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Fishing for Hairtails 釣白魚 (Hokkien: tiò pe̍h-hî) is a Hokkien fishing card game for two or three players that is played with two-colour chess cards, which are sometimes called 釣魚牌 ‘fishing cards’. It may also be called 白魚賭 ‘hairtail gambling’ or simply 釣魚 ‘fishing’.
The hairtail is Trichiurus lepturus, called the layur throughout the Malay Archipelago. Legend has it that when one of these fish is caught, another one catches its tail, and so on, until the whole shoal is pulled up out of the water. This is compared to the way that cards are captured in this game. The reality is not as dramatic as that, but when they are being caught the hairtails do have a tendency to latch onto each other (see image at [A]), and it is possible to use hairtail tails as bait for them.
When many friends come to visit in succession, it is also compared to the way hairtails latch onto each other, and there is a saying 白魚相咬尾 (Hokkien: pe̍h-hî sio kā bóe) “hairtails biting each other” to describe situations like that.
The description below is based upon Young (1886, p. 293–5) and von Faber (1881).
The game is played with a deck of two-colour chess cards containing 56 cards, so that there are 4 copies of each individual card (8 of each rank). This deck is sometimes called âng-pâi (紅牌 , ‘red cards’).C[p. 415]
The types of cards in each colour are:
- 帥 將 king
- 仕 士 councillor
- 相 象 elephant
- 俥 車 chariot
- 傌 馬 horse
- 炮 包 cannon
- 兵 卒 soldier
Determine the dealer by drawing cards; the highest card becomes dealer, red outranking black.
For two people, the dealer deals 10 cards face-down to themselves, then 8 face-up to the table, then 10 face-down to their opponent and another 8 face-up to the table, so that there are 16 cards in the pool.
For three people, deal 7 to the player, 5 to the table, 7 and 5 again, then 7 and 4, so that there are 14 cards in the pool.
The remaining cards are placed face-down to form a stock (20 cards for two players, 21 for three). The top card of the stock is turned over and remains face-up during play; this will be the last card drawn by the last player.
The play is the same as a standard fishing game. On each player’s turn they play a card from their hand into the pool and try to match one of the cards that is already there. If they match it (by rank), then they capture their played card and the card from the pool. After this, they draw the bottom card of the stock and try to capture again in the same way. Cards that are played or turned that do not match are left in the pool.
The game finishes once all players are out of cards. Any cards left in the pool are uncaptured.
Using the cards that they have captured, the players form them into scoring combinations. The scoring combinations are formed by having sets of 3 or 4 cards in the same suit. They are:
- chariot, horse, cannon: 50 points
- king, councillor, elephant: 100 points
- all four soldiers: 100 points
von Faber (1881) also says that any odd cards are worth 10 points each.
After totalling points, players who have fewer points must pay to those who have more a sum based on the difference between their point totals. Or, if playing for points, they must pay the difference in points.
Young, J. W. (). ‘Bijdrage tot de kennis der Chinesche hazard- en kaartspelen’. Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde vol. 31: pages 269–302.
von Faber, M. (). ‘Beschrijving van Drie Chineesche Kaartspelen’. Tijdschrift voor Indische Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde vol. 26: pages 414–422.