How to Play Tonk: Rules, Tips, and Strategy

The game of Tonk (also called Tunk) was popularized sometime in the 1940s. It started as a fun and competitive card game played mainly by jazz musicians, fans, and others who hung out at nightclubs. Fast forward nearly 80 years, and Tonk is still one of the most popular card games you can play.

Tonk is similar to Gin Rummy or Rummy in that it’s played with two to four people, a standard 52-card deck, and the game involves building melds. Further, Tonk is usually played for money.

With that in mind, if you’re tired of being a Tonk bystander while your friends and family have fun, now’s your time to learn how to play. In this article, you will learn: - The rules for Tonk - How to play Tonk (or Tunk) - Where to play Tonk online - And much more

Are you ready to learn how to play Tonk? Continue reading.

What Are The Rules For Tonk?

The first step in Tonk is to choose a dealer. To do so, players typically draw a card. The player with the highest card becomes the dealer. If there are more than two players, the second-highest card sits to the left of the dealer. If an additional number of players join, they sit to the right of the dealer.

Dealing Rules in Tonk

Next, the dealer deals five (sometimes seven) face down cards to each player, one at a time in clockwise order. Once each player receives their cards, the dealer turns over the top card on the remaining deck and places it face up on the table.

That card is the beginning of the discard or waste pile. The leftover deck becomes the stock pile (placed face down).

Getting a Tonk

If a player’s initial hand scores 49 or 50 points (more on scoring later), they must immediately show their cards before play resumes. If confirmed, the player receives twice their original bet, and the game automatically ends. This is called a “Tonk,” “Tunk,” or “knock.”

If more than one player gets Tonk (at this stage), the game ends in a draw. The card deck gets reshuffled, and the dealer deals again. You can only get this type of Tonk with your initial hand. It is not available later in the game.

Further, a person can “Tonk" on their turn (at any time) if they have five or fewer unmatched cards in their hand. If they have the lowest point total at the time of the knock, they win the game.

What is a Spread in Tonk?

Outside of getting Tonk, the object of the game is to build books, also called “spreads,” to have the least amount of cards (or ideally, no cards) in one's hand by the end of the game.

A spread is a laid down run of three or more cards from the same suit in sequence (e.g. a 7 of Hearts, 8 of Hearts, and 9 of Hearts). A spread is also a book of at least three identically ranked cards from different suits (e.g. three Jacks).

To accomplish a spread, a player draws cards from the stock, discards unwanted cards, or adds cards to spreads already on the table (either their own spreads or the existing spreads of other players). When you have a spread in your hand, place it face up on the table.

How Do You Play Tonk?

The rules of Tonk are pretty straightforward. There are only a few things players need to think about: Getting Tonk, building melds, placing spreads on the table, going out, and scoring. Learn more about each step below.

Step One: Melding

You get rid of cards in your hand by building melds (i.e., runs or books that result in spreads). Remember, the goal of the game of Tonk is to either get “Tonk” in the beginning or have the least amount of cards or lowest score in hand by the time the game ends. In some games, “deuces” or 2s of any suit are considered wild.

Step Two: Going Out

Suppose you create enough spreads and add to other books so much that you run out of cards in your hand. In that case, you “go out.” Once a player goes out, every other player has one more turn to go out. If they can’t, the person who “went out” first wins the game (also called “tonking out” or “tonk out”).

Step Three: Scoring Suppose no one achieves a Tonk or tonk out during the game. In that case, the game is played until the last card in the stockpile is drawn. Then, every player’s hand is scored.

Each face card is worth 10 points (i.e., King, Queen, and Jack), Aces are worth 1 point, and the rest of the numbered cards are worth their face value. The player with the lowest score, regardless of the number of cards left in their hand, wins.

Is Tonk a Black Company Card Game?

Much of Tonk’s success in becoming a popular card game is due to the science fiction book series entitled “The Black Company” written by American author, Glen Cook. Many of the scenes in the book depict high energy and unpredictable Tonk games among its characters.

Where to Play Tonk Online

Now that you know how to play the game of Tonk, you’re ready to test your skills in head-to-head matchups online. Check out the #1 card game: Tonk Online to play live against family and friends anywhere in the world. Good luck in your first match, and we’ll see you in the app!

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