Monday, 30 October 2017

"Love's Delight": A fortunetelling game:

The delightfully named "Mother Bunch’s golden fortune-teller". (Available here)   is a manual of divination. It is one of the many fortune-telling manuals that were published in the 19thc. It contains several games of cards that also function as fortune-telling methods. Here is the most elaborate of the games called "Love's delight".

Here is how the game is described in the book:

*** *** *** 

Or, Game at Cards by which young People may amuse an Hour sociably, and at the  same time ascertain future Events. 

THE knave of hearts is Cupid, the rest sweethearts ; the ace of hearts, a new house; the ace of clubs, conquest ; the ace of diamonds takes all before it, and makes capture of any of the other aces; the two of diamonds is a ring and marriage, the rest of the deuces good luck; trays, surprises; fours, a long continuance in your present way of life ; fives, love meetings ; sixes, pleasure ; sevens, disappointments ; eights, mirth ; nines, changes ; tens, settlements ; queens, women ; and kings, men.

Several may play at this game, there being no given number ; and let the cards be equally dealt, always leaving out ten on the board. The one that deals being first chosen  by lot, each one puts on the board some trifle agreed on, and the dealer gives double ; then examine your cards, and, according to them, you will see what is speedily to come. The dealer must then call for Venus ; she is the queen of hearts, and ranks next to the ace of diamonds: as to the rest, kings take queens; queens, knaves; knaves, tens; and so on, exactly as in whist playing, and the more tricks you have, the more you have off the board on the division of the money after each game.

They that have none are sure to have no luck at all that year, and they have also to pay the sum agreed on toward the next game ; so are those who hold misfortunes, or the sevens  and those who are to have the worst disappointment in love or life that can possibly happen, which comes in the shape of the nine of spades, is to pay a treble sum, and to have no cards dealt in the next round to them. The ace of diamonds only tells for one; but she who has these cards Venus and Cupid, in the same hand, clears the board of all the money on it, and ends the game ; it also tells a speedy and advantageous marriage to the single, and to a married person, it is a sure and certain sign of some important event, of a most happy and profitable nature, speedily approaching.

*** *** ***

It must be admitted that the above description is fairly rambling and imprecise.  Here is what I make of the game.

  The text implies that the game is played by four persons, but as the game progresses there may be only three players.
  The dealer is chosen by lot. All place a stake. Dealer places a double stake.
  Deal out all the cards evenly between players. When dealing, 10 cards from the deck are left out, and are not used. ("always leaving out ten on the board") . This is not actually necessary. But it certainly makes the following stage more interesting.
  When the cards are dealt, players examine their hand. The composition of the hand will tell the player's fortune in the near future.

Card/ Rank
Card/ Rank
Love meetings
A new house
Marriage/ A ring
Good luck
"A long continuance in your present way of life"

 Anyone who holds the 9 of spades in his hand must pay a triple sum to the pool, and sit out of the next deal.
  Those who hold 7s in their hands at the start must also pay an extra sum to the next pool.  I suggest increasing the stake for every seven one holds. So, having a pair of 7s pays a double sum, etc.
  Anyone who holds both the Queen and Jack of hearts wins the game, and claims the whole pool. This is also a sign that they will be married soon, or their marriage will be a happy one.

The text implies that the game is a trick-taking game similar to whist . The text says the dealer's partner is the person who holds the Q . The cards rank as follows:
The rest of the aces
( etc. )
2s [low]

  The pool is divided proportionately to the number of tricks each player has won.
  Parties who did not win any tricks must pay an extra sum to the next pool.

The Author's Suggestions:

  The scoring is unusual. It is implied that the game is played in partnerships. However the scoring system is unsuited for such play.  One thinks that the "partner" may refer to a partner in marriage rather than at cards.

Removing 10 cards from the deck leaves a deck of 42 cards. This is a fairly awkward number to dispose of evenly between 4 players. For 4-player games, it might be better to remove 12 cards instead. The remaining 40 cards can then be divided evenly among the players.

For three-player games I suggest removing 7 cards. The resulting deck of 45 cards can then be evenly disposed of.

Friday, 15 September 2017

'Crown" playing cards

' Crown' playing cards. 52c+2

These cards were purchased in Singapore around 2010. They represent the extreme end of price in playing-card manufacture, each deck vending for $1.50 Singapore dollars. Despite ( Or because) of their low cost, they show some interesting features.
 First, they are made of plastic. Granted, this plastic very flimsy, and discolored, but the choice of material is not one would expect from cards thus cheap

The suits of Spades and clubs. The pattern is printed in three colours, for reasons of economy. Note the Queen of spades, whose printing is much lighter than the rest. The Joker is similar to the ones printed by Piatnik 

Hearts and Diamonds. Note the symbol on the K. of Diamond's breast. Might this be the maker's mark?

But, the real curiosity of these decks are their backs. They came in a bewildering variety of shades and varieties. Perhaps restricted by the convention of the faces, the printers decided to exercise their creativity on the other side of the cards. 

. Here are two eye-catching examples. The one on the right strikes me as an unusual choice of design for deck. 

Two more examples. The one on the Left is quite literally a "Bicycle" deck. The one on the right was also printed in other colours.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Daun Tiga, or three cards-- part 2

" Daun tiga 'lei "
For part 1, see here 
Walter William Skeat's monumental Malay Magic: An introduction to the popular religion and folklore of the Malay Peninsula is a survey of the customs and folklore of the Malay Peninsula. To give an idea of the expanse of the work, here are some chapter headings "Crocodile folklore" "Funeral prayers" "Birth ceremonies". It was published in 1900.

