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11 out of the 40 cards
Origin China
Type Trick-taking game
Players 4
Skills required Tactics & Strategy
Cards 40 Money-suited cards
Play Counter-clockwise
Playing time 20 min.
Random chance Medium
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Madiao (simplified Chinese: 马吊; traditional Chinese: 馬弔; pinyin: mǎdiào), also Ma Diao, Ma Tiu or Ma Tiao, is a late imperial Chinese trick-taking gambling card game, also known as the game of Paper Tiger. It was recorded by Lu Rong in the 15th century and later by Pan Zhiheng and Feng Menglong during the early 17th century. Korean poet Jang Hon(1759-1828) wrote that the game dated back to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). It continued to be popular during the Qing dynasty until around the mid-19th century. It is played with 40 cards and four players.

In Chinese, mǎ (马) means "horse" and diao (吊) means "hanged" or "lifted." The name of the game comes from the fact that three players team against the banker, like a horse raising one shoe (banker), with the other three remaining hooves on the ground (three players).


A set of Madiao consists of 40 cards of four suits:

Each card of myriads or tens (of myriads), as the zero coin as well, was illustrated with one of the 108 most famous bandits of the Chinese novel the Water Margin attributed to Shi Nai'an.

Ten cards contain red stamps and are known as red cards which carry bonuses: Myriad Myriad, Thousand Myriad, Hundred Myriad, 20 Myriad, 9 Myriad, 1 Myriad, 9 Strings, 1 String, Zero Cash, and 9 Cash.


Rules of the game


Seating and the banker is decided through drawing the highest card, or by dice. The banker decides what the stakes are for the hand (it should be an even number so it can be split and within the margins agreed by consensus). The player to the banker's left shuffles then passes the deck to the banker's right who becomes the dealer. The dealer cuts and reveals a card. If the card is a 4 or 8, he deals first to himself. If it's a 3 or 7, the banker is dealt first. If it's a 2 or 6, the shuffler is dealt first. If it's a 1, 5, 9, Zero Cash, Half Cash, Hundred Myriad, Thousand Myriad, or Myriad Myriad, the banker's opposite gets dealt first. Each player is dealt 8 cards, first as a batch of four cards then singles. The remaining eight cards form the stock which is flipped to reveal the bottom card.


A player that has at least six cards from any suit or at least five from the suit of Tens can force a redeal. If a player has the four lowest cards of each suit (20 Myriad, 1 Myriad, 1 String, 9 Cash), he will automatically win 1 stake each from the other 3 players and cards are dealt again. The banker is chosen again by picking the high card.

A player with any of the following melds automatically wins and will become the next banker. Everyone except the player holding the Hundred Myriad has to pay for the following:


The first person who was dealt leads. In a counter-clockwise rotation, each player then tries to take tricks; following suit is not required but only the highest card of the suit played wins. Players can also discard their card face down if they can't or won't win the trick (this is similar to Tien Gow, Tam cúc, Six Tigers, Ganjifa, Kaiserspiel, and Brazilian Truco). Discarding face up is penalized with paying two stakes. Each player tries to win at least two tricks to avoid paying the banker. If the banker loses, then he'll have to pay the winners. It is a strategy game requiring the cooperation of players against the banker. The Hundred Myriad is an important card to protect or capture as it figures in many bonuses.


Only those that reached the minimum of two tricks are eligible to receive stakes. The revealed card from the stock is removed to expose the card under it. If this card is the highest card of its suit, the player holding the second highest has to pay the other three 1 stake each. A player who wins a trick with the Hundred Myriad and makes at least two tricks get 1 stake from the other two players (the banker is exempt from paying or receiving this bonus).

The following are payments between the banker and the other players:

Player to the right becomes the next banker with special exceptions mentioned above. Play ends after everyone has had a chance to be the banker.

Evolution of the rules

During the Qing dynasty, the rules of the game became ever more complex with some variants having hundreds of rules. More bonuses could be melded and the discarded cards in the stock could be used. The Kangxi Emperor (1661-1722) banned the manufacturing and sale of cards in 1691. However, the game continued to remain popular and was played by government officials as well as members of the imperial family.

During the late Ming dynasty, new card games often dropped the suit of tens but kept the Old Thousand for a total of 30 cards like Khanhoo. During the Qing dynasty, the popularity of three-suited games led to the printing of stripped decks. Some games combined multiple decks of three-suited cards. The game of Mahjong is said to have evolved from these games.

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Tabletop games: Rules and Strategy