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If you’re visiting or planning to study in Japan, you have to be aware that the locals love playing card games. One of the more popular games is Koi koi using Hanafuda cards. In this article, we will discuss how to play and bet on koi-koi using hanafuda cards. Before we go into detail about how to play and bet on koi-koi, we must first discuss the cards.
The Hanafuda Cards
Hanafuda is a deck of cards used by the Japanese. It is much smaller than a regular Western playing card but is somewhat thicker. That’s why the cards don’t bend. Instead, they create a solid snapping sound. Since they are thicker than regular playing cards, shuffling them can be rather tricky.
Trivia: When you buy Hanafuda cards, you might receive the deck enclosed in a Nintendo box. Nintendo did not start with Dokey Kong. In 1889, Nintendo was in the business of producing hanafuda cards.
Hanafuda used to be a means for the locals to engage in gambling. But, pachinko has since replaced hanafuda cards in terms of gaming. However, the cards remain widely used in Japan.
The cards contain 12 different suits that correspond to each month of the year. Each suit has four cards, which come with different point values. A flower or a plant often represents the suit. In general, the hanafuda has two or three standard cards in each suit. It is called “Kasu” or junk. Since they are normal, they come with a lower point value. There are also mid-level point cards, which feature red and blue poetry ribbons, animals and birds. They carry more points than the normal ones. The poetry ribbon cards are called “Tan” while the animal cards are “Tane.” Special cards, called the “Hikarifuda,” carry a high point value.
The following are the suit of the hanafuda cards:
January 1 月 – Pine/”Matsu” – 松 (まつ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Poetry Ribbon/”Akatan” 赤短 (あかたん) (5 points) and one Special: Crane/”Tsuru” 鶴 (つる) (20 points)
February 2 月 – Plum/”Ume” – 梅 (うめ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Poetry Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Bush-warbler/”Uguisu” 鶯 (うぐいす) in a Tree (10 points)
March 3 月 – Cherry blossom/”Sakura” 桜 (さくら)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Poetry Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Camp Curtain/”Maku” 幕 (まく) (20 points)
April 4 月 – Wisteria/”Fuji” 藤 (ふじ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Ribbon/Tanzaku 短冊 (たんざく) (5 points) and one Special: Cuckoo/”Hototogisu” (ほととぎす) (10 points)
May (5 月) – Iris/”Ayame” 菖蒲 (あやめ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Eight-plank Bridge/”Yatsuhashi” 八ツ橋 (やつはし) (10 points)
June (6 月) – Peony/”Botan” 牡丹 (ぼたん)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Purple Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Butterflies/”Cho-cho” 蝶 (ちょう) (10 points)
July (7月) – Bush clover/”Hagi” 萩 (はぎ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Red Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Wild boar/”Inoshishi” 猪 (いのしし) (10 points)
August (8 月) – Silver grass/”Susuki” 薄 (すすき)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), two Specials: Geese/”Kari” 雁 (かり) in Flight (10 points), Full Moon/”Tsuki” 月 (つき) with Red Sky (20 points)
September (9 月) – Chrysanthemum/”Kiku 菊 (きく)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Purple Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Ceremonial Sake Cup/”Sakazuki” 盃 (さかずき） (10 points)
October (10 月) – Autumn leaves/”Momiji” 紅葉 (もみじ)
It has: Two Normals (1 point), one Purple Ribbon (5 points) and one Special: Deer/”Shika” 鹿 (しか) (10 points)
November (11 月) – Willow/”Yanagi” 柳 (やなぎ)
It has: One Normal, the Willow and Red Lightning (1 point), and three Specials: Red Ribbon (5 points), Swallow/”Tsubame” つばめ (10 points), and Ono no Michikaze/”Rainman” 小野道風 (おののみちかぜ) (20 points)
December (12 月) – Paulownia/”Kiri” 桐 (きり)
It has: Three Normals (1 point, one off-shaded), and one Special: Chinese Phoenix/Ho-oh 鳳凰 (ほうおう) (20 points)
How to Play and Bet on Koi Koi
Now that you have an idea about hanafuda cards, it is time to learn how to play and bet on koi-koi.
Playing Koi Koi
Played by two players, koi-koi is often considered as the Japanese poker. The game also has a dealer who deals the cards this way:
- The first four cards on top of the deck automatically go to the other player, face down.
- The following four cards go to the dealer, also face down.
- For the next four cards, it must be placed at the centre of the table, face up.
- The process continues for the next 12 cards.
- Then the remaining cards will go face down in a stack.
During this time, the other player can ask to play the dealer’s hand. Should such a request be made, the players then swap their hands.
Before proceeding with the play of koi-koi, both players must check the face-up cards if:
- All the cards of a suit are present in any of the eight cards. If yes, the game is void, and the dealer must restart the game.
- The game is also void if four pairs are present in the face-up cards.
- Should there be three cards from a suit, either one of the players can get them together in a stack. Then, the player who receives the last card in the suit automatically takes the lot.
- When there is a Bright on the centre cards, the game score will be doubled. If there are two Brights, the score is tripled, and so on.
The cards on hand must also be checked for instant wins:
- If you have four cards of any suit, you win. You get five points, and you become the dealer for the succeeding round.
- The same condition applies if you have four matching pairs in your hand.
Like in every card game, each player takes a turn, which follows two actions:
- The first one being a player getting a card from their hand and placing it face up at the centre of the table. If the card matches any of the suits already face-up, you can “capture” the card by placing your card on top of it. Remember, do not pick up the cards.
- Should there be no matching cards, you place your cards beside the other cards already on the table.
- Then, you get a card from the stack and see if it matches any card face up on the table. If it has a match, capture it. If none, place it beside the cards.
- Once you have any captured card, you can now take them and put them in your area facing up. The cards must be arranged accordingly (brights, animals, ribbons, plains).
- If a player creates a winning combination or Yaku, the game stops. The player can say “Stop,” and win the game and calculate the points. They can also choose to say “Koi koi.” The game will then proceed so the player can get more Yaku and more points. You have to note that while stopping the game is a safe bet, going for more yaku is more exciting. Since each koi-koi means your score will increase exponentially.
- BUT, if the other player gets a yaku and decides to stop. They automatically win the hand, and all your previous koi-koi will become useless.
How to Bet on Koi-Koi
Betting on koi-koi can be done similarly with other card games, such as Rummy where the amount of winnings depends on the points scored during the game. This is the reason why some player chooses to play koi-koi instead of stopping when they get a yaku. More points mean more winnings. Now that you know how to play and bet on koi-koi, it's time to look for someone to play against!