Dou Dizhu is a Chinese climbing and shedding card game, in which Players try to empty their hand of cards by shedding them onto the “trick. Players must “climb” by shedding a card ranked higher than the previously played card.
Players continue to “climb” the trick until no other Player can continue climbing. The winning Player takes the trick, and leads the next.
Dou Di Zhu means “Fighting The Landlord”, as it is an a-symmetrical game. One Player must compete against the remaining 2-3.
Below you can find the key rules of Dou Dizhu summarized briefly:
- 17 cards dealt to each player, 3 cards placed in the center
- The bidding phase determines “Landlord” vs “Farmers”
- Players take turns playing melds, and must “climb” with higher-ranking cards
- The first player to empty hand wins immediately
- 13 possible melds
- Bombs beat all melds except the Rockets
- Rockets are the highest meld and cannot be beaten
How to Play Dou Dizhu?
Play generally is best with three Players, in a 1v2, but it is possible to play with 4, as a 1v3. This guide will explain the rules and procedure for a Three-Player game.
Dou Dizhu is played using the Joker Variant of the Anglo-American deck. The 54-card deck contains two Jokers, as well as the standard cards from the 52-card deck.
A Dealer should be determined by whatever random means the Players choose. Once a Dealer is chosen, the deck is shuffled, and 17 cards are dealt to each Player. The remaining three cards are placed face-down in the center of the table.
Once each Player has received their cards, the bidding portion of the game begins.
Bidding – Landlord vs Farmers
Players will wager stakes, with the highest wager being granted the right to assume the “Landlord” position of the game. There are three stakes, 1, 2, and 3. The Player with the 3♥ in their hand is given the right to make the first bid.
Players may pass on bidding, if they wish, or they may raise the bid if they believe they can win as the landlord. Once someone bids 3, they are automatically the Landlord, as bidding cannot be raised any further.
Once a Landlord is determined, the three cards remaining on the table are flipped up and shown to the other Players, who have now become the “Farmers”.
The Landlord will then take the three cards after showing them to the Players, and adding them to their hand for a total of 20 cards.
- The aim of the Landlord is to empty their hand of cards.
- The aim of the Farmers is to have one of their players empty their hand of cards before the Landlord.
Cards are emptied from the hand by playing individual cards, or melds, which are higher ranking and follow suit of the last shed cards.
Cards are ranked in the following manner from highest to lowest: Red Joker, Black Joker, 2, Ace, K, Q, J, 10-3.
There are thirteen melds in Dou Dizhu, which Players use to shed their cards. Players must match the type of meld, and must shed the same number of cards as the leading meld. These melds are:
A single card. A single card can be a 3 through the Red Joker.
Two cards of the same rank, suit irrelevant. The Red Joker and Black Joker together are not a pair.
Three Cards of the same rank, suit irrelevant.
Triplet with Attachment
Three Cards of the same rank, with an additional Hanger on.
E.g. 10♦ 10♣ 10♠ 7♦
Triplet with a Pair Attachment
Three Cards of the same rank, with an additional pair of the same rank. The same as a Full House in Poker.
E.g. 3♦ 3♣ 3♠ 2♦ 2♣
Five or more consecutive cards, suit irrelevant. Same as a Straight in Poker.
E.g. 5♦ 6♣ 7♠ 8♥ 9♣
Sequence of Pairs
Three or more pairs that follow a subsequent ranking.
E.g. 3♦ 3♣ 4♣ 4♠ 5♥ 5♠
Sequence of Triplets
Two Triplets or more that are consecutively ranked.
E.g. 5♣ 5♠ 5♦ 6♦ 6♣ 6♥
Sequence of Triplets with Attachment
As the name suggests, a Sequence of Triplets with an additional hanger on. Can be attached to any single card.
E.g. 5♣ 5♠ 5♦ 6♦ 6♣ 6♥ 9♥
Sequence of Triplets with Pair Attachment
Just like the Triplet with Pair attachment, except with at least one additional triplet.
E.g. 10♦ 10♣ 10♠ J♣ J♠ J♥ 7♦ 7♥
The Quadruplet is a Four-of-a-kind, and can be played either with an attachment, or a pair attachment.
E.g. 4♦ 4♣ 4♠ 4♥ 3♥ 3♣
There are two more melds in Dou Di Zhu that are considered Special melds. These are the Bomb, and the Rocket. The Bomb and Rocket can be thought of as the “Trump”.
Bombs are a meld of four cards of the same rank, similar to the Quadruplet. However, the Bomb may not have any additional cards attached to it.
The Quadruplet is in fact, very weak, and can be beaten by any other combination except a weak Quadruplet.
Bombs beat cards of a higher rank and can beat any meld. The only melds that beat bombs are higher-ranking bombs (6♦ 6♣ 6♥ 6♠ beats 5♦ 5♣ 5♥ 5♠) or rockets.
