What are Chinese Card Games?
Chinese card games are a popular pastime among the general public, either as a medium for conversation or for gambling. Playing cards are believed to have originated from China, dating as far back as the 13th century. Classic China card games used special cards based on the local currency at the time, though a more modern take uses the 52 poker cards.
What is the History of Chinese Card Games?
Chinese playing cards, or 纸牌, were one of the first iterations of card games, and some scholars attribute modern elements such as suits and tricks to have originated from China card games’ history. The earliest cards were made using wood or bone, and were played during alcoholic drinking sessions. These card games were simple, with simple rules stating that whoever drew a marked card would lose.
Developments then resulted in the money-suited cards, which were based on the local currency at the time, and these 38-card decks were used in trick games similar to modern Rummy. Other card variations include cards with Chinese characters and those with famous protagonists from classic Chinese literature.
Due to the simplicity of the rules, Chinese card games have been adapted to the modern 52-card poker deck. Further modifications make modern games like DaLaoEr understandable and enjoyable across the globe since they incorporate more Western fundamentals such as Straights and Full Houses. Naturally, Chinese card games now use cards made from more modern materials, such as synthetic plastic.
List of Most Popular Chinese Card Games
Guandan is a 4-player Chinese partnership card game using 2 decks. Players take turns playing ranking card combinations, aiming to empty their hand first. Partners gain levels by finishing 1st & 2nd or 1st & 3rd. Reaching Level A wins the game.
Players build advanced strategies around partner teamwork, opponent observation, and sequence forcing. The game is very popular with businesspeople and even has national competitions.
Da Lao Er 大老二
One of the most popular Chinese card games, this 2-4 player game is played both casually and competitively in gambling settings. A unique aspect of this game is that 2 is the largest card of the game. The goal of the game is to play cards from the hand via combinations, such as Pairs, Triples, Flushes, or Straights. Other players can counter with the same combination but of a higher value. A player wins once they clear their hand.
Gou Ji 够级
Popular in China, Gou Ji is a 6-player game played with 4 packs of cards. The game is about clearing your hand, and earning points for your team. Seating alternates between players from the 2 teams, and cards are played using combinations, having similarities to the Full House set from the West. Others answer with larger values. The aim is to get “Gou Ji”, where one beats their rivals with a large enough value.
Gong Zhu 拱猪
The Chinese version of the classic Hearts game. The goal of the game is to get as close to 1000 points without exceeding it. Points are awarded or deducted from cards, and each has a specific point value. Unlike hearts, the card-passing step is skipped in Gong Zhu. The rounds last 15 minutes, and end when all but one player has lost.
The Chinese variation of Blackjack is popular in South East Asia. Unlike regular Blackjack, in Chinese Blackjack the dealer plays a more active role, being able to selectively reveal cards from each player’s hand. House rules are commonly implemented, such as the minimum threshold. The goal remains the same, however, getting to 21 points without going over.
Dou Di Zhu 斗地主
A popular 3-player game in China, having similarities to DaLaoEr. Players are dealt 17 cards each and the last 3 cards are placed aside. The players then play cards in combinations to earn the win. Unlike DaLaoEr, non-poker combinations are used, and it can be handy to have a list by your side. Jokers are not wild cards in this game, but rather specific winning conditions, letting a combination win against everything else.
Chinese Poker is a card game with major differences from Western Poker. Each of the 4 players gets 13-cards in hand, and has to divide them into three poker hands of 3, 5, and 5 cards respectively. Points are then awarded based on the specific combinations. Despite the layer of luck, some find the added ability of control to be a huge draw.
Sheng Ji 升級
Literally translating to “upgrade”,
Frequently Asked Questions
What do I need to play Chinese Card Games?
All you need to play Chinese Card Games are a 52-card deck and a pair of dice. Most games can even be played without the dice, since dealer determination can be done using splits.
How many types of Chinese Card Games are there?
New card games are constantly being invented, and some manage to gain traction amongst the public. However, the classics as discussed in the above section are still immensely popular.
Are suits important in Chinese Card Games?
Suits tend to be treated similarly as in Western countries, following the order of Diamonds, Clubs, Hearts, and Spades. In some games, suits are unimportant, a remainder from the classic days.
What is the most popular Chinese Card Game?
Arguably, the most popular Chinese card game is DaLaoEr, which is played in nearly every country in Asia in some way or form.
Are Jokers important in Chinese Card Games?
Most Chinese 52-card decks have Jokers split into two colors, and this holds significance in certain games. In certain variations of Chinese Card Games, Jokers are an immediate win.