Kan

This page is based on information from Takerube Nobuaki and Kuromiya Kimihiko, with additional material from Jackie Chang and Florent Barraco.

Introduction

Kan is a popular card game in Aomori prefecture in Japan, especially at Goshogawara and Tsugaru. Some players use the generic name Etori (picture taking) for this game, but Etori can also refer to other games of this family, such as Kakeya Toranpu. There are many variations. The most popular one is called Gonin-Kan (literally "five people Kan", i.e. five-handed Kan), which is described first below, followed by versions for four and three players.

Gonin-Kan

Players and cards

This game is played by five players, as its name shows, but can be also played by six players. In the latter case, the dealer doesn't play but just deals cards.

Remove the twos of hearts, diamonds and clubs from the standard 52 card pack plus a joker (50 cards in all). Cards in each suit rank from high to low: A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2. The joker is special: it is always the strongest card. You are not allowed to play the joker in the first or last trick, but you can play the joker to any other trick, regardless of the suit led.

The ace, king, queen and jack of each suit are worth one point each, so that the pack contains 16 points in all. The other cards have no value. The aim of the game is to collect as many point cards as possible by taking tricks.

The whole game is played counter-clockwise.

Round and Match

On this page, a round means a series of from one to three successive deals by the same player: the dealer is known as "maki-yaku". A round ends when the dealer's team loses a deal, or when it has won three successive deals. When either of these things happens, the new dealer is the player to the right of the previous dealer and a new round starts. (Note that, because players sometimes have to change seats during the first deal of a round, it does not necessarily happen that all players deal equally often. Sometimes a player is skipped and sometimes a player who dealt two rounds ago must deal again, having moved to the right of the player who dealt the intervening round. The dealer for the new round is always the player sitting immediately to the right of where the previous dealer is now sitting.)

A match consists of a series of rounds - for example 10. The match ends when the agreed number of rounds have been played. The player who then has the most points is the winner of the match.

First deal of a round: trumps and partners

The trump suit is known as "yaku". For the first deal of the first round, clubs are trumps; diamonds are trumps in the first deal of the second round; hearts in the first deal of the third round. Then the sequence is repeated: clubs, diamonds, hearts, clubs and so on. Spades are trumps in the first deal of the final round of the session. This last round is known as "Tome-Suppe" ("Stopping Spade").

For the first deal of a round, the dealer shuffles and deals each player ten cards, one at a time. The holder of the joker and the holder of the ace ("poh") of trumps must declare "kan", and they become partners. If the same player holds both the joker and the Ace of trumps, the kankei consists of this player and the player two places to his right (not counting the dealer in a 6-player game). The joker holder places the joker and trump ace face down on the table, and the partner places his whole hand face down. A member of the mukankei draws a card from the partner's hand and exchanges it with one of the two cards placed face down by the joker holder. The players pick up their cards again, and now one member of the kankei has the joker and the other has the ace of trumps.

The joker holder and the trump-ace holder are partners, not only in this deal but also during the whole round (up to three deals). They are called "kankei" ("partnership" or literally "relationship") or just "kan", and the other three players are called "mukankei" or "mukan". The two players belonging to the kankei team must not sit next to each other. If they turn out to be neighbours, in a 5-player game the player to the right of the pair must exchange the seats with the opponent to his right.

In a 6-player game a similar procedure is used, but skipping the non-playing dealer. So if the kankei players are sitting immediately on each side of the dealer, the player to dealer's right exchanges seats with the next player to the right. If the two kankei players are next to each other and immediately to dealer's left, the player to dealer's left must exchange seats with the player to dealer's right.

Play

Either of the two players in the kankei team, if he wants to lead to the first trick, says "Iku" (literally "I come.", i.e. "I play.") and leads. If he doesn't want to do so, he says "Koi" ("Come on"), and in this case his partner must lead to the first trick. If the two partners make conflicting announcements - both say "iku" at the same time or both say "koi" - then the kankei player who has two mukankei players to his right must lead.