Rockets are a meld composed of both Jokers, played as a “pair.” The Rocket is the highest possible meld in Dou Dizhu, and cannot be beaten by any other combination.
These melds above are integral to Dou Di Zhu gameplay, the primary method for Players to shed cards from their hand.
The Landlord earned the right to lead the first trick, and as such may place whatever legal meld from their hand that they wish. Turn order continues counter-clockwise, with the Player to the right of the Dealer matching the meld type if they are able.
- The Landlord plays a Triplet (5♦ 5♠ 5♥) on their first turn.
- Farmer 1 passes, because although they have a Triplet in their hand (4♥ 4♣ 4♠), it is not ranked more highly than the Landlord’s.
- Farmer 2 also passes, because although they have a higher ranking meld with a Triplet with attachment (3♥ 3♣ 3♦ 5♦), they must follow the leading meld and may not play that attachment.
If the turn order returns to the last Player that shed cards, and all other Players have passed on shedding, the last Player to shed cards into the trick “takes” the trick.
The value of the cards in the trick is not important, as the winner of Dou Dizhu simply needs to remove all cards from their hand. The only value to winning a trick is the right to lead the next trick.
Continuation and Ending
Players continue in this fashion, with the previous winner of the trick leading the next trick with the meld of their choice, and Players are forced to follow according to the leading meld.
Gameplay continues until a Farmer or the Landlord empties their hand of cards. The first team to empty their hand of cards is the immediate winner.
Dou Dizhu is played most commonly as a gambling game. The stakes declared at the beginning, during the bidding phase, are actual monetary stakes.
As is common in many East Asian card games, gambling stakes are broken up into equal “units”, agreed upon by all Players at the start of the game.
Suppose that each Player agrees that one unit is $5 USD, and the Landlord wagered 3 stakes in the bidding phase.
- If the Landlord were to win, each Farmer must pay 3 stakes to the Landlord. So, the Landlord would win 30 dollars, 15 from each Player (5 Dollars x 3 stakes x 2 Farmers).
- If the Landlord were to lose, however, they must pay out according to their wager. So, the Landlord would lose 30 dollars by paying each Farmer $15 (5 Dollars x 3 Stakes x 2 Farmers).
Bombs and Rockets double the wagers each time they are played. Suppose the same wager as above, but there were two bombs played in the round.
Then the Landlord would be forced to pay each Player $60 instead of $15 (5 Dollars x 3 Stakes x 2 Farmers x 2 Bomb1 x 2 Bomb2).
The same doubling rule applies to the Farmers when the Landlord wins, with each Farmer forced to double their payout for each Bomb and Rocket played in the round.
This is the way Dou Di Zhu is traditionally scored, as it is a winner-take-all all game. The first Player to empty their hand of cards immediately wins.
Suppose you are one of the Farmers, with the Landlord leading the first trick with a triplet. You have a Bomb, with a four-kind composed of 8♦ 8♣ 8♠ 8♥.
You are taking your turn before your partner. Suppose you play the bomb on your turn, and dump four cards from your hand.
While this could be beneficial, and leave you with only 13 remaining cards, consider the following information:
Firstly, the Dealer has only led with a Triplet. The odds of your partner having at least one triplet in their hand that outranks the Dealer’s is quite high.
As Farmers, you and the other Farmer are partners. You should help them to shed cards as well, if able. By playing a bomb, your partner would be forced to play a higher-ranking bomb, which they may not have.
Secondly, if you pass, and your Farmer partner passes, the Dealer will win the Trick and be able to lead the next trick.
While this may seem bad for you and your partner, you already have a bomb that is guaranteed to beat the Dealer’s next meld.
If the Dealer leads the next trick with anything but a bomb, you will be able to take it and then lead the trick with a combination of your own.
By passing, even though you are able to beat the Dealer, you open opportunities for your partner to shed cards, while leaving yourself open to very little risk.
Strategy and Tips
As explained in the example scenario above, Dou Dizhu is a partnership game. Do not try to beat your partner unnecessarily. You both will win if either of you empties your hand before the Dealer. As such, try to help your partner.
They might have a hand more suitable for closing out the game early than you do. There is no reason to play a bomb on your partner’s Bomb. Letting your partner lead the suit is just as beneficial as when you do, and you can save that bomb for when the Landlord leads again.
Remember that you cannot shed more cards in each meld than the leading meld. If the Landlord leads with a Triplet, but you have a Triplet with a pair attachment, it may be beneficial to pass and instead let another trick occur.
Alternatively, you could play a bomb, win the trick, and then play your triplet with attachment. Only downgrade your meld if:
- The game is near completion, and you can win the game more quickly by playing your triplet, winning the trick.
- Then ending the game by leading the trick with your last two attachment cards as their own standalone pair.