This page is based on information from Yishin Cho (Xavier), ufm, Glenn and Hertzog.
Hoola (or Hulla) is a Korean rummy game related to, and probably based on the Japanese game Seven Bridge.
Like many traditional games it has evolved over time and has developed many variations. The situation is complicated by the existence of several online implementations of the game which work slightly differently from the traditional live game. I will first describe 'Battle Hoola', which has become the most popular version of the game for live play. After this is a collection of variations that may be encountered.
Players and Cards
A standard international 52-card pack is used. In each suit the cards rank cyclically ...-A-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-J-Q-K-A-2-3-....
Aces are worth 1 point, 2-6 and 8-10 are worth face value, jacks 11 points, queens 12 points and kings 13 points each. Sevens are special cards which are worth 7 points when going out with a 'blast' (see below) but 14 points when they remain in a player's hand at the end of the play.
The game is normally played by from 2 to 5 people, but it is possible for 6 or 7 players, in which case one or two of them have to drop out for each deal. Deal and play are anticlockwise.
As in all rummy games the objective is to form melds - combinations of cards from a player's hand which are laid face up on the table. These may be sets of equal cards or sequences of consecutive cards in a suit. Sequences can 'turn the corner', counting an Ace as next to both the King and the Two.
A normal meld initially consists of three equal cards or three consecutive cards of a suit, such as A-2-3 or Q-Q-Q or 7-8-9 or K-A-2.
It is also possible to meld a Seven by itself, as a single card, for example 7.
During the game players may add cards from their hand to a meld that is already on the table.
- The fourth card may be added to a set of equal cards to make a quad such as Q-Q-Q-Q.
- A three-card sequence may be extended at either end to make a sequence of 4, 5 or more cards. For example Q-K-A-2 or 6-7-8-9-10.
- Adjacent cards of the same suit can be added to a Seven to build a sequence of 2, 3 or more cards. For example 6-7 or 7-8.
Note. A card cannot be used in more than one meld at the same time. If you have 3-4-5-4-4 you can form either a sequence meld 3-4-5 or a set of fours, but not both.
Any player may deal first. Subsequently the winner of each game deals the next.
Seven cards are dealt to each player, one at a time. The next card is placed face up on the table to begin the discard pile, and the remaining undealt cards are stacked face down beside it to form a drawing stock.
The dealer begins, and the turn to play passes anticlockwise.
A normal turn consists of
- drawing one card from the top of the stock pile or discard pile
- optionally placing one or more melds from hand face up on the table (according to some reports, melding is sometimes known in this game as "dropping a trick" or "registering")
- optionally extending melds that are already on the table by adding cards to them to make larger melds ("adding to a trick")
- discarding one card face up on the discard pile.
Step 1 is compulsory - every turn begins by drawing a card. Step 4 is also compulsory unless the player ends the play by melding all their cards and thereby going out.
The following restrictions apply:
- The discard can only be taken if it is immediately used to lay down a new meld of three cards from the player's hand. It is not possible to take the discard to add it to an existing meld on the table, or to keep in hand for future use.
- Cards can only be added to melds that are on the table if the player has already, in the same turn or a previous turn, played a complete new meld - either a seven or a three-card meld - from hand.
Note. It is not possible to take an 8 or 6 from the discard pile to meld with a 7 of the same suit from your hand unless you have another adjacent card of the suit to make a 3-card meld. For example you could take 6 form the discard pile to meld with your 7 and 5 or with your 7 and 8 but not if you only have the 7. Also, if you have already melded the 7 you cannot take the 6 from the discard pile unless you also have the 5 and 4 in your hand to make a new three-card meld. In the unlikely event that a player discards the 7, it can only be taken from the pile by another player if they hold the 5-6 or 6-8 or 8-9 of clubs to make a three-card sequence or two other sevens to make a set of 7-7-7.
Taking the Discard Out of Turn
This is a feature of 'Battle Hoola' which has largely superseded the older version of the game in which players could only play in turn.
If a card is discarded which another player can use to form a new meld, the player can claim the discard, even if it would normally be another player's turn to play. This is done by calling "Kam sa hap nida!" (Thank you!), taking the card, and putting it on the table together with cards from hand to make a valid meld. They then complete their turn, possibly melding further cards and finally discarding (or going out).
The turns of any players between the discarder and the player who took the discard out of turn are skipped, and the play continues from the player to the right of the one who took the discard.
If two or more players want the same discard it goes to the player who claimed it first. Players normally slap the discard to claim it, so that when more than one player does this it is clear from the position of the hands who was first.
End of the Play
There are five ways that the play can end.
