The strangest Asian gambling games you never played

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Love Blackjack? It’s good. But it’s also pretty ordinary as far as casino games go. You can’t get any more casino-predictable than Blackjack, unless you’re playing Roulette. Don’t get me wrong. Blackjack is my game of choice. But only because it’s super-familiar. Whether I’m playing in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Niagara Falls, or a casino in Australia or Europe, I know I can count on old faithful to come through for me.

But I also know I’m limiting myself. In places like Macau (and even occasionally at North American casinos) you can find really strange but nonetheless interesting Asian gambling games. Here’s a look at my favorite three.

Chinese Fan-Tan

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You likely won’t see this in any North American casino, but considering Casino War is now a casino game, anything’s possible. In Fan-Tan, a square is marked smack down in the centre of a table. It’s usually in the form of a cubed metal piece. The sides are numbered 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Confused? It gets a bit more confusing. There’s a banker in this one and his first job is to toss down a handful of small buttons, coins, beads, and dried beans on the table, which he then covers with a metal bowl.

Now each player places their money on 1, 2, 3, or 4. When all bets are placed, the croupier uses a bamboo stick to remove all the buttons from the bowl in batches of four until the final batch is reached. That means the final batch will contain 4, 3, 2, or 1 button. The corresponding bet that guessed the final batch correctly wins 3x his bet, less a 5% commission.

You can find Fan-Tan variations at some Asian casinos and occasionally online. The buttons and beans are usually replaced by something a little more modern.

Pai Gow Poker

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Pai Gow Poker is hugely popular among Asian casino players. The game is relatively easy. Your goal is to make two hands that both rank higher than the banker’s two hands. You’ll have a low hand made up of two cards and a high hand made up of five cards. Both hands have to rank higher than the dealer’s two hands for you to win. This game offers all sorts of betting opportunities because you have the option to bank bets against the other players at the table, including the dealer, which makes for a much more interesting game.

Pai Gow Tiles

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If you think Pai Gow Poker is fun, wait until you check out Pai Gow Tiles. The goal is the same. You want to create two hands that both outrank the banker’s hands. But instead of being dealt cards, you’re handed tiles. While cards are often confusing for some, I actually find playing card games way easier than counting dots and figuring out points.

In Pai Gow Tiles, you’re dealt four tiles. Your job is to create a hand by placing two tiles together, ultimately creating two separate hands (one low, one high, just like the card game). The dots denote a certain value, and each hand is essentially assigned a number of points. It can get confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty straightforward.

Colin Jones

Colin Jones is a born and raised Chicago writer specialized on topics related to the casino and gambling industry. Having years of experience on the field, Colin will keep you in touch with the latest news and advances on the casino industry.

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