The book contains two separate accounts of this game. The first and longer account was written by Sir W.E. Maxwell, the second by Skeat himself. Maxwell's description was previously published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic society.  Both descriptions are fairly patchy. They appear to be more concerned with the customs and rituals surrounding the game, than the game itself.

Both authors agree that there are regional variations in the game. Maxwell gives the version played in Perak. Skeat gives the version played in Selangor.

  The cards are shuffled, and the player to the right of the deler cuts them. The player who cut the cards looks at the bottom card of those he lifts. If he thinks the card is lucky, he accepts the cut, and puts down the cards he lifted. The dealer reunites the deck. He then cuts and looks at the cards as before.
 Three cards are dealt out to each player.
Two stakes are deposited by each player, the Kepala ( head) and Ekor ( tail). The Ekor is usually of greater value than the Kepala.
 The cards of the players are then compared against the dealer. [Presumably, players whose hands rank higher than the dealer are paid out, and vice versa. Maxwell does not describe the process of payouts, other than the following detail--]
  If the dealer has one of the hands called Tĕrus (see below), and the player holds a less valuable hand, both Kepala and Ekor are taken.
 If players please, they may bet amongst one another, instead (or in addition to-- the book is unclear) of betting against the banker.

The hands are ranked according to the point-score assigned to them. If the point-score exceeds 10, then ten is deducted from the total points to give the final score.
Malay Magic does not tell us the exact system of points, apart from saying "A Knave, ten and nine is a good hand" From this, one can assume that the scoring system is similar to the one in Dobree.

The following hands are known as Tĕrus. These hands outrank all other hands.

Three Aces, called Sat Tiga
Three Courts, called Kuda or Naik Kuda ( Three Horses -- A.L)
A hand with the value of Nine
A hand with the value of eight.

In Perak, a hand of three threes is considered bad luck. Whoever is dealt such a hand throws it out. Here's Maxwell:

"A Hand of three threes, being Nine, is really a good hand, but it is considered a propitation of good luck to throw it down ( without exposing it), announcing that one is buta ("out"-- literally "blind" A.L.), in the hope of getting good luck afterwards"

Any player who holds a score of exactly 30 is said to be out, unless he holds three court cards.

In Selangor, the hands considered as Tĕrus are slightly different:

Three Aces, called Tiga Sat
Three threes, called Tiga Jalor 
Three 10s, called Tiga Puloh ( Puloh = Puluh = Ten-- A.L)
Three Courts, called Tiga ankong 
A hand with the value of Nine
A hand with the value of eight.

Reading both accounts, one gets the idea that Dobree's game is a simplified version of the version found in Malay Magic. In Malay Magic, the contract of Long is obligatory. Apart from that, there are few differences between the games. 

The whole book may be seen here:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

"Cuajo Filipino"

"Cuajo Fillipino", Fournier, 112c.

  Now we come to a curious version of the Spanish pattern ( see here and here) used in the Philippines. This particular example was made in the 1970s ( from an inscription found among the cards of the deck) by the Spanish company Fournier
  Spanish playing cards are still used ( albeit to a small extent) in the Philippines. This is not surprising from a nation that was colonized by Spain for over three centuries. Images of people using what are clearly Los Dos Tigres cards in the Philippines can be seen on the net, as well as videos of people participating in a curious gambling game called Sakla.  This involves a full deck of  Spanish playing cards. For a Fillipino's thoughts on playing cards in his country, see here

The most unusual feature of the deck is its structure. The deck has four suits, like most Spanish decks; but instead of the full 12 cards in each suit, there are only seven, viz;
  King, Knight, Valet, 4, 3,2 Ace, 
This unit is repeated four times, to give a full deck of 128 cards. Observant readers may note that this structure is identical to the Chinese Si Se Pai, --four units of 28 cards each ( see here and here)

The nature of the game played with this deck bears this out ( As pointed out on's page on Cuajo ). There are only two acceptable "runs" in this game; King, Knight, Knave, and 5, 4, and 3. This corresponds to the melds of 将士相 and 車馬炮 in Se Se pai. Rules for the game may be found here 

The suit of cups. One of the hings that strikes me is the sheer vividness of the color. The deep indigo blue, the vibrant orange, etc. This pattern preserves the "AHI VA" of the Los dos Tigres deck, found on the Knight of cups. On the 5 of cups is written "CORTES TABLA"

The second thing to note is the absence of index numbers, which are otherwise found in Spanish decks. Nonetheless, the "Pinta" (Pattern of breaks in the frame indicating the suit) are still present. 

The suit of coins. It is surprising to note that the ace of coins still bears the arms of Castile and Leon. The five of coins bears a profile of a woman. The four of coins bears the maker's name

The suit of swords. The ace of swords bears the inscription "CORTE TABLA", which is also found on the five of cups. The slight longitudinal  curvature of the cards is especially evident in this photograph. They are made out of a particularly fine material; almost resembling plastic. 

Three views of the wrapper. The cards are made by Fournier of Spain ( who has made several decks already featured on this blog). It is interesting to note that the deck is explicitly identified as "Cuajo Fillipino" perhaps indicating that the cards were solely made for export? 

 The back of the cards, and a warranty slip. 

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.

*** *** ***

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.

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.

For the second part , describing the game around half a century earlier, see Here

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.