- 1. The Blast
- If at the start of any turn you have not yet melded any cards, and the total value of the seven cards in your hand is 15 points or less or 83 points or more, you may stop the game and win. For this purpose Sevens count 7 points. Stopping in this way with 83 or more points is called a Daepang (major blast) and stopping with 15 or fewer points is a Sopang (minor blast).
- 2. The Knock (or Stop)
- If at the start of your turn you have not more than 10 points in your hand then you may stop the game. Everyone immediately shows their cards. If you have the fewest points in hand you win, but if any other player has the same number or fewer than you, you lose. For this purpose sevens count as 14 points. (Note that when a player knocks it is not possible for the knocker or any other player to dispose of any cards by melding. All cards held in the hand at that point are counted.)
- 3. Going Out
- If during your turn you meld all your remaining cards, either by making new melds or adding them to melds, or if you meld all but one of your remaining cards and discard your last card, the play ends and you win.
- 4. Four sevens (the big luck)
- A player who has four sevens in hand can stop the game and win. Note that the sevens all have to be in the player's hand - if any sevens have been melded this type of win is not possible. This win can be played as soon as the fourth Seven is acquired - for example immediately after drawing it from the stock. The player does not have to wait until their next turn.
- 5. End of Stock
- If a player draws the last card of the stock, that player completes their turn in the normal way. If they do not go out, then after they discard the play ends. No one can meld any further cards. The players show the cards remaining in their hands and count their points (7's count 14 points). The player with the lowest value of unmelded cards wins.
At the end of the play, the players are ranked in order according to the number of points remaining in their hands, counting 14 points for each seven. Then the winner is paid by each of the other players according to their rank. The loser with the fewest points pays 1 stake to the winner, the loser with next fewest pays 2 stakes, and so on. So if there are 5 players the lowest ranked loser will pay 4 stakes and the winner will collect 10 stakes in total (1+2+3+4) if there are no ties, doubles or other special circumstances.
In case of a tie between losers, both or all tieing players pay the higher amount. For example in a 5-player game if the final point scores are A: 11, B: 3, C: 34, D: 34, E: 11, both C and D pay 4 stakes and both A and E pay 2 stakes, so that the winner B collects 12 stakes in this case.
When game ends because the stock runs out it is possible that there will be a tie between winners. In this case the other players pay according to their rank - the nth ranked player will pay (n-1) stakes - and the winners share the proceeds equally. For example in a four-player game where the stock runs out and the players' point totals are A:9, B:9, C:15, D:25, C will pay 2 stakes, D will pay 3 stakes and A and B will collect 2.5 stakes each.
Automatic Lowest Rank
There are some situations in which a player automatically ranks last, irrespective of the cards held. If several players rank last, for the same or different reasons, they all rank last equal and pay the appropriate amount.
- No Melded Cards. A player automatically ranks last if they still have seven cards in hand at the end of the play having not melded anything when another player wins.
- Undercut. If a player knocks, but some other player undercuts by having a lower or equal point count, the other player wins and the knocker who was undercut automatically ranks last.
- Discard Claimed to Go Out. If a player's discard is claimed by another player who then melds all their cards and goes out on that turn, the player who discarded the card claimed by the winner automatically ranks last.
Doubled and Quadrupled Payments
There are several cases in which some or all payments are doubled or quadrupled. If two or more of these conditions arise at the same time then all the relevant multiples apply, causing the basic payment to be multiplied by 4, 8, 16, etc.
- Holding a Seven. A player who has had at least one turn but still has a Seven in hand at the end of the play must pay double. With more than one Seven, the payment is doubled for each Seven held by the player.
- No melded cards. A player who has had at least one turn to play but still has seven cards in their hand when another player wins, having melded nothing, must pay double.
- Perfect or Hoola. If the winner goes out by melding all seven cards at once, without previously having melded any cards, all the payments are multiplied by four. This is known as a 'Perfect' or 'Hoola'. This multiplier applies even to payments from players who have not yet had a turn to play.
For example in a four-player game where you have already had at least one turn, another player goes out by melding all seven cards at once. You have not melded any cards and your hand contains a Seven. In this case you automatically rank lowest since you have not melded and your 3-stake loss is subject to a quadruple and two doubles, so you must pay 48 stakes (4×2×2×3) to the winner.
One Player Pays All Losses
- Discard Claimed to Go Out. If a player's discard is claimed by another player who then melds all their cards and goes out on that turn, the player who discarded the card claimed by the winner must pay the losses of all the players to the winner.
- Undercut. If the player who knocks is undercut - that is, some other player has an equal or lower number of points - the player who knocked has to pay all players' losses to the winner while the other players pay nothing.
