22 February 2010

Chap Ji Ki

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to promote gambling. Read on at your own risk. Should you become addicted to gambling and think you have crossed the line by reading this article, please consult these people.

With the opening of the Resort World Sentosa last week, the topic for this article is still about gambling.

MM Lee is right, the Chinese are congenital gamblers. I was introduced to gambling the game of chap ji ki at a very tender age by none other than my own mother. You see, she often asked me to place bets for her at the coffeeshop downstairs:

I think why she wanted me to do it for her was because our block did not have a lift and we stayed on the 4th storey. In her opinion, a young boy like me would definitely take less effort to climb up and down the stairs compared to a middle-aged woman suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Being a filial son, I always complied with her orders. Well, she might not be aware then that by doing so, she could be doing more damage to my future than she would have done to her knees.

She would pass me a betting slip that didn't resemble this at all:

Image taken from Singapore Pools website

Instead, it looked something like this:

The wager on the left is on my favorite numbers "6-9" and is called a "pai pai" (排排,Cantonese for "next to each other" or "horizontal") bet . The one on the right is a "jek lok" (直落,"straight down" or "vertical") bet on the numbers 7-10 (How the game is played and the payout system are explained in this Singapedia entry and I need not explain them here.)

My mum, like many housewives of those days, was not formally educated. So instead of indicating the amount of the bet, she would draw symbols - a circle with one slash across it meant 50 cents, a circle with an X across it meant 1 dollar and a smaller circle stood for 10 cents. Technically speaking, the smallest acceptable bet was 10 cents but I think the smallest bet my mum ever placed was 30 cents. Her highest bet on a number was no more than a few dollars so there was no need for symbols of bigger currency denominations. (For the record, the amount for the left bet is $1.80 while the right one is $2.40. Easy, isn't it?)

In return for placing the bets, the coffeeshop owner 阿东(Ah Dong) would scribble a receipt for me in a small notepad and give me a carbon copy.

My mum was meticulous in keeping track of the past winning chap ji ki numbers. She had sheets of A4 sized cards on which she recorded them. She would take them out for study before placing any bets. However, whether this method worked for her or not, I don't know. Although she did strike once in a while, I think like in all gambling, she suffered a net loss overall.

Luckily, in those days, the coffeeshop didn't bar those aged under 18 from buying chap ji ki. If it did, I certainly wouldn't have lived to tell this story. But even more fortunately in my opinion, is that I didn't grow up to be a compulsive gambler, whether through nature or nurture. And for that, I thank the God of Fortune.


yg said...

in chap ji ki, the operator has the upper hand. the winning numbers are announced around 11 a.m, after all the bets have been collated. nevertheless, the operator also gives some 'clues', a day before, as to which numbers will be the winner. of course, these 'clues' are open to various interpretations.

even up to today, there are still people playing this game. at bendemeer food centre, i have seen betting slips being passed from one person to another.

both my parents - my mother and my late father - who were illiterate were able to place their own bets in chap ji ki. they did not bet daily; my mother, on a more regular basis and my father, infrequently, whenever he had some 'inspiration'.

Lam Chun See said...

Well done Victor. Your memory certainly is better than mine. I think judging from annecdotes, chap ji ki is very popular in the old days; which means that the syndicates much be filthy rich.

I remember how the folks would go to the temple to 'kou ji' - request for numbers. They write the numbers in tiny pieces of paper, rolled into a ball and put into a cigarette tin container. In those days, such circular tins are used to keep cigaretttes and offered to guests at dinner. They will then shake the tin until one number drops out and then repeat for the second number.

I too have run errands for my mother in our kampong days.

fr said...

From what I recall, we heard the winning number of the day from a runner, an agent or just a neighbour; but we did not know or see how the draw was conducted. It could be rigged.

I guess most of the Chinese congenital gamblers in Singapore just go for what is offered at Sg Pools. I also think most are responsible and know their limits. It just gives them a little hope and some excitement.

Andy Young* said...

Don't pray, pray! No use because if you play, play, you never win, never!

Laokokok said...

This is another good post Victor. You are refreshing my memory on this long lost game.

Thimbuktu said...

I was a "chap ji ki" runner in the 1960s for my late mother when we were living in Havelock Road.

I did not know that it was an illegal gambling to provide a betting syndicates in Singapore, a
"chap ji ki". I had to run errands at abt 9-yrs old as a filial piety for my mother, not aware of an illegal social behaviour.

My mother was not a compulsive gambler though and the "chap ji ki" bet was less than a dollar each time, whenever month end when there is extra saving for the family budget.

Reading Victor's interesting blog topic on "Chap Ji Ki" remembers me mother won a vertical bet once "九九". I collected the "chap ji ki" neighbour the next evening at $20 or so for the winning prize, my mother rewarded me about $1 for additional pocket money.

"Chap Ji Ki" lottery in Singapore was vanished syndicate gambling during the kampong days at Bukit Ho Swee.

Those was the Singapore "nong nong ago"....

yg said...

is there a limit to the number of times a person can use the same photo on his blog? i have seen the 'sit' block of flats at least 3 times already.

Roger said...

With such an early introduction to gambling, you'd be a formidable guest at the casino!

Chap ji ki provided housewives of the era with some excitement.

I recall the excitement when someone won, and the groans of dismay when a bet was an exercise in futility.