Go Stop: A Korean Card Game

Written by on January 31, 2011 in Lifestyle

Truth be told, I love card games. When I was growing up in the United States, my family and I used to sit around the table and play games a few times each week. I remember playing games such as Uno, Euchre, and my personal favorite: Cribbage.

My travel cribbage board on a recent Korean adventure.

While many in Korea play card games that most may recognize, there is one game that I’ve fallen in love with: Go Stop (고스톱). The game uses Japanese flower cards called Hwatu (화투). The cards originally came about because gambling with four-suit card decks were outlawed. This ban prompted the creation of new decks and a new game.

The standard set of Hwata (Go Stop Cards).

Today, gambling with Go Stop is still against the law, but the game is most often played between friends and family members when gathering for holidays (such as Seollal, the Korean Lunar New Year). I had seen this game played a few times, but was intimidated by the cards and because I thought the rules would be complex. I was surprised to find out that neither was the case. Both the rules of play and the cards are quite simple. Essentially, it’s a matching game with points.

Different groups: Bright (Kwang), Animals (Yul), Ribbons (Tti), and Junk (Pi).

The cards are divided into different categories (each with their own point value, to be explained later). The Kwang, or Bright cards are the most valuable in the game, but also the most difficult to obtain. In many cases, it isn’t what cards you collect, but how many. A few of the cards don’t really match others or embody special properties. These are the November and December double Junk, September Junk/Animal card, and May Animal cards.

From left to right: November and December double Junk, September Junk/Animal card, and May Animal cards.

Go Stop is a game for two or three players. For complete rules, I recommend checking out this great website or the Wiki entry. Both have fantastic information. For now, I’ll explain the basic rules for new learners.

Dealing the cards for the three players.

In a game for two players, each person is dealt 10 cards and 8 are placed face-up in the center. With three players, deal 7 cards and place 6 in the center. Play begins with the dealer and then moves counter-clockwise.

Step One: Try to match a card in the center.

Step Two: Draw from the deck.

Step Three: Match again and collect your cards. If no match, leave the card in the center.

Play is simple: take one of your cards and match it to one in the center. If you can do this, you’ll get to keep both cards at the end of the round. Next, draw one from the center pile. If it matches a card in the center, you collect it as well. Collected cards are placed in front of each player face-up. If the card drawn matches the one placed down (creating a pile of three cards), it is left in the center. Only the fourth card of the set can collect the cards.

The game progresses until one player earns enough points to stop the game. In a two-player game, that’s 7 points, but in a three-player game, it’s only 3 points. This player can choose to stop the game and win, or choose to go for another round. If the player chooses to do so, more points are added to his/her score, but there’s also a risk. If another player obtains enough points to stop the game before play returns to the player that uttered, “Go,” then player who stopped the game is crowned the winner.

This last bit can be a little complex, so my personal recommendation is this: if you’re just learning how to play, don’t worry about the Go/Stop part of the rules. Play until all the cards are out and count up the points. Once you’re familiar with how to score, then enable the Go/Stop (and the most exciting part of the game) rules.


Junk scoring is quite simple. The first 10 cards collected are worth 1 point. Each card above that is also one point. Therefore, if you have 13 Junk cards, score yourself 4 points: 1 point for the first 10 cards + 1 point for the 11th card + 1 point for the 12th card + 1 point for the 13th card.

Junk score: 4 Points.

Ribbons are scored in sets of three and are worth 3 points. Keep in mind; the December ribbon is not part of a set. In addition for scoring 3 points for a set of ribbons, if you have five ribbon cards (including the December ribbon), that’s worth 1 point. Score 1 point for each card above five. For example, 3 blue ribbons score 1 point + 3 red ribbons score 1 point + 1 point for 5 ribbons + 1 point for the 6th ribbon card = 8 points.

Ribbon score: 8 points.

Animal cards are scored in a similar manner. Any five animal cards earn the player 1 point. Each card above that, scores 1 point. The exception is the bird cards, or Godori. Collecting these three cards scores the player 5 points. In the above example, Godori scores 5 points + 1 point for five animal cards + 1 point for the 6th animal card = 7 points.

Animal score: 7 points.

Collecting the Kwang cards can be quite lucrative. If you manage to secure all five cards, that’s 15 points. Any four of the Kwangs earns 4 points. However, there are two scoring options when possessing three cards. If your set includes the December Kwang, score 2 points, if not, score 3 points. (The December Kwang card is on the far right in the photo below.)

Kwang score: 15 points.

Go Stop is a great game with several additional rules (check out the links at the beginning for a complete list). Cards can be found in most convenience stores for about 3,000원. Give the game a try, I know you’ll enjoy it!

About the Author

Steve Miller

Steve Miller, the QiRanger, is Korea’s best-known travel video blogger-journalist. His videos have been viewed by millions and seen on media outlets in throughout the word. In addition to sharing his entertaining and informative videos, he writes about life abroad and releases a popular podcast. Steve appears regularly on international radio stations, talking about travel, Korean culture and East Asian news. He’s also appeared on Arirang Television sharing unique aspects of Korean life. You can follow Steve on Twitter @QiRanger or visit his site QiRanger.com.