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~~ Gallery 20 ~~
Regional Cards


ˇ page 9 ˇ
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I wish to thank Tadahiko Norieda for his contribution to the page

the Japanese words have been romanized, i.e. spelt in letters according to their original sound,
following the Hepburn system, officially used in most Western countries;
due to the absence of the macron among the ASCII characters,
the latter has been replaced with the circumflex accent (e.g.  Ô = long "O")


Tehonbiki is a gambling game, whose name is impossible to translate literally; the closest attempt may be "the draw of a model", which does not make much sense, unless one is acquainted with the rules.
Unfortunately, there is little that can be said about its history, as no source seems to provide information concerning when was Tehonbiki created, and the only logic deduction, looking at the cards used, is that one of the two types was borrowed from Mekuri decks, whence the birthdate of the game cannot be set before the mid 18th century, but it may likely be less old than that.

Watching others play, at first sight Tehonbiki may loosely resemble Baccarat, or Black Jack (among Western games). However, the only thing in common is that the players who take part bet against a bank; the rules and the complicated system of stakes are rather different and, as previously mentioned, two different types of cards are used. Let's introduce them.

Their name literally means "papier-mache cards", although their cardstock is the same sturdy material used for making any other type of Japanese gambling cards. They are the ones handled by each player, but not by the bank.
Their size is just slightly larger than the cards found in a standard Hanafuda or Mekuri deck (see other relevant pages of this gallery for details), but unlike any other pattern described so far, they feature stylized Chinese numerals ranging from 1 to 6. Their backs are plain black, as usual.

full series of harifuda (numerals from 1 to 6), by Ôishi Tengudô, Japan

the harifuda in the edition by Nintendo, Japan
A full deck contains seven series of six numerals, i.e. 42 cards all together, but such quantity is not important, because each player only uses up to four harifuda at a time: one deck would be enough for seven people.

Nevertheless, often individual players carry along with them their own full deck.

Their name literally means "cards to be drawn"; also this may be slightly deceptive, as hikifuda are never handled by the players, but only by the bank. However, the latter does actually draw one of these cards.
They are slightly smaller than the standard Japanese gambling cards; also these ones feature six values, from 1 to 6, by means of pips whose shape corresponds to the suit of Ôru, or Coins, found in Mekuri patterns. The backs are black.
Usually, the hikifuda found in a full deck are 48 cards, but once again this is not really important: the bank uses only one series of these cards, i.e. from number 1 to number 6.

full series of hikifuda (pips from 1 to 6), by Ôishi Tengudô, Japan
An alternative name for hikifuda is KURIFUDA ("shuffling cards"). Since the bank hides the six cards from the players' view as he shuffles them, their small size helps him do this operation with one hand alone, in particular using his thumb.
They are also referred to as MAMEFUDA ("bean cards"), a generic name borrowed from Mekuri decks that contain only the suit of Coins, or Ôru (see page 7).

the six hikifuda by Nintendo, Japan

Unlike the design of the more popular Hanafuda cards, harifuda editions produced by different manufacturers do show slight differences, despite their very simple pattern, while hikifuda editions are practically identical.

Other implements used for playing Tehonbiki are not playing cards, strictly speaking:

Their name literally means "eye-cards", or "easy eye-cards", i.e. "cards to be (easily) looked at". Actually, they are six thick wooden tiles, as remarked by their other name MEMOKU, loosely "wooden (pieces) to be looked at".
Both their size and their pattern are the same as the harifuda's, except that these tiles only feature the black numerals, without the decorative red lines. Also the mefuda are handled only by the bank.

This is a simple cloth, such as a handkerchief or small scarf, used by the bank for hiding one hikifuda in its folds. It is not a specific implement, as it has no special size nor pattern on it.

The rules of Tehonbiki go beyond the purpose of this webpage, but some collectors may find them useful, as very few Western sources provide information about the game, only played in Japan, and in particular about its complicated code of stakes. Furthermore, since playing for money in Japan is officially banned, although undercover gambling houses do exist, any specific information is hard to obtain from local sources, as well.

