Chinese card games you need to try

  1. Dominoes
  2.  Zheng Fen 
  3. Chinese Poker
  4. Character Cards

Plating cards have been ingrained into Chinese culture for a long time, in which many experts attribute card games to have originated from ancient China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the Song Dynasty (960-1279). During these times, card games were very simple, being constructed from rock or bone, with identical backs and different intricate faces. As time went on, the cards got more intricate and featured Chinese scripts and characters from popular literature.

It is thought that the ancient Chinese traditionally played these games by collecting suits and playing tricking games. Games would generally be played in a counter-clockwise direction too. It’s thought that many of today’s modern games like poker and rummy can be traced back to these ancient card games the Chinese played.

As time went on, ancient Chinese card games began to spread with migration through Mongolia at first and then through the rest of South-East Asia. Today, these influences can be seen globally.

Below, we’ll take an in-depth look at some of the traditional Chinese card games. 

1. Dominoes

While dominoes are a popular children’s game all over the world today and one that many of us grew up with, the game originated during the Tang and Song Dynasties in China. Dominoes is based on all 21 different combinations of two dice and were originally created on rock or bone tiles. 

As the ancient Chinese were fond of producing trick taking games, original dominoes were created in two houses or suites – normal and military. The two suites were meant to increase the level of strategy in the game. The rules were that one suite could not beat the card of another suite, regardless of its rank.

Dominoes can also come in different card decks of various sizes. The smaller 32 card deck is traditionally used to play games like Tien Gow and Pai Gow, whereas the larger packs of over a hundred cards are used for rummy or fishing games. 

2. Zheng Fen 

Zheng Fen, which means struggling for points, is a collection of simple climbing card games where players must try to score the most points. Traditional values were King – ten, five – 5, ten – 10. These games were a form of trick games and are very simple to play.

Some of the different games in this category include Da Bai Fen (Hundred) and Zhao Pengyou (Looking for Friends), Tuolaji (Tractor) and in fishing games such as Chinese Ten.

3. Chinese Poker 

A variant of poker which is most popular in China is open face Chinese Poker. Although closed face Chinese poker is also popular, closed face has become so predominant that the FCO has named it the most popular variant.

Open face Chinese poker can be compared to earlier variants of Hold’em games in which it uses the same standard hand rankings. Unlike Texas Hold’em, chinese open face poker does not include betting rounds.

The game is played clockwise around the table, which is unusual when compared to other traditional Chinese card games. Each player is initially dealt with five cards which are set face up. This is where the open face name comes from. 

The cards are usually dealt between three different hands including a three-card top, five card middle and five card bottom. This variant of poker is now popular throughout the world, especially when there are only 2-4 players in total. 

Like most poker games, Chinese open face poker requires a small amount of skill to be able to play, although the knowledge can easily be picked up and players don’t need to become experts on open face Chinese poker to be able to play. Some of the general things a player would need to know include setting your hand and knowing where to place subsequent cards. 

Players do not need to already know how to do things like bluff or when to raise or fold.

4. Character Cards

Character cards appeared at a later time in ancient China, during the Qing Dynasty. These cards feature different intricate Chinese characters and are traditionally used to play rummy like games. 

One type of character card games are based on numbers and are similar to today’s Tiger Cards. The number games are divided into two suites which are marked by Chinese numerals. One suite is based on normal script and the other suite is based on financial script.

There is also a version of character cards called wander and doll cards. These types of cards contain eight series of cards, repeated eight times. Each one card in the series is a special card that features either a human or doll image. Each of these cards are marked by one character and interestingly, when put together, they form a Chinese prayer.

There is also a set of cards called Great Man cards. These cards are based on a famous ancient Chinese literature text called ‘On the Great Man’ and were played by students in the Tang and Qing Dynasties. There are 45 or 25 series of cards in which each series is based on a character from the book. 

Differentially to other traditional ancient Chinese card games, these character-based card games have not spread across the world and are mainly found in Southern Asia. This is mainly due to the intricacies of the cards based on Chinese characters which create a language barrier for adoption in other parts of the world. 

Overall, there are many varieties of traditional Chinese card games, many of which have evolved and spread across the world today. Many people don’t realize that simple card or tile-based games like dominoes originated in China. 

While some of these games are restricted using traditional Chinese characters, many have become popular games and an intrinsic part of a variety of cultures today.