Back to category Published: 02 march 2023 Author: Zhanna Mukhatzhanova

National Games and Sports in Kazakhstan


National games and sports are an essential component of every country's cultural heritage, and Kazakhstan is no different. Kazakh national games reflect the country's unique blend of work and spiritual traditions, creating a distinct ethnocultural experience that appeals to both children and adults. Many of these games have a long and rich history, dating back to ancient times and surviving to this day. This article showcases some of the most popular games and sports that have endured through the ages, providing a glimpse into the rich cultural tapestry of Kazakhstan.

Equestrian games 

The pastoral nomadic culture that developed in the Eurasian steppes around the first millennium B.C. played a huge role in the development of Central Asian cultures, which also included Kazakhstan, and managed to last for several millennia. The role of cattle breeding is especially reflected in the cultural heritage of Kazakhs: in beliefs, traditions, customs, fairy tales, musical heritage, funeral rites, and even in games. The Kazakh culture distinguishes four main types of domesticated animals, among which the horse took a special place due to the nomadic way of life of the people. In addition to horseback riding skills, nomads also paid attention to physical training and strategic thinking. Human military skills also played a major role.


Kokpar is one of the most beloved national games of Kazakhstan, with a history that stretches back to ancient times. This game was not only popular among the Kazakhs but also among other Asian peoples such as Altaians (kok-boru), Kyrgyz (ulak-tartysh), Bashkirs (kuk-bure), and many others. Traditionally, it was played after a successful hunt.

During the game, all the riders gather on a field, with a goat carcass thrown at a distance of fifty or sixty paces. The goal is for the riders to seize the goat carcass and prevent other players from taking it. The winner is the one who finally captures the carcass and throws it into the opposing team's kazan (goal). The game used to be quite violent, with players employing physical force against each other, but such practices are no longer allowed.

There are two varieties of kokpar. In the first, contestants from different auls (villages) compete against each other, while in the second, players from the same aul compete. In the first type of kokpar, the winner is the aul whose contestant won the goat, while in the second, each man fights for himself. Kokpar requires excellent physical performance and skillful horsemanship, making it a thrilling spectacle for spectators who gather to watch the game.

national game Kokpar


Audaryspak is a thrilling equestrian game that has been traditionally used to train warriors. The game involves two skilled players who showcase their strength, agility, and endurance while attempting to pull their opponent from their horse. It requires not only physical ability but also a great sense of balance and horsemanship. Additionally, the performance of the horse and the suitability of the saddle are crucial factors that impact the outcome of the game.Тational game Audaryspak

Kume Alu

Kume alu is an exciting game that challenges players to collect as many bags of coins as possible while riding on horseback. Traditionally, silver bars were used in the game, but the modern version may use other materials. It can be described as a mix of horse racing and treasure hunting, adding an interesting twist to the classic sport.

Children can also enjoy a modified version of kume alu that does not require horses. In this version, children line up at the start and imitate horse riders as they make their way to the finish line, collecting prizes along the way. This version promotes physical activity and encourages children to develop their imagination and creativity.

National game Kume alu

Tymak Knockdown

Tymak knockdown is a game that tests a player's intuition, skill, and accuracy. The game involves a pole that is inserted into the ground, with a winter headdress known as tymak placed on top of it. The tymak is a unique headdress made of sheepskin or fur and has four fur strips sewn onto the main top part. It also has a long, wide back designed to protect the neck and part of the back from the cold. In ancient times, the headdress was used to identify the clan or juz of the owner.

During the game, the participant is shown the position of the pole and the tymak, blindfolded, and given a whip. They are then spun around on the spot and have three attempts to knock the tymak off the pole while on horseback. If the player fails to knock down the tymak, they must perform a song or improvisation.

National game knock down Tymak


Baiga is a popular long-distance race that is celebrated among many Turkic peoples. The race involves different types, which vary depending on the distance and age of the horses. The races include tai-baiga, kunan-baiga, donen-baiga, and at-baiga. Tai-baiga is a race for two-year-old horses, kunan-baiga is for three-year-old horses at a distance of 1.5 to 2 kilometers (0.6-1.2 mi), donen-baiga is for four-year-old horses at a distance of 2.5 to 5 kilometers (1.6-3 mi), and at-baiga is a race for adult horses at a distance of 5 to 8 kilometers (3-5 mi).

Baiga is an event that is often held at racecourses or festivals. Winners of the race receive prizes, and in some cases, the prizes can be as much as a hundred horses. However, it is common for the winner to share their prize with friends and others.

National game Baiga

Zhamby Atu

Zhamby atu is an ancient and widespread sport-military game that is enjoyed by many Turkic-speaking peoples. This thrilling game can be played both on horseback and on foot, making it versatile and accessible to a wide range of people. The goal of the game is to knock down a prize that is suspended from a thin rope made of horsehair, strap, pole, or vein. The prize is set at a certain height, and the conditions change based on the value of the prize, with more valuable prizes being harder to obtain.

In the game, several riders gallop towards the prize and attempt to knock it down with their weapons. In games played on foot, players take turns throwing their weapons at the prize, with the winner being the one who knocks it down with the fewest attempts. This exciting game was immensely popular in pre-revolutionary Kazakhstan, and although its exact origins are not known, it is believed to have Mongolian roots dating back to the Yuan dynasty.

