Vietnam, as a South East Asian Country, engages in a number of card games influenced by both French and Chinese culture. As a small state, Vietnam historically has been under the control of larger regional powers, a cultural osmosis occurring that transferred many card games across cultures.
History of Vietnamese Card Games
Vietnam, like many East Asian Countries, has absorbed much of its cultural trappings from the Chinese Civilization. For over 4,000 years, the Chinese civilizations have held a cultural hegemony in Asia. Chinese civilization grew to be so large, even in the ancient world, that its culture spread throughout Asia.
Japan and Korea both use modified versions of the Chinese language script, with Japan directly using the same Kanji, or characters, from the Chinese language, although they are pronounced differently.
Vietnam too, absorbed much Chinese culture over the thousands of years of co-existence. The Chinese system of Empire during the Tang Dynasty, widely considered to be the Golden Age of China, saw a number of adjacent peoples become subject to Chinese rule.
Although not directly annexed into the Chinese Empire, the area now known as Vietnam was split into several Kingdoms, which were nominally under the financial control of the Chinese Emperor. Although they were largely independent, these Kingdoms would often be forced to pay tribute.
Unlike the European or Persian style of tributaries, during the Tang Dynasty a tributary would open preferential trade with the Chinese Empire. This unique system of tribute allowed for greater exportation of Chinese values and goods into Vietnam during the formative years of its history.
Chinese influence over Vietnam is made obvious by many of the card games played in Vietnam. Although Tien Len is a native Vietnamese game, many Vietnamese games are actually bastardizations of popular Chinese games. Xap Xam Chuong, for example, is simply the Vietnamese pronunciation of the Chinese game “Sap Sam Cheong.”
List of Most Popular Vietnamese Card Games
Translating to Thirteen, this card game within the shedding genre utilizes meld-making, borrowed from Rummy. Tien Len however utilizes special melds, such as the double sequence, and features a mechanic in which melds may be Trumped. Trumping a meld allows a player to discard through melding, and if they are the last Player to Trump, they are allowed to make the opening play next hand.
A game designed exclusively for gambling, and may have up to 6 Players. This trick-taking card game is unique because Players are not scored by cards taken nor by the number of tricks taken. Instead, in Cat te or Catte, the goal of the game is to win the first four tricks of a round, or to win the sixth trick.
A popular game in South East Asia, known as “Chinese Blackjack.” The game very closely resembles traditional Blackjack. Xi Dach is distinct from Blackjack due to the Dealer’s ability to forcibly reveal the Player’s hands, and a special betting position available for Players that hit until they have 5 cards, without busting.
Xập Xám Chướng
Also known as Chinese Poker, this 4-Player game utilizes the standard Anglo-American deck. 13 cards are dealt to each Player, and these 13 cards must then be divided into three sub-hands: back, middle, and front. Using the same melds as Poker, the back hand must be of greater value than the middle hand, and the middle hand must be of greater value than the front hand.
A trick-taking card game utilizing the unique and interesting Four Color Chess Deck. The Chess Decks have their ranks borrowed from the pieces of Chinese Chess: The General, The Majors, The Elephants, The Chariots, The Cannons, The Cavalry, and the Infantry.
A Rummy-style game utilizing the same Four Color Chess Deck described above. However, while Tam Cuc uses only 32 cards, Tu Sac utilizes the entire 112 cards of the Four Color Chess Deck. The Standard Rummy Melds are used. Players may not play off of previously lain-out melds, from themselves or other players.
The more complicated version of Tam Cuc, utilizing the entire 112 cards of the Four Color Chess Deck. It is also a trick-taking game, like Tam Cuc, and simply uses more of the Chess Deck. In Vietnam, Tam Cuc is culturally considered the female game, while To Tom is the male game, due to the former game’s ease relative to To Tom.
Frequently Asked Questions
What decks of Playing Cards are used in Vietnam?
The majority of card games in Vietnam are played using the French/Anglo-American 52-card decks. This is because of Vietnam’s history as a French colony, and the close cultural osmosis that occurred between Americans and Vietnamese during the roughly 20 years of war.
What are the most popular Vietnamese Card Games?
Tien Len is one of the most popular games in Vietnam and could be considered one of its national games. When searching online for Vietnamese card games, Tien Len usually shows up first. Tien Len is also the most popular Vietnamese card game outside of Vietnam, with people playing it all over the world.
Can you Play Vietnamese Card Games online?
Tien Len can often be found online, such as at cardgames.io, and other games may be found in mobile versions. Despite Vietnam’s small population, general lack of influence over international pop culture, and lack of nationwide internet infrastructure, many Vietnamese card games have been translated into digital versions available on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store.