Sunday, 2 July 2017

Daun Tiga ,Pa gow (打九) or Sam Cheong ( 三张) -- Part 1

This game seems to be a farily popular game. It is fairly frequently met with in books on Malaya. The description in this article is based on Dobree's Gambling games of Malaya.
In a second post, I will investigate an account of the game found in Skeat's Malay Magic,  A book published about 50 years earlier. It bears several interesting differences from the game discussed here.

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Dobree gives three names for this rather simple game: Sam cheong 三张 (three cards), Pa gow 打九 (beating Nine), or Daun Tiga ( three leaves in Malay). It bears some similarities to the game of "Koo Kiew" featured on this blog earlier  In both games, players compare the value of their hands against a banker, and there is an emphasis on collecting cards of the same kind. The name of the game in

This game is played with an ordinary anglo-american deck of 52 cards, but Dobree states that the game may be played with mahjong tiles. The game with majhong tiles is described at the end of this post.

  Up to 17 people can play at this game, but bystanders can also bet on the players of the game.
  Prior to play, a banker is selected. Dobree tells us that this is done by dice.
  The cards are shuffled. Three cards are dealt to all players, face down.
  Without looking at the cards, Players then stake the amount they please.
  Once all the stakes have been placed, the cards are revealed.
  Players whose hands score lower than the banker lose their stakes. Players whose hands score higher than the banker are paid a dividend equivalent to the stakes, also keeping their original stake.
  If there is a tie between a player and a banker, no money passes between them.
  The turn of banker passes anticlockwise, to the next player, each deal. But if the banker loses to all the players at one deal, he may repeat another deal as a banker.

1) A Three-of-a kind beats all other hands.
2) The three-of a kinds are ranked as follows:
3 Aces ( Highest)
3  Twos
3 Threes
3 Nines
3 Tens
Any 3 Picture cards ( lowest)
The suit of the cards is irrelevant in all of these combinations. 

3) For hands other than three-of-a-kind, a point score is assigned to each, ( Much as in Koo kiew). The Hand with the higher point score wins.
4) The cards score their numerical value ( i.e. Ace scores 1, Two scores 2, Ten scores 10), but the picture cards score Zero.
5) If a hand's score exceeds 10 points, only the last digit is considered. So a score of 15 reckons as 5, a score of 11 reckons as 1, and a score of 29 is reckoned as a 9.
6) However, if a hand's score adds up to 10 or 20, in both cases, the score is reckoned as a 10, not zero.
Note: In some versions of the game, a score of 10, 20 or 30 scores Zero instead of Ten.

Additional Rules : "Long"
Dobree describes an additional "contract" in this game. This contract hinges on the player's hand having a score of 8 and above. In the terminology of the game, this is called "Long".

If a player wishes to engage in this contract, he places two stakes, instead of one. These two stakes don't have to be equal. Let's call them the first and second stakes. Play between the banker and the player proceeds as usual, but with the following extra rules:

1) If the Player's cards Long, the banker pays out for both stakes.
2) If the Player's cards does not Long,  ( i.e, score less than eight) , but still beats the banker's hand, only the winnings from the first stake is paid out.
3)  If the banker's cards cards Long, and beat the player's cards, both stakes are taken.
4) If the Banker's cards do not Long, but still beat the player's cards, only the first stake is taken by the banker.

Dobree does not tell us what happens when either the banker or the player has a three-of-a-kind. These are my suggestions for dealing with such cases.

5) If the player has a three-of-a kind, and beats the banker, only the winnings from the first stake are paid out.
6) If the player has a three-of-a-kind, but loses to the banker, both stakes are taken.
7) If the player's cards "Long", but the banker has a three-of-a kind, only the first stake is taken

CASE 1: Banker, hand with score 5; Player, hand with score 8.
In this case, banker pays out both stakes.
CASE 2: Banker, hand with score 5. Player, hand with score 6.
In this case, banker pays out only first stake.
CASE 3: Banker has a three-of-a kind, Player, a hand of 9:
In this case, Banker takes only the first stake. ( rule 4)

Play with mahjong tiles

Neccessity, as they say, is the mother of invention. So, the ingenious gamblers of Malaya have invented a way of playing this game with a set of mahjong tiles. ( See for a description of the structure of the mahjong deck)

Instead of a full set of 144 tiles, only 52 tiles are used. This reduced tileset is made by extracting the number tiles, ( one to 9)  from the suit of tens of thousands, bamboos or coins.
The 10s, Jacks, Queens and Kings are replaced by the "wind" tiles. The 10s correspond to 東, the jacks to 北, the queens to 西, and the kings to 南, as you see above.

