Traditional Korean Sport: Yut Nori

Mugdha Sanjay Attarde, Mumbai, Maharashtra

During the Korean new year, everyone gathers together and plays various games. One of them is Yut Nori, also called Cheok-sa or Sa-hee. This game is played in almost every Seollal gathering and is commonly played in almost any region of the world with a significant Korean population. Yut has been played since Three Kingdoms. The Taiping Imperial Reader states that the people of Baekje played a board game similar to Po Yut, which is believed to be similar to Pachisi, a board game originating in India. The folk description describes a bet by some villagers to raise five different kinds of livestock: pigs, dogs, sheep, cows and horses and they are allowed to raise only one.

Description of game

The board was normally made from cloth with rectangular and circular variations but now it is limited to rectangles. There are four straight courses and two diagonal ones. Each of the straight courses comes with five stations, the diagonal ones have five stations, too, but one is shared. This brings the number of stations to twenty-nine in total. The board is also known to sometimes be drawn onto the floor. Yut sticks are used instead of Dice. There are two kinds of yut-stick: jang-jak yut (장작 윷) and bam yut (밤 윷). Jang-jak yut is made of firewood. There are four sticks of about 15 cm in length and from 2 cm to 3 cm. in diameter. These sticks are split into halves. Chestnut and birchwood are commonly used. While Bam yut are wooden sticks of about 3 cm in length. They have a diameter of about 1 cm, and also are split into halves. The bam yut is played in a small bowl, shaken in the palm, and then released. There are small tokens used for the game called mal. There are four tokens for each team. The mals of the opponent teams must be clearly distinguishable. Common mals are coins, buttons, small pebbles, or even chess beads apart from black and white plastic tokens generally found today.

The sticks are cast to determine how far a token can advance. The score is determined by counting the sticks that are over, and those that are up. Each combination has a name. One stick over (flat side up) and three sticks up (round side up) are called “do” (pig) worth one space advancement. Two sticks up and two sticks over are called “gae” (dog) worth two space advancements. One stick up and three sticks over is called “Geol” (sheep) worth 3 space advancement. All sticks over are called “yut” (cow) worth 4 space advancement, whereas all sticks up are called “mo” (horse) worth 5 space advancement. When the sticks come to the result of either “yut” or “mo”, the player has another chance of throwing the sticks up again (optional- some people prefer not to play with this rule). If you get “yut” or “mo” consecutively, you play (throw) again. Each station on the gameboard has its own name. It is thought that the outer stations symbolize heaven, and the inner square symbolizes the earth. The whole board can be also interpreted as a reflection of universal symmetry and celestial procession, reflecting elements of Korean shamanism. The mid-Joseon writer Gim Munpyo described the Yut board as symbolising the circle of the cosmos, with the North Star in the centre, surrounded by 28 constellations.

Rules of the game

There is no limit to the number of participants in a game.

The start of the game is determined by each team casting the yut-sticks. The team with the highest score starts first.

Each team then casts the sticks in turn, then moves a mal according to the score achieved. One turn usually consists of only one cast. However, a player achieving a yut or mo earns an extra cast for the turn. (If he/she casts a yut or mo at the second cast, he/she earns an extra cast again, so there is no limit to the number of times a player can cast again before the end of a turn, provided he or she keeps casting yuts or mos).

The respective scores can be played separately by giving each to another mal but a score earned from one cast cannot be split into two moves.

As long as there are mals outside the board, a team can either put a new mal onto the board according to the scores it got, or move a mal already on the board. The mals travel around the board and can move forward only. However, when landing on one of the big stations which are in the corner and the centre, the team can choose to take the shorter way if they wish. There are four possible courses, the default course being the longest one with no abbreviation.

If a mal lands on a station occupied by the opponent’s team, the opponent’s mal is removed from the course and returned to the starting position, and the current player is allowed to cast again.

If a mal lands on a station occupied by the own team, these mals can form a group and travel together from that point on but if an opponent lands their mal on a station occupied by a group of mals of the opponent, all mals in the group are removed from the course.

The game is won by the team who brings all their mals home first that is complete the course with all their mals.

A course is completed if a mal passes the station where the game is started (cham-meoki).

Landing on cham-meoki is no finish, but any score going “beyond” this station completes a home run.

Yut is often played for three or more wins.

Special rules of the game

The game is sometimes enhanced by labelling one, two, or three of the yut stick on their flat side. Seoul and Busan rule can be played if one of the sticks is labelled Seoul or Busan respectively. If this stick is the only one facing down, a mal can be directly placed into the centre for Seoul while a mal travels far corner for Busan. There is also the back rule, where one of the sticks is labelled back (후퇴). If this is the only stick facing down, one of the mals has to go back one step.

Now, since we are acquainted with this game, aren’t you eager to play it? Let us know all about your experiences in the comment section below!

14 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s quite fascinating to know that this board game is similar to Pachisi.

  2. Jasmine says:

    I really would like to play this for fun! It seems so interesting!

  3. It is really a fun game. I enjoyed playing it with my siblings. One of the memorable yutnori for me is when ATEEZ played it.

    1. Mamoni says:

      Frankly speaking, I didn’t know about Yut Nori before. But after reading the article, I learned about this interesting game and want to play it now🤭

  4. I didn’t know about this one before. Thankyou for this article, I learnt something new about Korean Culture today 👌

  5. Today I finally got to know how to play this game

  6. Sunanda ghosh says:

    It looks interesting… I wanna try it one day

  7. DJ says:

    I didn’t know about this article ,thank you for this article ,I wanna try this 💜💜

  8. Moumita Mondal says:

    I watched this game in dramas but I never played it but definitely wanna play once ♥️

  9. ThatMoleGirl says:

    Very informative article 💜

  10. This game sounds so fun!😍 Wish I could play it somewhere 🥺

  11. It seems to be a fun game 😃

  12. Tirna says:

    The article is interesting and the game sounds intriguing. Wish I could play it.

  13. anishanath says:

    Its a little bit similar to Ludo but the rules and the playing stuffs are different. I have heard about this game before. Thank you for writing about this game in a detailed way.

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