Software developer Ugen Govender.

Durban - With more than 50 000 downloads on Android smartphones and an impressive average of 4.6 out of 5 stars, Chatsworth software developer Ugen Govender’s thunee app is proving to be a huge hit among fans of the popular South African card game.

The 47-year-old, who learnt to play thunee (derived from the Tamil word for water) from his father Krish and brother Ravi, created the first-of-its-kind cellphone app.

The app uses sophisticated artificial intelligence where your phone attempts to “learn” from your play. 

The app is fully customisable and settings can be adjusted for amateurs and professionals alike.

“Playing the game via the app does not allow one to colour cut or cheat in any other way. There’s no rubbing of the nose to indicate your partner should keep diamonds trump,” joked Govender.

He started playing the card game when he was 11.

“I looked forward to my brother and his friends being short of a player, so I could fill in.”

When he relocated from Merebank to Gauteng in the mid-1990s, it was often difficult for Govender to find three people to play with him.

To resolve this dilemma, Govender joined his passion for the game with his experience in computer programming to create a desktop programme of the game in 1995.

“I started development of the mobile version in 2009 and produced various iterations during the years with the first release in 2015 only for friends and family. The app was released in 2016 on the Google Play store. Since then, it has been downloaded 60000 times, exceeding my expectations,” said Govender.

“Users told me it had improved their play, especially younger players who were fearful of taking on their older counterparts.”

Govender spent a lot of time and effort to perfect the app, he said, to make it challenging for the most experienced players but fun for beginners.

“I developed the AI (artificial intelligence) like a simulation of actual human play, where it would read its partner’s play and play accordingly. The AI is so good that I lose more games than I win on the hard level.”

The app, he added, would assist newcomers with things like calling jodhis, double and khunuk plays that most beginners battle with.

Govender lives in Umhlatuzana with his wife and business partner, Mandy, 42, and children Thashni, 18, and Yolisha, 11.

The app can be downloaded from the Google Play store.

Greg Naidoo, who downloaded the app, posted on Google Play: “This is just brilliant. I spend hours playing on it. The other day my phone went missing and the next thing, I can hear 20/30/40 calls from the bathroom. Turned out my brother-in-law took it and was playing. Well done to the developer and thank you for bringing such a unique game to our fingertips.”

* The origins of the original thunee are not known, although a prankster has posted on Wikipedia that the popular trick-taking card game originated in Durban and “was invented by Devi Sankaree Govender, who came to South Africa to work in the sugar cane fields”. Devi Sankaree is an investigative journalist with DStv’s Carte Blanche.