The game is played between a bank and a variable number of guest players ( kyaku), that may range from one to eight or nine, but there is no fixed limit. The bank is called  dôshi, or  dômoto, "bookmaker" (whereas in any other Japanese gambling card game the same position is usually called oya, i.e. "parent" or "boss").
The players take position all around the table, or floor mat, with the guests facing the bank. The latter ("B" in the picture below) arranges the mefuda tiles in front of himself, ordering them from 1 to 6.
When a hand starts, he picks up the hikifuda, and keeping them either behind his back or in his pocket, he shuffles them, and then chooses one of the cards. Without looking at its value, he hides it between the folds of the kamishita (i.e. the square cloth), and then calls: "it's in".
Tehonbiki bank holders are particularly skillful at picking the value they wish without looking at the card's face, so that what appears to be a random choice is usually the bank's actual preference.
The players must try to guess what is the value of the hidden card. Each guest may choose one to four harifuda, which are placed face down in front of the player, together with the relevant bet, usually in cash money (no chips are used in undercover parlours). Either individually or in bundles, the banknotes are folded in standard ways, so to suggest the sum they represent.
According to how the cards and the money are positioned, the stakes change: a complex code of different arrangements allows the player to choose among several different betting schemes. A further peculiarity is that some of the possible combinations include cards without stakes (no gain, no loss), and a few even have negative ones (i.e. if the player guesses the card, he pays the bank!)
According to the number of cards a player uses for betting, in the case of a guess his gain proportionally decreases:
  • one card only: the fixed stakes are 1:4.5 (in old rules, they were 1:4.6)
  • two cards: in each combination the stakes sum up to 3.6 (some sources say 3.5)
  • three cards: in each combination the stakes sum up to 2.8
  • four cards: in each combination the stakes sum up to 1.8, and some of them are negative (i.e. the player pays the bank).
  • Each betting combination has a special name, such as suichi, roughly meaning "just one", or yasuhari / yasu-uke, more or less "easy bet" / "easy gain". Most of the meanings, though, are obscure, referring to the special cant used by Tehonbiki gablers.

    The following illustrations feature the different position of the cards and the relevant stakes, i.e. the white numerals on their back. For each combination, the sum obtained in the case of a win by placing a sample bet of 5 Euro or US$ is shown (as will be said further in the page, the minimal bet by a real gambler is over ten times this sum).

    (or PONKI)

    A)  5 ´ 4,5 = wins 22,5
    A few position variants are shown (when known). Other minor differences may exist: for example, some sources maintain that the sum of the stakes of two- and three-card bets is 3.5 (not 3.6), while some others mention a fewer number of combinations than the ones shown in this page. Furthermore, at some Tehonbiki tables special indicators are used (they are mentioned further in the page). Players will obviously follow the rules of the gambling parlour they attend.



    A)  5 ´ 3,6 = wins 18
    B)  5 ´ 0 = no win

    the cards with no number have no stakes (no win nor loss)
    (or KETTATSU)

    A)  5 ´ 2,6 = wins 18
    B)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5


    (or KUPPIN)

    A)  5 ´ 1,5 = wins 7,5
    B)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    C)  5 ´ 0,3 = wins 1,5
    (or KUPPIN)

    A)  5 ´ 2 = wins 10
    B)  5 ´ 0,6 = wins 3
    C)  5 ´ 0,2 = wins 1
    (or BON-UKE)

    A)  5 ´ 2,8 = wins 14
    B)  5 ´ 0 = no win
    C)  5 ´ 0 = no win

    the cards with no number have no stakes (no win nor loss)

    (or YASUˇUKE)

    A)  5 ´ 1,2 = wins 6
    B)  5 ´ 0,6 = wins 3
    C)  5 ´ -0,2 = pays 1
    D)  5 ´ 0,2 = wins 1

    the cards marked in red have negative stakes (the player pays the bank)

