera): A straight flush consists of at least three sequential cards of the same suit (e.g., 3♠ – 4♠ – 5♠ or 8♦ – 9♦ – 10♦ – J♦ – Q♦). If it comprises four or more cards, it’s referred to as an “Escalera.”

Ending a Round

A round can end in two ways:

  1. Going Out: If a player successfully lays down all their cards, they “go out” and win the round.
  2. Declaring a Win: If a player believes they have the fewest points in their hand, they can declare a win. The other players then reveal their hands, and the player with the fewest points wins the round.

Scoring

  • Numbered cards are worth their face value.
  • Kings, queens, and jacks hold a value of 10 points each.
  • Aces are worth 1 point.
  • The player who goes out scores 0 points for that round.
  • Other players score points based on the values of the cards left in their hands.
  • The game is typically played over several rounds, and the player with the lowest total score at the end is the winner.

Penalties

  • If a player wrongly declares a win and is found to have more points than another player, they incur a penalty score.
  • The penalty score is the difference between their score and the player with the most points in that round.

Winning

  • The game can continue for a set number of rounds, and the player with the lowest total score at the end is the overall winner.

Concluding the Tong-its Game: Winning, Draws, and Closure

Concluding the Tong-its Game Winning, Draws, and Closure

“Tong-its” or Tongits

To win, a player must use all their cards by forming combinations, either by connecting to opponents’ sets or exposed cards (sapaw) or by getting rid of all their cards. This can be done by creating melds of at least three cards (like a three-of-a-kind or a straight flush). A sapaw is the fourth card of those three or a continuation of a straight flush.

Draw

If a player has at least one exposed meld and low points, they can call for a draw before their turn, but only if no one else connected to their exposed meld before them. Otherwise, they must wait for their next turn. Opponents with exposed melds can fold or challenge the draw. A draw can’t be called if an opponent melded (sapaw) the exposed hand within the round. Players with no exposed melds are folded automatically. The player with the lowest points wins after a draw, with the challenger winning if there’s a tie. In a three-way tie, the player who challenged the draw last wins.

Deck pile runs out

When the central stack of cards is empty, the game ends. Players with no exposed melds automatically lose. The player with the fewest overall points emerges as the victor. If there’s a tie for the fewest points, the player who picked up the last card from the deck wins. If the tied players didn’t pick the last card, the player to the right of the one who did wins.

Winning the Jackpot or “Two Hits” 

A player is considered “burned” if they can’t form a meld or set by the end of the game. This is also called “sunog” in Tagalog and “paksiw” in Visayan.

Spread 

If a player connects all cards by forming melds or sets at the beginning of the round, they automatically win, like a Two Hits jackpot.

Burned 

A player is considered “burned” if they can’t form a meld or set by the end of the game. This is also called “sunog” in Tagalog and “paksiw” in Visayan.

Effective Strategies for Winning at Tong-its

Effective Strategies for Winning at Tong-its

Here are some strategies for playing Tong-its:

  • Build Strong Melds: Collect matching cards to create strong melds. Three-of-a-kind and four-of-a-kind melds are valuable, so aim for them.
  • Keep Special Cards: Hang onto special cards like aces and face cards (kings, queens, jacks) as they can be useful in creating powerful melds.
  • Observe Opponents: Pay attention to what cards your opponents are picking or discarding. This can give you clues about their strategies.
  • Use the “Sapaw” Wisely: “Sapaw” is the fourth card of a three-of-a-kind meld or the continuation of a straight flush. Use it strategically to confuse your opponents.
  • Avoid Being “Burned”: Always try to expose at least one meld as the game progresses. Being “Burned” at the end can lead to a loss.
  • Timing is Key: Know when to call for a draw or challenge one. Timing can make a significant difference in the outcome.
  • Bluff When Necessary: If you have a strong hand, don’t reveal it too early. Bluffing can make opponents play cautiously.
  • Calculate Points: Keep track of your points and your opponents’ points. This can help you make informed decisions.
  • Winning the Jackpot: If you win two consecutive games, you can collect the jackpot. Consider this strategy if you’re on a winning streak.
  • Practice and Learn: Tong-its is a game of skill and strategy. The more you play, the better you’ll become at understanding its nuances and improving your strategies.

FAQs

Tong-its is a popular card game in the Philippines that uses a standard 52-card deck. It is known for its entertaining and competitive gameplay.

Yes, Tong-its is available as an online and mobile game, allowing players to enjoy it virtually.

Tong-its shares some similarities with card games like Rummy but has its own unique rules and strategies.

Yes, some people play Tong-its with betting or for real money, but it’s essential to play responsibly and within legal boundaries.

Conclusion

Tong-its, a beloved card game with enigmatic origins, holds a cherished place in the hearts of Filipino players spanning generations, seamlessly intertwining with social gatherings and cultural traditions. Its gameplay, focused on melding cards and minimizing scores, ignites excitement, fostering strategic thinking and friendly competition whether played casually among loved ones or pursued as a competitive pursuit. The game’s versatility, accommodating different player numbers and regional variations, ensures its enduring appeal. As Tong-its ventures into the digital realm, it bridges generational gaps, introducing new players to the game’s timeless fun and challenges, all while preserving its traditional charm, conveniently accessible through platforms like Jiliko and online casinos. Gather your cards and friends for a captivating Tong-its journey that transcends time and tradition.