The goal of Koi-Koi is to capture cards and build bonus card combinations. The game involves pretty equal amounts of luck and strategy.

The primary strategy revolves around the use of the cards you are dealt -- timing and selection are vital.

When dealt a new hand, evaluate it. What high-scoring card combinations might be possible? Locate all pairs (and hopefully you don't find any triples). Compare your hand to the face-up cards on the table.

Consider which face-up cards you want to capture and which hand cards you want to keep.

And now you are prepared to play.

During play, watch what trends develop -- are you getting close to making card combinations? Is your opponent? Try to prevent your opponent from obtaining a win, while you yourself try to capture a win.

Some general principles to keep in mind:

o You can use one-point cards from your hand to capture higher-value cards on the table, and you can use one-point cards on the table to keep higher-value cards from your hand. At the beginning of the game, evaluate your hand and the table and formulate a strategy -- what yaku you want to go for.

o   A big part of Koi-koi is the luck of the deal. A good hand has 8 cards of different suits; a bad hand has a triple, or three pairs.

o   Remember: the month (or flower) is of key importance for matching, but once you have made the match, it is only the point value (or type of card) that matters among your melds. Learn which flowers match the desirable cards.

o   Even if you can't make a match, you still need to use strategy. You may think you want to put a junk down that matches with something in your hand, but if you know it also matches with something valuable that hasn't been played yet, you might want to think twice. You are always safe if the other two cards have already been melded or if you have them in your hand.

o   It's attractive to always go for the twenties, but that isn't always the best strategy.

o   The Rainman card is especially doubtful in value, since it can't be used for the Three Twenties yaku.

o   Try to prevent your opponent from building up too many fives or tens. Especially go for the purple ribbons, and the ribbons with writing, and don't let the opponent have those.

o   Do take the Sakè Cup card if you can -- it's a powerful card.

o   If you only have a one-point hand, don't declare stop… unless your opponent looks likely to obtain a very big score.

o   Sometimes you have to ignore these strategies and just go for it!

When you have the chance to stop the game or go koi-koi, use strategy. Evaluate the player's hand to see if you think s/he can stop before you get another yaku. Consider the number of cards remaining in the hand (it may be unwise to declare koi-koi with only one card left in the hand). Evaluate the risks -- either you will double your score and then some, or you will crash and burn horribly. Which do you think it will be?


It's bound to happen that the players disagree how to rule in the event that someone makes a misplay, or some game protocol is overlooked. For example, what should you do if you realize that you forgot to cut the deck? What should you do if it is realized that a player placed a card on the table without realizing that there was a capture play available? It's important that such events are resolved fairly and amicably, so players can get the most enjoyment of the game.

o   Forgot to cut deck. You can simply choose to continue regardless, and resolve not to forget next time. If a player wants to stop and redeal, this request should be made before anyone picks up his hand and examines it. Forgetting to cut the deck isn't that big an error.

o   Forgot to play a card. If a player had made a capture from the hand and then neglected to draw a card to play, what do you do? Perhaps it depends on how soon the error is discovered. So long as the error is discovered in a reasonable amount of time and the erring player is not habitually making this error, a draw from the pile can be allowed. Otherwise it's just an unfortunate thing and the erring player must live with the consequences. Allowing an erring player to rectify an error can result in a conflict over a win; an erring player should not be awarded a win for correcting an error of his/her own doing.

o   Made a discard without realizing that a capture move was available (there is now a pair on the table when there was none before). Again, the timing of the discovery is a deciding factor. Perhaps the player should be allowed to rectify the error, so long as doing so does not result in an immediate win in a manner that could cause hard feelings. Perhaps the entire hand should be voided (both players being at fault for not catching the error right away).

Note: all the above errors are "beginner errors" -- you'll make these errors less frequently with practice.

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Copyright 2000, 2001 Tom Sloper. All rights reserved. Reproduction by written permission of the author only.