Da Bai Fen
打百分

Introduction

I learned this game in during a visit to China in May 1979 from our interpreter, Mr. Zhang Chuansheng, in exchange for teaching him bridge. I am grateful to Joe Zeng, Shi Ji and others for further information about the game and its variants.

Da3 Bai3 Fen1 means "contesting 100 points", which is the total number of card points in the pack. Often it is just called Bai3 Fen1 (100 points) and in English, the game could be called Hundred. There are several alternative names. Formerly it was known in some places as Dui4 Zhu3 (对主 : playing with trumps). In Shanghai the game is called Si4shi2 Fen1 (四十分), which means "40 points", 40 being the target score for the opponents. In Chengdu in Sichuan province it is called Shuan3 Er4 (摔二), meaning "throw two", which is what you do during the first deal.

It is a trick taking game for four players in fixed partnerships, with considerable depth and scope for skill. The single deck game described on this page is gradually being supplanted, especially in southern China, by expanded versions using two or more decks. These are described on the Tuolaji (拖拉机 : Tractor) page. The name Sheng1 Ji2 (升级), which means "raise level" or "promote", refers to all the games of this family, using one or more decks. There is also a variation Zhao Pengyou (找朋友 : Looking for Friends) for 6 to 12 players with variable partnerships. If you have more specific information about the distribution of either of these games, or variations of them played in particular regions, please let me know.

Players and Cards

Da bai fen is a point trick game played by four players in fixed partnerships, with partners facing each other across the table. A standard international pack is used, with red and black jokers, making 54 cards in all. The point values of the cards are as follows:

     Each King    10 points,
     Each ten     10 points,
     Each five     5 points,
     Other cards   no value.

Ranking of Cards

In each hand there are eighteen trumps: the two jokers, all the cards of a particular suit (the trump suit) and all the cards of a particular rank (the trump rank). The highest trump is the red Joker, second is the black Joker, and third is the card which belongs to both the trump suit and the trump rank. Next come the other three cards of the trump rank, which are equal in status. Finally there are the remaining cards of the trump suit which rank in downwards order A, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (omitting the trump rank). The three remaining suits also rank from highest to lowest A, K, Q, J, 10. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 (omitting the trump rank). For example if sixes and clubs are trumps, the trump suit from high to low is:
red joker, black joker, club6, [spade6/diamond6/heart6 - all equal ], clubA, clubK, clubQ, clubJ, club10, club9, club8, club7, club5, club4, club3, club2.

Declarers and opponents

In each hand one partnership are declarers, sometimes known in Chinese as dang1 zhuang1 (当庄), and the other are the opponents. The declarers are chosen not by bidding but according to the result of the previous hand. Normally if the declarers are successful they win a game point while if the opponents are successful they do not score but win the right to be the declarers in the next hand. In extreme cases it is possible for the declarers to score more than one point or for the opponents to score in addition to becoming the declarers. Each side's score in game points is expressed as a card rank from two (low) up to Ace (high). Thus for example if a side with a score of ten gains two game points their score goes up to "Queen". In each hand the trump rank is the declarers' current score. Both sides start at two and the winners are the first side whose score goes above Ace.

The Deal

Each player receives twelve cards, but there is no dealer as such. One player, whom I shall call the starter, shuffles the cards and any other player may cut. The whole pack is then placed face down in the centre of the table and the players take turns to draw cards one at a time from the top of the pack. The starter draws the first card, the player to the starter's right takes the second card, and so on in anti-clockwise rotation until everyone has twelve. As you draw each card you look at it and can sort it into your hand. It is important to follow this procedure, because a player can choose trumps in the middle of the deal on the basis of the cards picked up so far.

The trump rank for the hand is known in advance of the deal: for the first hand it must be two because both sides start with a score of two, and in subsequent hands it is the current score of the declarers. Any player who draws a card of the trump rank during the deal may place it face up on the table, and its suit then becomes trumps for the hand. If you draw a card of the trump rank you need not show it immediately you draw it; you may keep it and expose at at any time provided that no other card has yet been exposed, or you may prefer never to expose it if you do not want its suit as trumps. Consultation between partners is not allowed.

After each player has drawn a hand of twelve cards there are six face-down cards left over. If no one has yet exposed a card, the starter turns these cards face up one at a time in order. Once the first of these cards is exposed it is too late for anyone to determine the trump suit by exposing one of their own cards. If a card of the trump rank is found among the last six cards, its suit becomes trumps and no further cards are turned up. If no card of the trump rank appears, the highest ranking of the six cards, excluding Jokers, determines the trump suit; among cards of equal rank the earliest exposed takes precedence.

