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Tien Len

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Tien Len

Tiến lên
Origin Vietnamese
Alternative name(s) Thirteen, Killer
Type Shedding-type
Players 4
Cards 52 (13 per player)
Deck Anglo-American
Play Clockwise
Card rank (highest to lowest) 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3
Playing time 20 min.
Random chance Easy
Related games

Tiến lên (Vietnamese: tiến lên, tiến: advance; lên: to go up, up; literally: "go forward"), also known as Vietnamese cards, Thirteen, American Killer, or Jamal Patel in India, is a Vietnamese shedding-type card game devised in Southern China and Vietnam.[1] It is similar to Zheng Shangyou, which uses a specially printed deck of cards, Big Two, and other "climbing" card games popular in many parts of Asia. Tien len, considered the national card game of Vietnam, is a game intended and best for four players.


Note: The following discussion makes use of Unicode characters for the four card suits; you may need to switch to or install a more complete Unicode font if you cannot see these characters properly: , , ♣, and ♠.


A standard deck of fifty-two playing cards is used. The ranking of the cards from highest to lowest is: 2 A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3. The 2 is the highest card in the game, and the 3 is the lowest card.

The cards are also ranked based on their suits. The ranking from highest to lowest are:

  • Hearts Diamonds ClubsSpades♠ . Therefore, the 2 is the highest single card in the game, since the 2 is the highest-ranking card and hearts is the highest-ranking suit. Consequently, the 3♠ is the lowest single card in the game, since 3 is the lowest card, and spades is the lowest suit. Card rank takes precedence over the suit, so the 10♠ is higher than the 9.

The objective of the game is to be the first to get rid of all of your cards by playing various combinations.


A standard deck of fifty-two playing cards is used. The dealer can be anyone, and is normally designated by the players themselves. Each player is dealt thirteen cards, with a card being dealt one at a time to each player counter-clockwise, although some players allow clockwise dealing at the dealer's discretion. The cards can also be dealt single-handedly to each player. This will result in all fifty-two cards in the deck being dealt. When playing with three players, each player can hold the traditional thirteen maximum cards or the whole deck may be dealt out to the players.

Standard combinations

  • Single ("loner", "solo"): A single played card. These are the basic plays of the game.

Singles can be defeated by higher singles in rank. Although it is the lowest card in the game, the 3♠ is also the most important card in the game since with this card, a player can commence the game. Even though it is a cinch to defeat, singles can be the most difficult head-scratchers. As the cards get higher, players begin to choose to eliminate the best in their hand, to defeat another player's single card.

  • Pair ("double", "dubs"): A combination of exactly 2 cards of the same number, but does not need to be of the same suit, like 4 4♣ || 5♠ 5 || A♠ A♣ || J J.

A pair can only be defeated by a pair containing a card of a higher rank than the highest card of the previous pair. For example: If a player plays the 9♠ and the 9, and another player holds the higher pair, such as the J and the J or the 9 and the 9♠ it means that he can play them and defeat the first pair.

  • Triple ("trio", "trips"): A combination of exactly three cards of rank. They can only be defeated by a triple of a higher rank. If a player plays triple 4♠ 4 4, then another player must have a 5♠ 5 5♣ or higher to defeat it. Triples are difficult to defeat because they require the sacrifice of 3 cards
  • Run ("sequence", "straight"): A combination of at least three cards that are in a numerical sequence. The order of the cards must be in a consecutive order. The highest possible ending card in a straight is the A, and the lowest beginning card is the 3.

A sequence can only be beaten by a higher sequence. In order to defeat a sequence, the higher sequence can be a mix of any suits, as long as rank of the highest card is higher. If, a person plays 6 7 8♠, that straight can only be defeated by any 3 card straight like 6♠ 7 8♣, or higher. If a person extends the sequence, it must be defeated by matching the number of cards played, only in a higher sequence.

