Sunday, May 11, 2008

A friend of mine gave me the book American Shaolin.

It's a story of a guy growing up a ninety-eight pound weakling tormented by bullies in the schoolyards of Kansas, dreaming of one day traveling to the Shaolin Yemple in China to become the toughest fighter in the world, like Caine in his favorite 70's TV series, Kung Fu.

As a college kid, his self-doubt now enumerated in a list entitled "Things That Are Wrong With Matt," he decided the time had come to pursue his dream. Much to the shock of his parents, he dropped out of Princeton, hopped on a plane to China, and set out in search of spiritual enlightenment and ass-kicking power with the legendary sect of monks who invented both Zen Buddhism and kungfu.

No, it's not a book about martial arts, and it's not really about Buddhism either, although you will learn something about both.

I love travelogue books and reading about other cultures, so my buddy knew I'd enjoy this one.

But that's not why I'm writing about this. I wanted to mention one excerpt in the book that pertains to a gambling/drinking game in China.

The most popular drinking game in rural China is hua quan, which roughly translates to "Hand Game" or more directly as "Playing Hands."

The Hand Game is similar to Rock, Paper, Scissors -- a game I am a world champion at.

But instead of three options, there are six. Each opponent throws out a number of fingers (zero to five) on one hand, while shouting out a number he believes will be the sum (zero to ten) of both players hands. If one player guesses correctly and the other doesn't, the loser drinks. If both are wrong or both correct, it's a tie and you throw again.

So if you put our four fingers and shouted "seven" while your opponent put out two fingers and yells "six" then you would drink. On the next round, if you put out a fist (zero) and shouted "five" while he threw five fingers and shouted "seven," he'd drink. I guess as the game progresses and many drinks are thrown back, the yelling gets very loud, which is why the city folks looked down upon the game.

Playing Hands is an inspired game (ala Roshambo) because of the limitations of the human brain. If two random number generating computers played each other, they'd win exactly 50% of the time. But human minds and motor skills operate in patterns that tend to repeat, especially when booze is involved. This is what makes it a skill game, per se. If you are able to discover your opponents pattern -- say, after putting out five fingers, he always puts out a fist or a thumb -- while disguising your own, you obviously increase your odds of winning. And as your wins pile up and your foe sinks into a drunken stupor, his ability to see your patterns decreases while his repetitions increase. Once this tipping point happens, you go in for the kill -- victory by blackout.

The perfect Hand Game champ would possess the mental acuity of Stephen Hawking, the manual dexterity of Rachmaninoff, and the alcohol tolerance of F. Scott Fitzgerald AlCantHang.

In China they play round-robin style, with ten shots being the typical game.

I may have to try this out in my next Vegas trip.

But really, aside from learning this Chinese game, the best part of this story is that Matt, the author, got tired of losing and finally challenged his Chinese friends to America's Greatest Drinking Game.

That's right: Quarters.

And after kicking their ass with plain old bounce shots, he started the ol' roll down the elbow and the roll off the nose shots.


I'll be back with some WSOP thoughts and random poker linkage in a day or two.

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