In the first hand whichever player exposes a two (or the starter in the unlikely event that no one does) becomes the leader, and the leader's side become the declarers. In subsequent hands the leader is the same player as the starter. In either case the leader picks up the last six cards and adds them to his hand. Apart from any of these cards which may already have been exposed in order to choose trumps, the cards picked up are not shown to the other players. The leader then discards any six of his eighteen cards face down. It is important to keep these discards separate from the trick piles.

Before the first lead any player who has no trumps at all in his hand may if he wishes expose his entire hand and claim a draw. He is not allowed to consult his partner about this. In this case all the cards are thrown in and there is a new deal, started by the partner of the leader to the annulled hand, in which any player may expose a card whose rank is equal to his side's score. Whoever does this becomes the new leader and his side are the declarers. It is not clear what should happen if no one exposes a card during this special deal, but I suggest that the hand should be treated as another draw and there should be another special deal; this will happen very rarely.

The Play

During the play, Jokers and cards of the trump rank all count as belonging to the trump suit, not to the suits marked on them. The leader leads to the first trick; thereafter the winner of a trick leads to the next. A player may lead any single card, or a group of cards of the same suit, but if more than one card is led at once, all the cards led must be higher than any card of the suit led remaining in any player's hand. If it turns out that anyone (even the partner of the one who led) holds a card of the suit led which beats any one of the cards of a multiple lead then the lead is a revoke. The penalty for a revoke is that the hand is scored as though the offending side had lost every trick. There is no restriction on single card leads.

Play is in anti-clockwise rotation. Each of the other three players in turn must play the same number of cards as were led. As far as possible they must play cards of the suit led. Having run out of cards of the suit led a player may play any cards he chooses. If one or more players play nothing but trumps to the trick, the trick is won by whichever of these played the highest trump. Among trumps of equal rank the one which is played earliest beats the others. If everyone plays at least one non-trump to the trick, it is won by the player of the highest card of the suit led.

Note that for single card leads these rules are equivalent to the familiar trick-taking rules of skat or bridge, except for the extra rule that the first played of equal ranking cards has precedence. The purpose of making a multiple lead is that provided that each member of the other team has at least one card of the suit led they cannot win by ruffing. If the same cards were led singly it is more likely that some of them would be trumped. A multiple lead may also win because a member of the other team, although void, does not have enough trumps to match the number of cards led. None of these advantages apply to multiple trump leads, which although legal are very seldom used in practice.

The object of the play is to win tricks containing counting cards, that is kings, tens and fives. Whenever the opponents win a trick containing any counting cards. these are extracted from the trick and placed face up in front of one of them. All other cards played to tricks, including counting cards in tricks won by the declarers, are put face down in a single heap once the trick is complete. Any counting cards among the six discarded by the dealer at the beginning of the hand are worth double (20 for Kings and tens, 10 for fives) and are won by the side which wins the last trick.

Scoring

The result of the hand depends on the number of card points won by the opponents. This determines which side scores how many points, and who will be the declarers for the next hand:

Opponents' card pointsScoreDeclarers for next handStarter for next hand
ZeroDeclarers score 2No changePrevious leader's partner
5 to 35Declarers score 1No changePrevious leader's partner
40 to 75No scoreOpponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right
80 to 95Opponents score 1Opponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right
100 or moreOpponents score 2Opponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right

Example

Call the players N(orth), W(est), S(outh) and E(ast). At the start of the game both teams are on two, as already explained. Suppose South exposes a two during the deal, becoming the leader, and East-West take 15 points. Then N-S's score goes up to three, and North is the next starter. On this second hand three must be the trump rank (N-S's score). West exposes a three, and E-W take 40 points. The score is still three to N-S and two to E-W, but now E-W become the declarers with West as starter. The trump rank is now two (E-W's score). East exposes a 2 and N-S take no points at all. E-W now have a score of four. Four is the trump rank and East is the starter.

As explained above, the winning team are the first whose score goes above ace. Suppose N-S have a score of king and E-W are on queen. E-W are declarers but N-S take 90 points. The result is that N-S have a score of ace and become declarers, but they have not won the game yet - they need to score another point to win.

