What is Tonk?

If you have never heard of the card game tonk, don’t fear. We will explain everything in this guide. Tonk is a fairly popular game which is believed to have originated in the US. No one is quite sure of the exact origins, which is quite common when it comes to card games.

According to betting historians, the game was popularized by jazz musicians in the southern state of Louisiana as a way to pass time between and after shows. This gives the game of tonk a beautifully romantic image, wouldn’t you say? It certainly brings to mind smoky clubs, lively double bass sounds, crawling percussion, and whiskey free-flowing while the dulcet tones of Billie Holiday float across the room.

While tonk may not be the most famous card game out there, it is often likened to rummy. It is also frequently compared to another popular game in Louisiana, conquian. As it is a game where players are required to create runs (arrange cards in order of sequential rank), there are similarities, for sure.

The game also goes by the names “Tunk,” “Texas Tonk,” and “Knot.” It is played at a reasonably quick pace, and usually, for money. While there are slight variations in the rules depending on what version you play, tonk is typically played by 2-4 players. It’s perfect for a Friday night winding-down session or to entertain the in-laws! A game of many charms, players of tonk enjoy the mix of skill and luck in this card game. As a standard game is played fairly quickly, it is perfect for playing with money.

Cards in Tonk

The first thing you will need to do before playing tonk is to have a full deck of cards and at least two active players. This is the bare minimum required to play the game. There are particular values to each card, which we will take a look at below.

Card Values

It may sound painfully obvious, but the deck of cards should be checked to ensure that everything is there. Even one missing card can affect the game, so it is preferable to play with a new deck. Oh, and remember that jokers should be removed from the deck of the cards, as these are not required in the game.

In tonk, each card has its own point value. All picture cards – other than aces – are worth 10 points each. An ace is worth 1 point at all times. All other cards are worth their face value in points. So, a 2 of hearts is worth two points; a 3 of clubs, three points; a 4 of spades, four points; and so on.

When Playing for Money

If the game is to be played for money, make sure this is agreed on by all participants from the outset.  As we mentioned above, the game is generally played by 2-4 players, but you can even play with 6 or more people, depending on which version you play. The rules – including any stake on a hand – should, therefore, be agreed to by all players before a game begins.


The widely accepted way to bet on tonk is to set a particular stake for each hand. For example, $10 per hand, which is put down before the first hand is dealt. Whoever wins the hand will then collect this sum of money from all players at the table.

In tonk, you may play through several hands in any given session. Ensure that the stake you choose is affordable for everyone who wants to play. As stakes can be doubled during the game (we have covered this in the next section), you could soon run out of cash very quickly if you are having a bad run of fortune.

Alternatively, if you do not want to play for money, you could consider using chips, pennies, or matchsticks to act as the stake. It is not mandatory to part with your money when playing this game!

Playing Tonk

The most common way to appoint a dealer is by cutting cards from the deck. The player with the highest score will then deal first. In subsequent games, the role of the dealer will then be assigned to the nearest player to the left of the last dealer.  Cards are to be dealt to each player in the game. They should be dealt one at a time and be placed in front of the player, face down.


The dealer will provide each player with five cards each. Once a player has received all five, they should carefully add up the scores. If a player has calculated their total score as 50 points, they should let everyone else know straight away. A score of 50 is a tonk, which is the quickest way to win the game of the same name. Now, here is where things get interesting if you are playing for money!

Any player who scores a tonk will receive double the stake from every other player in the game. In the unlikely (but reasonably possible) event of more than two players scoring a tonk in one deal, a draw is declared. No winnings are paid at all, and the game will move on to the next round.

Should no tonks occur, the dealer will place all remaining cards face down on the table to create the stockpile. The top card will be placed face up on the table, and this will be where discards are placed.

Spreads: Runs and Books

The objective of tonk is to create “spreads” in the game. These are classed as either “runs” or “books,” and they can be achieved by drawing cards and discarding those which are not needed.