This substitution can be done, because the suits do not matter in this game. Such a deck can alo be used to play at games like blackjack, where the suits also don't matter.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Prague pattern, Bonaparte

Prague or Bohemian pattern, Bonapate, 32+1c

This is a more modern example of the "Prague pattern". This particular example was purchased just over a year ago. It is an example of the Prague pattern, one of the more charming patterns in use today.
For a similar deck, made by another manufacturer, see  

The pattern is pretty similar to the Piatnik version. Note the ace of leaves, where the heraldical shield in the Piatnik version is replaced by a design involving a pair of fishes. Apart from that, the greatest differnce is in the colour of the deck. The rich, vibrant greens and reds have been replaced by lighter shades. I feel this removes much of the beauty of the cards. 

 It seems that the deck has been deliberatly given a very "rough-hewn"appearance. 
The pip cards of the deck. The little vignettes at the bottom of each card are identical to their Piatnik cousins. The only curiosity is the eight of bells ( top row, 2nd from left). Like the Piatnik card, it contains the maker's name. However, the dog in this card is riderless ( unlike the Piatnik). In addition the 8 of bells possesses a barcode. 

Monday, 2 January 2017

車九 -- Koo Kiew (Che Jiu), A Chinese gambling game

I have recently been reading C. T. Dobree's remarkable The Gambling games of Malaya. This book, published in 1955. Dobree was the Assistant commissioner of police in Malaya at that time, and he intended the book to be used as a guide for policemen prosecuting illegal gambling dens [!]

There are several games of cards that are mentioned in this book, that have are otherwise unrepresnted in the english literature on this subject ( to my knowledge). One such game Dobree calls " Koo Kiew", or 車九. He also tells us that it is also called "Ten Kiew" 象九, and "Soo Kiew" 仕九

  Note that Dobree seems to be giving the names of the games in a variety (Hokkien? Teochew?) of Chinese. In standard Chinese (Mandarin) the names are rendered "Che Jiu", "Xiang Jiu" and "Shi Jiu" respectively.
 Regardless of the variety of Chinese, the names of the game all allude to the various ranks in the deck of cards used in the game. 車九 literally translates to as "Chariot-Nine", 象九 means "Elephant-Nine" and 仕九 means "Valet-Nine". The "Nine" in the name probably alludes to the highest point-score that can be obtained ( See below)

In Dobree's words: “ No skill at all is required for this game"; and for that reason I feel that it is ripe for reveival as a party game. It is a game that shares similarities to poker and baccarat.

This game is played with a deck of 四色 ( four colour) cards. For a description of this deck, see and . If you do not have such a deck, you can follow the instructions at the bottom of the page for making one.

Up to 56 people can play at this game. Before play starts, a banker is selected.
The cards are shuffled. Two cards are dealt to every player, face down.
Without looking at the cards, all players stake whatever amount they please.
When all the stakes have been placed, all cards are revealed. Players whose cards score lower than the banker lose their stakes. Players whose cards score higher than the banker receive a payout.
In cases of ties with the banker, the banker wins.

A pair is two cards of the same rank and colour.
A mixed hand is a hand that contains anything other than a pair (this includes hands which contain two cards of the same rank, but of differert colours)

1. Pairs of the same colour take precence over any mixed hand.
2. For pairs, the ranks are valued as follows:
Highest:  将, ( General)
               士  (Valet)
               相/象  ( Minister/ Elephant)
               車   ( Chariot)
               馬 ( Horse)
              炮   (Cannon)
Lowest  卒  ( Soldier)
So, a pair of yelow valets beats a pair of yellow cannons, a pair of Red generals beats a pair of red ministers.

3. The colours (or "suits") rank as follows.
Highest : Yellow
Lowest:   White.
So,  a pair of green vales beats a pair of white valets, and a pair of yellow valets beats a pair of red generals.

4. When comparing mixed hands, each card is assigned a point value. Hands with the higher point value wins.

将, ( General) -- 1 pt
士  (Valet)-------- 2
 相   ( Minister)-- 3
 車   ( Chariot)--- 4
馬 ( Horse)------- 5
炮   (Cannon)---- 6
卒  ( Soldier)-----7
Note that  the point value is directly opposite to that of the rank.

5. If the point value of a hand exceeds 10, then only the last digit is considered. So a score of 14 rekons as 4, and a score of 10 reckons as 0.

6. When the point values are tied, then the hand that contains the higher-ranking colour (as decided by rules 3 and 4) wins.

Here are some examples.

