Duplicate Tichu

At the Gathering of Friends 2007, I ran a duplicate Tichu tournament. It seemed to go pretty well, so here is mostly enough information for someone else to do it.


Tichu cards are about 1/4" wider than bridge cards, so normal duplicate boards won't fit them. If you are willing to play with Tichu decks made by marking up jokers, then you can use normal boards. If you don't have them, they are available at Baron-Barclay bridge supplies. If you buy boards, get a carrying case for them as well.

I chose, instead, to make my own. I built them out of card stock and staples. Here's a template. Print this onto card stock. Stack one such template with another piece of stock and cut them down the center line. Staple along the lines drawn and near the edges on each side at each end. Number each board. You'll need between 16 and 24 boards. They seem a bit fragile; I made two extras just in case, but none broke. The results look like this.

Silent Tichu Calls

Since other players will be near you and will play the same hands, we need to call Tichu silently. To achieve this, give each player a small card with "Tichu" on one side. To call Tichu, the player simply turns the card up to the printed side. This card will have another use as we shall see.

Private Score

Each player will want a private score to record his score and such. In particular, players must record their exact passes (suit included). I think it'd be helpful also to record one's received passes, but I didn't leave room for that. Next time I'll also make the private score larger. The one I have now is in PostScript. I put in on a half page of paper so that the fold will prevent see-through.

Playing the hands

At the beginning of each hand, the players ought to count their cards. Since passes are going to be reversed, fouled boards are likely. If a player doesn't have 14 cards, he can call the director and get the hand fixed.

We didn't use Grand Tichu. I think this is a good idea; the winners of a duplicate will typically be those who were lucky enough to encounter folks who thought they were desperate and had to call Grand Tichu in the late rounds to have a chance to win. Of course, most of these will fail, and those who get the benefit of this will probably end up winning.

If one really wants to include Grand Tichu, one can print out the first eight cards in each hand and include that on a paper slip in the board pocket with the cards. I chose not to do that.

The pass is laid out normally. Players write down the pass on their hand records before the pass is completed. At the end of the hand, they retrieve the cards so passed. This got confused a few times, usually because a player either didn't write down his pass, or wrote the wrong cards. To fix this, I printed large hand records and came by to help un-mess up the hands. I think an improvement is to attach these records to the boards with a rubber band, so that the players can do this themselves.

In order to play the hands out without mucking the cards, players play cards to tricks face up in front of them instead of into the middle of the table. When a trick is won, they place the cards face down on one of the four sides of their "Tichu" card, corresponding to who won the trick. At scoring time, each player combines his piles into their score and the opponenents' score and announces who gets how many points. This takes surprisingly little time and goes very smoothly.

After the pass has been restored, each player puts his hand back in the appropriate slot in the board.

Scoring the Hands

I had the players write the results on standard bridge pick-up slips and came by at the end of each round to retrieve them. In the final round, each board was scored on an individual slip; prior to that, a full round was on one slip.

Scoring the Game

I assigned to each pair the difference between their score and their opponents' on each board. This provides incentive to beat Tichu calls.

Once all the results on a board were available, I subtracted the median score obtained on the board among all the players who sat in the same direction. A standard ACBL recap sheet worked well for doing this calculation; a 4-1/2 table game was scored within two or three minutes of the last boards' being finished. A computer program would make this faster. It's not clear to me that the median is the right statistic; it is likely that it doesn't fully remove the benefit of getting good hands. It clearly does, however, to some degree.

Scoring was total points; matchpoints would, I think, put too much emphasis on taking 5s, 10s, and kings in the play.


Movements for duplicate bridge have been worked out for pretty much any number of pairs; these can be used for Tichu. Guide cards for those movements are available either for free on my web site, or printed on good quality stock at Baron-Barclay. I'd get envelopes for them if you are going to do this a lot. If you use the ones I supply, cheap sheet protectors are handy to protect them.

Each board appears to take about 10 minutes. So a 20-board game will take about three and a half to four hours. Don't panic that the first few rounds will take longer than expected; the players need some time to learn the procedure. The movements I chose for various size games are

per Round
in Play
8Skip Mitchell732421
10Skip Mitchell922018
12Skip Mitchell1122422

Table cards for Mitchell and Skip Mitchell movements are just paper with the table number on them and a compass.

If you are not familiar with movements, Duplicate Bridge Direction by Alex Groner is a good resource. But the movements above are pretty simple. "Boards in Play" means the total number of boards you'll need available; "Boards Played" means the number of boards each pair will play—that'll determine the length of the game.

A Howell movement pretty much requires the table cards referenced above. The table cards tell each pair where to go for the next round. The director should move the boards; the pattern is pretty simple, and the table cards list the boards which should be there. In a Howell movement, all pairs play all other pairs.

In a Mitchell movement, pairs start either East/West or North/South and stay that direction for the rest of the session. After each round, E/W pairs move up one table, and boards move down one table. In a Mitchell movement, each pair plays roughly half of the others. Players can move the boards in a Mitchell.

A Skip Mitchell is the same, except that players (not boards!) skip one table halfway through the game. So in an 8-table Skip Mitchell, E/W will skip after round 4.

Hand Records

Duplicate can be played without hand records, but it's fun to have them, and in Tichu, they are pretty helpful to restore passes which went awry. If you don't use them, just have the players shuffle and deal for the first round, then let the boards maintain the hands thereafter. It might be helpful to have the players write down the hands after they make them.

In order to play with hand records, the director must generate a set in advance and make the boards. If you are going to be the person who makes them boards, have someone (or a group) sort all the decks beforehand so that you only have to set the hands. With some practice, setting the hands can be done in 15-20 minutes.

Alternatively, if one plays a Mitchell movement, one can have the players make the boards the first round. The director places the hand records for just the boards on the table, the players make the boards, the director collects the hand records, and the players skip the first round.

I wrote a set of C programs to create hand records for Tichu. One produces the hands in one long column, so to print them for the players, I have another to format them into easily printed-pages. 24 hands fit easily on two sides of one page. Another prints them into big postscript files so that they are easily made by the director. See the above link for more details.

In case anyone is interested, here's the set of hands used at the Gathering 2007:

The mapping between Tichu suits and bridge suits (which I used because I was planning to use jokers and bridge decks) is Spades = Black, Hearts = Green, Diamonds = Red, and Clubs = Blue. The special cards are D = Dragon, P = Phoenix, 1 = Mah Jongg/Wish, d = dog.

It was handy to write the board number on the individual hand records in the upper left corner. If I ever do this again, the software will do it.

Believe it or not, in our event, at one table the West hand on Board 8 called and made Tichu.

Jeff Goldsmith, 2007