Fan Tan

Fan Tan is a Chinese gambling game based on guessing the number of beans in a pot. The card game Fan Tan may have been named for it but is in no way similar to it.
from Hoyle's Book of Games
[basic rules] [sample game] [basic strategy] [variations]

Fan Tan is an exceedingly light and fun card game for four players, although we've played single-deck Fan Tan (see variations) with as few as three and as many as six players.




Basic Rules

The basic game is as follows: A valid play is: A "build up or down" is a simple concept. If there is a seven out, and you have either (or both) the six and eight of that suit, you can either play the six on the lower vertical half of the seven or the eight on the upper vertical half of the seven. If you played the six, the next player can play a five or an eight or play on a different pile.

The main rules of Fan Tan are:




Sample Game

A typical game with four players might begin something like this: And so on.




Basic Strategy

Basic strategy tips:


Variations

Entirely too much Fan Tan playing has lead to the development of several variations on the basic game of Fan Tan. They are listed below in alphabetic order.

Recommendations:


Double Deck Fan Tan

Perhaps the simplest in concept, Double Deck is rather different in strategy. The main problem for the player is that suddenly he or she is not guaranteed to be able to play since there are two of each card.

Double Deck is recommended for seven or more players.

Double Deck Trump Fan Tan
Only for the truly masochistic. Follow the rules of Double Deck Fan Tan and Trump Fan Tan at the same time. Don't come crying to me after you've tried it.... ;^)
Crazy Tan
Crazy Tan is based on a combination of crazy eights and fan tan.

For the basic game, deal seven cards to each player. On your turn, you must either play (and if you can play you must) or draw a card. First player out of cards wins.

We have found the game moves rather slowly that way, so we now play with a rather different rule for the number of cards you draw: incremental drawing. If the person before you was able to play (and of course did so), and you cannot play, you draw one card. If the person after you cannot play, he or she draws two cards. If the next person cannot play, then he or she draws three cards. As soon as someone plays a card, the count gets reset to zero. Note: If you draw a card that you can play then you must play it on that current turn!

Playing with runs (straights) also speeds up the game. If you have any number of consecutive numbers in the same suit (e.g. 3, 4, and 5 of clubs) then you may play them all at once (e.g. play the 3, 4, and 5 of clubs on the 6 of clubs).

You can also play with multiples. If you have two or more cards of the same rank (e.g. two nines) and you can play both of them, then you may play both of them in one turn.

The combination of these two rules leads to the concept of multiple parallel runs. Meaning, if you have, for example, the 4, 5, 6, 7 of clubs and the 4, 5, 6, 7 of hearts, you can lay down eight cards in one turn.

Hearts Tan
Use Hearts-style passing.

That is, on the first deal, every player passes three cards to the left. On the second, pass three cards to the right. On the third, pass three cards across. On the fourth, pass no cards.

With other than four players, an easy way to do it is just to pass first to your immediate left, then to the left, skipping one person, then to the left again skipping two people, etc. This works for any number of players. On the nth hand, where n is the number of players, have a no-pass round.

This adds several interesting elements of strategy:

It is obvious that you want to pass your worst cards.

If all you have is the 3 of clubs and the Queen of clubs, you might be inclined to pass those cards and none others.

However, if you get passed the Ace of clubs and the King of clubs, you would have been better off keeping the three and the Queen.

You discover other strategy points as you play Hearts Tan. Definitely a varient worth trying.

Trump Fan Tan
Trump Fan Tan is simply Fan Tan with a trump suit. Any card of the trump suit (generally spades) can replace any other card of that rank (i.e. 5 of trump can be played as trump (in this case spades) or 5 of heart, club, or diamond).

The card that was displaced by the trump card must be played on the trump pile. As it can get rather confusing which pile is which, the 7 of trump must be played as trump (i.e. cannot be played to replace the 7 of any other suit).

If you have an uneven number of players and have chosen to flip the extra card(s), the suit of the last flipped card can automatically be called to be trump. In that case (and this should be decided before the deal), either the flipped card replaces the first card it can (i.e. is played as an indiscriminant trump) or (this is what I prefer) must be played as trump on the trump pile.


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Melissa Binde (binde@cs.swarthmore.edu)