Case 1: Hand A:  Pair of Yellow horses
Hand B: Pair of Yellow generals
Hand B wins, as a pair of Generals outranks a pair of horses ( Rule 2)

Case 2: Hand A:  Pair of Red Soldiers
Hand B: Red general, and White general
Hand A wins. Pairs of the same colour outrank those of different colours, regardless of the rank (Rule 1)

Case 3: Hand A:  Pair of Green Generals
Hand B: Pair of Yellow Soldiers. 
Hand B wins, because the yellow suit outranks the green suit ( Rule 3)

Case 4: Hand A:  White General, and White Minister
Hand B: Red General, and Red Minister
Hand B wins, because the Red suit outranks the White suit ( Rule 3)

Case 5: Hand A:  Green Soldier, Red Valet
Hand B: Red Horse, and White Chariot. 
Point score of both hands is equal, being 9 points. 
Hand A wins, because its highest-ranked card( Red Valet) is greater than that of hand B (Red horse)

Case 6: Hand A:  Red Chariot, Green horse 
Hand B: Yellow Chariot, White horse 
Point score of both hands is equal, being 9 points. 
Hand B wins, because its highest-ranked card( Yellow Chariot) is greater than that of hand A (Red Chariot) ( Rule 6)

Case 7: Hand A:  White Chariot, Red horse 
Hand B: Green General, Red general. 
Hand A wins, as point score of hand A ( 9 points) is greater than that of hand B ( 2 points) ( rule 4)

Case 7: Hand A:  Red horse, Yellow Soldier
Hand B: Green Valet, White Chariot
Hand B wins. Although hand B has a score of 12 , the initial "1" is dropped. Thus the final score is 2 points.(rule 5)  


If you do not have access to a deck of four-colour cards, you can make one yourself using four decks of normal playing cards. 
Remove, the 5s,6s,7s,8s and 9s from each of the decks. The remaining cards ( shown below) are used in the game:
                    Corresponds to
King------------ General
Queen---------- Valet
Jack------------ Minister
4--------------- Chariot
3--------------- Horse
2--------------- Cannon
Ace----------- Soldier

For The  ranking of the suits, you may use the system adapted in Bridge: 
                             Corresponds to
Spades-----------   Yellow
Diamonds-------      Red
Hearts-----------     Green
Clubs ------------    White

Of course, you can come up with your own system. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Australian Toy cards 3: Old maid

"Old maid", anon. 36+1+ instruction card.

This particular deck of cards is for playing the game of "old maid". Like the other cards in this series, they were purchased in a remote australian town, near Phillip island.
 These cards are entirely typical of their genre, featuring cartoon images as their subjects. The names of the personages are altilerative, something that might appeal to their young users.

   This deck seems to be a fairly egalitarian one. With the exception of old maid, there are precisely nine female subjects and nine male subjects. 

  The inclusion of a "Running back Randy" suggests an American origin of these designs, as does the legend "US MAIL" on Mailman Manny's bag. The caricature of the old maid, meanwhile strikes me as more vicious than other examples of the genre. 

Sunday, 20 November 2016

Australian toy cards 2: Hearts

"Hearts" Anon, 36c+1,
This deck was purchased as a set of three in a remote town in Australia. These cards display several unusual features. These arise from a need for economy, and attractiveness. This deck is by far the most unusual of the three.
  Hearts is a game that is typically played with a normal deck of 52 cards. The aim of the game is to avoid capturing cards with the suit of hearts, and the queen of spades. However, it appears that printing a full set of 52 cards was well beyond the budget of its maker. A deck of 36 cards was all that they could afford. So what was one to do?

One solution would be to stick to the structure of a standard deck of cards. Instead of 13 ranks in 4 suits, print 9 ranks in a 4 suits. That would result in a deck of 36 cards.
But if one did that, the scoring system would no longer work. There would not be enough cards.
Instead, the maker chose to print a deck with Three Suits .

 Each of the three suits contains 12 cards..The three suits are clover-leaves (seen above), yellow diamonds and Red hearts.   
 Apart from the indices, all the cards of each suit are identical. In the middle of each card, is a cutesy cartoon animal. A pig for the clovers, a bear for the diamonds, and a rabbit for the hearts.  

The suit of hearts, It is interesting to observe, that the cards are all double-faced. 

The additional card, known as the "Jinx". This card takes the place of the Queen of spades in the normal game of hearts. But because the card is on itself, the resulting deck has 37 instead of 36 cards. This might playing the game somewhat complex...  

The rules for the game are given on a card, printed with this deck. I transcribe it below.