Special combinations: Bombs

  • Pair sequences ("bomb", "cut", "chop", "breaker", "2-killer", "cop killer", "buster", "Dick"): A combination of at least 3 pairs, referred to as "fingers", that are in numerical sequence and same color like 3 3 4 4 5 5 || 10♠ 10♣ J♠ J♣ Q♠ Q♣ K♠ K♣ A♠ A♣.

Pair sequences have the important ability to defeat 2s.

  • To bomb a single deuce requires a 3-pair sequence, or four-of-a-kind.
  • To bomb a pair of deuces requires 4-pair sequence, or 2 four-of-a-kind.

A pair sequence can only be beaten by a higher pair sequence. In order to defeat a double sequence, the higher sequence must be in the same quantity and color as the defeated sequence and the first pair of the higher sequence must be higher than the last pair of the lower one, like 3 3 4 4 5 5 can be defeated by 6 6 7 7 8 8, since the first pair in the second sequence contains the 6.

  • Four-of-a-kind ("bomb", "buster"): A combination of all four cards of equal rank, like 3 3♠ 3 3♣ || A A♣ A A♠

Four-of-a-kind can only be defeated by a higher four-of-a-kind. A four-of-a-kind has the ability to defeat any single 2 card. Note that if a player wishes to defeat more than a single 2 using a four-of-a-kind, they would need to transform it into a double-sequence of at least two fingers, like all 4s, all 5s, and all 6s can defeat three 2s. This is because each of those are considered a four-of-a-kind, which means each of them can defeat a 2.

Discussion of Twos and Bombs

If 2s are played in combinations, beginning with a single pair, the double sequence or four-of-a-kind must be extended or enhanced to be able to defeat those quantity of 2s: Playing pairs of a card makes that card and the combination more powerful. By adding on more 2s to the pile, the play has gotten more powerful. As a result, a regular double sequence or four-of-a-kind is too weak to defeat it, like any single 2. It can be defeated by a regular double sequence such as 10♠ 10♣ J♠ J♣ Q♠ Q♣ or a regular four-of-a-kind such as 3 3♠ 3 3♣. However, if two 2s are played, then a regular double sequence or four-of-a-kind is not strong enough to beat it. This is because the power of a 2 has been doubled. The sequence must be extended or enhanced in order to defeat more than a single 2.

Notice that an extended double sequence has at minimum 8 doubles in consecutive order, rather than a maximum of 6 like a regular sequence. By extending the double sequence, the play has therefore gotten more powerful than a regular double sequence, and as a result is now able to defeat two 2s. The same concept applies to more than two 2s. The more 2s, the more extension needs to be done on a double sequence.

Four-of-a-kinds are almost impossible to extend. Having all four of three numbers in sequential order will just about never happen without the use of trading. However, just in case a player gets extremely lucky, extended four-of-a-kinds have a different property than the extended double sequence. An extended four-of-a-kind such as 8 8 8♠ 8♣ : 9♣ 9 9 9♠ ||3 3♠ 3 3♣ : 4♠ 4 4♣ 4 : 5 5♣ 5 5♠ in some versions of the game can defeat as many as four 2s in just one extension. However, the four-of-a-kind extension is so rare, there has never been a rule to extend it. Therefore, only the players can decide just what are the guidelines to it, and how many 2s can be defeated by extending it.

Instant wins

There are officially seven things that can guarantee a player a very rare instant win:

  • Four 2s
  • Six pairs (In sequence, Ex. 44,55,66,77,88,99)
  • Three triples (In sequence, Ex. 444,555,666) (three triples are rarer than six pairs).
  • Dragon's Head (Dragon): A special sequence that runs from 3 through ace. A dragon can only be defeated by another dragon of higher suit. A dragon of hearts can't be defeated. This type of sequence is the longest in the game. The dragon is the sequence that has all individual cards, like 3♠ 4♠ 5 ♠ 6♠ 7♠ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠ J♠ Q♠ K♠ A♠ 2♠.

A player must be genuinely dealt one of the three instant win occasions. No trading will aid a player in an automatic victory.

