Hwatu (화투, 花鬪), is the name given to a set of cards used to play a number of games, the most common being 'Go Stop', which is Korea's most beloved card game. "Hwatu" literally means "flower cards." When Koreans get together in a social setting, it's quite likely a game will begin. In parks throughout Korea, groups of elderly gather to play it. It is a gambling game, so it is considered a grown-up's game, like poker is in the West.
The Hwatu are a modified version of the Japanese Hanafuda cards. Hanafuda were developed from, or was at least inspired by Western playing cards. They were first mass-produced in Japan by Nintendo and introduced to Korea around the turn of the 20th century. In Japan, Hawaii, and other places in the South Pacific, Hanafuda are used for a game similar to Go Stop with a different scoring system.
There are 48 cards in the set, broken up into twelve months (suits) of four cards each. Each month has a corresponding plant which is represented on the card:
||Willow or Rain
Other cards are often added for play, but they are not considered part of the canonical standard set.
How to play Go Stop!
The basic gameplay -- what each player does on their turn -- is quite simple, but learning the game can be a challenge. The two things that make this game challenging to learn are distinguishing the beautiful cards on the fly, and absorbing the many, many little rules about special scoring plays, combining cards, extra points, and doubling (and redoubling, and redoubling!) your points. What makes this game challenging is also what makes it interesting and engaging. To play well, you must be able to identify the cards, and remember which cards are in which suit, and play the game with all the scoring possibilities in mind if you are to regularly get huge scores in a single hand, which should always be your goal.
With so many little rules, it's not surprising that there are many variations on the scoring. The rules as laid out here represent one common way of playing the game. (For more info, see the Variations section.)
Before the game begins, the stakes are agreed upon. The stakes are the penalty per point suffered by each of the losers. A stake can be some poker chips or money (typically 100W in a friendly game) paid to the winner, or two-finger slaps by the winner to the upturned wrist of the losers, or whatever people agree upon.
The game is usually played on a blanket or a pillow surface because playing on a hard surface like a table makes it tedious to pick the cards up after each hand.
There are three players, one being the dealer. The player to the right of the dealer cuts the deck, leaving two piles of cards, or just taps the top. The dealer begins dealing with the lower half of the deck, if the cards were cut, or the whole stack if they were just tapped. The dealer receives cards first, and the deal continues counterclockwise. The dealer first gives four cards to each player, and three in the middle, then three more to each player (for a total of seven each), and a final three in the middle (for a total of six). The rest of the cards are stacked on top of the other pile face down in the centre of the table, and the six cards in the middle are turned face up.
Of the six cards in the middle, if there are three cards of the same suit turned up, then the three are stacked into one pile. Players then pick up their cards, and the gameplay begins.
Players, starting with the dealer, play two cards, the first from their hand and the second from the stack in the middle, onto the playing area, trying to match suits with a card face up in the middle. After both cards are played, if either or both of the cards played matches suit with a card already on the table, the player claims all the matched cards and puts them face up in their scoring pile in front of them. If there are already two cards on the table of the same suit as the card played, the player chooses which card to claim, along with the card played. After both cards are played and any cards are claimed, the player's turn is over. Play continues counterclockwise.
If a player plays a card from their hand onto a matching card on the table, then turns over a third matching card from the pile in the middle, these three cards get stacked together, and are left on the table. The player gets nothing. This is sulssa. The only exception is if the fourth matching card is already on the table, in which case, the player gets all four cards (see Ttadak below). If sulssa happens to a player in their first play of the hand, they receive payment worth three points from each player (that's to say, chips or money or slaps on the wrist, not cards), and play continues. (note: there's disagreement as to whether this is called "ppuk" or "sulssa" or "bok.")
Special scoring plays
In each of the following four conditions, the player receives one pi card (explained below) from each of the other players' scoring piles (not their hand). If a player only has a 2-pi card showing, they must give it. If a player has no pi cards, they are lucky, and pay nothing. If a player combines more than one of these in one turn, (like sseul and ppuk) they get as many pi from each player.
- Chok (or kiss): This occurs when a player plays a non-matching card from their hand onto the playing area, then turns up a matching card from the pile onto their first card. This does not apply on the player's last turn of the hand.
- Sseul/쓸 (or sweep): This occurs when a player removes all the face-up cards from the playing area. This does not apply on the player's last turn of the hand.
- Ttadak/따닥: This occurs when a player removes all four cards from a month in one turn by matching each of the two cards they played with two cards from the same month on the table.
- Ppuk/뻑: If there is a stack of three matching cards on the table from a sulssa (not including from the original deal), and a player plays the fourth matching card, they collect all four cards, as well as the pi from each player.
The hand can end in a variety of ways:
"Go!" and "Stop!"
When player's total points in their scoring area gets to three or higher, they must call "Go!" or "Stop!" If they call "Stop," they win the hand, and collect their winnings from the other players. If they call "Go!", the play continues. After calling "Go!", each time that player's score goes higher than it was the last time, they must call "Go!" or "Stop!" again. So, if a player calls "Go" with 3 points, that player cannot call "Go!" or "Stop!" again until they have at least 4 points. This is important because after a player calls "Go!", it's possible that their score will go down because of losing pi cards, making it more difficult to have a higher score than before.
A player cannot call "Go!" after playing their last card, and so can only call "Stop!".
If all the cards are played and nobody has called "Stop!" then the play ends. In this case, the same dealer deals again, and the points for the next round are doubled.
If a player is dealt all four cards of a suit in their hand, they score 5 points, and the hand ends immediately. No other points count.
If a player gets three sulssas in one hand, they score 5 points, and the hand ends immediately. No other points count.
As mentioned in the scoring section, if a player collects all 5 kwang cards, it's worth 15 points in addition to any other points in their hand, and the hand ends immediately.
