Rules & Strategy of Tahimi

The official card game of the Mooseyard


The origins of Tahimi, the official card game of the Mooseyard, are shrouded in mystery. Our friend Michael "J" Roberts was taught it by some friends of his, and he then taught us, and we've since taught others. No one has ever found it written down in a book under any name, and we've looked. There is a commercial card game called The Great Dalmuti (published by Wizards Of the Coast, the same company that does Magic: The Gathering) that is pretty similar, but it uses a very oddball custom deck of cards and the gameplay is, in our opinion, inferior.

Tahimi is our favorite card game. It takes only minutes to learn, and most of the mechanics are familiar to those who've played Hearts or Bridge. There's no tiresome bidding, just actual play. A new player can generally play acceptably well after only one or two hands; the strategy, though, is pretty subtle. And the ranking system offers endless grounds for jokes, and appeals to the Social-Darwinist in all of us.


Tahimi is intrinsically a four-player game, although it can be doctored for play by three or five.

Tahimi uses a standard 52-card deck (no jokers.) Aces are high. Suits are completely ignored.


The initial deal.

The players should arrange themselves in a circle and choose someone at random to deal the first hand. All cards are dealt out, into four thirteen-card hands. Your hand should always be kept hidden from the other players.

There's a bit of extra stuff that happens at this point in later hands, but on the first hand play begins immediately, viz...


The player clockwise from the dealer leads the first trick by laying down one to four cards of the same rank. (A six, or two eights, or three jacks, etc.) Play then proceeds clockwise -- on your turn you must play the same quantity of cards, all of equal rank, and of higher rank then were previously played. If you don't have the right number of matching, higher cards, you must pass. You can also choose to pass if you simply want to save your cards for later on in the hand (and you'll still be able to play in the same trick if your turn comes up again.)

The trick ends when all other players have passed on the latest card(s) played. Naturally, playing one or more aces ends a trick immediately since no one can play on an ace. The last person to play has won the trick. The cards played are discarded and the winner leads the next trick.

Example: Axel leads with two sixes. Betty plays two eights. Claire has no pairs so must pass. Drake has a pair of kings but wants to hold onto them until later in the hand and so passes. Axel plays two jacks. Betty happens to have the other two jacks but can't play them; she has no higher pairs and must pass. Claire passes again. Drake has a change of heart and plays the two kings this time around (he's seen that all aces were played in previous tricks and so knows that the two kings take the trick.) Everyone else passes. Drake has taken the trick, the played cards are tossed out and he leads the next trick with a single four. And so on...

The goal of the hand is to get rid of all of your cards as soon as possible. When down to exactly one card you must call out "One Card!" to clue the other players in, in case they haven't noticed your good fortune. (This rule has no teeth, the way we play, but you could easily decree punishments for those who forget to announce their last card.)

After you play your last card(s) you sit back, once you've finished crowing, and wait for the hand to end. Play continues normally after you drop the card(s) -- if other players can play on them, they can do so, and the last person to play wins the trick. Otherwise, if everyone passes on your last card(s), the next player clockwise leads the next trick.

When only one unlucky player is left with any cards, the hand is over.


Here's the kicker: The order in which the players leave the hand (by running out of cards) determines their rank in the next hand. The four ranks are:

  1. Tahimi
  2. Vice-Tahimi
  3. Master Serf
  4. Serf

This is a social hierarchy. The Tahimi is the boss, the capo, the big kahuna. The Serf is the lackey, the prole.

The first hand was just to establish the ranks. The pre-play setup is slightly different for later hands:

  1. The Tahimi can decide who shuffles and deals. Usually these duties are dumped on the Serf, unless the Tahimi really likes shuffling.
  2. After the deal, the Serf must pass the Tahimi his/her two highest cards (hidden from the other players) and the Tahimi must pass the Serf any two cards (usually the two lowest.)
  3. Likewise, the Vice-Tahimi and the Master Serf exchange one card. The Master Serf must give his/her highest card.
  4. The order of play goes by rank -- from Tahimi down to Serf then back to Tahimi.
  5. The Tahimi leads the first trick.

It's best for the players to physically trade places as necessary after each hand to keep the order of play clockwise. This means that each seat represents a fixed rank. The recommended setup involves a comfy, overstuffed armchair for the Tahimi (preferably with ottoman), less comfortable chairs for the Vice-Tahimi and Master Serf, and a position on the floor (optionally with cushion, for pinkos) for the Serf.

Commentary: The astute will have noted that, as in days of yore, the class structure is strongly reinforced by the economic system. With the help of the Serf's best cards (see Marx on alienation of labor) the Tahimi will typically have a powerhouse hand groaning under the weight of its aces and kings. On the other hand, the Serf will be pretty short on face cards (but may have some wild multiples of twos and threes.) A large part of the fun of the game is the class struggle for the haves to keep their positions and for the have-nots to advance theirs. The Serf role is particularly frustrating: it's very difficult to clamber out of the pit of servitude, especially while cooling your butt on the floor and enduring the good-natured(?) taunts of your so-called friends.

That's it for the rules. There's no score keeping, no tedious columns of figures to add up, and no damn "muggins"; the rankings are pretty direct and made quite concrete if you choose the seating-as-social-status approach. We've been known to play for six hours at a stretch. Have fun!

Different Numbers Of Players.

It's possible to finagle the deck to handle three or five players, although we find the play isn't as interesting.

For three players, remove a seven and deal the remaining 51 cards into seventeen card hands. There is no Master Serf role. The Tahimi and Serf exchange two cards, the Vice-Tahimi keeps his/her hand.

For five players, remove two sevens and deal the remaining 50 cards into ten-card hands. There is an extra Merchant role in the middle. The four usual roles exchange cards as usual; the Merchant doesn't exchange cards with anyone.

These are just setups we've come up with empirically, but we don't usually play at all unless we have four (or eight) players handy, and if we have extra, someone usually sits out. But it's possible that some cards could be mixed in from a second deck to fix things up; let us know if you find a mixture that works well.

Tips & Strategy.

We haven't spent much time cerebrating over strategies, so this is just an empirical list. And I'm far from the best player in our lot. But if you're just starting out, these tips and techniques may be of help.

Rules of Tahimi -- Jens Alfke -- 28 December 1996