SHENG JI is a point trick game played by four players in fixed partnerships, with partners facing each other across the table. A standard international pack is used, with red and black jokers, making 54 cards in all. The point values of the cards are as follows:
Each King 10 points, Each ten 10 points, Each five 5 points, Other cards no value.
In each hand
there are eighteen trumps: the two jokers, all the cards of a particular suit
(the trump suit)
and all the cards of a particular rank (the trump rank). The
highest trump is the red Joker, second is the black Joker, and third is the
card which belongs to both the trump suit and the trump rank. Next come the
other three cards of the trump rank, which are equal in status. Finally there
are the remaining cards of the trump suit which rank in downwards order A, K,
Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (omitting the trump rank). The three remaining
suits also rank from highest to lowest A, K, Q, J, 10. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (omitting
the trump rank). For example if sixes and clubs are trumps, the trump suit from
high to low is:
red joker, black joker, 6, [6/6/6 – all equal ], A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 5, 4, 3, 2.
In each hand one partnership are declarers, sometimes known in Chinese as dang1 zhuang1 (当庄), and the other are the opponents. The declarers are chosen not by bidding but according to the result of the previous hand. Normally if the declarers are successful they win a game point while if the opponents are successful they do not score but win the right to be the declarers in the next hand. In extreme cases it is possible for the declarers to score more than one point or for the opponents to score in addition to becoming the declarers. Each side’s score in game points is expressed as a card rank from two (low) up to Ace (high). Thus for example if a side with a score of ten gains two game points their score goes up to “Queen”. In each hand the trump rank is the declarers’ current score. Both sides start at two and the winners are the first side whose score goes above Ace.
Each player receives twelve cards, but there is no dealer as such. One player, whom I shall call the starter, shuffles the cards and any other player may cut. The whole pack is then placed face down in the centre of the table and the players take turns to draw cards one at a time from the top of the pack. The starter draws the first card, the player to the starter’s right takes the second card, and so on in anti-clockwise rotation until everyone has twelve. As you draw each card you look at it and can sort it into your hand. It is important to follow this procedure, because a player can choose trumps in the middle of the deal on the basis of the cards picked up so far.
The trump rank for the hand is known in advance of the deal: for the first hand it must be two because both sides start with a score of two, and in subsequent hands it is the current score of the declarers. Any player who draws a card of the trump rank during the deal may place it face up on the table, and its suit then becomes trumps for the hand. If you draw a card of the trump rank you need not show it immediately you draw it; you may keep it and expose at at any time provided that no other card has yet been exposed, or you may prefer never to expose it if you do not want its suit as trumps. Consultation between partners is not allowed.
After each player has drawn a hand of twelve cards there are six face-down cards left over. If no one has yet exposed a card, the starter turns these cards face up one at a time in order. Once the first of these cards is exposed it is too late for anyone to determine the trump suit by exposing one of their own cards. If a card of the trump rank is found among the last six cards, its suit becomes trumps and no further cards are turned up. If no card of the trump rank appears, the highest ranking of the six cards, excluding Jokers, determines the trump suit; among cards of equal rank the earliest exposed takes precedence.
In the first hand whichever player exposes a two (or the starter in the unlikely event that no one does) becomes the leader, and the leader’s side become the declarers. In subsequent hands the leader is the same player as the starter. In either case the leader picks up the last six cards and adds them to his hand. Apart from any of these cards which may already have been exposed in order to choose trumps, the cards picked up are not shown to the other players. The leader then discards any six of his eighteen cards face down. It is important to keep these discards separate from the trick piles.
Before the first lead any player who has no trumps at all in his hand may if he wishes expose his entire hand and claim a draw. He is not allowed to consult his partner about this. In this case all the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal, started by the partner of the leader to the annulled hand, in which any player may expose a card whose rank is equal to his side’s score. Whoever does this becomes the new leader and his side are the declarers. It is not clear what should happen if no one exposes a card during this special deal, but I suggest that the hand should be treated as another draw and there should be another special deal; this will happen very rarely.
During the play, Jokers and cards of the trump rank all count as belonging to the trump suit, not to the suits marked on them. The leader leads to the first trick; thereafter the winner of a trick leads to the next. A player may lead any single card, or a group of cards of the same suit, but if more than one card is led at once, all the cards led must be higher than any card of the suit led remaining in any player’s hand. If it turns out that anyone (even the partner of the one who led) holds a card of the suit led which beats any one of the cards of a multiple lead then the lead is a revoke. The penalty for a revoke is that the hand is scored as though the offending side had lost every trick. There is no restriction on single card leads.
Play is in anti-clockwise rotation. Each of the other three players in turn must play the same number of cards as were led. As far as possible they must play cards of the suit led. Having run out of cards of the suit led a player may play any cards he chooses. If one or more players play nothing but trumps to the trick, the trick is won by whichever of these played the highest trump. Among trumps of equal rank the one which is played earliest beats the others. If everyone plays at least one non-trump to the trick, it is won by the player of the highest card of the suit led.
Note that for single card leads these rules are equivalent to the familiar trick-taking rules of skat or bridge, except for the extra rule that the first played of equal ranking cards has precedence. The purpose of making a multiple lead is that provided that each member of the other team has at least one card of the suit led they cannot win by ruffing. If the same cards were led singly it is more likely that some of them would be trumped. A multiple lead may also win because a member of the other team, although void, does not have enough trumps to match the number of cards led. None of these advantages apply to multiple trump leads, which although legal are very seldom used in practice.
The object of the play is to win tricks containing counting cards, that is kings, tens and fives. Whenever the opponents win a trick containing any counting cards. these are extracted from the trick and placed face up in front of one of them. All other cards played to tricks, including counting cards in tricks won by the declarers, are put face down in a single heap once the trick is complete. Any counting cards among the six discarded by the dealer at the beginning of the hand are worth double (20 for Kings and tens, 10 for fives) and are won by the side which wins the last trick.
The result of the hand depends on the number of card points won by the off-stage team. This determines which side scores how many points, and who will be the declarers for the next hand. Winner is always become on-stage for next hand. That means no matter who declared the trump, the team on-stage team will always get the last 6 cards.
We will learn more when we play the game.