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Chinese Card Games: The Landlord

Learn the fine art of wheeling and dealing those cards if you wanna be the landlord


Chinese Card Games: The Landlord

Learn the fine art of wheeling and dealing those cards if you wanna be the landlord


Card games are a staple of any party, road trip, or rainy day. However, in the land of the Middle Kingdom, most Western card games are not well known enough for mass application. Classics like Gin Rummy, Go Fish, and Old Maid can be thrown out of consideration straight away. Even the universal gambling milestone, Poker, can be considered a rarely played game: while it certainly has its fans, it’s nowhere near as well known as local games.

The Chinese have their own selection of card games and one of the more famous ones would be Landlord (斗地主).

Widely practiced both in the physical and digital realm, Landlord is a simple three-player card games that requires a strategic mind, mathematical skills, and teamwork when temporary alliances are formed. While there are variants with more players, it’s generally played with just three.

To an ignorant viewer, the rules of the game may seem complicated. However, once the fundamentals have been explained, it is very easy to learn.

So without further ado:


Landlord is a score based game, comprising of many rounds. Each round, players bid on becoming the landlord, with the winner receiving extra cards. Everyone else become the peasants.

The landlord wins if they shed all their cards first and the peasants win if either one of them discards all their cards.


  • 1 pack of cards, including the two jokers, are dealt between 3 players, with each party receiving 17 cards.
  • The remaining 3 are placed face down in the center.
  • Players take turns to bid for those 3 extra cards. Available bids are 1, 2, 3, and pass, with 3 being the highest.
  • The winner takes the 3 cards and becomes the landlord.
  • The first player plays a certain type of hand and the remaining players have to play hands that are of the same type but higher in value. 
  • Players take turns shedding their cards. Passing is an option, you can play cards when it comes back to you.
  • If no players are able to beat a certain hand, then the holder of that hand can start with a new hand. This would be the end of one round and the start of a new one.


The lowest value card is the three and the highest card is the colored joker. The black joker is the second-best card, followed by the two, then in descending order from Ace, to King, through to the three.

  • Single Cards/Pairs/Triplets – Any
  • Straight – At least 5 consecutive cards
  • Straight of Pairs – At least 3 consecutive pairs
  • Straight of Triplets – At least 2 consecutive triplets
  • Triplet + Single/Triplet + Pair – The value of the triplet determines the value of the hand. Can be chained with consecutive triplet values.
  • 4 of a kind – While they can be played as normal hands, they also act as “bombs” which can be played after any hand, but not a bomb of higher value.
  • 4 plus 2 – On the off chance you don’t want to play a bomb and would rather shed more cards, players can a 4 of a kind plus two different single cards as a kicker.
  • 2 Jokers – The biggest bomb of all. Can be played whenever.


Scores are calculated based on the which side wins, the landlord’s initial bid, and what hands are played during the round.

If you are playing with a seasoned veteran, then they may know how to score. If you are all beginners then you can take each round as a separate game.

In conclusion, scoring is not important.

General Strategy:

As the landlord – Because the game will be 2 vs 1, controlling the play early on is important. Winning the first sequence allows the landlord to dictate what type of hands will be played and thus they will be able to shed weaker cards earlier.

A clear path to victory is needed from analyzing one’s cards, so it is not advisable for beginners to take on this role.

As a peasant – Pretty much the same as the landlord, however because you are in a team, some sort of mutual understanding is needed. Remember that only one of you needs to discard all your cards first to secure victory.

One common mistake players make as peasants is to take control of a sequence away from a teammate and leaving neither with a clear path to victory.


You’re the landlord. How many different hands can you see? What is the path to victory? (Baidu Tieba)

Now that you’ve learnt the basics, all you need are 2 friends (shouldn’t be a problem, right?) and a deck of cards, or just download an app.


Cover image from Nipic