The play is counterclockwise. Playing the joker in the first or last trick is forbidden. With that exception, any card may be led to a trick. The other players must follow suit if possible. A player who has no card of the suit led may play any card. In tricks other than the first and last, the holder of the joker may play it irrespective of whether he was able to follow suit - playing the joker is known as "odoru" (dancing). The trick is won by the joker if played, or by the highest trump in the trick. A trick with no joker or trumps is won by the highest card of the suit led. The winner of a trick is known as "kenri", and this player leads to the next trick.

If the holder of the joker leads it to a trick, he must announce what suit is to be played, and the other players must play the announced suit to the trick if possible. The holder of the joker cannot be forced to play the it until the second to last trick. When the joker must be played in the 9th trick, this is known as "odori ban" (dancing turn).

Scoring cards won in tricks are collected face up on the table in front of a member of the team that won them. Non-scoring cards played to tricks are gathered in a single face down pile by the dealer.

At the end of the play, the scoring cards won by the kankei team are counted. If they are more than eight, then the kankei team has succeeded. If the kankei team has collected eight or fewer scoring cards, it has lost the deal and the round ends.

If the game is played by six people, the dealer is regarded as a member of the kankei team. This means that the dealer wins or loses the same number of points as the active players in the kankei team, even though he doesn't play.

Second and third deals of a round

The same dealer deals again, even if he is now sitting in a different seat having changed places with his neighbour after the first deal. The two players in the kankei team in the first deal are still partners. In the second or third deal of a round, the kankei team chooses the trump suit.

In the second deal, the player who held the joker in the first deal will choose the trump suit, but before he does so, the player who held the ace of trumps in the first deal may show his partner one or two cards from his hand, passing them across the table without showing them to the opponents. This can be done in various ways:

  1. show two cards at the same time;
  2. show one card and take it back, then show another card;
  3. show one card and take it back, then show the same card again;
  4. show just one card;
  5. show no cards at all (this is rarely done).

The cards shown are used to suggest a trump suit (option 4), or two alternative suits with equal or unequal preference (options 1 and 2, the first suit shown in option 2 being preferred). Option 3 is used primarily to deceive the opponents into believing that two suits were offered. Having given back the cards that were shown, the joker-holder can choose any suit as trumps, including spades. He announces his choice and leads to the first trick.

The rules of play are the same as in the first deal of the game. The kankei team wins the second deal if it has collected eight or more scoring cards.

In the third deal it is the holder of the joker from the first deal who shows one or two cards to his partner, using the same procedure as above, and the ace holder then chooses trumps and leads the first card. To win the third deal the kankei team needs to collect nine or more scoring cards, as in the first deal.

Sukonku

If the kankei team takes enough scoring cards to win (i.e. more than eight cards in the first or third deal of a round; more than seven cards in the second deal) before the mukankei team has taken a scoring card, the kankei team is entitled to stop the play and score an extra point for "sukonku". If this happens in the second or third deal of a round, the player who whose lead it is may opt instead to declare "juuroku" (see below) and continue playing.

If the mukankei team has takes enough scoring cards to win (at least 8 in the first or third deal of a round; at least 9 in the second) while the kankei team has taken no scoring cards, the mukankei team can stop the play and score extra points for "gyaku sukonku" (counter sukonku). If it is the second or third deal of the round, the player whose turn it is to lead may instead declare "gyaku juuroku" (see below) and continue playing.

Note: "Sukonku" obviously derives from the English word "skunk", which is sometimes used in American card games for the situation where the loser fails to win a single point, or more generally, loses by a wide margin.

Juuroku (16) or gyaku juuroku is an undertaking that one's team will take all 16 scoring cards. It cannot be announced in the first deal of a round, but in the second or third deal it can be announced if either team achieves a sukonku, by the player who has just won a trick and is about to lead to the next. No discussion between partners is allowed: the player whose turn it is must decide alone whether to stop or continue. If the opponents of the announcing team take any scoring cards at all, the (gyaku) juuroku fails and the announcers also lose that deal.

Scoring

Scores for each player are calculated at the end of each round, as follows.