As explained earlier in the article, four 2s are simply all the twos together. This is the most powerful set of cards to have. As a result, the player will be too powerful to continue playing. Therefore, they have the choice of gaining an instant win. Six pairs is as it sounds: having six doubles. This means that if a player naturally holds 13 cards, 12 of those cards must form doubles in order to gain an instant win. The last instant win occasion, ultimate dragon, is the most difficult to attain. The ultimate dragon must contain two things in order for the player to receive an automatic victory: the 3♠, and the A. These two cards are essential in an ultimate dragon, because the three of spades commences the game, and the player can run the sequence straight to the ace of hearts. This makes the entire dragon completely unstoppable, therefore leaving the player with one remaining card, resulting in a victory.

In most games, only "Four 2s" is played as an instant win. And in a variation of it, the player with that four 2s will no long be a winner. He would like to tell another players and they will have the game restarted.


  • The person with the 3♠ or the lowest card commences the game.
  • The direction of play is decided according to convention or the players' preference.
  • In a turn, a player can decide to play or not. A player who passes cannot play anymore until the remaining players pass.
  • When a player plays a combination and everyone else passes, he or she has control and can play any legal combination.
  • The first person to shed all thirteen cards is declared the winner. The game continues until all players but one have gone out.
  • Common variation: the winner of the previous round starts the next round instead of the player holding the 3♠ card.
  • The 2 can't be last card.

Point system

If x is the bet: First place receives x points from every loser, there is no 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place; 2x points are received from players with over 10 cards in their hand

If a player has an unused black 2 in his/her hand at the end of the game, x additional points are lost. If a player has an unused red 2 in his/her hand at the end of the game, 2x additional points are lost. If a player has an unused cutup (paired sequences) in his/her hand at the end of the game, 1.5x additional points are lost. If a player has an unused bomb (four of a kind) in his/her hand at the end of the game, 3x additional points are lost. When cutting a black 2, x points are immediately received; when bombing a black 2, 2x points are immediately received. When cutting a red 2, 1.5x points are immediately received; when bombing a red 2, 3x points are immediately received. Cutting or bombing another cutup results in double the points the other player received for his/her cutup before being cut by yours. i.e. if player 1 plays 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 5, receiving x points, then player 2 can re-cut or bomb by gaining 2x points.


House rules

There are many variations and house rules that are agreed upon before playing. The names tien len, thirteen, VC, etc., are generally used interchangeably and do not necessarily imply any particular set of rules. Some combinations of rules would by their nature be conflicting, so one or the other must be chosen. Some variations from the above rules are:

  • When requested, a player must reveal the number of cards in his or her hand.
  • Straights do not have to be of the same suit.
  • Pairs do not have to be of the same color.
  • Some people allow 2s to be used at the top of a straight but not on the bottom.
  • In some parts of Vietnam, a four-of-a-kind can also defeat a double sequence.
  • Instant wins not allowed.
  • If a person is chopped, then the last person to be chopped owes the person who chopped them card(s) in the next round.
  • Once a player passes, they are "locked out" of the game until all other players pass (i.e. all other players are locked out of play for that round).
  • The person receiving the cards can return any card of their choice to player from which it came. A player can only claim an instant win with four 2s when dealt the four 2s and when not owing anybody.
    • Cards-owed variations:
      • Highest 2
      • Any 2
      • Highest card
    • Variations on number of cards owed:
      • Stacking – add a card owed for each 2 or chop above the first 2.
      • Doubling – double the number of card owed for each 2 or chop above the first 2.
      • No stacking – one card is owed regardless of layering. Two card for pairs, etc.
  • The loser owes the winner a 2 if he still have a 2 in his hand when the game is finished. If the loser have two 2s then he owes the winner two 2s, and three 3s if he have three 3s.
  • Alternate instant win hand -5 consecutive pairs (not including 2's).
  • Four consecutive pairs cannot chop a single 2. It must be broken up. Same for five consecutive pairs and a pair of 2s
  • Four consecutive pairs can beat a pair of 2s and can also go out of turn to beat a single or pair of 2s, that is if the person has been locked out of a round, the player can go back in to beat the 2.
  • Four consecutive pairs can chop a single 2 or smaller chop even if the player has previously passed.
  • Five consecutive pairs can chop a pair of 2s or smaller chop even if the player has previously passed.
  • Three consecutive pairs can be played at the beginning of the game without being the lead. This variant is widely accepted but rarely used so there is no universal agreement on whether this applies to 3 consecutive pairs only or all chops. This variant came from the book Killers for Dummies.
  • If three consecutive pairs, they can be played at the beginning of the game without being the lead or having three of spades, it cannot be used to defeat a single 2.
  • A "lock" is when a straight flush is played. Only higher straight flushes can be played after this. Alternate versions are that the player can choose to "lock" or "unlock" the set as desired. You do not need to lead to lock a straight. Most versions of the game do not allow for locking. Locking is taken from the game of Big Two, in which a straight flush beats a straight, as it is rarer.
  • The straight pairs can beat any single card, not just 2s. These are called 2-killers or bombs, but must be agreed upon by all players before dealing.
  • Along with the above listed type of "bomb", four-of-a-kind can defeat any combination of 2s for example if a person plays 2 or 3 2s, someone else can play a four-of-a-kind.
  • The first game is led by the player with the lowest card and every hand after that is led by the winner. If a player leaves the game and a new player joins, it starts by who has the lowest card again.
  • There are some less common variations as well:
    • If you pass you do not forfeit your right to play.
    • Four-of-a-kinds do beat a single 2.
    • Straights cannot contain 2s.
    • The first play of a game cannot be a straight of pairs.
    • Three-of-a-kind can beat a single ace.
    • Trading is ONLY allowed right after the cards are dealt or before the game begins.
    • There are no combinations that can beat a double 2 or tripple 2.

Double Deck 13

In Double Deck 13, two decks are used, one with a red back, one blue. This game requires 8 players, and the same rules are followed as regular thirteen with the following exceptions:

  • Play begins with the lowest card, the 3 of spades, blue back.
  • In the case of a tie, the card with a red back wins.
  • There are no instant wins.
  • The blue back King of Diamonds is considered the only single card killer.

Killer (Hawaiian variant)

In Hawaii, each player is dealt 13 cards, regardless of the total number of players (2 or 4). Some of the basic rules include:

  • The first play of any game must contain the lowest card any player has (normally a 3), as a single, pair, or sequence.
  • Straights cannot contain 2s.
  • Four-of-a-kind and three (or more) consecutive pairs are "bombs".
  • Only a bomb, and not three of the same suit, can beat a 2.
  • The four-of-a-kind bomb is stronger than the three consecutive pairs bomb.
  • There are no trading or "locks".

There are some less common variations as well:

  • When a player passes, they are not locked out from playing again in the same round.
  • Two consecutive four-of-a-kinds can beat a pair of 2s. Three consecutive four-of-a-kinds can beat triple 2s.
  • A sequence of four consecutive pairs can beat a pair of 2s. Five consecutive pairs can beat triple 2s.

Akita International University variant

In a version of 13 played by students at Akita International University, the rules for dealing and beginning a game are the same. However some of the basic rules are different:

  • Card trading is not allowed.
  • When beating pairs, the suits do not need to match (i.e. if there is a heart and club being played, your pair does not also need to contain a heart and a club).
  • To beat a pair with the same numbers, the suit of your highest card must rank higher than the suit of their higher card (i.e. if a 4 of clubs and diamonds are played, you can beat it with the 4 of spades and hearts).
  • Both four-of-a-kinds and three consecutive pairs are bombs. However, no more than 3 consecutive pairs may be used as a bomb (i.e. 4 or 5 consecutive pairs are not a stronger bomb and 6 consecutive pairs would be 2 separate bombs).
  • Dragons, due to how infrequently they appear, are also considered bombs.
  • Bombs can be played to beat any card or cards played during that round, including other bombs or any number of 2s.
  • There is no bomb hierarchy. If a bomb is played, any bomb can be played during that round to beat it regardless of type, rank or suit.
  • 2s can not be used in straights.
  • 2s can not be used in consecutive pair bombs. They can, however, be used in four-of-a-kind bombs.
  • Any three-of-a-kind can be played to beat a single Ace.
  • Straights need not be of the same suit to be played. However, if a suited straight is played, any subsequently played straights must also be suited for the remainder of the round. Suit hierarchy does come into play here (i.e. a straight consisting of 3♣4♣5♣ is higher than a straight consisting of 3♠4♠5♠).
  • Passing does not lock you from playing again in the same round.
  • Once a player sheds their final card(s), the round is considered over and the next player is free to play whatever card(s) they choose.
  • The loser of the game is required to shuffle the cards and deal the next hand.

Amsterdam Variant/ Vietnamese Poker (VP)

In this version, played in pubs around Amsterdam, many of the rules are the same, except one big variation exists. Both red 3s (that being 3 and 3) are used as ultimate trumps. While the 2s still exist as the highest single cards (though cannot be used in straights), the red 3s can be played on any combination. 3 cannot be beaten by anything, while 3 can only be beaten by 3. The only exception to this is a chop (three consecutive pairs such as 4, 4♠, 5♣, 5, 6♠, 6♣, or four-of-a-kind such as K, K, K♣, K♠) that has been played on (and can only be played on) a single two. Red 3s cannot beat chops, only higher chops can beat chops.

  • Order and dealing of the cards is the same
  • The player with the 3♠ automatically commences play
  • Strength of suits (highest to lowest) , , ♣, and ♠
  • Card trading never allowed
  • No instant wins
  • a minimum of 3 players can play, provided one hand remains unused or 'dead'
  • Maximum of 4 players
  • Straights do not have to be of the same suit
  • Pairs do not have to be of the same colour
  • Stakes for this game are 1€, given by the loser of each round to the winner
  • A chop also incurs an immediate 1€ fine, payable by the chopped to the chopper
  • A chop can be 'double chopped' if a higher chop is played onto the original chop (it can also be triple chopped) - the highest card must be higher than that of the preceding chop. A double chop brings the fine to 2€ and a triple chop 3€ (always payable by the chopped to the chopper. In the case of a double chop, the person who laid the original chop then owes the double chopper 2€. If a third, higher chop is played, the double chopper then owes the triple chopper 3€. In theory, a quadruple chop could occur, although it would be considered pretty incredible and rare)
  • It is common practice to constantly bang the table and shout 'Mao!', especially if another player is taking too long to play his or her cards.
  • It's meant to be a quick game

UT Pike/OC Intern variant

This variation is referred to as Viet Cong.

