# Big 2, A Family Game

Nationality: Chinese, American

Primary Language: English

Other language(s): Mandarin

Age: 19 yrs

Occupation: Student

Residence: Houston, Texas

Performance Date: 2/19/2024

Text:

“So, when I was like 3, at family events or gatherings, my family would get together and play this Chinese game called Big 2. My parents introduced me to it and would teach me the rules every year until I got it once I got older, and now we have been and still play it at every gathering, me and the whole family. I like the game, I mean, it’s no poker, but it’s a nice way of getting everyone together you know?”

Context:

My informant, JT, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Houston, Texas. I talked with JT one night in second semester freshman year up until 5am about our families and our relationships with them. Within this discussion we mentioned our family traditions and he explained one of his after I explained one of mine. At a later time, I asked him about it once more.

Analysis:

After some slight research on this game, Big 2, I ended up finding out that this may not be a common family tradition within all Chinese families, but it was one which resonated with JT’s Chinese family. The game, 大老二 (Dai Di), or Big Deuce/Big Two, is a commonly played game which originated in coastal China around 1980; it became very popular in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan and also in the Philippines and Singapore, and has also spread to some western countries. The rules of the game are as follows: The objective is to get rid of all of all the cards in your hand by constantly one-upping your opponents with cards played singly or in certain poker combinations (2 cards, 3 cards, or 5 cards). The value of each card or combination comes from the numerical order of the card(s) used, as well as their suits. The cards of the smallest value are the 3s, followed by the 4s, and so on and so forth till the picture cards. Then, it’s the Aces, followed by the 2s. The suits ascend in value in the following order: diamonds, clubs, hearts, and spades. Therefore, the weakest card in the game would be the 3 of diamonds, and the strongest is the 2 of spades. This is more of a gambling game, which may make sense as to why JT loves Poker so much. I think the game is fun in concept and would love to play it myself. I truly find the influence this game has in Chinese culture and family tradition to be greater than I expected. I didn’t know this game could apparently bring a family together at gatherings and teach gambling to children as well as it did with JT, because he’s actually pretty good at Poker. This game seemingly goes back into late 20th century Chinese culture and has made a dashing transition and migration of the western world.

# Card Game Superstition

Text

“As long as I can remember, every time I play a card game of any kind, I always wait until everyone has their cards dealt to them before I touch my cards. Otherwise, I feel as if it’s bad luck to touch the cards, and I won’t win the game. It will curse me for that round of cards.

“Everyone in my family does this, and if someone does touch their cards beforehand, it’s a taboo thing where everyone looks at you like, ‘What have you just done?’

“We’ve passed it along to some family friends, too. It’s like an introduction to our family, and a way for the people we’re closest to to become almost like extended family. Since we believe this and we care about them, we don’t want them to get the bad luck from it.”

Context

BD is a 20 year-old college student from Sacramento, California currently living in Los Angeles. This superstition is part of a card game that has been passed down from his grandparents. When learning the rules of the game, I was also taught this superstition.

BD said he doesn’t remember learning the superstition. “It’s just always been this way and I’ve always done it.”

Analysis

BD’s family sharing this superstition with their close friends as a way of making them part of the family reflects how folk belief can function to create group identities. For example, when reflecting on his family teaching the superstition to his girlfriend, BD said “she has become part of the family by knowing our ways.” Thus, the lore creates the folk.

Superstitions about luck are very common in the context of card games, which often depend on a combination of chance and skill to win. Believing that a certain action will give one good or bad luck for a game is a way to feel a degree of control over a larger, less predictable situation.

The belief that touching an object can give one good or bad luck is an example of contagious magic, as the cards are believed to contain the luck. One can avoid bad luck by abstaining from touching the cards until the proper time.

# Loteria

R is 31. His family is from Mexico, he was born in Sanger, California. He was very excited and happy to tell me about how his family played the game Loteria.

“We were big on Loteria, Loteria is like Mexican bingo… we played as a family with beans or rocks or pasta shells… so Loteria is pretty much like, like bingo but with cards… so there’s a deck of cards that has different pictures of things… like la sirena, la musica, el apache, la ranaand the pictures that go with them… stuff like that and pretty much you buy the game and it comes with these preset boards, they’re 5 by 4 or 4 by 4… something like that… and they have some of the different card pictures on them… but we would cut them up and rearrange them to like… make our own luck… so pretty much everybody gets their boards ready and then we shuffle the deck and the middle square on the board is a free play… and you win by… as you draw cards, you put like a bean or pasta shell… my mom liked glass rocks… the shiny ones that people use for like aquariums or flower arrangements… everyone in my family had their own pieces… my tia liked pasta, my other tia used dry pinto beans, my grandma used coins, like dimes, nickels, or quarters because she liked money (laughs) I like rocks, like smooth river rocks I would find at Avocado lake… we would go there swimming in the summer… so you draw cards and if you have the card on your board you put a piece over it and so… basically when you start the game, there’s two pots, there’s a game pot and a jack pot and there’s money in ‘em, quarters, nickels, dimes, you know cuz grandma… so the first to match the four corners wins the jack pot, then if you matched across horizontally or diagonally you would get the smaller game pot. We would play this all the time… bar-b-q’s, holidays… my family got together a lot, like weekly, for family dinners or whatever… everyone calls it Loteria but my family calls it cholupa, after one of the cards… it’s a lady in a canoe wearing like a folklorico dress… I didn’t find out it was called Loteria until like 5 years ago, we always called it cholupa after that card. We all kind of had our own cards that were also like our nicknames… like my tia was la dama because she thought she was fancy and my uncle was el boracho because he liked to drink and I was el apache because my skin is darker.”

