The Korea Herald


An introduction to the traditional card game `Go Stop`


Published : March 30, 2010 - 17:19

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When families gather for the Lunar New Year, two activities are on everyone`s mind aside from feasting on traditional dishes prepared by the dedicated hands of the women in the family.
The first and foremost Lunar New Year activity is a game of "yut" with the entire family. The other is more geared toward adults - a card game called "Go Stop."
The deck of cards used to play the game is known in Korean as "hwatu," or flower cards. "Go Stop," is played with a deck of 48. "Hwatu" originated from Japan where they were called "hanafuda" and were created to skirt around the laws which prohibited playing with the standard 4-suit deck. Each card is represented by a month. December cards, known as "Rain," are lesser in value.
The basic concept of "Go Stop" is to seize cards from a central pool by pairing a card of the same month. The goal is to accumulate enough points through various scoring combinations using the captured cards in your hand. When a hand has sufficient value, the player with that combination of cards can stop the game at any point and lay claim to his winnings by saying "stop," or the player can continue the game in the hopes of raking in more winnings by declaring "go." And this is why the game is called, "Go Stop."
While as many as four can play the game, it is recommended that two to three play to avoid confusion.
There are four types of cards for each month of the year, represented by a flower. The value of each card of the month is determined by illustrations of a ribbon, animal, or other objects -- which indicate a higher value.
The cards are divided into four groups. "Gwang" in Chinese character translates to bright and there are five of them in the deck. With Yul, or animal, there are 9 cards. "Tti," A.K.A. ribbon contribute 10 cards into the deck and lastly "Pi" meaning junk (24 cards), forms the rest of the deck. Of the 48 cards, one or more jokers may be added but the game can be played without them.

Before starting play, it is important to hash out the rules with the people you are playing with as the game has countless variations. Every region and even households have their own set so it is recommended that a unified rule of play be agreed upon by all parties unless you want tempers to flare on a joyous New Year morning. Here we will just skim the surface through a general overview of the game. For a more comprehensive how-to on "Go Stop," you can visit where it teaches you in-depth on the how to play.
The points system is as follows:
Gwang (Bright)
-A set of 5 bright cards scores 15 points
-A set of 4 bright cards scores 4 points
-A set of 3 bright cards not including rain scores 3 points
-3 bright cards including rain scores 2 points
Yul (Animal)
-A set of 5 animal cards scores 1 point
-Additional animal cards beyond five, scores 1 extra point each
-The "Godori" combination of three bird cards scores 5 points (these are February, April and August animal cards -- the December (Rain) animal card is not part of this set
Tti (Ribbon)
-A set of any 5 ribbon cards scores 1 point
-Each additional ribbon card beyond 5 scores 1 extra point
-A set of 3 red ribbons with poems scores 3 points
-A set of 3 blue ribbons scores 3 points
-A set of 3 red ribbons without poems (April, May, July) scores 3 points-the December (Rain) ribbon card is not part of this set.
Pi (Junk)
-A set of 10 junk cards counts 1 point
-Each additional junk card beyond 10 scores 1 extra point
There are also cards with special properties. The December or Rain junk card and the colored November junk card each count as two junk cards. The September animal card (chrysanthemum/sake cup) can be used either as an animal card or as a junk card for the purpose of scoring.
Before beginning play, the first dealer is chosen by drawing lots. Then the winner of each hand deals and plays first in the next hand. The dealer shuffles the cards and the opponent to the dealer`s left has the right to cut the deck.
With a two-player match, 10 cards are dealt to each player with 8 facing up to the center of the table. With a three player game, seven cards are dealt to each participant and six face up to the center of the table.
The remaining cards are placed face down in a stack in the center of the table to form a drawing stock. As in most card games, the players pick up their cards and look at them, holding them so that they see them but their opponents cannot. The cards that were dealt to the table are then laid out face up in the center area so that all are visible, normally on either side of the drawing stock. During the game, cards will be added to and captured from this pool. Each player stores captured cards in front, but kept face up so that they are visible to all players.
It is convenient to group captured cards into brights, animals, ribbons and junk, so that the state of the game is clear.
Confused yet? It is likely to take a while until to understand this complex and fast-paced game. Many joke that playing "Go Stop" might keep your brain sharp and healthy as you grow older. As is the case for most things in life, practice makes perfect. So when Thanksgiving or the next Lunar New Year creeps around, you can finally join in on all of the hoots and hollering you hear from family members or friends.
By Song Woong-ki