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Eight Faces (八面, Mandarin bāmiàn, Hokkien pehbīn)Given as “Pek Bin” in older English sources, such as Gambling Games of Malaya (p. 125), and in legislation based upon that work (see below). is (or was) a simple staking game played with a special eight-sided teetotum (陀螺, Mandarin tuóluó, Hokkien tolo). It is also called 小花会 (‘small Huāhuì’), as it uses a subset of characters from the Huāhuì (花會) lottery game.b

The description below is mostly based upon Gambling Games of Malaya, which describes it as popular in Malaysia with “Chinese ladies”.

The game is also described in the memoirs of Chinese revolutionary Zheng Chaolin (郑超麟, 1901–1998), who says that it was played at roadside gambling stalls during the five days after the Chinese New Year (and in practice until the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day), when gambling was not prohibited.b

As of 2021, the game remains explicitly illegal in Malaysia,c Singapore,d and Brunei.e[p. 21]

Equipment

The special die has eight sides, each marked with the name of a character from the Huāhuì (花會) lottery game, and they are divided alternately into two different colours. If the teetotum is made out of a dark material (such as buffalo horn), the characters are inlaid with red and white; if a light material (ivory, bone) is used then they are red and blue/black. These colours are not necessary for the play of the game but make it easier to match the result.

Name Mandarin Hokkien Older Romanization
太平 Tài Píng Thài Pêng Tai or Thai Peng
月寶/月宝 Yuè Bǎo Goa̍t Pó Yuet Po or Guat Poh
合同 Hé Tóng Ha̍p Tông Hup Thong or Hap Tong
有利 Yǒu Lì Iú Lī Yeow Lay or Yu Li
吉品 Jí Pǐn Kiat Phín Kat Pang or Kiat Pin
上招 Shàng Zhāo Siōng Chiau Siong Chow or Siang Chiow
日山 Rì Shān Ji̍t San Yat Sun or Jit San
音會/音会 Yīn Huì Im Hōe Im Huay

The staking board is drawn on a piece of paper or cloth, and has eight cells, one for each result, along with several circles and quarter-circles:

The staking layout, after Gambling Games of Malaya (p. 124).

Rules

The game is a gambling game played with one player at a time acting as the banker (莊, Hokkien chong, Mandarin zhuāng). The game can be run by a syndicate with a fixed banker, or in a friendly game the banker can rotate on a time interval (e.g. every 15 or 30 minutes).

Each round, the top is spun on a plateThis plate was often placed on a bed of rice inside a larger bowl, to deaden the noise. and covered with a bowl. While the top remains covered, players place their bets on the staking board, then the banker reveals the top and the bets are collected.

There are four kinds of bets that can be placed:

A bet on one result
These bets are placed inside one of the eight cells; if the chosen character comes up then the bet pays out 6:1. If any other result comes up the bet is lost.
A bet on two results
These bets are placed on the lines dividing the cells; if either of the adjacent characters comes up then the bet pays out 2.8:1. If any other result comes up the bet is lost. In Zheng Chaolin’s version, this bet pays 3:1.
A bet on four results
These bets are placed on the circles between four cells; if any of the four characters comes up then the bet pays out 1:1. If any other result comes up the bet is lost.
A corner bet
These bets are placed in the quarter-circles in the corner of the board; if the adjacent character comes up then the bet pays out 1:1. However, the bet is only lost if either of the nearer two cells in the opposite colour comes up; in all other cases the bet remains, and may be taken back by the player. For example, if the player places their bet next to 太平 at the top-left, it is only lost if 月宝 or 上招 come out.

Analysis

The house edges on the bets are as follows:

A bet on one result
Pays 6:1, real odds 7:1. House edge is 12.5%.
A bet on two results
Pays 2.8:1, real odds 3:1. House edge is 5%. If it pays 3:1 as in Zheng Chaolin’s version, then the bet is fair, which is probably why it was changed!
A bet on four results
Pays 1:1, which are the fair odds, unusual for a gambling game.
A corner bet
This wins on one option and loses on two, paying 1:1; the house edge is 12.5%.

References

  1. (). Gambling Games of Malaya. The Caxton Press: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

  2. [Zhèng Chāo-Lín] (). (volume 1 (1900–1919)). 现代史料编刊社.

  3. Anonymous (). ‘’. Commonwealth Legal Information Institute.

  4. Anonymous (). ‘’. Singapore Statutes Online.

  5. Anonymous (). ‘’. In Laws of Brunei: Revised Edition 2019.