Itemkankeimukankei
Each deal won by the kankei team+1-1
Each deal won by the mukankei team-1+1
Sukonku - play stopped+1-1
Gyaku sukonku in the first deal-10+10
Gyaku sukonku in the second or third deal - play stopped-3 for the round+3 for the round
Juuroku succeeded+8-8
Juuroku failed-16+16
Gyaku juuroku succeeded-16 for the round+16 for the round
Gyaku juuroku failed+32-32
The kankei team has won three successive deals+1-1

Notes

  • Each player scores all the points, positive and negative, due to his team.
  • If juuroku is announced, the point(s) for sukonku are not counted - only the points for the deal and for the juuroku.
  • In case of gyaku sukonku, the mukankei players score 3 points for the whole round and the kankei lose 3, all other scores for that round being cancelled.
  • If gyaku juuroku succeeds, the mukankei players score 16 points for the whole round and the kankei lose 16, all other scores for that round being cancelled.

Examples:

  1. If the kankei team has won three successive deals and succeeded in sukonku in the second deal, each player of that team gets five points: one for the first deal, one for the second deal, one for sukonku in the second deal, one for the third deal, and one for winning three deals. Each mukankei player loses 5 points.
  2. If the kankei team has won the first and the second deals and succeeded in juuroku in the second deal, but lost the third deal, each kankei player gets nine points: one for the first deal, one for the second deal, eight for juuroku in the second deal, less one for the third deal. Each mukankei player loses 9 points
  3. If the kankei team wins a sukonku in the first deal, then the mukankei team tries for a gyaku juuroku in the second deal and fails, and the kankei team wins the third deal without sukonku, each member of the kankei team scores 40 points: in the first deal 1 for winning and 1 for sukonku; in the second deal 1 for winning, and the 3 points scored up to this point are doubled, making 6, and 32 points added for the failed gyaku juuroku; then 1 more point for winning the third deal and 1 for winning all three deals. The mukankei players lose the same 40 points.

A game ends when the agreed number of rounds have been played. The player who at that time has the most points is the winner.

Variations

In tournaments, in the second or third deal of a round, the partner of the trump maker must always show two cards (simultaneously or successively) or the same card twice, never just one card or no cards.

Some play that if, in the first deal of a round, the same player holds both the joker and the ace of trumps, the cards are thrown in and there is a redeal by the same dealer.

Although this game is traditionally played anticlockwise, some players nowadays play clockwise.

There are different methods of scoring. For example, some play that in case of a failed gyaku juuroku, the kankei not only score 32 points but also double all their other scores for the round up to this deal. The mukankei lose an equal number of points.

Shippo-Jo (4 Aces and Joker). This variation is played in some informal games, but not in tournaments. If one team held and played all four aces and the joker, any member of other team can call "Shippo-Jo", and the deal is cancelled. The cards are thrown in, shuffled and redealt by the same dealer.

Here is an alternative scoring schedule for a five-player game with zero-sum scores, so that scores can be settled by passing coins between the players.

Itemkankeimukankei
Each deal won by the kankei team+3-2
Each deal won by the mukankei team-3+2
Sukonku - play stopped+3-2
Gyaku sukonku in the first deal-12+8
Gyaku sukonku in the second or third deal - play stopped-6 for the round+4 for the round
Juuroku succeeded+15-10
Juuroku failed-30+20
Gyaku juuroku succeeded-15 for the round+10 for the round
Gyaku juuroku failed+30 and other scores up to this deal doubled-20 and other scores up to this deal doubled
The kankei team has won three successive deals+3-2

Yonin-Kan / Damari-Kan

"Yonin-kan" means four-player Kan. In this game the 2, 3 and 4 of all suits and the 5 of spades are removed from the pack, leaving 40 cards including the joker, so that 10 cards can be dealt to each player.