    A)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    B)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    C)  5 ´ -0,1 = pays 0,5
    D)  5 ´ -0,1 = pays 0,5

    the cards marked in red have negative stakes (the player pays the bank)

    A)  5 ´ 2 = wins 10
    B)  5 ´ -0,2 = pays 1
    C)  5 ´ 0 = no win
    D)  5 ´ 0 = no win

    the cards marked in red have negative stakes (the player pays the bank)

    A few combinations are considered optional; two of them are shown below. In particular, the one on the right consists of two separate bids, that match the standard ones called kuichi (a three-card bet) and suichi (single card): in our example, 15 and 10 Euro (or US$) have been bet, respectively. In this particular case the suichi bet is obtained by placing the money under the card. If the correct number is guessed with either bet, the plain amount of the other bet is subtracted from the win.



    A)  5 ´ 1,5 = wins 7,5
    B)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    C)  5 ´ 0 = no win

    C is placed under B, half covered

    A)  15 ´ 1,5 - 10 = wins 12,5
    B)  15 ´ 1 - 10 = wins 5
    C)  15 ´ 0,3 - 10 = pays 5,5
    D)  10 ´ 4,5 - 15 = wins 30

    1st bet is 15
    2nd bet is 10
    (see text for details)

    Once all the guests have placed their bets, the bank too makes his guess by choosing one of the mefuda, which he places at the right end of the series. Only then the kamishita is opened, and the hidden card is revealed.

    In some Tehonbiki parlours additional indicators are used, as an optional implement. They are rectangular, more or less the same size of the harifuda, or slightly larger; their purpose is to modify or somehow influence the effect of a bet.

    TOORI and HANCHÔ  -  When using these indicators, the player has the opportunity of betting half the sum he declares by exposing hanchô (literally "half portion"): in this case either his gain or his loss is reduced by 50%. Instead exposing toori (more or less "all the way through") means that he is betting the actual sum placed next to the cards.
    RAIT  -  The indicator marked raitâ (Japanized spelling of "writer") may be arranged together with the harifuda, in order to obtain some special bets, such as the one on the right called TOMARI HACHIBU.

    A)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    B)  5 ´ 1 = wins 5
    C)  5 ´ 0,8 = wins 4

    In Tehonbiki, unlike most gambling games played in the Western countries, if both the bank and the player guess the right card, not the former but the latter wins, and is payed according to his bet. If the bank is skilled (as in most cases), his mistake in guessing the hidden card is an unlikely event, even sneered at by the other players. Despite this advantage, the bank only wins in the case he makes a right guess, and the guests fail in doing so.
    However strange this rule may seem to Western players, one should keep in mind that the bank is almost free to choose the card to be guessed, and that all the stakes are lower than the mathematical probability of making a right guess (e.g. betting on a single card does not pay 1:6, but 1:4.5, and so on). Furthermore, a player who has guessed may still have to pay the bank if the card's stake is negative.

    In modern Japan Tehonbiki is one of the least considered among card games, because gambling is officially banned, and therefore the game itself carries the heavy burden of being an illegal pastime, traditonally enjoyed by gangsters and outlaws. At most Tehonbiki tables the minimal bet may be fixed at 5,000 or 10,000 Yen (about 37 and 75 Euro or US$, respectively), which means that within a few hours very high sums can be won or lost.
    But since both harifuda and hikifuda are still produced by all Japan's main card manufacturers (yet without giving too much publicity to this particular item), we may think that the game is probably played also in private houses, obviously for much smaller sums than in a Tehonbiki parlour, as in Western countries one would play Poker with friends without the risk of losing a fortune.

    other pages in this gallery
    page 1
    historical and
    general notes
    page 2
    page 3

    page 4
    page 5
    page 6
    page 7
    page 8
    page 10


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