Loteria came to Mexico by way of Italy and Spain, for a brief history of Loteria see, https://teresavillegas.com/history-of-la-loteria/ for variations on game play, see http://www.maravillasoftware.com/loteriamexicana.html. The customizations R’s family members added, such as individual game pieces and nicknames associated with the cards show folklore’s role in identity formation and cultural pride passed along in family tradition.

# How to play Seven and a Half (Sebah ou Nus) – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He learned this game when he was around 10 years old from older relatives in Jordan, trying to mimic the adults playing Blackjack 21.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without 8s, 9s, 10s, and Jokers.

In order to choose the dealer, each player draws a random card from the deck. Whoever has the highest number is the dealer. Picture cards–like Kings, Queens, and Jacks–are worth ½, and the Ace is worth 1. However, the Queen of Hearts can either be any whole number from 1-7, or ½, depending on the player’s choice.

The game is played similarly to Blackjack 21, so each player asks for cards until they feel like they will go over 7½, called “burn” here instead of “bust,” or until they get 7½, at which they must flip over all their cards. Each player places a bet on their card before taking another card from the dealer, called taking a “hit,” and the amount can’t be changed after they take a hit. When the player no longer wants cards from the dealer, they will say that they are “asleep.”

The dealer, after all the players are burnt or asleep, takes cards and “wakes” players (asks them to show their cards) as they please. If the dealer’s total is greater than the player’s who was woken up, the dealer gets the money placed on the card. If it’s the other way around, the dealer must pay the player the amount on the card. If the totals are equal, no money is exchanged. If the dealer burns while taking a hit, they must pay each player that is asleep the amount on their cards.

If a player gets 7½ in two cards, they become the dealer in the next round unless someone else gets it in two cards as well. In the latter case, they decide who becomes the dealer. The dealership can also be sold to another player by the current dealer even if they did not get 7½ in two cards.

(I added the parentheticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

This is one of my favorite card games; I learned it from my parents and grandparents when I was in middle school. Because the length of the game is not proportional to the size of the deck, but rather to the skills of the players, a single game can go for over an hour before somebody runs out of money. I remember we would play it whenever we knew that we could sit uninterrupted for a couple of hours, usually at night. Although it appears to be a child’s version of Blackjack 21, it can bring the whole family together, which leads me to believe that the reason this game has not been replaced by Blackjack 21 is because of how well it engages the whole family.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/banking/sette_e_mezzo.html

# How to play Basra – Arabic Card Game

Context:

He grew up playing it in Jordan with his family, mainly on New Year’s Eve. At one point, he and his siblings were able to beat their parents.

Game:

The game can have many players, and it requires a standard deck of cards without Kings, Queens, and Jokers. Aces are worth 1 in this game.

After the players decide who the dealer is, the dealer gives each person 4 cards. After that, the dealer puts 4 cards face-up in the middle of where they’re sitting. The person who got a card first goes first, and it goes in order of who got their cards until the dealer goes and the cycle repeats.

During a turn, the player puts down a card on the middle area. If there is another card with the same number, they take it along with their card and put it in a pile near them. If there are multiple cards whose numbers add up to the number of the player’s card, they take those cards along with their card and put it in their pile. (If the middle has cards with numbers 2, 3, 4, and 6, and a player places down a 6, they can take their card back along with the 6, 4, and 2.)

If a player places down a Jack, they take everything in the middle and put it in their pile. If a player places down a number card that takes everything in the middle, they get a Basra; they have to stick the cards they took, along with their card, face-up and sideways in their pile. (An example of a triple Basra is if a player places down a 9 when the middle has numbers 3, 4, 5, 6 and 9).

When the players run out of cards in their hand, the dealer passes out 4 more cards to each player in the same order as the first time. If there are not enough cards left in the deck, the group will decide what to do. When there are not enough cards left to deal, the player who last took from the middle gets the extra cards in the middle and dealing deck.

At the end of the game, each player counts the number of cards in their piles, and whoever has the most cards gets 3 points. Next, they count the number of Aces and Jacks, getting 1 point for each. If a player has the 2 of Clubs, they get 2 points. If a player has the 10 of Diamonds, they get 3 points. For any card that is part of a Basra (sideways in the pile and face-up), you add the card’s value to your points. Whoever has the most points at the end wins.

(I added the parenteticals to the original explanation for the sake of clarity)

Thoughts:

I remember playing this game many times with my family–my brother loves Basra. It’s a fun strategy game, since you have to be wary of which cards to leave in the middle (you do not want another player to get a Basra). Because the length of the game is proportional to the size of the card deck, and inversely proportional to the number of players, individual games of Basra can be very brief. Although the game does not bring the family together for long periods of time like Sebah ou Nus (Seven and a Half), it can do so during a lull in the day.

For other variations, see https://www.pagat.com/fishing/basra.html