In Yonin-kan, the kankei in the first deal of a round consists of the Joker holder and the holder of the Jack of trumps. These players do not announce who they are, so the partnerships do not become clear until these cards are played. For this reason, this game is also known as "Damari-Kan" (silent kan). If the same player has both the Joker and the Jack of the trumps ("ni-ju-kan"), this is still not announced. In this case the kankei consists of the player who holds these two cards and the player sitting opposite, who will not know at first that the joker-holder is his partner.

In the first deal of a round, the holder of the Ace of Spades ("suppe poh") must lead this card to the first trick, unless Spades are trumps. When Spades are trumps (as in the final round of a match), the holder of the Ace of Clubs ("grafu poh") must lead it to the first trick.

Before the second deal of a round, if the kankei players are sitting next to each other, the right-hand kankei player must change places with the mukankei player to his or her right. In the second deal of a round, the player who held the Joker in the first deal looks at the first three cards that he or she was dealt and chooses the trump suit on the basis of these, before seeing the remainder of his or her cards. In the third deal of a round, the player who held the Jack of trumps in the first deal chooses trumps on the basis of his or her first three cards in the same way.

In Yonin-Kan / Damari-Kan it is legal to play the joker to any trick, but if it is played to the first trick the player must announce a contract (see below). In the last trick the joker is no longer the strongest card: instead it counts as the weakest card of the suit that was led. So the only way in which the joker can win the last trick is if a player leads it and calls for a suit that no one has, and no player has a trump.

Contracts

Any player, when playing a card to the first trick of a deal, may announce a contract on behalf of his team. Announcing sukonku or gyaku sukonku commits one's team to take enough scoring cards to win before the opponents take any scoring cards. In the second or third deal of a match it is possible to announce juuroku or gyaku juuroku committing one's team to win all 16 scoring cards.

Note that a player who announces "sukonku" in the first deal of a round thereby indicates that he is a member of the kankei. There is the theoretical possibility that a member of the mukankei could announce "gyaku sukonku" in the first deal of a round, but it is nearly impossible for this contract to succeed when the kankei have the joker, so in practice it is never announced.

The scores if a contract is announced are in principle twice the score for achieving the same thing without announcing it. The score for a failed contract is twice the score if it had succeeded. These scores replace the normal score for winning or losing that particular deal.

Contractkankeimukankei
Sukonku succeeded+4-4
Sukonku failed-8+8
Gyaku sukonku succeeded in the first deal-20+20
Gyaku sukonku failed in the first deal+40-40
Gyaku sukonku succeeded in the second or third deal-6+6
Gyaku sukonku failed in the second or third deal+12-12
Juuroku succeeded+16-16
Juuroku failed-32+32
Gyaku juuroku succeeded-32+32
Gyaku juuroku failed+64-64

Gambari-Kan

This is a three-player game, in which there is just one kankei player against a mukankei of two players. "Gambari" means "trying hard" - maybe because the lone kankei player tries hard to win the required number of scoring cards. Each round consists of just one deal with the kankei player chosen afresh, after which the turn to deal passes to the right.

Gambari-Kan is played with just 30 cards, including the joker. All the 2's, 3's, 4's 5's and 6's and all the 7's except the 7 of spades are removed from the pack. As usual the dealer shuffles, has the cards cut, and deals 10 cards to each player.

When the cards have been dealt, the player to dealer's right says either "kan" or "pass". If he says pass, the player to dealer's left has the same options; if he also passes the dealer has the same options.

If any player says "kan", that player plays alone as kankei and the other two players are the mukankei team. The kankei player leads to the first trick and as usual needs to take at least 9 scoring cards to win.

If all three players pass, the requirement for the kankei player is reduced to at least 8 scoring cards, and again each player in turn, beginning to dealer's right, has the chance to say "kan". If all pass again, the requirement to win the first deal is reduced to 7 scoring cards, then 6, and so on until someone says "kan" and becomes the kankei player.

Special Cards

Although Kan is normally played with standard Anglo-American pattern playing-cards, Japon Brand manufactures a special deck for Go-Nin-Kan, with suits of cherry blossom, beech leaf, apple fruit and snow crystal to represent the seasons spring, summer, autumn and winter.