The game of Tongits is to Filipinos as Poker is to Americans. It is a well-loved Filipino pastime, particularly as it involves family and friends gathering, competition and money. It is a combination of Poker, Mah Jong, Pusoy Dos, Pusoy, and Gin Rummy. It takes skill, strategy and cunning, as it is a game of chance and luck. If you speak to avid Tongits players, they will tell you that the game is very addicting. Often when Filipinos gather for parties or social events, they play for hours and sometimes even days. It is a very competitive game and avid players can’t get enough of the game.
Tongits is usually played for money, with a stake agreed on before the game starts. Each player pays the stake to the winner of the hand. Games typically involve three players. Stakes may be any amount, on the order of 1-3-5 Pesos, which is a standard amount, or even up to 10-30-50 Pesos which is considered as high stakes. Each amount is designated for a specific win or bonus that includes how much a winner gets when they:
- Win by Tongits
- Win by Deck Runs Out
- Win by DRAW/FIGHT
- Win by DRAW/FIGHT without a MELD
- Win by DRAW/FIGHT and FOLD
- Win and have a Secret
- Win and have an Escalera
- Win and have an Ace
The players take turns dealing and the HITTER usually deals and gets 13 cards while the other two players get 12 cards. To become a HITTER, a player must win one game. The next win that a HITTER gets means he gets the amount in the Table Pot. In essence, a HITTER must win two in a row in order to get the Table Pot. This is always an advantage to the HITTER because he or she is always first to act and gets an extra card.
A standard 52 card deck is used. Each card has a point value: Ace through ten have their face value, aces having a value of one point, deuces a value of two points, and so on. The Jack, Queen, and King are each worth ten points.
The objective of the game is to empty your hand of all cards or minimize the count and the scores of unmatched cards that are still on the player’s hand by forming card sets (melds, also called a “Bahay”(pronounced Ba-Hi)), dumping cards and calling a draw. The player who gets rid of all the cards or has the least number of total points at the end of the game (when the central stack is empty) wins the game.
Each player is dealt 12 cards while the dealer gets 13 and the rest of the cards are left as a central stack. The game begins when the dealer dumps a card. The next person can either pick up the disposed card or get one from the central stack. Collect hand combinations and dump unnecessary cards. The picking and discarding of cards goes on until someone wins by Tong-its, calls a draw or until the central stack runs out of cards. If this happens, the players tally the points of the cards they have at hand and the one with the lowest wins. In case of a draw the last person to take a card from the central deck wins.