Tichu Strategy: Going First

By Brian Durkin

Mah Jong
“Who has the Mah Jong?”
Anyone who plays Tichu can testify to hearing or asking the previous question. When you answer this statement by revealing the Mah Jong, what will you lead?
“You Can Lead Something Other Than the Mah Jong?”
Yes! Leading something other than the Mah Jong (or a straight including the Mah Jong) sometimes can benefit you later in the game. Usually a player will do this if he calls Tichu. A Tichu hand usually includes many plays that will give the player the lead, but sometimes a player can play a hand multiple ways depending on what he thinks the opposing team holds; therefore, playing a few tricks first to gain more information knowledge can aid your ability to wish for a more devastating card.
“Do You Have Any … Sixes?”
Pay attention to what you pass the player on your left. This allows you to always fish your wish when naming a card for the Mah Jong. This traditional play keeps the player to your left from benefiting from your pass card, no matter what you pass them (assuming you do not pass them any animals: Dog, Dragon, or Phoenix). Besides naming the card you passed, you can try naming something else you think will break up his or her hand. I like this play if you need the player to your left to lose a high card early, if you want to start the single card count high, or if you did not see a particular low card in the pass. For example, maybe you needed a three to make a straight. If no one passes you a three, then maybe the player to your left needed it to enhance his or her hand. Of course wishing without perfect information runs the risk of hurting your partner, because the player on your left could pass to force your partner to satisfy the wish (assuming the player on the left cannot satisfy the wish); however, unless he or she holds a two, this forces the player on your left to not make a play in order to set this up. Making successful wishes based on imperfect information comes from practice and knowing how your opponents like to play.
“Why Do I Have to Have the Mah Jong?”
Because someone passed it to you (hopefully not because they know you hate it) or you did not pass it away. When should you pass the Mah Jong? I recommend giving up the Mah Jong any time you feel like your wish for a card will not hurt an opposing player’s hand or going first on the first trick does not provide the most advantageous position. If you feel that most of the pass cards will not combine with the cards you already hold, you can pass the Mah Jong to the player on your right. This play bets on the opposing player wishing for the card he or she passed you, which you assume will provide marginal help given what you already hold. You can pass the Mah Jong to the player on your left any time you want to act last on the first trick of the game. This can provide you more time on whether or not you want to call Tichu. Passing the Mah Jong to your partner not only gives you more time to decide on a Tichu call, it also gives your partner the first chance to call Tichu. Do not assume that when your partner calls (Grand) Tichu before the pass that he wants the Mah Jong. Try to learn his play style in determining whether or not he will benefit from the Mah Jong when he or she calls Tichu.
Today’s Challenge
You decided not to call Grand Tichu and opened up the following 14 cards:
Mah Jong, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 9, 10, 10, Q, Q, K, K
Mah Jong, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 9, 10, 10, Q, Q, K, K
How would you pass? Do you keep the Mah Jong, and if not who do you pass it to? What do you wish for, if anything? Assuming you will make a wish, how would the cards you receive affect your choice of which card to name? What cards would you need to receive to call Tichu?
Let us know what you think.
Additional Information

For more information about Tichu check the product page on BoardGameGeek.com.
Interested in purchasing a copy of Tichu? Try the following links.
The above link provides the first edition. For red card backs, use the Amazon link with the picture to the side of this information.
If you live in the tri-state area, consider stopping by AU to pick up a copy and play with just about anyone. The entire staff and most of the MtG community knows how to play this game and enjoys it.


  1. Hi,this is an easyer one, i think.i don't like to cut the small street, particular i have the 1.and i dont like give higher cards to opp, and not the 10 (because 20 points together).-> so 99 to oppfor my mate i have the green K or the red 10. (matter of taste)i keep hold the 1!-case1: my mate has bad cards: i got from him a PH or (K and a 2 from opp), i play 1-7 with A-wish. otherwise a single A wish.-case2: my mate has good cards: i wish a single 2, so my mate can play a low card.(if my mate call a pre-tichu) i play a low card which i got from opp, or the dog.

  2. I would split the 9's to my opponents, and give the MahJong to my partner. It isn't especially helping my hand unless I get passed a 2 to fold it into my straight.In this hand, KK and QQ are both probably lead winners, and will provide cover when I ditch the 10's. I would probably wait until mid-game, take the lead with KK, play 10-10, take the lead with QQ, & then lead the straight (if I wasn't lucky enough to be able to over-play an opponent's straight earlier).Overall, I'm at the mercy of other people's leads here. I need pairs to be played to get into the hand. And I need to wait until mid-game to have a good chance at maintaining the lead with the straight, and I need to have opportunities to ditch whatever crappy cards my opponents passed me.Going out 2nd looks doable with this hand.

  3. I would pass 9 and 10 to opponents and the second 10 to my partner, for a simple reason:Keeping 1 34567 9 QQKK looks more promising to me thankeeping 1 34567 10 QQKK.

  4. This is one of the best strategies and I have learned this one from a friend. It's very an enjoying game. I really love playing this mah jong.

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