Rules for Si4 Se4 Pai2 (Chinese Chess Cards)
- Until I find something better, all Chinese characters here are
linked to zhongwen.com -- I
shamelessly stole links to them.
- The graphics, however, are taken from
Animated Chinese Characters.
- You can read the original USENET post that
led to this page.
- The University of Waterloo's
Museum and Archive
of Games has a page devoted to these cards. As
of current writing (1-19-1999) the page claims that they suspect
that it is a set for Luk Fu -- although Si4 Se4 Pai2 can
be seen on the bottom row of the picture of the box!
They claim to have 228 cards, which means that they probably have two
decks with 4 jokers in total, although they also claim to have six
- Finally, the Card Games web site
has a page on
cards from other lands that includes a picture
of these cards (on the right side of the picture).
This page is derived from a USENET post that
I crossposted to
noticing one too many queries on how to use these cards that people
seemed to find. (I had planned to write the rules down
eventually, but just got lazy.) There was some pressure to
make this available on the web, which resulted in what you're
reading now. They say you can find anything on the web these days --
well, not for these cards. Not until now.
I have a few sets of these cards. In Mandarin Chinese they are called
(literally, "Four Color Cards"). They were used by the lower class
to play games, and are intended to be easy and cheap to make, especially
since gambling was/is illegal and there was a need for cards that could
be disposed easily. Its cousins, Mahjong,
are games that
have more expensive sets. It is because of the lower class connection
that the rules are seldom written down -- it is an oral tradition.
I personally have never seen the rules written down, but I have learned
the game from my mother, who learned it from my grandmother. Seniority
means that my grandmother is the "authority" on the rules as I know it;
however, she has been shown to be inconsistent.
There is no official set of rules for this game. I can only describe the
rules as best I remember them, and they may differ than how they are
played in many areas. I have not done extensive research or had
experience with many people playing this game.
I have also applied common American gaming terminology for many terms,
and some of my own pet translations. These are not intended to be
official or binding in any way, nor are they guaranteed to be related
to the Chinese term that I use.
I've used the male pronoun in many places, although it is intended
to encompass both genders.
Four Color Cards have an obvious
origin in Mahjong and Xiangqi (Chinese Chess), but are usually printed on
cards instead of the hard tiles/counters that those two games use.
The cards tend to be long and narrow (one of my sets has a
ratio of about 1:6) and it takes a lot of experience and skill to
hold a typical hand (up to 21 cards) and handle cards without bending
The hand is held in a fan which looks rather like a Chinese
fan when held correctly.
The game is usually played on the ground or
on an impromptu surface.
Both of my decks consist of 117 cards, although I suspect that at one
point in history a full deck was 120 cards. (One of my decks was
brand new when I bought it.)
The deck consists of four suits of 28 cards each and 5 jokers. (Perhaps
it used to be 8 jokers?) Each suit is denoted by the background color
on the card:
The jokers are also printed on a red background but the red is usually
a deeper shade than the Red suit. The backs of the cards are usually
orange in color.
- Green (G)
- White (W)
- Yellow (Y)
- Red (R)
Like a mahjong set, there are four identical cards of each denomination.
There are hence 7 denominations in each suit, each repeated four times
to make 28 cards. The 7 denominations (ranks) are identical to the
types of pieces in Xiangqi:
The [bracketed] abbreviations are those used by most Xiangqi
organizations; the ones in (parentheses) are my suggestions, as
they highlight the differences in the two groups (see below).
- General/King (Gn) [K]
- Guard/Advisor (Gd) [A]
- Elephant/Minister (El) [E]
- Chariot/Rook (Ch) [R]
- Cavalry/Horseman (Cv) [H]
- Cannon (Cn) [C]
- Footman/Pawn (Ft) [P]
The Yellow and Red suits use the characters for the Red Army in Xiangqi;
the Green and White suits use the characters for the Black/Blue Army in
Xiangqi. The characters are printed in black ink, although some
decks use red ink for some suits.
