"Anything to Declare?"
When should you declare Tichu? First, mentally group your cards into discrete, leadable combinations. How many are likely winners (Aces, Kings, Dragon, Phoenix, bombs, pair series, straights that are high or length six or more) and how many decidedly are not? If you can pass your partner the Dog or hold the Mah Jongg, count these as winners too. If you have as many winners as not, strongly consider declaring.
On the other hand, don't declare if you have only a so-so chance. In this case, try instead to share a good card with your partner to see if both of you can go out first for a 200-0 point win.
Timing. It's often best to declare at the last possible moment to catch the opposition unprepared. But consider calling it before the pass if you hold the Dog, Mah Jongg and/or 2's, or if your side is considerably behind and/or your hand is not that strong. In such cases an early call lets your partner know to pass the best card possible while the opponents can't really make things all that much worse.
Keep Your Eye on the Sparrow
If the opponents declare Grand Tichu and you are holding the Dog, pass it to the Declarer. This should help foul up the escape plan. If you're holding the Mah Jongg, see that it gets to the teammate immediately ahead of the Declarer. Then use it to request an Ace. This almost always works and even though it likely hands over the lead, this was bound to happen anyway. Meanwhile your team probably saved a King or two for a winner later in the hand.
If you don't hold the Mah Jongg, try to give the teammate immediately ahead of a Tichu declarer a very good card such as an Ace, Dragon or Phoenix. This player is the last line of defense before the declarer going out and is in the best position to prevent it if provided the proper ammunition.
If you have a bomb, give careful consideration of when to play it. It may be tempting to bring it right out to steal away the lead, but unless the rest of your cards form one long straight, you may end up just giving it right back again. Instead, keep in mind that many Tichu declarations are shaky and depend on ending with a strong combination followed by a weak one. Thus, if you can bomb what you suspect to be the second-to-last intended lead, you may just succeed in leaving the declarer unable to win it back.
Art of the Pass
Of course you will want to send low, unmatched cards to the opponents. It's a good idea to use conventions such as those proposed by Fuegi and Mellor. But also consider that give a choice of low cards, pass the ones that match the suit of others in your had. This helps to avoid creating bombs for the opponents. The exception is if you have four cards of a five-card bomb, in which case you may prefer to keep them.
When passing to the partner, try to give the best card you can reasonably spare. Aces are generally played alone as winners, so if you have two of them, it's a good idea to pass one. Remember, your partner may not even have anything as good as a King.
The current score should play a role too. If your team is behind and you're holding the Dragon or other good card in a mediocre hand, pass it in hopes of leveraging your partner to a Tichu declaration. If your partner's hand is also mediocre, you will get a similar card in return and no harm will have been done. On the other hand, if you think you have a possible Tichu, pass your partner a medium-sized card such as an 8 through Jack, or the Dog.
By the way, passing the Dragon can be handy for another reason. It's nearly unique status as the Ace killer means it is very handy for both partners to know it is in safe hands. Now both players can play their Aces and even Kings with more confidence.
Another consideration with the Phoenix relates to its wild card feature. A given hand either is or is not likely to have a straight. Since the Phoenix is so incredibly useful in forming or extending straights, if your hand has one, lean towards keeping it so that any cards your receive in the pass can also be incorporated into it. On the other hand, if you don't, maybe your partner has a straight and could make better use of it than you.
Pass your partner the Dog when you have either a very strong or a very weak hand. If strong, you may like to declare Tichu in which case it can help get you the lead should you lose it. If weak, getting rid of this card may help you to form some better combinations in your hand after the pass.
Finally, always remember which cards you have passed. Even if you don't hold the Mah Jongg, it's not that uncommon to have it passed, whether by friend or foe.
When You Wish Upon a Six
Usually it's not a good idea to make a wish when you lead the Mah Jongg as part of a straight. That sort of wish is hard to satisfy and the person who ends up fulfilling it might just be your partner, wasting one of his winners, or even yourself, spoiling your next lead. But when the sparrow is led alone, it's often best to wish for the card you just passed. Who knows how powerful a straight, full house, pair series or even bomb you might sabotage.
But say you passed the Dog or a low card which you know from the rest of your hand cannot be in anything serious. In this case, you may like to request a 5 or 6 as it's nearly impossible for anyone to have a lowish straight that does not include at least one of these cards. Choose the rank that you have already seen the most in the hand. Of course, sometimes this may boomerang and instead strike your partner, who is likely to calm down after you finish explaining what you were trying to do.
"The Play's the Thing"
It's not necessary to memorize all cards played, but tracking the ten most powerful ones: four Aces, four Kings and two specials (Dragon and Phoenix) can be extremely useful, especially in the late game when trying to figure out the likelihood of your King being a winner. It is also useful, but far less critical, to note which ranks have not appeared yet as it can indicate a hidden bomb.
In the early and middle game it's best to lead your worst cards. Admittedly it can feel ridiculous to follow a "blow away" power combination like a ten card straight with a lowly 2, but of course this card has to come out some time. You could continue leading with power, but it's perilous since a bomb can always disrupt the best of plans. When that happens, it's better to still have some power in reserve because the only situation more ridiculous than the above is to be stuck holding nothing but a loser like the Dog.
During the endgame – when only two players remain or everyone's hand is down to three cards or less – it's time to shift gears. Now you should strongly consider leading winners if you have any confidence in them. and just try to go out on a low note. This tends to work much better than allowing the opposition to get rid of their weak cards and possibly steal the lead to sneak out before you. If your partner is still in, it can even help keep the lead away from the opposition.
Try to be attentive to your partner's goals. You can't talk about them, but note the number of cards left and style of play. If your partner plays a strong combination, refrain from trumping it and save your winner for a time when the opposition is threatening to win the trick. If your partner plays a 5, it's probably okay to play a 6, even if Tichu has been declared, but if 7-7-8-8 has been led, try to hold back the 9-9-10-10 as the former is unlikely to be beaten. By the same token, if your partner seems bent on beating your winner, don't be dismayed. It may just be that the Dog will be the next play and you will have the lead right back again.
When the game nears its end, sometimes your partner has trouble leading to an opponent who holds only one card. The right way to lead to such a player is in combinations larger than one, but your partner may not have any such remaining. It is your job to try to detect this situation and take over leading longer combinations yourself.
If your partner is trying to complete a shaky Tichu declaration, but you have somehow gained the lead, of course it's wise to play the Dog. But if you don't have the Dog, often leading a 2 can be just as good. Or if your partner has just a pair of cards left, leading a low pair can be even better.
Tichu can be a tricky game, full of difficult decisions. Every play depends strongly on context. Almost all of the above suggestions should in certain situations be completely ignored, but in providing a default framework, this page hopes to help you improve at least a little your Tichu tactics. See you at the Tichu table – who's dealing?
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