Si4 Se4 Pai2

Rules for Si4 Se4 Pai2 (Chinese Chess Cards)



This page is derived from a USENET post that I crossposted to,, and, after 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 "Si4 Se4 Pai2" (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, Xiangqi, and Go 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.


Picture of a deck of cards
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 them.

Picture of a hand holding a fan of cards
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.

The Deck

All the types of cards 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.

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 seven 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).

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 significance.

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

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:
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, of course.)
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.
Note the following facts about melds:

The Setup

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).

Stages of a hand getting shuffled
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 Draw Pile
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.

Player holding hand in a fan
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.]

The Play

Most turns consist of the following sequences of steps:
  1. Draw.
  2. Meld.
  3. Discard.
They are described in detail below.

1. Draw.

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.

2. Meld.

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:

Example 2: The drawn card is a BGn. The player can meld by bringing out:

He cannot meld by bringing out another BGn.
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 (see below).

3. Discard.

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 his turn.

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.

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.

  1. A person winning on his own draw takes priority over anything below. He should call "zhimo".
  2. 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".
  3. 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".
  4. 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.
  5. 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".
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.

Play Etiquette


A winning hand is scored as follows: Sometimes my grandmother said that a four-card meld was 4 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.