Tichu Strategy: How to Play the Dragon

By Brian Durkin
The Dragon
If I had to pick one card I would love to open with I would pick the Phoenix; however, I will never complain if I draw the Dragon instead. His ability to win any single trick creates crucial information knowledge for you and possibly your team. With great power comes great responsibility. Do you keep it for yourself or pass it to your partner? Do you bomb your own Dragon for the points, or do you let the opposing team take the points in the trick? Which opposing player will receive the Dragon trick? Considering these questions will improve your ability to maximize the Dragon when your team controls it.
Who Gets It?
You can answer almost any question about Tichu with just one simple phrase: it depends. In the majority of tricks you win with the Dragon you will pass it to an opposing player. Only someone with an amazing hand or reckless player will bomb their own Dragon for points. Convention suggests passing the Dragon trick to the player on your right. The theory argues that if you go out the lead passes to the left, if each person goes out once they receive the lead then the player to your right will go out last. Follow this convention when in doubt, but you should consider some other factors. Count how many cards each player holds. If the player on your left still holds ten cards while his partner only possesses two cards, then you probably should give the Dragon trick to the player on your left. Try to study each of your opponent’s play styles and skill level. If the player to your left appears new to the game you may benefit from exploiting his or her lack of experience.
Standard American Convention
New players and most seasoned players will follow the most common Tichu convention: pass the Dragon to your partner. The Dragon will benefit the team no matter who holds it, so the theory suggests passing it so your team will know each hand which team holds the Dragon. With such a common convention popping up in almost every partnership, you should learn how to meta game this strategy (using imperfect information and projections about future events as a basis for decision making). Count how many hands you know you can win and afford to lose since your team does not possess the Dragon. If your team does not follow this convention you will need to pick up on tells to figure out who holds the Dragon. If the opposing team follows the convention and knows they control the Dragon, one of the them might play a single Ace with authoritative confidence; confidence you can pick up on and infer that your partner did not keep the Dragon for himself.
You Don’t Follow the Convention?
Do not forget to assess your partner’s ability and play style. When playing with a new partner or new player the information knowledge of the Dragon or passing the Dragon may not benefit the team. Some players do not feel confident to call Tichu or just assume the opposing team always monopolize good cards like the Dragon. Playing with a timid teammate could change your mind on whether or not to pass the Dragon, but building up his or her confidence with the traditional Pass the Dragon convention might benefit that player’s growth. Assuming you allow players on your team to keep the Dragon, you usually want to keep it in any hand if you feel you need it to win a (Grand) Tichu bet. Even without a Tichu call, one player on the team will hold better cards and the other player will end up facilitating their partner’s goal of going out. Keeping the Dragon in a lesser quality hand that contains low single cards or the Dog could help your partner if he or she ends up in trouble. You can steal the lead from the other team and your next play will help pass the lead back to your partner. The Dragon also guarantees that you will interact with the table. Some hands contain all combinations but none that provide a good way to win the more popular types of tricks. The Dragon allows you to enter the game and start playing the types of combinations you need to see in order to empty you hand.
Today’s Challenge
You opened the following fourteen cards after deciding not to call Grand Tichu.
Dog, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, 7, 7, 7, Q, Q, Q, Dragon
How would you play the hand above? What do you pass to each player? Would you ever consider calling Tichu under any circumstances with this hand? If an opposing player calls a (Grand) Tichu before the pass, does that change which cards you pass? Do you try to play a supportive role on the team or do you take a position of trying to go out first?
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.