Learning the Tonk rules is almost as simple as playing the game, and once you’ve learned how to play, you’ll have access to a great game that you can bust out for every occasion too.
The game’s goal is to be the last player standing, achieved by matching cards or forming a numbered sequence.
Incredibly popular in the South of America in the 1930s, Tonk was said to be the game of choice for many jazz musicians owing to its timeless rules and fast gameplay.
So continue reading to learn how to play Tonk, including what melds, sets, and runs mean, as well as how scoring works.
What Is Tonk?
Tonk is a Rummy game whose difficulty is closer to the Pitty Pat card game than Hand Knee and Foot card game.
So it’s an excellent game to play with people who enjoy card games but aren’t looking for anything too demanding or challenging.
Players try to form sets of either 3 or 4 of a kind or form sequences of 3 or more cards of the same suit.
After the end of each round, players get a score with the lower the score, the greater each player’s chance of avoiding being eliminated from the game.
Number of Players Required: 2 – 6 players.
Who Can Play It: Kids, Teenagers, Young Adults, Adults.
Length of Play: 10 – 15 minutes per round.
Similar to: Conquian; Gin Rummy; Pinochle; Tripoley; Canasta
Main Objective: Be the last player left in the game who avoids scoring 100 points across multiple rounds.
Why We Love It: Tonk is a great example of a Rummy game and is also one of our favorites. The fact that all you need is a basic understanding of the straightforward rules and a standard deck of cards means you can bust this game out in most situations.
Playing Tonk – What You’ll Need.
Like pretty much any version of Rummy you come across, the only thing you’ll need to play is a trusty deck of cards.
If you’re looking at card games to play, then chances are you already have a deck spare, but if you don’t, then treat yourself to a high-quality deck like this one from Bullets.
Tonk requires you to play multiple rounds, also which means a lot of shuffling, so also consider getting a card shuffler to turn this chore into an easy task.
Finally, make sure you have either a notepad and pen or whiteboard so you can write down scores each player gains after each round and tally them up.
How To Set Up Tonk
Select a player at random to be the dealer, or deal with yourself as the host of the game.
Alternatively, have all players pick a card from the deck, with the lowest card becoming the dealer.
Have the dealer shuffle the deck well and deal out 7 cards to each player.
The remaining cards are placed in the middle of all players; this becomes the draw pile.
Overturn the top card on the draw pile and place it picture/number side up to form the discard pile.
Like every other version of Rummy, the game gets played with players forming melds, and Tonk is no exception.
You may not grasp how melds work straight away, but if you’ve played a card game that uses this format before, this should be straightforward to understand.
And even if you haven’t once you’ve read through the rules and played a couple of practice hands, then your understanding should improve quickly as well.
Starting the Game
Whoever is sitting left of the dealer starts the game, with each player taking turns in a clockwise formation.
The starting player must pick up a card from either the draw pile or the discard pile and must always end their turn by discarding any card from their hand.
Each player follows this at all times throughout the game.
How to Play Tonk
Other versions of Rummy have a much more difficult melding system, but Tonk uses a simple set of melding rules in comparison.
The rank of cards goes from high to low: King, Queen, Jack, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, Ace.
Throughout the game, players attempt to turn the cards into melds, and melds are formed in 1 of 2 ways Sets and Runs:
- Sets are 3 or more cards of a kind (i.e. 3 Jacks).
- Runs are 3 or more cards of the same suit within a sequence (i.e. 7 Diamonds, 8 Diamonds, 9 Diamonds).
If a player is able to form a meld, then they lay the cards that are either in the set or run down face up in front of players.
The game continues until 1 player gets rid of all their cards in their hand.
The game goes around the circle 1 last time, with the remaining players attempting to form a meld with one last draw.
Scoring In Tonk
Once a player declares themselves free of all their cards and everyone has had 1 last draw, scores get calculated for that round.
Whatever cards players have leftover in their hand constitutes a score.
For every face card left (King, Queen, or Jack), the player scores 10 points.
Numbered cards are worth their face value (i.e., 9 is worth 9 points).
Aces are low, so they are worth 1 point if leftover.
The game restarts until a player manages to score 100 points, which means they get eliminated from the game.
This continues until there is only 1 person left who is the winner of Tonk.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are there any other specific Tonk rules to be aware of?
There is 1 additional rule that isn’t compulsory to play with but can certainly add a bit more drama to the game.
If a player gets exactly 50 points after the first round of play and shouts out ‘Tonk’, then they automatically win the game.
What is the maximum number of cards you can use in a set or run?
.Melds are typically formed with either 3 or 4 cards, so keep to this and make sure nobody forms a meld with less or more than this number.
Can you hold aces in Tonk?
There are some versions that state you cannot hold onto cards, including the aces, but allowing players to hold onto aces (not playing them even if they form a meld).
We’d recommend not holding them if you’re playing with beginners, but if you’re playing with more experienced players who agree to this rule, then go for it.
Can you spread ace, king, queen in Tonk?
No, you are not allowed to spread Ace, King, Queen in Tonk. Players can sometimes count King as 13, Queen as 12, and Jack as 12. This would mean frequent automatic winnings, so using these cards in spreads is forbidden.
Alternative Games to Tonk
We anticipate that if you’re a lover of card games, especially Rummy, that after reading our guide to Tonk, you cannot wait to get stuck into the game.
But if you’re looking for more games similar to Tonk, take a look at our guides to the Phase 10 rules and the Nertz card game rules.
Both these games follow similar gameplay to Tonk, with the difference being you use their own specialized deck to play rather than a standard 52 card deck.