Cherki Card Game

What is Cherki?

CherkiCherki is a popular card game originating from Malacca played by the Nyonyas of olden days.

Playing Cherki is easy if one is familiar with the many Hokkien and Baba Malay terms used in the game. It will be difficult for Peranakans who are not fluent in Hokkien or Baba Malay to play the game well.

Nyonyas of old would gather around the cherki table to gossip, chew sireh, or chit chat while playing the game.

The game got so addictive that many Nyonyas pawned or sold their jewelery just to try their luck at the game!

Cherki Cards

Cherki is a card game played using decks of 60 cards (30 different patterns, each one repeated twice), each measuring approximately 60mm X 24mm in size. To play the game, 2 packs/decks are required, so that each single card will be repeated four times.

Value cards are divided into three suits whose western names are usually Coins, Strings and Myriads. Each suit has nine value cards (no courts), running from 1 to 9. Three "special" cards (or honours) are called White Flower, Red Flower and Old Thousand.

Cherki CardsCherki Cards

All patterns are in black & white, except for three cards which feature a red stamp: the 9 of Strings, the Red Flower and the Old Thousand. Cherki decks usually have plain backs.

How To Play

Cherki is quite similar to the Chinese game of Mah Jong (from which it might have originated), though its structure is more simple, and each round requires a much shorter time to be played.

Any number of players from 2 to 6 can take part. A dealer, randomly chosen, shuffles the pack and asks the player on his right to cut it. He then deals two cards to each of the players, in clockwise direction, repeating the operation four times for a total of eight cards.

Players are not allowed to look at the cards until the deal has been completed. The undealt cards are placed in a pile, face down, in the middle of the table. The first player (on the dealer's left) opens the game by taking his turn.

The aim of the game is to form three sets of three cards of the same value: for example, three 5s, three 9s and three 1s. In forming sets, suits are given no consideration, so a 7 of Coins and two 7 of Myriads, would make a set of 7s. It is easy to form these sets by matching the cards frames, because all three should have the same frame pattern. Honour cards only form sets of the same kind (i.e. three White Flowers, three Red Flowers, three Old Thousands).

Set of 7s
Set of 7s
Set of Red Flowers
Set of Red Flowers

Each set is worth the sum of the cards it is made of, so a set of 7s would be worth 7+7+7 = 21 points. Honour cards are only worth 1 (each set scores 3 points), so the most cherished combinations are the ones made of three 9s (worth 27 points).

The simple principle on which sets are built is that each player, at his turn, can choose whether to draw a covered card from the pile, or to pick the last discard made by a previous player. In the first case, he can decide to keep what he has found, discarding one of the cards he already holds in hand, or to discard straight away the one he has just drawn. Therefore, at the end of his turn, each player always remains with eight cards.

All discards must be piled in a heap, close to the uncovered cards, but only the uppermost one (i.e. the last discard left on the table) can be taken by other players.

With eight cards held in hand, only two full sets and a couple can be obtained. Any player who succeeds in making this arrangement, calls "cherki". In doing so, he places his couple face down in front of him.

The call is a declaration to warn other players that he is waiting for the last card to win. From this moment, his only goal will be to obtain the third card which matches his couple, and he is no longer allowed to make further changes to his two full sets. In taking his turns, he may find the last card by either drawing from the pile, or by picking another player's discard. 

Winning The Game

The first player to complete three sets is the winner. When a player who has called "cherki" obtains the last card he is looking for, he turns all his cards face up, showing the three sets. He is the winner of the hand, and the only player to score points.

At the end of each hand, players can settle their dues, where the winner will receive from his opponents an amount of money corresponding to the total points that he has scored.