Fan Tan


You can get along reasonably well playing Fan Tan with remarkably little grasp of the fundamental strategy. However, to be exceedingly good at Fan Tan, you can’t rely exclusively upon the luck of the hand you’re initially dealt. To play at a high level involves a good degree of skill and a grasp of the mechanics of the game.


The basics

-Number of players: four is ideal, but three five and six also work.

-Playing time: half an hour

-Cards: a standard deck of 52 cards. No jokers required.

-Ranking: ace low, then King down to deuce. Suits are equal.

-Deal: To decide who gets to deal first, randomly choose someone to deal a card face-up to each player until someone receives a jack (of any suit); the lucky player gets to deal the first hand. For subsequent hands, the deal passes clockwise.

The dealer then gives out all the cards, face-down and clockwise. If you’re playing with four people, everyone receives the same number of cards. If you’re playing with three, five, or six players, some people get more cards than others. However this disproportion gets corrected over the course of the game.


Object of the game

The objective of Fan Tan is relatively simple. You deal out the entire deck of cards amongst the players, and you spend the game attempting to get rid of all your cards before the other players can manage to do so.

You get rid of cards by inserting them to an already existing run, or sequence of cards in a suit, which is constructed during the play. You may play one card whenever it’s your turn. You have to build the cards up and down in consecutive order, starting from the 7 in each suit. After someone plays the 7 of a suit, the next player can legally put on the 6 or 8 of the suit. If the 6 hits the table, the next player has the choice of adding the 5 or 8. If he plays the 8 on the 7, the next player can put down the 6 or the 9, and so on.

After the first 7 is played, if the next player has no 7 or can’t add to the cards on the table, he passes. You must play if you can.



The player to the direct left of the dealer has the first chance to play. If he has a 7 in any suit, he is required to play it; this is done by placing it face-up in the center of the table. If he doesn’t have a 7, he passes to the player on his left.

Getting Rid of Cards

If a player boasts more than one 7, they do not automatically put down the one in the suit in which you have the more cards. Instead they place down the 7 where you have more awkward end-cards (e.g. aces and kings, or 2s and queens).

If you’re playing for money, it is required that any player who passes must put an additional unit into the pot. Fan Tan’s original name, Play or Pay, was very much to the point.

Once someone starts the game with a 7, then the next player can make one of the following moves:

– They may play a 7 in another suit if you have one. If you want to play another 7, you place it directly above or below the other 7.

You don’t have to play another 7 if you have a different legal move that you would prefer to make.

– You may build up or down on any 7. This means that if you have an 8 or a 6 in the fitting suit, you put it down to the right or left of the 7.

– If you cannot make any of the above moves, you pass.

Likewise, the next player can either build up or down from the existing structures or pass. In Fan Tan, aces can only be low.

If you can play, you must do so, however this can be frustrating as it can be tactically undesirable, for example you may be forced to release a card that you’d rather keep in your hand. A player who’s caught retaining a card in a stakes game can’t win the hand on which the offense occurs.

After some turns around the table have occurred, the cards will begin to form into piles on both sides of the 7s look below:

When a pile comes to the end of its expected life (when an ace or king stops the sequence from progressing any further), turn over the pile to specify this.

The first person to eliminate of all his cards wins, and play immediately stops. He takes the pot (which consists of the antes plus any additional contributions made during the hand) if you’re playing the game with winnings, before the winner collects the pot, all the other players put in one unit for every card remaining in their hands.


Tips on how to win

To play Fan Tan well, you’ll need to train yourself with a few vital fundamentals of strategy. Your Fan Tan tactic starts when you have more than one card you can play.

Assuming you have more than one playable card, a good tip is to first look first at the suits in which you hold end cards (both high and low cards). These cards present all kinds of problems as you can’t get rid of them until every other card in the suit has been played, this tends to occur towards the end of the game, meaning you’ll probably be holding on to them for a while. Your strategy should revolve around persuading people to play cards in the suit in which you hold end cards. You provide persuasion by playing cards in that suit.

Choosing between 7s

Starting at the beginning of a hand, your first idea is to play as quickly as possible any 7 in a suit in which you have an end card. Similarly, if you have 3s or kings, think about playing the 7s in those suits right away. If you’re playing in a four-player game and you hold back a 7 in a suit filled with end cards, you may boost your chances of not finishing last, but you significantly lower your chances of winning.

If you are lucky enough to be given the choice, you should start with suits in which you have end cards rather than suits in which you’re securely placed with middle cards.

Playing your end cards through sequences

Generally, you will want to minimize your opponents’ opportunities to play, therefore restricting their freedom of action making them release cards they want to retain in their hands. Following that logic, playing an end card (an ace or a king) whenever possible is generally a good idea.

For the same reason that end cards are theoretically appealing plays, you often find that you can use a run in your hand to force others to play. A run happens when you hold something along the lines of the Q-J-10-9 of a particular suit; playing the 9, 10, or jack gives no other player an extra opportunity and so influences your opponents to make moves that they would prefer not to do.

Break out your sequences only after you’ve made all your plays in the suits where you have end cards.



Double-Deck Fan Tan – this is a popular variant, it’s a great game for a big group, when a single deck leaves you with an undersized. It requires two standard decks of 52 cards without jokers

You play Double-Deck Fan Tan just as you play Fan Tan. The most obvious difference is that you have eight rows of cards in Double-Deck Fan Tan rather than the four rows in conventional Fan Tan.

With two of each card mingling in the double-deck, you have no guarantee that you’ll be able to put down a card when a gap arises, as someone may fill in the position first. More 7s are present, but you still don’t know precisely when you can get your cards out.

Double-Deck Fan Tan is more haphazard than standard Fan Tan, and so is less tactical, which may be seen as a disadvantage.

The scoring works as in regular Fan Tan, with players playing to a specific target, or for stakes.


Crazy Tan – This variant of Fan Tan can prove confusing, but is a great variant once learnt

The elementary idea is similar to Fan Tan, in that the purpose of the game is simply to get rid of all your cards. Yet, you give only seven cards to each player, this results in a stock of undealt cards.

The player to the dealer’s left leads, only if he has a 7. If he does not have a 7, he collects a card from the stock. If he picks up a 7, he must straightaway play it.

If the first player can’t put a card down and picks up a card that isn’t a 7, the next then picks up two cards, providing an extra burden. And if the third player then can’t put a card down, he collects three cards. As soon as anyone picks up a playable card, the tally goes back to zero.


Related External Links

There is an informative Fan Tan guide on the pagat website.