The five jokers (Jkr) do not belong to any suit. Occasionally some
jokers will be identically printed; this does not have any special
The centers of the cards are usually decorated with symbols that may
be indications of the manufacturer or be related to the card. (In one
of my sets, they contain zodiacal symbols; in another set, they contain
a strange system of lines and bars.) These
are irrelevant to gameplay.
The object of the game is similar to mahjong or rummy -- create a
winning "hand" composed entirely of melds. (Here "meld" is used in
the sense of a grouping and does not necessarily have to be exposed
to the other players). There are eight types of melds, roughly organized
into four main groups:
Note the following facts about melds:
- One-card Meld:
- A meld composed of a single card. This card must be a
General or a Joker.
- Two-card Meld (Pair):
- A meld composed of two identical cards (in suit and rank).
It is debatable whether or not this card can be a General or a
Joker -- in actual play, there is no reason to have a Two-card Meld
with Generals or Jokers. (When I tried this against my grandmother, I
got chastized.) It simplifies the rules of play a bit if
we assume that Generals and Jokers cannot be in Two-card Melds, so
let's do that.
- Three-card Meld:
- There are four types of Three-card Melds:
- Command Group:
- A General, Advisor, and Elephant in the same suit.
- Field Group:
- A Chariot, Horseman, and Cannon in the same suit.
- Three identical cards (in suit and rank). Again, there is
no need for the card to be a General or a Joker.
- Three-Footman Group:
- Three Footman cards of different suit. They may
be any suits as long as they are all different, i.e., no two are
identical. (If all three are identical, then it is a triple,
- Four-card Melds:
- There are two types of Four-card Melds:
- Four identical cards (in suit and rank). The usual caveats
about Generals and Jokers apply.
- Four-Footman Group:
- Four Footman cards, one in each of the four suits.
Jokers are not wild cards. They may only be used in one-card melds.
Every card except the Footmen and the Jokers can be in exactly
one type of group: Command or Field (or, if you like, call them
High Sequences and Low Sequences).
A winning hand will consist of 21 cards.
We've played the game with anywhere from 2 to 4 people; with more people
(or even with 4) there aren't really enough cards for a good game and
often the hand size is reduced and/or extra packs are shuffled together.
For the first game, a dealer is chosen by an arbitrary method. For
subsequent games, dealer can remain dealer if they won the previous
game, otherwise dealership moves to the right (counterclockwise).
Dealer is in charge of the cards getting shuffled and a hand of 20 cards
dealt to each player. This is not as easy as it sounds; the cards can't
really be riffle-shuffled and have a tendency to fly out of the hand
when attempting to overhand shuffle. In general, the cards from the
previous game are all rearranged in the center, moved around a bit,
and face-up cards are turned over a la mahjong. Special care must be taken
so that no card gets bent during the process. The dealer then collects
all cards into a nice little stack, does a few overhand cuts, then metes out
the hands in packets of 5.
The rest of the cards are called the Draw Pile, and is placed in a central
location, usually fanned a bit to the side instead of stacked neatly.
Future draws are always taken from one end of the Draw Pile.
A player holds their cards in a fan. Inexperienced players are usually
discouraged from playing, but sometimes they are allowed to put their
cards face down on the ground. Some players take pre-existing melds
that they do not plan to touch and put them in one big facedown
stack next to them.
[At home, we tend to dispense with formalities and just allow everyone to
grab 20 cards without collecting them into a nice little stack. The
big mess of cards then becomes the Draw Pile.]
Most turns consist of the following sequences of steps:
They are described in detail below.
The player takes the top card of the Draw Pile and flips it over in
front of him for all to see. The player does not take the card
into his hand.
The player may, if he wishes, bring out cards from his hand to
meld (create a meld) with the drawn card. He may bring out any
number of cards up to three and including zero as long as exactly
one meld is created that includes the drawn card. The meld is
left face up on the table. The player cannot use cards that are
not in his hand to meld, specifically, he cannot use previously
opened melds (but he can break up or use melds in his hand).
He cannot use the cards that are not in his hand.
Example 1: The drawn card is a WCv.