During the Soviet era, the popularity of the game waned, but with the independence of Kazakhstan, it has experienced a resurgence in popularity. Since 2014, tournaments and national championships have been held in Kazakhstan, and the rules of the game have been modernized and updated. The creation of the Zhamby Atu Federation in Kazakhstan has helped to promote the game and make it more accessible to a wider audience. An international tournament on the game was held in Astana, which was participated in by eleven countries, further cementing the game's popularity and its place as a beloved national pastime.

National game Zhambu Atu

Kyz Kuu

Kyz kuu is a traditional game that has been played during family and tribal celebrations for centuries. The name of this fascinating game translates to «catch up with the girl,» and it is still popular today throughout Central Asia. Similar games can be found in Kyrgyzstan, where it is called «kyz kuumay,» and in Bashkiria, where it is known as «kyz kyuyu.»

In the past, kyz kuu was played between a boy and a girl, usually before their engagement party, and it was a way for the young man to demonstrate his horsemanship skills. According to the rules, the girl and the boy are on horseback at the start, with the girl standing 12-15 meters in front of the boy. The game begins with a signal, and at a distance of 400-500 meters, a flag is set as the turning point. The goal of the young man is to catch up with the girl, and if he succeeds, his reward is a hug and a kiss while galloping. If he fails to catch up with her, he has to run away from her. However, the girl's prize is the opportunity to whip the young man with a kamcha, a traditional whip.

Kyz kuu is a thrilling and entertaining spectacle, and sometimes the skill of the players is evaluated on a five-point system. Three factors are taken into account: the skill of horse riding, the elegance of the performance, and the sharpness of the gallop. To maintain the beauty of this traditional game, participants often dress in colorful costumes that add to the overall spectacle.

National game of Kyz Kuu

Intellectual games

Togyz Kumalak

Togyz Kumalak is a fascinating board game that has its roots in the ancient nomadic cultures of Mongolia and other parts of Central Asia. It is a game that involves quick calculations and strategic thinking, making it a fun and challenging pastime for players of all ages.

One of the unique features of Togyz Kumalak is the wooden playing board, which has nine main notches for balls, each with its own distinct name. The game also includes two extra tiles called kazan, which are used to hold captured marbles. With a total of 81 marbles, players must use four arithmetic operations to try and outmaneuver their opponents and capture as many marbles as possible.

The significance of the number «9» in the game's foundations is an interesting aspect of Togyz Kumalak's history. The number 9 was considered a sacred number among Mongols and other nomadic peoples, and it is no surprise that it has found its way into this game. It is also intriguing to note that Togyz Kumalak was originally played by creating holes in the ground, and was referred to as «shepherd algebra» by shepherds who played the game.

Togyz Kumalak is part of the family of «mankala» games, which include other games like «wari» and «kalah» which were played on the territory of the modern Republic of Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. Kalah is almost identical to Togyz Kumalak.

National game Togyz Kumalak

Children's Games

Indeed, Kazakh game culture has a rich tradition of children's games that are designed to help kids develop various skills and qualities. These games may not be as harsh or competitive as adult games, but they are no less challenging or entertaining.


The game of asyks, played with knee bones of sheep, rams, or cattle, is a beloved symbol of childhood across Central Asia, Buryatia, and Mongolia. In Russia, a similar game called «babka» exists. The bones are boiled and dyed to determine their value, with the largest bone serving as the coveted prize. Played on a level surface with a line and designated distance, the objective is to knock out opponents' bones using your own. While tournaments are now held in schools and at sporting events, anyone can play with their own set of asyks at any time.


Oramal is a classic physical game for children, with its name translating to «shawl» in Kazakh. The game requires at least five or six participants, with one child acting as the leader. The leader ties a knot in a shawl and passes it to a participant, and the group then dances in a circle until the leader shouts «stop». At this point, the participants scatter, and the leader must try to catch the person holding the shawl. The holder can pass the shawl to other participants to avoid being caught, and whoever is caught must sing, dance, or recite a poem as requested by the others before becoming the new leader. The game allows for creative variations and additions, making it a favorite among inventive children.

Ak Suyek

Ak suyek, which means «white bone» in Kazakh, is a fun and simple game for children that helps develop observation, cunning, and resourcefulness. The game requires one leader and multiple participants, with more players making the game even more interesting. Participants line up facing the leader, who throws a bone or other object behind their backs while reciting a song or counting rhyme. Participants must not turn around or peek at the bone. The objective is for each player to find the bone and bring it back to the leader without being noticed by others. If another player spots the bone, they must chase the person who found it. Whoever succeeds in bringing the bone to the leader can make a wish that the group must fulfill.

Competitions and Tournaments

Equestrian games have evolved into competitive sports in Kazakhstan, with various competitions held throughout the country and even in Central Asia, such as the audaryspak championships. Hippodromes and the steppe serve as the primary venues for these events. Togyz kumalak has even formed a sports federation to organize masterclasses, lessons, and competitions.

Kyrgyzstan also hosts competitions in traditional games, including the first-ever World Nomad Games 2014, which featured ethnic sports like asyks, kokpar, and togyz kumalak. The latest games were held in 2022 in Turkey. Kazakhstan is set to host the IV World Nomad Games in 2024.

Although some national games tournaments and competitions are broadcasted on domestic channels, they can often be observed in rural areas during Nauryz, especially during the spring season.

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