'Guandan': a new card up China’s sleeve?
Business deals are changing thanks to a new game trend
Published: Sep 14, 2023 09:40 PM Updated: Sep 15, 2023 06:42 PM
A person plays <em>guandan</em>, a Chinese card game Photo: VCG

A person plays guandan, a Chinese card game Photo: VCG

What is the most popular card game in China now?

Whether it is a post-dinner recreation or building connections with business people, guandan has emerged as the top pastime in recent years thanks to its easy rules, competitive nature and social power.

Guandan, or "throwing eggs" literally, is a four-player, fixed-partnership climbing card game that originated in East China's Jiangsu Province. Using two decks, the players race to throw down increasingly high combinations of cards, so as to empty their hands before their opponents.

Like many climbing games, guandan's playable combinations include singles, pairs, triples, full houses and straights. The game also includes plates and tubes, which are consecutive pairs or consecutive triples, respectively.

As a demonstrative event, guandan will make its debut at The Fifth National Mind Sports Games to be held in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province from October 25 to November 4. Together with Chinese chess, bridge and board game five in a row, the game is included in the finals of the National Chess and Cards Online Competition of the games.

Held every four years by the General Administration of Sport of China (GASC), the national multi-sport mind games feature bridge, five in a row, weiqi, chess, Chinese chess and checkers. 

Wang Jianxin, vice director of the chess and card games management center of GASC, told the Global Times that tens of millions of people are playing guandan across the country.

"Guandan gained nationwide popularity in recent years because it's easy to learn. It's an entertaining and competitive game that requires teamwork," said Wang.

According to a report by GASC in June 2022, guandan is highly entertaining and competitive. It can improve people's memory, problem-solving, analytic thinking and cooperation. 

Yu Na, deputy secretary general of Jiangsu Guandan Sports Association, told the Global Times that they conducted a report in 2021 to take the pulse of the landscape and development of guandan globally. 

It is estimated that there are more than 130 million guandan enthusiasts in China. In the Jiangsu and Anhui provinces alone, the number of guandan fans reached more than 50 million. 

The craze has spread to over 10 provinces of the country and even reached out to Canada and Australia, according to the report.

Social tool

In August, a national guandan tournament held in Shanghai saw a total of 72 teams and 144 participants fight for the championship.

Jin Fangwei, vice chief of the Shanghai Chess and Cards Association, said guandan embodies sportsmanship and has become a new way of socializing. 

"It is not as complicated as bridge, but it integrates several types of card strategies. It's open to people of all ages. A pair of partners will only get the upper hand if they can bring out the best of each other. It's not just for fun but a highly effective social tool," said Jin.

Guo Hai, an investment consultant with the Essence Securities told the Global Times that guandan has replaced the poker variant Texas Hold'em in the financial sector as a powerful tool to build connections with business people.

Compared to Texas Hold'em, which champions high risk, high returns and individualism, guandan is more compatible with the features of the Chinese finance industry as it embraces low risk, solid returns and teamwork, said Guo. 

The game involves rich variations in strategies and patient calculation, putting players' overall perspective and organizational skills to the test. 

Poker chips are not involved in the game, making it free from money trading. 

As foreign funding melts away amid China's strained relations with the US, China has turned to domestic capital and investment bankers have turned to local officials who dole out financial incentives to local projects. Guandan has become the icebreaker to bond with the stakeholders and negotiate deals. 

In July, a gift box from Citic Securities, one of the leading securities companies in China, to its customers made the headlines in the finance industry. The box contained the book Winning by Jack Welch, a manual about guandan strategy and two decks of cards. 

A large-scale <em>guandan</em> competition is held in Xuyi, East China's Jiangsu Province on June 18. Photo: VCG

A large-scale guandan competition is held in Xuyi, East China's Jiangsu Province on June 18. Photo: VCG

From grassroots to official

In August, Southwest China's Guizhou Province established the country's third provincial guandan association after Jiangsu and Hainan.

Meanwhile, the authorities are endeavoring to regulate and turn the grassroots game into an official sport event.

Vice director Wang told the Global Times that the GASC launched a pilot project of guandan in 2022 and they are on the right track in promoting the development of the game.

"Being a demonstrative event is a testament to the popularity of guandan. We are mapping out universal rules and regulations for the game and cultivating a crop of ­qualified referees," Wang noted. 

"We will create more opportunities to enlarge the pool of participants and meet the needs of the public. We're doing our best to lay a solid foundation for the folk game to become an official sport," Wang added. 

Yu from the Jiangsu Guandan Sports Association said they are working closely with authorities to turn the popular game into an official national sport. 

In the six sports of the national mind sports games, chess, bridge and checkers represent foreign culture while Chinese chess, weiqi and five in a row stand for Chinese culture. 

"If guandan could be listed as an official sport at the national games, we will fill the gap among card games in the quadrennial event, thus allowing the Chinese presence to have an edge over the other sports. 

Yu said the association is also planning a national guandan tournament to extend its clout across the country.