The player can meld by bringing out:
If, after a meld, a player's hand consists completely of melds or is
empty, the player can declare that they have won, and display
his hand. The current game is then over and the hand is scored
- WCv (Pair)
- WCv WCv (Triple)
- WCv WCv WCv (Quad)
- WCh WCa (Field Group)
Example 2: The drawn card is a BGn.
The player can meld by bringing out:
He cannot meld by bringing out another BGn.
- nothing (One-card)
- BGd BEl (Command Group)
If the player decided to meld the drawn, he may then discard any
card he wishes. It is laid face-up on his right hand side so that all
players may see it, especially the player on his right hand side.
If the player decided not to or was unable to meld the draw, he
must discard the draw. In practice, Generals and Jokers are never
discarded, and it is reasonable to make a ruling that Generals and
Jokers cannot be discarded.
If, after a discard, a player's hand consists completely of melds or
is empty, the player has NOT won, since he has only 20 cards. He
needs another One-card meld to win.
After the Discard, the next player, sitting to the right, begins
This is the basic sequence of play. However, there are two other
modifications to play that can change this sequence, specifically,
The modification is quite simple; under certain conditions, a player can
meld another player's draw or discard card. Play immediately shifts
to the player who claimed the card, who then treats the situation as
if he had just melded a card, and then discards a card. Play then
proceeds to the right of that person, as normal. As a consequence
of this, players in between may lose their turn, and a player may
even lose the chance to meld his own draw.
- Melding another's Draw; and
- Melding another's Discard.
Here are the priority conditions. When in conflict, a lower number takes
priority over a higher number. Note that 1 and 4 are not really stealing
someone else's draw but rather using one's own draw.
Note that a player may not complete a one or two card meld from another
player's draw or discard unless it is for a win.
- A person winning on his own draw takes priority over
anything below. He should call "zhimo".
- If the card is needed to win immediately by completing
any type of meld, the player calls "hu", and can meld the
other person's card to win. If several players call "hu",
the player whose turn would come first in normal order
gets priority. Any player may call "hu".
- If the card is needed to finish a Quad (not a Four-Footman Group),
the player calls "gan", and can meld the other person's card.
If the card is needed to finish a Triple, the player calls
"pong", and can meld the other person's card. Any player may call
"gan" or "pong".
- If the card is needed to finish a Group (Command, Field,
Three-Footman, or Four-Footman) or a One-card meld (but not a
Pair, a player may claim it when he himself has just drawn that card.
- If the card is needed to finish a Group (Command, Field,
Three-Footman, or Four-Footman), a player may claim it when the
previous player (and no other) has just drawn or discarded that
card. The player should call "chi".
- It is considered proper etiquette to call out drawn cards and discards
as they are shown.
It is considered poor etiquette to delay a call just to see what the
player will do with his draw.
It is considered poor etiquette to refuse a player's priority call on
your drawn card, even if you have already melded it -- players should
meld their drawn cards only after everyone has had a chance to see it,
but if they don't, it's their own fault.
It is considered poor etiquette to make a call on a draw or discard
after the next draw or discard has been made. (I.e., No retroactive calls.)
A winning hand is scored as follows:
Sometimes my grandmother said that a four-card meld was 4 points.
- Each four-card meld: 2 points
- Each three-card meld: 1 point
- Each two-card meld: no points
- Each one-card General meld: 1 point
- Each Joker: 3 points.
Occasionally she introduced bonuses for certain patterns; I think this
should be discouraged to keep the game simple.
A good checksum is to note that the total number of points should
always be odd. If the number of points is not odd, then the
player is probably missing a card.
Generally, points are turned into monetary units (e.g., dollars)
and are paid to the winner by the loser (the player who discarded
the winning card, or, if the card was drawn, all players pay that
amount). You can also penalize false claims by making the false
claimer pay everybody.
You may, of course, adjust scoring to taste.
This page was written completely by me, Wei-Hwa Huang. If you think you
deserve to be thanked for the production of this, tell me quickly
so this section doesn't sound too egotistical.
Go back to Wei-Hwa's Games and Puzzles Page.