Sasaki

Introduction

This climbing game for four players is said to be very popular in North Korea. It is named after one of the special combinations that can be played: Sasaki (사사끼) means 44A, that is two Fours and one Ace.

As in all climbing games the basic aim is to get rid of all one's cards before the other players. A player leads a card or a valid combination of cards and each player in turn must either beat the previous play with a higher or combination or pass. When no one can or wants to play higher, the played cards are set aside, and the person who played highest begins again.

Sasaki is a team game with temporary partnerships determined by the location of the two red 10's, so as well as playing their own cards, players try as far as they can to help their partners.

I am grateful to Jinpil Lee for introducing me to this game and answering several questions about it.

Players and Cards

Sasaki is played with a 48-card deck made by removing all the Twos and Jokers from a standard international deck. The cards rank from high to low A-K-Q-J-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3.

There are four players, and the direction of play is counter-clockwise.

Playable Combinations

There are ordinary combinations and special combinations. An ordinary combination can only beat a lower combination of the same type with the same number of cards, but a special combination can beat any ordinary combination or lower special combination.

Ordinary combinations

  1. Single card. A higher ranking single card beats a lower card irrespective of suit.
  2. Pair. Two equal ranking cards such as 5-5 or Q-Q. A higher ranking pair beats a lower ranking pair.
  3. Sequence. At least three cards of consecutive rank, such as 4-5-6-7 or 9-10-J. Suits are irrelevant. A sequence can be beaten by a sequence of the same length whose top card is higher. Example: spade6-diamond7-club8 beats heart5-heart6-heart7.

Special Combinations

  1. Triplet. Three cards of the same rank, such as 7-7-7 or J-J-J. A triplet beats a lower ranking triplet or any ordinary card or combination.
  2. Sasaki (사사끼). Two Fours and one Ace. This beats any triplet or any ordinary card or combination.
  3. Four of a Kind. Four cards of the same rank, such as 6-6-6-6. Four of a kind beats a lower ranking four of a kind or a sasaki or a triplet or any ordinary card or combination.
  4. Pig (돼지). Two red Tens: heart10-diamond10. This beats any card or combination, ordinary or special. It can only be beaten by a Black Pig.

A Black Pig (흑돼지) is a pair of black Tens spade10-club10. It can be used to beat a Pig (two red Tens), but it has no special power to beat any other combination: it can only beat two red 10's or a pair of cards lower than 10. After it has been played, the Black Pig counts as an ordinary pair of 10's, which can be beaten by a higher pair or by any special combination.

Deal and Declarations

As in many oriental card games there is no dealer. Instead the cards are shuffled and then fanned in an overlapping pile face down on the table. Each player in turn takes the top card of the pile, and this continues until all the cards have been taken and everyone has a hand of 12 cards.

The players who hold the heart10 and the diamond10 form a temporary partnership against the other two players. If one player has both red 10's, that player is alone and the other three play as a team.

A player who has a red 10 may expose it before the play begins. In this case the holder of the other red 10 must also expose it, and the two players exchange these cards between them. This is known as 'running' (달리기): it reveals the partnerships and doubles the score for the deal. When the red 10 team reveal themselves by running, either member of the opposing team may double the score again by calling 'stop' [maybe 멎는?], so that the score is four times what it would be for a deal without running.

A player who has both red 10's and is therefore playing alone may expose both of them to double the score, in which case any member of the opposing team may call 'stop' to double the score again.

If no one exposes a red 10 before the play begins, the partnerships remain secret until the red 10's appear during the course of the play.

Play

If the game is played in the daytime, the player who holds the heart3 begins the game. If it is played in the evening it is the holder of the spade3 who starts. The first player begins by playing any single card or valid combination face up on the table. This first play does not have to include the heart3 or spade3 that gave the player the right to start.

Now in anticlockwise order each player in turn must either pass, playing no card, or play a card or combination that beats the previous play. This continues around the table as many times as needed until three players pass in succession. Passing does not prevent a player from playing cards at a future turn.

When three players pass in succession, all the played cards are set aside. The person who played the last and highest card or combination becomes the new leader (선 : seon) and begins again by playing any card or valid combination which the other players in turn may beat or pass.

  • An ordinary card or combination (types 1 to 3) can be beaten by a higher ranked ordinary combination of the same type with the same number of cards, or by any of the special combinations (types 4 to 7).
  • A special combination can be beaten by a higher special combination - either a higher ranked combination of the same type or any combination of a higher type.
  • The Pig (type 7) can only be beaten by a Black Pig, which then counts as an ordinary combination..

Jata / kkota

There is an exception to the normal anticlockwise order of play. When a single card is played, any player who has a pair of cards of the same rank as the single card may play it to beat the single card. This play, known as jata (자타) or chada (차다 : kick) has priority over all other plays. For example if a 9 is played, the next player in turn would like to play the special combination Q-Q-Q, but another player has a pair of 9's they wish to play, the pair of 9's has priority and the Queens cannot be played.

When a matching pair is played in this way, it can only be beaten by the fourth card of the same rank. Playing the fourth matching card after a jata is known as kkota (꼬타) or kkojda (꽂다 : insert). Any player who has the fourth card may play it, including the player who played the original single card or the same player who played the pair. This fourth card cannot be beaten.

After a kkota, or after a jata with no kkota, the played cards are set aside. The player of the kkota, or the player of the jata if there was no kkota, is the new leader and may begin again with any card or combination.

Endgame

A player who runs out of cards drops out of the play. The others continue to play, skipping the turns of players who have no cards. If no one beats a player's last card(s), since that player has no more cards to play the turn passes to the next player in anticlockwise order who still has cards. That player is seon and leads any card or combination.

If a player's last two cards are the two red 10's (pig) they cannot be used as a special combination. In this case they just count as an ordinary pair of tens.

When three players have dropped out the play ends. The last player with cards shows any red 10's they hold to make the partnerships clear.

Scoring

The players are ranked 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th according to the order in which they ran out of cards. Each player wins or loses points according to their team result as follows.

If the game was two against two (red 10's in different hands):

Team result Score   Team result Score
1st and 2nd place: +2 points each   3rd and 4th place: -2 points each
1st and 3rd place: +1 point each   2nd and 4th place: -1 point each
1st and 4th place: no score   2nd and 3rd place: no score

If the game was one aganst three (one player has both red 10's):

Lone player Score   Team of three Score
1st place: +6 points   2nd, 3rd and 4th place: -2 points each
2nd place: no score   1st, 3rd and 4th place: no score
3rd place: no score   1st, 2nd and 4th place: no score
4th place: -3 points   1st , 2nd and 3rd place: +1 point each

The above gains and losses are doubled if the red 10 player or team declared their 10's at the start, or quadrupled if the red 10's were declared and the other team called 'stop'.

Variations

Some allow an extra type of ordinary combination, the double sequence (쌍카 : ssangka). This is a sequence of three or more consecutive pairs of cards, such as 4-4-5-5-6-6 or 8-8-9-9-10-10-J-J-Q-Q. It can only be beaten by a higher double sequence of the same length or by a special combination of type 6 (four of a kind) or type 7 (pig) - it cannot be beaten by a triplet or a sasaki.

The references imply that there are several different ways of scoring, but do not give specific details.

References

Descriptions of Sasaki can be found on the following pages:

Also, there is a series of YouTube video introductions at

This page is maintained by John McLeod, john@pagat.com   © John McLeod, 2021. Last updated: 25th April 2021

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