- If there are only two players, then in these two cases (undercut and discard claimed to go out) the penalty of playing all players' losses would have no effect (since there is only one loser), so instead the losing player pays double.
Example. In a four-player game, player A discards a card which player C claims to meld and go out. Player B has melded no cards. Player D has 25 points in cards, including an unmelded 7 (worth 14 points). Players A and B automatically rank equal last and would owe 3 stakes each. Player D ranks second and would owe 2 stakes (2×1) because of the 7 in hand. But player A has to pay all the losers' debts because A's discard enabled C to win, so A pays 8 stakes to C (2+3+3) and B and D have nothing to pay.
Hoola without Battles. "Battle Hoola", described above, is the most usual way to play nowadays, but if you dislike the race to claim the discard, you could use the alternative rule is that if more than one person wants the discard, the person whose next turn to play is earlier gets the card. Or another possibility is to play the older, "non-battle" version of Hoola in which the top card of the discard pile can only be taken when it is your turn to play. In non-battle Hoola there is no chance to take a card discarded by anyone other then the player immediately to your left.
Six or Seven Players. When 6 or 7 play, one or two players must drop out after the deal, leaving exactly five players in the game. The dealer is not allowed to drop out, so the player to dealer's right (assuming anticlockwise play) is the first to decide whether to play or drop out, followed by the others in turn. If four players in addition to the dealer have chosen to play, any remaining players must drop out. On the other hand, once one player has dropped out of a 6-player game or two players have dropped out of a 7-player game, the remaining players must play. Players who are forced to drop out (because there are already five players in the game) can claim compensation for any sevens, sets of three cards or suited sequences they have in their hands. Payments can vary according to prior agreement: Yishin Cho suggests a payment of ¼ stake for each seven, set or sequence, from each of the four players (other than the dealer) who chose to play, so that a player forced to drop out receives a total of 1 unit for each seven, set or sequence. Players who choose to drop out when they could have played cannot claim compensation. After the compensation payments if any have been made, the hands of the players who dropped out are given to the dealer and shuffled into the stock.
Hoola Multiplier. Some play that the multiplier for going out with a Perfect hand or Hoola (melding 7 cards at once) is only double, not quadruple.
Double Stake Hand after Hoola. Some play that if a player goes out with a Perfect (or Hoola) the next deal is played for double stakes. If that is also won with a Perfect hand, the stakes for the following hand are doubled again (four times the original stake) and so on.
No Meld Penalty. Some play that a player automatically ranks last if they have 7 cards in hand when another player wins, even if this happens before they have had a turn to play.
Value of Sevens. Some play that 7's always count as 7 points, both for making blasts and when counting the points remaining in hand at the end of the play.
The following traditional rules involving Sevens are now rarely played.
- Waiting to claim Four Sevens. The original rules was that a claim of four Sevens in hand, like a blast or a knock, was only allowed at the start of a player's turn. So on drawing a fourth Seven, the player would need to hold the four Sevens in hand, risking a loss in last place with a multiplier of 32 (four doubles for the Sevens and one for No Meld) if the game ended before their next turn. This is seldom worth the risk, so nowadays a claim of four Sevens in hand is normally allowed as soon as the fourth Seven is obtained.
- Grouping Sevens. Some play that if there is a lone melded Seven on the table, a player who has two Sevens in hand can take the Seven from the table and meld it with the Sevens from hand as a set of three Sevens. Mostly this did not qualify as a normal meld, in that it would not entitle the player to add cards to melds
- Winning with Four Melded Sevens. Some play that if a player melds all four Sevens, either single or in sets or runs, they win in the same way as if they had all four Sevens in hand.
Two Players without Knocks, Blasts, etc. Some play the two-player game without blasts, four sevens or knocking. The play can only end when a player goes out by melding all their cards or the stock runs out. Some only allow going out with Hoola (all 7 cards melded at once).
Point Limit for Knock. The maximum number of points with which you can knock varies from place to place and with the number of players. Some options are:
- 7 points for 2 people, 10 points for 3 people, 15 points for 4 people
- 5 points for 2 people, 15 points for 3 people, 21 points for 4 people
- 5 points for 2 people, 10 points for 3 people, 15 points for 4 people, 21 points for 5 people
- 5 points regardless the number of players
- 4 points regardless of the number of players
Jokers. Hoola is sometimes played with one or two Jokers, which are used as wild cards - in other words they can be used as a substitute for any needed card when putting down a meld. However a player is not allowed to use more than one Joker in a single meld, and a Joker cannot be melded alone as a Seven, only as part of a run or set. If a Joker is discarded, no other player may pick it up. There are various alternative ways to count jokers remaining in a player's hand when the play ends. The multipliers generally apply only if the player has had at least one turn to play. Possibilities are:
- A joker counts 0 points, but doubles the points for the remainder of the hand. Two jokers multiply the points by 4. (recommended)
- A joker counts 0 points, but quintuples penalty points for the rest of the hand (as in 7-Bridge)
- A joker counts 0 points, and has no effect on other points.
