Domino games

K'ap Tái Shap

K'ap Tái Shap is a Rummy-like game played with Chinese dominoes instead of cards, and pairs instead of triple or quadruple combinations. All the descriptions of it that we have seen are based on Stewart Culin's Chinese Games With Dice And Dominoes (1895). Culin writes that at that time it was "the favorite game with dominoes in the Chinese gambling houses in the United States". According to Culin, the name of the game, which seems to be Cantonese, means "to complete many tens", and he gives the alternative names Kim Tái Shap and Ch'i Tái Shap, both meaning "to grasp many tens".

Some have claimed that it is an ancestor of Mah Jong, but although it is clearly related, it seems more likely that they have a common ancestor. The most significant similarity is that the winning hand must contain one pair of identical tiles along with a number of legal combinations (in this case domino pairs adding up 10 or 20). There is also the superficial similarity that both games are played with tiles, but Mah Jong tiles are based on money-suited cards, not on dominoes, and in China both dominoes and Mah Jong exist in both card and tile forms. Money-suited cards of various designs are used for several Rummy-like games, and the immediate ancestor of Mah Jong was probably one of these.

This is a revised and expanded version of a page by Joe Celko, which was first published in the Game Cabinet web site.

Players, Tiles and Ante

Culin says that there can be from 2 to 20 players and that "many" sets of dominoes are used. Each player starts with 9 tiles, with a tenth tile for the dealer, and there need to be enough tiles remaining so that they will not run out before someone completes a hand. With as many as 20 players you probably need at least 8 sets.

The game begins with each player putting an equal ante into the pot.

The Deal

The tiles are first arranged in a woodpile or wall, five tiles high. The third stack from the end has one tile removed and placed, still face down, at the other end of the woodpile. From that point backward, the top tile of alternate stacks are removed and added to the end of the woodpile, the number of tiles moved being one fewer than the number of players. The result is a saw-toothed wall of stacks that are five, five, four, five, four, five, etc. tiles high, with (n–1) four-high stacks for n players. With five players the wall would initially look like this:

Four dice are thrown, and the first player is chosen by counting anticlockwise, starting to the right of the player who threw, until the player corresponding to the total is reached. This player removes the first two stacks, giving him a hand of ten tiles. The other players in turn, in anticlockwise order, take two stacks each (as indicated in the diagram), giving each of them a hand of nine tiles, and a leaving a wall that is five tiles high (except for the far end where the moved tiles were placed).

The Play

The goal is to complete your hand. A complete hand has:

  1. One pair of identical tiles, from either the civil or military series, known as ngán (eye).
  2. Four pairs of tiles, each pair having a total of ten or twenty pips, except that the [4-2] counts as having three pips, not six.
    Twenty Ten
    [6-6] and [6-2]
    [6-6] and [5-3]
    [6-6] and [4-4]
    [6-4] and [6-4]
    [5-5] and [5-5]

    [6-2] and [1-1]
    [6-1] and [2-1]
    [6-1] and [4-2]
    [5-3] and [1-1]
    [5-2] and [2-1]
    [5-2] and [4-2]
    [5-1] and [3-1]
    [5-1] and [2-2]
    [4-4] and [1-1]
    [4-3] and [2-1]
    [4-3] and [4-2]
    [4-1] and [3-2]
    [4-1] and [4-1]
    [3-3] and [3-1]
    [3-3] and [2-2]
    [3-2] and [3-2]

If the first player was dealt a winning hand, he declares victory. If he was not dealt a winning hand, he discards one tile face up on the table. This is why he was dealt one more tile.

Then the players take turns, starting to the right of the first player and continuing anticlockwise. A turn consists of:

  1. (Optionally) picking up any face up tile from the table and putting it in your hand. If this tile completes your hand, you win; otherwise you discard one of your own tiles face up on the table.
  2. (Always) drawing a tile from the wall. If this tile completes your hand, you win; otherwise you either discard the drawn tile face up, or keep it and discard a different tile from your hand, face up.

Culin says that when drawing from the wall, the tile is taken from the "bottom of the exposed pile of the stack". Presumably this means that for example the first tile drawn from the wall is the bottom tile of the pile of five next to the last pile taken in the deal.

Note that this game is unlike normal Western Rummy games (and unlike Mah Jong) in that it is possible to get two new tiles each turn, one from the discards and one from the wall.

The game continues until a player announces that he has completed his hand and he collects the pot.

K'ap Shap

This is a two-player variation of the above game. According to Culin, the name means "to complete tens", and it is also known as K'ím Shap ("to grasp tens") or Shap Tsai ("little tens"). A single set of 32 dominoes is arranged in a wall four high and eight wide. The first player takes eight tiles (two piles) and the second player seven tiles (leaving a pile with one tile).

A winning hand consists of one identical pair (ngán) and three pairs of tiles in which the spots add up to 10 or 20, counting the [4-2] as 3 spots as before.