What you need to play hyakuninisshu-karuta are kaura cards and minimum of three people – one reader and two players.
There are two kinds of cards – yomifuda (読札) or “reading cards” and torifuda (取札) or “grabbing cards.”
Each poem consists of five lines of 5, 7, 5, 7 and 7 syllables.The first three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables are termed the kami-no-ku(上の句) or “upper poem” and the remaining two lines of 7 and 7 syllables the shimo-no-ku(下の句) or “lower poem”. While yomifuda(reading cards) have the entire poem printed on them, torifuda(grabbing cards) only show shimo-no-ku(lower poem).
To play the game, first lay torifuda(grabbing cards) face up on the floor, listen to the reader reading out the poem, then try to pick up the matching torifuda.
An advanced player is able to pick up the correct card before he or she hears the shimo-no-ku(lower poem), or even as soon as hearing the beginning of the kami-no-ku(upper poem). So it means that if you want to win you have to memorize the whole of the one hundred poem.
The trick to pick up the correct card faster is to memorize kimari-ji(決まり字）, which is the minimum set of syllables in the beginning of the poem to determine the shimono-ku(lower poem). For example, there are seventeen poems that begin with a syllable “a(あ)”, while only two with “a-ki(あき)”, then only one with “a-ki-no(あきの)”. So, it means that if you only hear the first three syllables of “a-ki-no(あきの)”, you know the matching shimo-no-ku is “wa-ga-ko-ro-mo-de-wa tsu-yu-ni-nu-re-tsu-tsu(わがころもでは つゆにぬれつつ).