Variations

Many people play that after the deal the leader exposes the last six cards before adding them to his hand, but this version of the game is said to be less skilful.

A complete game can last quite a long time - perhaps a couple of hours. If limited time is available it is possible to play a shortened game in which the winners are the side whose score first goes above seven, or any other agreed rank. It is a pity to do this however, as the late hands played on ten, King and Ace have a special character because of the greater power of the high scoring cards. Starting at seven might be a better idea.

Some play that a game point is scored for each 20 card points (rather than 40). This can also shorten the game since it is possible to go up three (or occasionally even more than three) game points in one deal. The scoring in this version is as follows. (With a lot of points in the discard the opponents could in principle score more than 115 points by winning the last trick, in which case the table is extended in the obvious way.)

Opponents' card pointsScoreDeclarers for next handStarter for next hand
ZeroDeclarers score 3No changePrevious leader's partner
5 to 15Declarers score 2No changePrevious leader's partner
20 to 35Declarers score 1No changePrevious leader's partner
40 to 55No scoreOpponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right
60 to 75Opponents score 1Opponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right
80 to 95Opponents score 2Opponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right
100 to 115Opponents score 3Opponents become new declarersPlayer to previous leader's right

Some play that if the opponents win the last trick, the points in the discard, instead of being doubled, are multiplied by the number of cards played together by each player in the last trick. So if the last trick is an ordinary single trick won by the opponents, the points in the discard are not doubled, if it is a double trick they are doubled, if it is won with a three-card play they are trebled, and so on.

Some play that if the opponents score 40 points exactly, the result is a draw, and in the next deal the first person who exposes a card with rank equal to his or her side's score becomes the leader, and this person's team are the declarers.

"Yuan zhu" (元主) (original trumps). Some play that twos are always trumps, no matter what the score is. If the trump rank is not two, the twos rank between the trump rank and the ace. For example with eights and diamonds trump, the trump suit from high to low is:
red joker, black joker, diamond8, other 8's, diamond2, other 2's, diamondA, diamondK, diamondQ, diamondJ, diamond10, diamond9, diamond7, diamond6, diamond5, diamond4, diamond3.

Shi Ji writes that the single deck game Sheng Ji is especially popular in northeastern China. To the south of the Yellow River and in Shanghai, they mostly play multiple deck versions such as Tuolaji (Tractor). In Shi Ji's home province Jilin, the following variations are played.

  • The game is usually played with original trumps (Yuan Zhu - see above).
  • The starter's team must win the last trick to win the hand and go up a level. If the opponents win the last trick, they automatically become the declarers, staying on the same level if they have fewer than 40 points. With the last trick and 40 points or more (counting only the points won in tricks, not the discarded cards) the opponents become declarers and go up a level. With 80 or more points and the last trick they would go up two levels. When the declarers win the last trick it is called Bao3 Di3 (保底); if the opponents win it, it is Kou1 Di3 (抠底).
  • If a player has four cards of the same rank - for example all the 7's - they can be led together. If any other player who has four of a kind must play it, and the other players must play four trumps, or four cards including all their trumps if holding fewer than four trumps. The trick is won by the highest four of a kind played (trump rank highest, then twos if playing with Yuan Zhu, then other ranks in order): four trumps of unequal rank cannot win, even if they contain jokers. This powerful lead is called Dun1 (this is a Jilin dialect word, perhaps written as 吨). Some play that the points in a set of four Kings, Tens or Fives played in a Dun trick cannot be scored by the opponents - only scoring cards that are not part of a four of a kind are counted if the opponents win the trick.
  • At the end of the deal, the last 6 cards of the deck, which are known as Di3 Pai2 (底牌) are turned face up for all to see, and the six cards discarded by the starter are also shown face up. In a variation played in Changchun City, if the Di Pai contains no trumps apart from jokers, Yuan Zhu and cards of the trump rank, the starter is not allowed to pick up the Di Pai.
  • When the trump rank is Jack, if the opponents win the last trick with a single Jack the declarers go back to the lowest level (3 if playing with Yuan Zhu or 2 if not), but remain the declarers for the next hand, for which the trump rank will be 3 if 2s are Yuan Zhu. This is called Gou1 (钩), meaning hook. The letter J on the Jack has the shape of a hook, and the declarers are hooked back to the lowest level.

Other web pages

Here is David Paxson's page on Forty Points, the Shanghai version of Bai Fen.