For those of you that follow my blog, this may seem quite out of place along NHL predictions and alcohol/calorie content of your favorite beer…yet, for those that really know me, know why I’m naturally drawn to this simple, yet very winnable game, when you apply a little statistics and basic logic. And with Memorial Day weekend in the books, the summer/visiting family season upon us, I put together a quick guide to help garner bragging rights from the in-laws during game night. Its broken down in the following sections: Section I Phase Strategy Section II Basic Strategy Section III Advanced Strategy Section I Phase Strategy
Phase 2 and 3 (run with a trip/quad), (*see Phase 1 under Phase 7 below):
These 2 phases, in my opinion are the most complex, not complicated, but complex. They take 2 separate strategies you need to consider simultaneously. You need to look carefully at your hand, and commit either the first, middle or last grouping (third of your hand) after ordering your hand in numerical order, to either being your set or your run. Ideally your “set choice” and “run choice” are far away from each other, as to try and not have them overlap, this will only cause additional complexity/difficulty in phasing. For example:
1,2,2,3,5,5,7,8,9,12 is your starting hand. You have pairs early in the deck, which are clearly easier to trip or quad than singles, so I’ll look at 1-5 as where I will try to set, 7-12 as my run cards since all I’ll need is a 6/10/wild to complete it, which gives me an “open-ended” run draw (2 cards, plus wilds that will complete the run, not 1 in a *gunshot draw)…thus any non pair 1-5, and any pair 7-12 are good options for discards.
*”Gutshot run draw”: when you have all but one card that would complete the run, yet it’s in the middle of the draw, giving you only one option to complete it, for example if you need a run of 5 and have 5,6,8, 9 and need a 7.
Phase 4-6 (run of 7-9 cards)
Strategy here is fairly simple, all you want in your hand is NON-pairs, so the first cards to get discarded should be high pairs/trips/etc. if you have anymore than a single 10/11/12, dump them immediately, they are completely worthless in this round, and if an opponent goes out before you phase you want to minimize the points against you. Here is a quick cheat sheet for you. Based on the run you are going for, that shows what cards you NEED to have to complete the straight. In other words, based on the respective phases, however you decide to build your run, you will ALWAYS need these specific cards:
Run of 7: 6-7
Run of 8: 5-8
Run of 9: 4-9
^ Therefore, if you are deciding to pick up top card, vs. drawing blind and don’t have one of those cards above, but one comes up, ALWAYS pull that card right away.
Phase 7 (and 1, 9 and 10): 2 quads, or any set
Very simple strategy here, all you want is pairs/trips/etc. therefore any solo card, particularly 10/11/12 should be dumped while you build your hand. **Advanced strategy: again if you’re playing a veteran opponent to your right, odds are he/she will be dumping their 10/11/12. So, you probably have a better chance of collecting high cards, however this is a risky strategy, since if someone else’s phases first you’re stuck with those high cards which count against you 2x as much as a 9 or lower cards, so if you are going to implement this mindset, use caution, and I only recommended it if you are behind; basic gaming strategy, you play conservative w a lead, aggressive when you’re down). Also see “Building a Hand Below” for more on how to properly build a set.
Phase 8: 7 cards one color.
You need to approach this phase as, just as any other, as if you’re “building your hand”. That is, whatever 10 cards you’re dealt, start off by looking for cards of the same color you already have the greatest number of in your hand. This goes for drawing and discarding decisions as well, if your hand is majority blue cards, and you get a blue, take that, and discard whichever color you have the least in your hand regardless of value.
However, let’s say you have 5 blues, and pickup a red to give you 2 yellow, 2 green and 2 red. Of the 3 colors find the one with the most 10/11/12s in it and discard those first. Do this to minimize damage if you do not phase. Additionally if you have let’s say an even split 5 of one color, 5 of another use opponent’s phases (if they have been played) to make your decision. If you have 5 blue and 5 yellow for instance, and an opponent has phased w 7 yellows, your odds of phasing on yellow are far less than that of blue, so discard the yellow.
Basic gaming strategy alert, (excluding cheating, ie don’t be an asshole) and assuming you’re not Jon Nash, you can’t count cards (see card counting below in advanced strategy section). However, you can easily see played cards (from opponent’s phased hands/mid round) to help you determine the odds. In other words, if you have a decision to try and trip 3s, vs. 7s, and one of your opponents shows quad 7s, its a better play to go for 3s.
Section II Basic Strategy
Tactic 1. Tossing 10s, or holding them, when you want to be aggressive (if losing with a smart player to your right)
Knowing the name of the game is to phase, while minimizing points it should be obvious to say that 10/11/12 should be the first set of cards discarded, when they have no value to you. BUT, most players already know this, hence, if you find yourself to the left of a player that plays this way, you can gain an advantage collecting 10s when trying to come up with trips/quads, knowing that person is likely to throw them away. This is a dynamic, and technically risky, strategy, but can game-changing if executed properly.
