Tonk is a matching card game in which particular sets or sequences of cards, known as spreads, must be formed. It is related to the classic card game Rummy, existing within the large genre of Rummy-related card games.
Tonk, also known as Tunk, refers to knocking on the table. This is an action taken by the Player once they have played their last card, winning the round.
Tunk, is also a form of meld-making game, with the spreads acting as melds for the purposes of the game. It is famous for being a favorite of Jazz Legend Duke Ellington.
How to Play Tonk?
This guide will explain instructions for playing Tonk in a step-by-step manner, for ease of consumption.
To start the game, a Joker variant of the Standard 52-card Anglo-American deck is required, bringing up the card total to 54.
At the start of each round, each Player will be dealt 5, 7, or 9 cards if there are 4, 3, or 2 players respectively.
All the remaining cards will be placed in the center of the area of play, called the stock. The stock will be the regular deck for drawing cards through the course of the round.
The top card from the stock must be flipped over face-up, and placed next to the stock. This card represents the discard pile, where cards will be discarded through the course of the round.
From the start of the game to any other point, a Player may declare a “drop.”
When a drop is declared, all Players lay out their cards on the table. If the Player that declared drop has the lowest point total from the cards in their hand, they win the game. If they do not have the lowest point total, they automatically lose the game and must pay an equal wager to each Player who had fewer points than they did.
If a Player does not drop at the start of their turn, they must draw one card at the start of their turn, either from the stock or from the discard pile. At the end of their turn, they must also discard one card.
In Tonk, there are 6 possible wild cards. There are the two Jokers, as mentioned above, as well as all suits of the 2 cards.
These wild cards may be used in conjunction with other cards in order to form melds, or “spreads.” These spreads can come from several different categories. Either a three or four of a kind, or cards that are identical, or sequences, or straight runs of cards from the same suit.
A three-kind meld might be three 7s, all different suits(♥♦♣♠), or a meld might be a sequence of cards from the same suit, such as the 7♦8♦9♦. In order to play a spread, it must be at least 3 cards.
Cards may also be played on top of another Player’s spread that is already on the table. For example, a 4♦ can be added to a spread of 5♦6♦7♦.
In order to be on the table, a spread must have a minimum of 3 cards, but a Player does not need to add 3 cards to another Player’s spread, they may add as many or as few as they desire.
The round ends when a Player has used up all of the cards in their hand, or if a drop is declared.
If a Player uses up all the cards in their hand, this is known as a “tonk.” The Player knocks on the table, and they are declared the winner.
In many variations of Tonk, winning by tonk rather than dropping is considered worth a double pay of the set wager from each losing Player.
The essential rules of the Tonk card game are summarized below.
- Melds/spreads must have 3 cards in them to be played, but once a meld is already on the table only one card is required to add onto it.
- Both ways of winning are valid, though many variations offer extra pay for winning by tonk.
- A card must be drawn and discarded at the start and end of each turn, unless a Player declares a drop.
- The game will also end if the stock is depleted. If the stock is completely depleted, it is considered a drop and all Players must lay out their cards on the table. Then, the Player with the fewest points in their hand wins, as in a drop.
- When a drop occurs, cards that are laid out in melds on the table do not count, only cards in the hand count.
- Aces are always low in Tonk
For the purposes of keeping score when a drop is declared, here are the values of individual cards in Tonk:
|Face Cards (K, Q, J)
|Worth their numerical Value
Keep in mind that in Tonk, points are negative, rather than positive. If you are forced to score in this way due to a drop or a stock-out, then the more points you have the worse off you are. If a Player has 100 points in their hand during a drop calculation, they are automatically out of the game.
The following are two possible melds in a game of Tonk at the start of the game, when there are 4 Players.
A♥, Joker, 3♥, 4♥
5♣, 5♠ 2♠
In both above examples, there are wild cards used in order to make the melds. This is completely legal. The color of the Joker is irrelevant, so a Black Joker may be used in a meld of all hearts. Further, notice the 2 in the second meld, it is a 2 of Spades. The suit of the wild cards do not matter when they are used as wild cards.
- The aim of the game is to empty your hand of cards. Play off of your opponent’s melds when possible, but try to form melds of your own. Draw from the discard pile instead of the stock if the card is going to help you form a meld.
- Try to draw from the discard pile when advantageous as often as possible. The game will end if there is a stock-out, or when the stock runs out of cards. If you do not feel that you can win a drop, do not try to draw needlessly from the stock.
- Winning by Tonk in many places will double the wager agreed upon by all Players at the start of the game. Therefore, it is advantageous to try and win by tonk if at all possible. However, keep in mind that a drop can be declared by any Player at the start of their turn. If you can win by drop, go for it. A guaranteed win in gambling is better than the possibility of a bigger win. It would be regretful if a possible victory was lost due to greed.
- Playing a small meld helps your opponent because it gives them a chance to play some of their straggler cards that do not fit into their own melds. Try to play the biggest melds possible, especially sequential melds, in order to stop your opponent from gaining an advantage in this way.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards do you get in Tonk?
Generally, each Player is to be dealt 7 cards. However, each Player is dealt a different number of cards depending on various house rules. As Tonk is a form of Rummy, there are numerous different variations and styles and house rules in effect from Player to Player.
Is Tonk the same as Rummy?
Tonk and Rummy share many similarities, as it is a version of Rummy. However, there are rule differences between Rummy and Tonk, for instance, the 49-50 rule for automatic wins.
How many cards does Tonk have?
Tonk plays using the Joker variant of the 52-card Anglo-American Standard deck, making the card total 54.
Is Ace, King, Queen a spread?
Yes, as long as they are all of the same suit, the Ace, King, Queen is a spread. In Tonk, aces may be high or low.
When do you get an automatic win?
When the total of your cards at the start of the game equals 49 or 50 points, it is considered an automatic win. The Player should immediately declare this fact at the start of the game, before turns have been taken.