The Chinese Game Fan-Tan
Similar to Roulette, Fan-Tan, also known as fantan, is a gambling game that has been played in North America for just under 200 years. The general premise of Fan-Tan was a guessing game, where players had to try and guess how many Chinese coins they believed were on the playing table. While coins were most often used, other objects were sometimes included. Fan-Tan is almost extinct in the casino world today, with most games being played in private.
The History of Fan-Tan
Fan-Tan has decreased in popularity over the years, mostly replaced by modern casino games, as well as other traditional Chinese gambling games. During the late 1800s, however, Fan-Tan was incredibly popular among the Chinese residing in the United States. Chinatown, in San Francisco, for example, was said to have dozens of Fan-Tan gaming houses during the 19th century. Although the game has lost popularity, it can still be found in modern Macau casinos.
The game of Fan-Tan is played on a gaming table that is covered with a special mat. Chinese coins or other objects are placed on the mat, and then covered completely by a cup. The players must then each guess on what they believe is hidden by the cup, once the amount has been divided by four. The divided amount is what the players would bet money on. The player that is able to bet as close as possible to the amount is the winner, and wins the total amount that was added to the ante. Fan-Tan could be played by any number of people, and every person would be required to add their bet to the ante before the game started.
The game requires two men to run the proceedings. One that would stand near the table and makes sure the game runs smoothly, and another that acts as the cashier and clerk. The cashier is also the man that would add the coins to the table, after which the players add their money in a small pile somewhere on the playing table. One of the men will then spread the coins, making sure not to touch anything with his hands to ensure that no cheating takes place. This was most commonly done with a special rod designed specifically for this purpose. Once all the coins were in place, each player’s guess would be matched to the amount that is on the table.
Fan-Tan Playing Rooms
Much has been written about the gaming rooms that players would use to play Fan-Tan. These rooms were very different to most gambling rooms more commonly associated with Western casinos. Most of these rooms were quite bare; having very little furniture, apart from the table upon which the game took place, as well as a few stools that players could sit on during the game. Additionally, some rooms contained desks where the cashiers would sit, and where money could be locked away. The walls of these rooms were usually covered in white tablets with writing, sometimes with Chinese sayings, or with the rules of the game.