Tien Len, which can be translated as “To Go Up,” is often considered the national card game of Vietnam. It can be played just for fun, but it is often played for high stakes as well. The game is intended for four players, though there are variations for two or three players as well.
A standard 52-card deck with no Jokers is used for the game. Each player is dealt a hand of 13 cards. The cards are ranked as normal, except that Twos are higher than Aces. The suits are also ranked, with Hearts being the highest, followed by Diamonds, Clubs, and Spades. Hence the Two of Hearts is the highest card in the deck.
After the cards have been dealt, the player who holds the Three of Spades (the lowest card in the deck) begins play. After playing this card, the other players must beat this card by playing a higher card. Play continues around the table until someone plays a card that no one else can beat.
Players are not required to play a card if they do not want to. However, if they pass, they may not play again until a card has been played that no one else beats. After such a card is played, the played cards are set aside and the person who played the unbeaten card starts a new round of play.
Legal plays include single cards or combinations of cards. Subsequent plays must match the format of the initial play. The allowable combinations are as follows:
- A single card.
- A pair of cards of the same rank.
- Three of a kind.
- Four of a kind.
- A sequence of at least three cards of consecutive ranks, such as “Eight-Nine-Ten.” These do not have to be of the same suit.
- A double sequence of at least three pairs of consecutive ranks, such as “Five-Five-Six-Six-Seven-Seven.”
A single Two or a combination of Twos can be beaten by certain other combinations. Four of a kind or three consecutive pairs beats a single Two, four consecutive pairs beats a pair of Twos, and five consecutive pairs beats three Twos. These rules only apply to Twos, which are the highest cards in the deck.
As cards and combinations of cards are played, players will drop out once they are out of cards. At the end of the hand, there will be one player left holding any cards. This person is the loser of the hand. If the game is being played for money, or for some other stake, they must pay a fixed amount to each of the other players.
To play Tien Len with two or three players, deal a 13-card hand to each player and set the remaining cards aside without using them. The game can also be played with more than four players. To do so, use two decks of cards that are shuffled together. Each player should still receive 13 cards, however, and any extra cards are set aside unused.
Written by Jonathan Leger a freelance writer and small business owner. He runs a popular question and answer website at AnswerThis.co.