How to Play Thunee

Thunee is a fun trick taking card game. Although usually considered a game of Indian origin, it actually was first developed in the city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. It was thought to have been created in 1872 by a man of Indian descent by the name of Salesh Jagnath who worked in this area. Thunee plays very similarly to another trick taking game, Euchre. This game is also commonly spelled Thuni.

Card Ranking in the game Thunee The standard game of Thunee is designed for four players playing in two partnerships. The game uses a deck which consists of 24 cards. The deck used for play can be created by removing the cards of all denominations from a standard 52 card deck except the following; 9, 10, Jack (Khana), Queen (Rani), King (Raja), Ace. The ranking of the cards in this game is rather unusual and usually takes some time for new players to the game to become accustomed to. This ranking is as follows (from high to low); Jack, 9, Ace, 10, King, Queen.

Determination of partnerships and their seating positions can be done in a variety of ways, such as cutting for high card. The partners should be seated directly across from each other at the table. Once the partnerships have been determined, any player then begins dealing one card face up to each player in a counter-clockwise direction. He continues dealing until one player receives a black Jack (Jack of Clubs or Spades). The player receiving that Jack is then designated as the dealer. The player to his immediate right is the Trump caller for the first hand, called the Trumpman. After the dealer and Trumpman are determined, the cards are all gathered together and shuffled by the dealer. The dealer must offer the deck to the player to his immediate left to cut. This player may cut or decline the cut. After the cut, the dealer begins dealing the cards face down in a counter clockwise direction starting with the player to his right. He begins by dealing each player a four card packet.

Traditionally, in Thunee and many other games of Indian descent, each trick is called a hand. However, this can be confusing due to the other commonly used definitions of the word hand. Thus, in this description of the game, we will continue to use the word trick as a round in which each player plays one card to the table.

After this first four card packet is dealt to each player, the players then pick up these cards and examine them. In the event that the Trumpman finds that his first four cards have a total card point value of 10 or less he may (but is not obligated to) call for a redeal. A valid re-deal request must be honored.

After the first four cards have been dealt to each player the bidding phase of the game begins. The dealer's team has the first opportunity to bid or call. All bids must be in increments of 10 and can be done by either member of the dealer's partnership. Each bid is the number of card points a partnership is willing to subtract from their own total earned and give to the opposing partnership, if the bidding team is given the privilege to set trump for the hand. The values for the individual cards captured in tricks is shown in the chart further below. Once a side makes a bid, he or his partner may not make any further bids unless the opposing partnership makes a higher bid. If both partners of the same partnership shout out a bid simultaneously, the bid is considered to be 10 points higher than the highest bid shouted by either player. In this case, if this ends up as the highest bid during the hand, the opposing partnership selects which of the two players who shouted a bid may declare the trump for the hand. After a side has made a bid, the opposing side then has the opportunity to make a higher bid. Normally the highest bid is 100, however, when one side makes a bid of 100, the opposing side may make a last numerical bid of 104. Any numerical bid may also be overcalled by a bid of Thunee, which may be declared by any player at any time before play of the hand actually begins. The following shows the possible bids during the bidding phase of the game:
After the bidding has been completed, the trump suit is then determined. To set trump, the high bidder would set one of his first four cards face down in front of himself, which will set the trump card for the hand. This card will be turned over and revealed immediately after the opposing team plays their first card to the initial trick. After this player puts this face down card on the table, the dealer distributes each player his last two cards to complete the deal. Once the trump card is revealed, if a team does not have at least one card of the trump suit, they may immediately call for a re-deal. A valid call for a re-deal must be honored with no score on that hand.

One of the details that makes this game unique is that while the trump caller sets the trump for the hand, the opposing partnership team is the team trying to actually win the hand. They do this by attempting to capture 105 or more card points in tricks during the hand. In addition, to these points captured in tricks during the hand, the opposing team is automatically given the number of points of the trump callers high bid (if any) on the hand. The last trick of the hand also contributes 10 points to the team who wins it.

Play of the Hand: Normally, the player to the immediate right of the trump setter plays the first card to the first trick. As noted previously, after the first card has been played to the trick, the trump caller then flips over and reveals the trump card which sets the trump suit for the hand. After all players have the opportunity to see what the trump card is, the trump caller then takes the card back into his own hand. Each subsequent player after the first to a trick must then play a card of the suit led if they have one. If they do not have such a card, they may play any card to the trick (including a card of the trump suit, called cutting or chopping). The highest trump card played to the trick wins the trick. If no trump card was played to the trick, the highest card of the suit originally led to the trick wins it. The winner of each trick leads the first card to the next trick. Each card captured in tricks has a point value for determining if a partnership was able to capture the required number of card points during the hand, as shown on the following chart:
CardPoint Value
           Values for individual cards in Thunee
In addition to the various card points, the partnership capturing the last trick of the hand adds 10 card points.

If the opposing partnership was in fact able to earn 105 or more points during the hand, they are said to score one point (or ball). If, however, they were not able to earn a total of 105 points during the hand, the trump callers earn one point instead.

Calls: In addition to the regular bidding, however, in this game there are several special Calls that can be made at different stages of the game which will allow players to increase the number of game points earned during the hand or increase or decrease the number of card points required to win the hand. The following are the various calls a player can make during the hand:

Winning the Hand: After the last trick has been played, the partnership that set trump then counts all the card points won in tricks to determine if they were able to earn the required number of card points. In the case of a call of Thunee, the Thunee caller must capture every trick in order to win the hand (as described in the calls section above). For numerical bids, if the total amount of card points earned during the hand is greater or equal than the amount required, the partnership earns one game point. However, if the total card points earned during the hand is less than the required amount, the opposing partnership earns one point instead. The required amount is a total of 105 card points, with the amount of the opponents high bid added to it. This amount may also have been increased or decreased during the hand by various Jodhi calls. The teams also earn any other penalties and bonuses from special calls during the hand. The scoring in this game is usually called balling with each game point score called one Ball. Scores in Thunee are usually recorded using some of the unused cards (called the ball cards) from a standard deck, most often the sixes. The first team to score 12 points (balls) over the course of multiple hands wins the game. The same dealer continues to deal each hand until the game point score of the dealer's partnership has equaled or exceeded the game point score of the opponents' partnership.

Irregularities: If either team is caught performing a serious irregularity (i.e. not playing a card of the suit led when having one, playing out of turn, etc.) the current hand is immediately ended and the opponents earn four game points. For minor offenses, such as calling a trump suit for which a player has no cards, the hand is usually continued but the opposing partnership from the partnership who committed the irregularity scores 1 game point.

Variations and Optional Rules

Additional Calls: There are several additional bidding options that may be made during a game that often added as variants to the base game. The following shows calls often added to the game:
2 To Clear: This optional rule requires that the winners must win the game by two or more points. Thus, if the winner is able to reach the winning total but the opponents are only one game point behind, the game continues until either of the partnerships is able to win the game by a two point or more margin.

No Doubles on 11: This variant disallows any call of Double to be made when either team has a score of 11 points. If a team does attempt to make a Double call, this results in a serious penalty, with the opposing partnership scoring 4 game points.

Six Player Thunee: Thunee is also sometimes played by six participants. When this variant is played, the players are grouped into two partnerships of three players each. The players should be seated at the table in such a manner that when playing to each trick, play rotates around the table alternating between members of each team. The deck used and the card ranking amongst this deck is the same as used in the standard game. Due to the larger number of players, there are several differences made to the game to accommodate the additional players: All other rules for the six handed game (including scoring) are the same as in the more common four hand variant described above.

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