Tactic 2.Smart discarding
This is an aspect of the game you can gain a significant (relative) advantage, because few “casual players” give significant thought to discarding. When choosing a card to discard, you should be maximizing your odds of hitting a phase, minimizing points against and maximizing playable cards/minimizing playable cards for your opponent to your left. When choosing a discard, here are the things you should consider:
A. Does this card have any value to me, or the player to the left of me?
B. If there is literally no value in the card right now, what are the odds it will have value to me? (see next tactic for direct vs. indirect value)
C. If the answer to A and B is negative, than give up your 10s (assuming you don’t have a skilled player to your left waiting on just a discard)
Tactic 3: Phasing based on maximizing cards you lay
Phasing is one thing, but to win the game you need to achieve 10 phases AND minimize your points, while minimizing opponents’ phases.
Ideally, when you phase, you score out of the game (play all 11 cards in your hand). This takes effort during the initial rotations. So, if another player has phased, clearly you want to hold cards that can, OR MAY be played while you’re still building your hand. This is obvious when your opponent phased and played four 3s and four 6s (you should hold on to any 3 and 6), but you need to also see the potential value in cards (indirect value). For example, if an opponent has phased with a run from 2-8, and you are deciding between discarding a 10 vs. 12, the 10 has value. Because, its only one card (a 9) away from being playable (once phased), while the 12 is a 9,10,11 away. I call this direct value, vs. indirect value. Seeing indirect value is what separates good players, vs. great players.
Tactic 4: Proper skipping
Skips can be great tools if you utilize them properly. Its easy to simply skip the person next to you, or the pretty girl you’ve been sweet talking all game, but if you’re playing to win, skips should follow this rule:
A. Are you near phase (1-2 cards away), and an opponent has phased? Skip that player, this maximizes opportunities you have to phase yourself. Same situation, but two or more players has phased? Skip the player with highest phase achieved/least points, or least cards left in their hand to play.
B. You either have phased, or are 3 or more cards away? Skip the player with the highest phase/least points. This may seem negligible, but over time if you skip the leader 3-4 times over 5-6 phases that’s like you (and your fellow players) gaining an extra hand to overcome the deficit.
*Additionally, if you have a skip(s), play it immediately. There is next to no benefit (at least one you can consistently depend on) in holding them at all, yet there is major disadvantage if someone phases while you’re left holding on to a (higher pointed) skip card. “If you don’t use them you lose them”.
Section III Advanced Strategy
Card Counting If you have the skill set, counting cards gives you a notable advantage in this game. Now, let me make this clear, you don’t have to be rain man to beat your in-laws. Focus on the cards in your hand, or better yet, sort your hand in such a way that can help you remember. For example, lets say you are looking for 2 quads (phase 7) and you have pairs of 2, 3 and 4 in your hand (the rest of your cards are solo). Well, if you see a 3 discarded between your turns, you know mathematically, (all other things equal) you have a better shot at hitting a 2 or 4.
Losing a round on purpose
This scenario is a very rare, albeit important tactic, that could be the difference between a win and a loss. Here’s the situation. The person to your left has phased, yet is still active in the match. One, or more of the others players in the match, are ahead of you in overall phases, and your current hand is garbage, that is you’re 4 or more “miracle cards” away from phasing, i.e. a waste of time for you, and continuing play could only hurt you…but you have a card(s) that could allow the player to your left (who is 1 or more phases below you, ideally significantly) to finish the round and give you a fresh set of cards. Discard them playable cards that will allow them to finish the round before before better competition can phase. Basically, you are allowing a non-threat to end the round before other players you are truly contending with can beat you, getting a fresh set of 10 cards.
Here’s when to Kamikaze in a nutshell:
-up >1-2 phases on player to your left
-lowest phase just phased and has one-two card(s) left
-you’re 3 or more cards from phasing
-2 other players have not phased and give up a card that ends the round and sacrifices you and your bad cards
Building a hand (Pairing – Quading/All one color strategy)
This tactic is rather general, and applies to almost all aspects of the game, but to keep it simple I will use “7 of one color as an example”.
Let’s say you were dealt 3 yellow, 3 blue, 2 red, and 2 green. Immediately, you should look to build on the yellow and blue (about 50% hit rate). If your next card is a yellow, that’s where you’re going, build yellow. However, if the next card is red, keep it, and now you have a 3 way build: about 75% hit rate on next card. See a pattern here? It may sound simple, but its a matter of focus, and systematically building your hand.
Same example, 3 y, 3b, 2 r, and 2 g dealt. Then you pick up a a yellow (4y now) and you discarded a green, putting you at 4 y, 3 b, 2 r, 1 g…but the next card you pick up is a blue, this still works, since it gives you a 50% hit rate again, yet one card (both in yellow and blue) closer to phasing, and on and on. You continue this process in maximizing one suit you have in your hand, while optimizing your odds to gain an additional card of that color. Again, this works for pairings as well.
As you can see, all tactics and strategies have to do with the concept of maximizing your odds of hitting helpful cards, and minimizing your opponents’ opportunities. I hope this cheat sheet helps you out this summer. Use it in good health, and try not to rub it in too hard when you win. Feel free to add any additional strategies or tactics you use/I haven’t added.