Mǎ diào

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Mǎ diào
Mǎ means "horse" and the horse represented here is from the Han Dynasty.
Origin China
Type Trick-taking
Family Trump
Players 4
Skill(s) required Tactics & Strategy
Cards 40, or 60
Play Clockwise
Playing time 20 min.
Random chance Medium
Related games
Mahjong, Khanhoo

Mǎ diào (马 吊), also Ma Tiu (馬弔), Ma Tiao or Madiao,[1] is the name of an ancient Chinese trick-taking gambling card game,[2] also known as the game of Paper tiger. Known since the times of Emperor Tianqi (1620-1627),[3] it became very popular during the Qing Dynasty.[2] It is played with 40 cards and four players.[4] 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 Mǎ diào consists of 40 cards of four suits:

  • The suit of 纹 Wen (cash), or coins: 11 cards, comprising the suit of cash from 1 to 9, half a coin (also called Flower), and zero coin (called White).
  • The suit of 索 瘠 Suǒ jí (strings), or series: comprising the suit of strings from 100 to 900 coin cards.
  • The suit of 万 (variant 萬) Wàn (10,000), or myriads: comprising the suit of myriads from 10,000 to 90,000 coin cards
  • The suit of 十 Shí (ten) or tens (of myriads): 11 cards, comprising the suit of tens of myriads from 200,000 to 900,000 coin cards, and of one million coins, ten million coins and one hundred million coins, (also called Red Ten Thousand).

Each card of myriads or tens (of myriads) was illustrated with one of the 108 most famous bandits of the Chinese novel the Water Margin attributed to Shi Nai'an.[5]


Rules of the game[edit]

At the beginning of the game a draw (die roll) is made to see which of the players will become the banker, who then takes eight cards from the deck. The other three players will take each 8 cards, leaving the remaining 8 in the center of the table to form a stock pile. Each player then tries to take tricks, being that the higher value cards outweigh the lower ones. It is a strategy game played in clockwise rotation, frequently requiring the cooperation of players against the banker.

Evolution of the rules[edit]

These rules evolved over time to a new set of rules allowing a player to take the cards discarded by the previous player to improve his hand. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi (1661-1722), who banned the manufacturing and sale of cards in 1691,[3] a new game was created by combining two sets of Mǎ diào and removing 10 cards of the suit Shí. The set consisted of three suites of Wen, Suǒ and Wàn cards from 1 to 9 (54 cards), and two cards of Flower, White and Red Ten Thousand, in a total of 60 cards. Each player took 10 cards and the remaining 20 cards were placed in the center of the table to form the stock. A winning hand contained two sequences of 4 cards of the same suit, including a Flower, White, or a Red Ten Thousand, plus a pair of any card. If nobody has won after the deck is exhausted, each player returns 5 cards, which are shuffled so that a new stock of cards may be formed. This procedure is repeated until one player has won. The game of Mahjong is said to have evoved from this other game, after a new duplication of the cards.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wong Siu Fat, The Suffocated. "Rules of Luk Fu, a Hakka card game". Alone in the Fart. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  2. ^ a b Saunders, Gareth. "An On-line history of Mah Jong". Garethjmsaunders.co.uk. Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Irving L. Finkel, Colin MacKenzie (2004). Asian games: the art of contest. Asia Society. p. 227. ISBN 0878480994. 
  4. ^ Elvin, Mark (1997). Changing Stories in the Chinese World. Stanford University Press. p. 46. ISBN 0804730911. 
  5. ^ Tsien Tsuen-Hsuin, Joseph Needham (1985). Science and Civilisation in China: Volume 5, Chemistry and Chemical Technology. Cambridge University Press. p. 132. ISBN 0521086906. 
  6. ^ Li, Chi-Kwong. "Mahjong and mathematics". University of Macau (UM). Retrieved 16 January 2013. 
  • This article is based on the translation of the corresponding article of the French Wikipedia. A list of contributors can be found there in the History section.


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