  • Order and dealing of cards the same.
  • Card trading never allowed.
  • No instant wins.
  • 2-4 may play a single game, regardless of number of players though; exactly four 13 card hands are dealt. If three people are playing, then the fourth hand remains unused. If two people are playing, two hands are used for a first game, and then the remaining two hands are used for the second game without any reshuffling or dealing. The losing player of the first game does not have to disclose unused cards from first game. Never can more than 4 people play a single game; if more than four people wish to play, a non-player must call “loser’s spot” and may replace the losing player of the current game in the following game. New person must always shuffle and deal.
  • Pairs need not be same color.
  • When multiple card combinations are played (pairs, trips, straights etc.), higher combination decided by highest card played. King of Hearts and King of Spades pair would beat King of Diamonds and King of Clubs pair.
  • Straights need not be same suit. However, if a suited straight (a “lock”) is played, any subsequently played straights must also be suited for the remainder of the round. Just because a straight is a lock, does not mean it can beat a straight with a higher top card or be played on top of a straight used with a different number of cards.
  • 2s never allowed in a straight.
  • Passing does not lock a person out of the round.
  • Once a player sheds his final card(s), the round is not considered over. If all remaining players pass, then the person playing clockwise to the player who just “went out” then “has the power” and may play whatever they wish or “reset the table.”
  • Only three consecutive pairs considered “bombs.” Bombs can either be led, used on a single 2, or played on top of a lower bomb.
  • More so than winning, the goal is to not lose. The loser must shuffle and deal the cards for the next game (or lose his or her spot in the game if a person calls “losers spot”). Generally, the cards are pushed in front of the loser and the phrase “Shuffle B*tch” is used. It is very shameful and humiliating to lose and have to shuffle and deal the cards. It is even more shameful and embarrassing for a person to lose then have someone else shuffle and deal for him or her. Denying the shamefulness of having to shuffle and deal the cards is reason enough to banish a person from playing the game ever again (Greg Harden Rule). There is no shame in shuffling and dealing to begin first game or shuffling and dealing because you are the new person to the table of people who have already been playing.
  • When playing with two players, the shuffling and dealing is shared and not shameful or embarrassing until one person wins both “games” dealt from one round of shuffling and dealing. The other person must shuffle and deal (with shame) until he or she wins both games.
  • Optional Rule: have person shuffling and dealing in shame wear bowl, dunce cap or some other visible sign of shame while shuffling and dealing.

Asian Deuces Variant

The winner of the hand determines whether the cards in the next game are cleared after each round or at the end of the game. During the very first game the player with the 3♠ determines the card clearing procedure for that game.

Pro-Play Thirteen

Pro Play Thirteen does not change the dealing or basic rules of play. The variations generally expand the combinations available to play:

  • No instant wins.
  • Pairs need not be of the same color as the previously played pair.
  • 2s can be played at the end of straights.
  • Straights ending in 2s can be bombed.
  • Bombs can be re-bombed. Hierarchy is as follows, high to low:
Level 4
1 Quad 2s (Unbombable)
2 QQQ, KKK, AAA, 222
Level 3 (Can bomb three 2s)
3 TT, JJ, QQ, KK, AA, 22
4 3 Quads†
5 Four-triple straight of triples (333,444,555,666)
6 KKK, AAA, 222
7 Six-pair straight of pairs (33,44,55,66,77,88)
8 JJ, QQ, KK, AA, 22
9 Five-pair straight of pairs (33,44,55,66,77)
10 QQ, KK, AA, 22
Level 2 (can bomb two 2s)
11 Three-triple straight of triples (333,444,555)
12 2 Quads†
13 Four-pair straight of pairs (33,44,55,66)
14 KK, AA, 22
Level 1 (can bomb one 2)
15 Quadruples (5555)
16 Three-pair straight of pairs (33,44,55)

† Note multiple quads can be played as one bomb and do not have to be consecutive, for example: 4444 + 9999 can be played together

  • ProPlay Point System

Players play for 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th. No extra points for holding 2's or having extra cards unless you didn't get in as stated below in the 'Got to Get In' rule. First place gets 2 points, 2nd gets 1 point, 3rd gets minus 1 point & 4th gets minus 2 points. Variations of the points can be increased as long as it's still a zero sum game. One extra point is given to someone who bombs someone's two. Points compound using the hierarchy of bombs listed above.

Guaransheeds are a special case in which a player believes he or she can guarantee a first place win. If the Guaransheeding player is successful, the Guaransheeding player will receive an additional point from each player in the game. If unsuccessful, the Guaransheeding player must give 2 point to each player in the game. A Guaransheed must be approved by all players before play begins.

Blind Guaransheeds are similar to Guaransheeds except the Guaransheeding player has not seen his or her hand before guaranteeing the victory. If the Blind Guaransheeding player is successful, that player will receive two additional points from each player in the game. Otherwise the Guaransheeding player must give two points to each player in the game.

Got to Get In: If a player goes out and any of the players has not yet played a card, each player who has not played forfeits two points to the player who is going out.

See also


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