- A joker counts 14 points, and triples points in the rest of the hand. Two jokers would count 28 points total and multiply the rest of the hand by 9
- A joker counts 20 points, and has no effect on other points.
- A joker counts 30 points, and has no effect on other points.
Direction of Play. Occasionally the game is played clockwise, rather than anticlockwise.
There are several popular online platforms for playing Hoola, notably Hangame, Pmang and Winjoy, and these often use rather different rules from the traditional game.
- Some online games allow a player to claim another player's discard to complete a blast or a set of four Sevens in hand. In this case the play ends immediately after the player has taken the discard (if claiming a blast the player will use only 7 of their 8 cards to make the required total). The discarder has to pay the losses of all other players, in the same way as when a player claims a discard to go out. However a player who makes the required point total for a blast by drawing a card from the stock has to wait until the start of their next turn to declare it, as in the normal offline game.
- In online games, if a player knocks and is undercut, or if a player's discard is claimed by another player to go out, not only is the knocker or discarder ranked last and has to pay for all the losers, but this total payment is doubled even if there are more than two players.
- In online games, multipliers for Sevens and Jokers held at the end of play and for a player who has melded no cards generally apply even if the player had no turn to play before the game ended.
- Online games with Jokers generally allow one Joker (but not two) to be used as a Seven to win with four Sevens.
- In online games, if a player wins by a blast a multiplier is applied to the payments - usually ×7 or ×8.
- In online games, if a player wins by 'big luck' (four Sevens in hand), a multiplier is applied to the payments - usually between ×7 and ×10.
- As in Go-Stop, online games generally offer 'missions' which give an extra random multiplier for a winner who performs particular feats during the game.
- On Winjoy 7's count as 14 points when making blasts as well as at the end of the game.
- On Hangame, a major blast requires only 80 or more points (rather than 83 or more).
The following variants mentioned by one or more of my informants have problematic or unusual rules, and it is possible that they may be based on misunderstandings. I would be interested to know if any of the versions of the game described below are commonly played in Korea.
- Yishin Cho reports that some players count all picture cards (king, queen, jack) as 10 points. In this case, either the method of stopping the game by means of a blast is not used, or the requirement for a major blast could be to have a hand consisting entirely of kings, queens and jacks.
- Hertzog gives the following alternative system of payments:
- The loser who has most points in hand pays 3 stakes.
- The loser with second most points in hand pays 2 stakes
- Any other losers pay one stake each
- But: players who have not melded any cards pay nothing at all.
According to Hertzog, only the dealer is allowed to stop the play without going out, and only if he has reduced his hand to one card.
- Glenn gives a rather different system for melding and adding to melds:
- a set or run cannot have more than four cards
- when a meld reaches a size of four cards it is "killed" and the cards are shuffled into the deck
- when adding to melds it is possible to build a set on a run or a run on a set. The cards must be laid down in a specific order. For example: John drops a trick consisting of: the 9 of diamonds on the bottom, the 9 of hearts in the middle and the 9 of spades on the top. On her turn, Sally (who has already dropped a trick) can place the 10 of spades on John's 9 of spades, beginning a 9-10 straight flush. If Sally also has the Jack of spades she can add this card as well. When Sally, or another player, finally add the Q to the trick (e.g. 9-10-J-Q) those four cards are "killed" and placed in the discard pile. This opens up John's original middle card - the 9 of hearts - for people to add to.
- On a 3 card Straight Flush you can add the next (ascending) card in the series. (e.g. on a 3,4,5 of hearts, you can add the 6 of hearts.) This kills the trick and the cards are discarded.
- On a single seven you may start either an ascending straight flush or a descending straight flush. Once started, the direction of the straight cannot be changed. (e.g. on a seven of spades, you can add the 6 of spades. Once this is done it is a descending straight. To continue adding to the straight you can add a 5 and a 4, but you cannot add an 8.)
- According to Yishin Cho, some play that when counting the value of cards remaining in player's hands, cards in an unmelded quad (four equal cards) are not counted.
- Some play that if a player stops the game and is "undercut", another player having the same number of points or fewer, the player who stopped the game must pay an agreed fixed penalty to each opponent - for example 5 stakes - and there are no other payments.
I would be interested to hear from anyone else who plays the above variants 1-5. For example none of my correspondents so far other than Glenn has mentioned the killing of melds, or building a run on a set, or the idea that runs can only be extended in one direction.