Games of chance Singaporeans love to play during Chinese New Year

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Mahjong tiles on a mahjong table. (Photo: Getty Images)

Together with pineapple tarts, bak kwa, mandarin oranges, lion dances and red packets, another mainstay of the Chinese New Year among Singaporeans is playing games of chance with friends and family. For many, it is the only time of the year that they would gamble.

Playing a few friendly games within the confines of a home isn’t illegal. In 2000, then Chief Justice Yong Pung How said gambling sessions among friends were not illegal, even if they were frequent. However, if a person’s home is used solely for gambling, it would constitute an offence.  

Here’s how you play some common games in Singapore during this festive period. Huat ah!

The most popular game is ban luck, or Chinese blackjack, a variant of the casino blackjack. The objective is to score closer to 21 points than the dealer without busting by going over that number. Players start with two cards and may choose to take more cards from the dealer as they wish. Picture cards score 10 points while number cards take the value displayed.

An ace may be worth different points depending on the number of cards in your hand – if you have two cards, it’s worth 10 points or 11 points (it’s your choice). If you have three cards or above, the ace is worth 10 points or one point.

Baccarat is another casino game that has become popular during Chinese New Year, though more so with the younger folks. The dealer first gives each player two cards. Players may choose to stay with these cards or draw one more card. Cards from 2 to 9 have points equal to the value displayed, 10 and picture cards have zero value, and an ace is worth one point.

Your score is derived by taking the rightmost digit in the sum of your card points – for example, a hand consisting of 3 and 4 nets you seven points, while a hand consisting of 5 and 8 is worth three points since you take the value of the second digit in the sum 13. The maximum score is therefore 9.

This game perhaps needs no introduction, and is very popular during Chinese New Year. The basic objective is to be the first to get four sets and a pair, though there are many special styles of winning combinations depending on the tiles you receive. Mahjong often involves long marathon sessions as each game comprises 16 rounds, at the end of which players count their chips to find out their winnings.

Chinese poker
This game is based on poker hand rankings but is quite different from Texas Hold ’em. Four players receive 13 cards each, which they must split into three hands – two hands consisting of five cards each and one consisting of three cards. Each hand’s ranking follows the same system as poker – a royal flush is ranked highest, followed by straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pairs, one pair and finally, the highest card. You win as long as you have a better set of hands than other players.

Cho dai di
Dai di, or “big two”, is similar to the game of Uno, except you play with poker cards. Usually played with four people, each player gets 13 cards which they take turns to play in successively higher-ranking combinations (mostly derived from poker hands) until someone wins by playing all their cards. If no one else has a higher-ranking combination than the last player, that player gets to restart the chain with any combination.

This is another game that’s increasingly more popular. Players first contribute to a pool before they are dealt two cards. The players bet whether the next card they receive will have a value in between the values of their first two cards, and call the amount they are betting. If their third card is in between the initial two, they will win the bet amount from the pool. Otherwise, they will add to the pot based on the amount they bet.

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