Winning at tonk involves in putting these cards together to create the strongest hand you can possibly achieve.

  • A Run: This is a combination of three cards or more of the same suit, which are arranged in sequential order. For example, a 2, 3, and 4 of spades or a 6, 7, and 8 of diamonds.
  • A Book: A book is either three or four cards of the same rank. For example, three queens or four tens (of any suit).

Once a player has put together a spread of three or more cards, these can be placed face up on the table. It is permitted for players to add more cards to spreads which they have personally put down or to those that have been put down by others. For example, if the player to your right has put down three kings, you can add a king to the spread if it is your turn to play.

How to Win

The game will be started by the player located to the left of the dealer. They begin by drawing a card from either the discard pile or stock pile of cards on the table. They will then have to discard one of the cards they have been dealt. Easy!

The next player will do the same. Turns in the game, therefore, will be taken according to a clockwise fashion. Everyone should have a turn and be permitted to put down a spread or add a card to any existing spread.

In order to win, you must be the first player to place all of the cards face up in spreads. Then, each player, whether they like it or not, must address you as the King of the World and promise to pay you tributes for six years from the date of the win. Well, this is obviously not the case, but if you and the other players agree, you can pretty much add any conditions or forfeits to the game! It is commonly accepted that the other players will each pay you the agreed bet amount if you are playing for money.

Alternative Rules in Tonk

As we have previously mentioned, there are alternative versions of tonk. These will depend on the version you are playing. In some versions of the game, you can declare Tonk with a score of 49 or 11. You may also have the opportunity to call a “drop” during a round.

49 and 11 Tonks

In some versions of the game, tonk can also be declared when a player has 49 points, or when their combined score is lower than 11. If this is the case, it is common that a tonk of 50 will win in the case of two or more tonks in the one deal.


The purpose of a “drop” is to attempt to win the game prior to laying down or discarding your cards.

This should only be done when you are confident that the total score of the cards you have will be lower than each one of your opponents’ cards. If this is the case, you can tell the other players to drop their cards.

What happens next is that every player must lay down all cards face up. Every player will then see all other players’ cards.

  • If you have a lower value than everyone else, you are declared the winner and can collect your winnings from all other players.
  • If you misjudge the score of the other players’ hands, you will be required to pay a winning stake to each individual with a lower total score than your own.

While a drop can be a smart move if timed correctly, if your judgment is poor, it could cost you big time. Not only will you have to pay out each player with a lower score than you, but you will also have to pay double stakes to the player with the lowest score. Now, that would hurt!

Dropping should be a rule which is agreed to by all players prior to the start of a game. When and how it can be done should be made clear to everyone to make it a fair game. This will avoid any objections which could lead to confusion in the middle of a game.

Playing Tonk Online

Tonk is a game which is designed for playing against other players for real money.

As such, you can expect to find a number of casinos and websites with a version of the game to play for cash. Tonk is not one of the more popular games online, so it is unlikely that you will come across the game in the majority of online casinos or betting sites.


From the jazz bars of Louisiana in the 1930s to the present day, tonk has captivated players. As a game, it is pretty similar to the old classic, rummy. The way the cards are used and arranged into runs and books adds a sense of familiarity, for sure. There are a few different variants of tonk, although most games derived from this game share very similar rules and ways of playing.

When playing the game, the rules should always be clear for everyone before a hand is played. As tonk is typically played for money, it is even more important for everyone to agree to specific rules. No one likes losing money, but being labeled as a sore loser is even worse!

Regardless of the version you play, tonk can be an excellent way to pass time or spend some quality time with friends and family. All you really need to get going is a deck of cards and a player to compete against. Generally, the game works better with four players, although you can play tonk with six or more players, too!

A fun, matching card game with rules which are easy to learn, tonk is an excellent alternative to other games like poker and rummy. If you and your friends are sick of playing the same old games weekend after weekend, this is one which is more than worthy of a try.

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