The object of the game is to collect at least three points and call "Stop!" When a player calls "Stop!" they win the hand, and collect one stake for each point they have, from each player. Since the minimum points to win is 3, and there are two other players, the winner will always collect at least six times the stake, and often quite a lot more.
Cards are played and matched according to suit, but they are scored according to scoring categories:
Kwang (광, 光, light) cards are identifiable by the Chinese character in one corner:
Yul (animal) cards all depict an animal or an object of some sort:
Tti (띠, ribbon) cards all have a ribbon on them. There is a family of three red ribbons with writing, a family of three red ribbons without writing, and a family three blue ribbons with writing. There is also another tti card, the December card, which has a red ribbon on it, but is not part of the red ribbon family:
Pi (junk) cards mostly have no picture at all besides the plant, the lone exception being the December (Willow) card:
The last two red pi cards count as 2 pi each when scoring.
Most games allow the player to use the Chrysanthemum yul card and the Iris yul card in scoring as either 2-pi or yul (but not both) at their discretion. This should be clarified in advance.
Points are accumulated by combining the cards won in the four scoring categories.
If a player has all 5 kwang cards, it counts for 15 points, and the kwang-bak rule automatically applies, so it's effectively worth 30 points. Wow, devastating. The hand ends immediately.
If a player has any 4 kwang cards, it counts for 4 points.
If a player has 3 kwang cards, and none are the Willow kwang , this is worth 3 points:
If a player has 3 kwang cards, including the Willow kwang, this is worth 2 points:
If a player has any five yul cards, it's worth 1 point total. Each additional yul card is worth one more point. So six yul is worth 2 points, seven yul is worth 3 points, etc.
If a player collects all three bird cards (with or without five yul cards), it's called godori. They are worth 5 points:
Note that these two cards do not count as birds , although the second card does count as yul.
If a player collects seven or more yul cards (with or without godori), their score doubles, including all other points.
If a player collects five tti cards, it is worth 1 point. Each additional tti card is worth one more point, in the same fashion as yul cards.
If a player collects all three of the tti cards in one family, it's worth 3 points:
Note again that is not a member of the above family, but it does count as tti.
If a player has ten pi cards, it counts for 1 point. Each additional pi card is worth one more point. So, eleven pi cards is worth 2 points, twelve pi is worth 3 points, etc.. A 2-pi card count as 2 pi towards the total pi.
Extra points, etc.
If a player has three or more cards from one month in their hand, at any time while they still have all three cards in their hand, they can show them. If they win that hand, their points double. This is called heundeum, which means "shaking". If a player happens to have two sets of three matching cards (six cards altogether), they can "shake" twice, and if they win, their score quadruples.
If a player has called "Go!" 1 time in the hand and later wins, 1 point is added to their score.
If a player has called "Go!" 2 times in a hand and later wins, 2 points are added to their score.
If a player has called "Go!" 3 times in a hand and later wins, their score doubles.
If a player has called "Go!" four times in one hand and later wins, their score quadruples.
As mentioned in the "points" section, if a player has 7 or more yul cards, their score doubles. This is called mong tta bak.
As mentioned in the "play ends" section, if play ends without anyone calling "Stop!" a new hand is dealt, and the points are worth double.
If a player wins with any points from pi (ten or more cards), any player with four or fewer pi cards must pay double. This is called pi bak.
If a player wins with any points from kwang (three or more cards), any player with no kwang cards must pay double. This is called kwang bak.
If a player calls "Go," but somebody else wins the hand (by any means), the player who called "Go!" pays both players' penalties. That's to say, the other loser pays nothing. If both losers called "Go!" during the hand, they each pay their own penalty.
Because of the three rules above, the two losing players often pay different penalties.
Matgo is the two-player version of Go Stop. The dealer initially deals four cards to themselves, four to the middle, four to the other player, three more to themselves, four to the middle (for a total of eight), three to the other player, then three more to themselves and three to the other player (for a total of ten cards each). All the other rules are the same.
With a game this complex, it's predictable that variations will arise. Furthermore, each online site likes to have their own special rules that distinguish it from the others. These are some common variations. Make sure all the players agree on what rules you are playing by before you start.
- If a player scores a ppuk on a sulssa that they made themselves, the player receives 2 pi, not just one from the other players.
- If a player has three cards of the same suit in their hand, and the fourth is on the table, the player can play all three cards at once on the card facing up, and turn over just one card from the middle pile. This is called a bomb at some sites. All the cards are collected immediately as if they had been won as a ppuk. This counts as hendeum too, doubling the stakes if that player wins. Further, in future turns --as the player will now have two fewer cards than they should have-- the player may twice elect not to play any cards from their hand, but merely turn over one card from the middle pile. This is a good tactic when nothing in the player's hand matches what's on the table.
- If you score 5 kwang, play continues.
Some varieties, including just about every online variety, add extra bonus cards into the deck. They can be worth 2 or 3 pi or grant special powers, like immunity to kwang bak.
Any bonus cards dealt into the middle at the beginning go straight into the dealer's collected card pile as if the dealer had already played them. Another card is turned over into the middle to replace it.
When someone plays a bonus card from their hand, they take a replacement card from the middle pile into their hand so they have the same number of cards as before. This does not count as the player's turn, just an exchange of cards. The player then takes their normal turn.
If the player turns over a bonus card from the middle pile while playing their second card, they put that down on top of the first card played from their hand, flip over an additional card from the pile, and collect it (and everything that was matched) after the turn is done. If the player turns up a bonus card and then gets sulssa on the next turned card, the bonus card gets stuck in the pile of three cards, and the player gets nothing. Whoever is lucky enough to get ppuk on that pile gets the bonus card too.