The heart deck has three suit ( hearts, clovers and diamonds) of twelve cards each, including a number 6 star card which is the Jinx card. 
The object of the game is to avoid taking tricks containing the hearts or the Jinx card. 
1. Dealer shuffles and deals one card at a time, face down. an equal number of cards to each player. The remaining cards, if any are placed face down, and taken in by the player who takes the first trick. 
2. Each player selects two cards from his hand, and passes them to the person on his left. 
3. Dealer starts the [play by leading any card except a heart. after the frist trick is taken, any suite [sic] including hearts may be led. 
Play moves to th left, everyone following suite. If the player cannot follow suite, he may discard 3 hearts, the jinx card, or any card he chooses.
Highest card of the suite [led] takes the trick.
The player taking the trick with the highest card leads a card for the next round. 
Winner: is the player with the least points.
Each heart counts one point, and the jinx card counts 6 points. 
Note: Contrast this scoring system with the standard game. Each heart scores one point, the queen of spades 13 points. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

"Chik Kee cards"

"Chik Kee cards", 金星/Gold star , 124c,

This deck of cards was found in an old shop in Singapore. It had probably laid there for several decades undisturbed, as the shop transformed from what was probably a general store to a dedicated lottery shop. When I spotted it, its fragile cellophane wrapper was nearly falling apart, and the edges of the cards brown. I gladly paid for it, even though shopkeeper inflated its price by several dollars.

This card is one of an extremely rare species of "money suited " cards. They apparently were once very common, but now have disappeared. The suit system is familiar to any player of mahjong. such cards have three suits, viz; coins, bamboos, (or in this case, strings of coins) , and myriads or wan. Within each suit are nine ranks. In addition to these three basic suits, these cards typically include a set of extra cards, usually three or four in number.

This particular example is rather extraordinary, as it is incorporates colour in its designs.

Here you see the suits of coins( top row) and myriads ( bottom row). 
Note the ornately decorated ace of coins ( top row, 1st from right), and the small blossom on the seven of coins (Top row, 3rd from left)
The suit of myriads contains almost cartoon-like depictions of human figures. The Chinese inscription above each card shows its rank. The Nine of myirads ( Bottom row, 1st from left) shows a man holding a flag with the character 令-- A Military commander?  The five of Myriads ( Bottom row, 5th from left) shows a man holding an axe standing beside a child. 
 For some reason, the captions of the 2. 3,4 and 7 are white on black, while the rest are black on white. Whatever significance this may have, I do not know. 
 The one, five, and nine are coloured in. This might have a role in the games played. 

The suits of strings ( top row) and the bonus cards). The strings in question refer to the ancient Chinese practice of stringing together large quantities of coins by their central holes. As before, the ranks are from one to nine. The one of the suit is coloured. The nine of the suit has a bold red overprint, showing the Chinese character for nine. 
The extra cards are on the bottom row. Translations of the inscriptions:
A: White flower
B: Golden Jade
C: Old Tao ( Perhaps a scholar or a Taoist priest-magician?)
D Thousand 
E: The back of the cards. Worthy of op art. 

It should be noted that the cards have a  form of indices. The black rectangle on the top and bottom of the cards displays the suit, and rank of the card in question. You can see it in the following table:
The rank is marked by means of a simple geometric shape. For example, the twos have a small circle; the fives two small circles, and sixes have a pair of white rectangles.
The suit is represented by the presence of a semicircle. The suit of coins has no semicircle. The suit of strings has the semicircle on the bottom of the rectangle. The suit of myriads has the semicircle on the top of the rectangle. 

The pack also includes a quality control certificate Although its inscription is much faded, I reproduce it below, with a translation. 
If any reader can provide a better translation, I am happy to receive it.

Friday, 17 June 2016

"Black Jack 21"

"Black Jack 21", Wetecs Sdn Bhd, 52+4

This deck represents one of the delights of card-collecting. Finding the unusual in unexpected places.
For all appearances this deck is utterly unremarkable. It is, like many tens of thousands, nay, millions of decks that grace the shelves of small shops all across the world, It is that tried-and-tested double-faced 52-card Anglo-American pattern. However, it is certain small details that catch the eye, and make even the most humble deck stand out.

The spades and clubs. Note the crown, delicately rendered in colour pencils that graces the ace of spades. We are told that the cards are made by, a Malaysian company; Wetecs Sdn Bhd. 

The Diamonds and hearts. At this point I should note that the back is an imitation of USPCs famous "Aladdin" cards. 
However, it is the jokers that the real charm of the deck lies. Instead of the usual jesters, we have four droll caricatures of a criminal being stuck in various circumstances. They are delicately rendered in colour pencil. The artist has taken care to incorporate playing cards into each of the scenes. 

Such are the delights of card-collecting, The little gems in unexpected places.