Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Ās Nās Playing Cards from The Brooklyn Museum

Poker historians always mention the Persian game ās nās as one of the possible predecessors of modern poker. I guess we'll never really know if this theory is correct but that shouldn't prevent us from taking a closer look at the game if the opportunity happens to present itself. Today one such opportunity did present itself to me on my visit to The Brooklyn Museum. As it turns out The Brooklyn Museum happens to have a set of five 19th century ās nās cards on display in the Asian Arts section.



The cards are hand painted and quite beautiful. The label says: Iran, mid-19th century; ink, opaque watercolor, and gold on wood or papier-mâché under lacquered varnish. Since I am not exactly an ās nās expert, by any stretch of the imagination, I think it's best if I just retype the rest of the description posted on the museum label, instead of attempting to write my own.

The full set of cards for the game of ās nās, a gambling game similar to poker, contains twenty cards, with four each of five suits. The suite, in descending order, include the ās (ace); the shāh (king); the bībī (queen); the sarbāz (soldier), represented by one or more soldiers, noblemen, or hunters; and the lakāt, represented by a female of low rank, often a dancer or a servant. Card designs may include traditional and European costumes, floral and vegetal designs, erotic imagery, or mythological creatures. Here, the ās appears in the form of a lion and tiger entwined with a snake-dragon. Ās nās became popular under the Qajars and continued to be played until the end of World War II, when it lost favor to games such as poker, rummy, and bridge.

Although the description on the museum's label states that the ās nās deck consists of 5 suits, other resources state that a full deck consists of either 20 or 25 un-suited cards that consist of 5 court cards, appearing in multiples of 4 or 5, to make up a full deck. I think that's a better description.

Another ās nās deck appears in the collection of playing cards page on my sister site.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

World Series Of Mahjong 2010

The World Series Of Mahjong 2010 just wrapped up at The Venetian Macau. The WSOM, which started in 2006, is said to be gaining in popularity and this year the event brought together 201 players from 11 countries. Since this blog is not a news outlet I don't particularly want to cover the event, but I still think it's a good idea to go over some of the highlights.


Most of the participants came from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. Mahjong Australia, the official partner for the Australian qualifier, brought 27 professional players from Australia. Among them, was a 76 year-old Asian woman, Ms. Wang, who also celebrated her birthday in Macau.


This year, the game format and rules were slightly different than those for the previous WSOM. This year, all players were able to play 6 full sessions or 96 hands before the Final. In addition, prize money was awarded according to their scores instead of rankings, which serves as a good incentive for players. The top 16 players moved on to the Final on Day Three of the Tournament (August 22nd, 2010) and competed for the World Champion title.

This year's World Champion is Mr. Chan Tak-Kwan, a 34-year-old furniture salesperson from Hong Kong, who outlasted the other 200 participants and became the third World Champion from Hong Kong.



Chan Tak-Kwan has been playing mahjong for over ten years. He was encouraged by his friends to participate in the qualifier organized by Blue Girl Beer in Hong Kong, then was sponsored by Blue Girl Beer to participate in the WSOM championship tournament in Macau, and fought his way to the Final Table. He did not perform very well for the first two days of the World Series, and he was originally in the fourth place at the Final Table. However, just like what happened to the 2008 World Champion, Chan fought over the other three players with confidence in the last few hands and changed his fate near the end.

Chan took home a cash prize of HK$180,530 (US$23,200), a World Champion necklace, a unique Venetian mask sponsored by The Venetian Resort-Hotel, and a free seat in the 2011 World Series Of Mahjong.


Those interested in mahjong might also find my previous post Crooked Mahjong Set of some interest.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Luminous Readers: How Many Cards Can I Mark?

One of the most frequently asked questions is: How many cards (decks) can I mark with such and such amount of ink? Luminous inks are expensive and this seems like a reasonable question. But unfortunately, there is no short answer to that question.

First of all, let me explain that luminous inks are usually sold as concentrates. If you get it as a concentrate you will have to mix it down. And I might as well tell you a tip. Since the ink is an expensive purchase it's always a good idea to divide it into several small vials. If you happen to spill your vial of ink, by accident, or if you drop it on the floor, you will not lose the whole amount.

In the following image you can see how the concentrated ink is mixed down into a working vial. If you know how to do it right, you will only need a few drops of ink to mark up a few decks, so you should only mix down a few drops at a time. Also, you will have to work out the proportions. Those will depend on how concentrated the ink was and how strong you want the work to read. Needless to say, professionals typically like light work. But for argument's sake, let's say that your working amount consists of 5 drops of ink and 5 drops of thinner. If you can't go through at least a couple of decks with 10 drops, you are doing something wrong.


One thing that will save you ink is how you design your code. In the following image you see three cards, lined up side by side. The first card will use up twice the amount of ink than the card in the middle. And the last card at the right will use up a fraction of the ink that's been used up to mark the first card.

Now let's look at another example.


All three cards in this example are marked with a diagonal line. However, even if they all bear the same mark, the two cards on the right both use up twice as much ink as the card on the left. The middle card basically has a wider mark, so it uses up twice as much ink as the same line drawn at half the width. And the card at the right side is twice as dark as the card on the left; so even if both bear a mark with exact same dimensions the darker mark uses up twice as much ink.


Those are just some quick examples to help you understand that it's impossible to know how may cards one might be able to mark up with a certain amount of ink. In the above examples it all depends on the design of the code. But there are other factors that also contribute to this.

The worst tool one could use to put luminous marks on the backs of playing cards is a Q-tip. Actually, a Q-tip will produce an excellent mark, so that's not why it's a "bad" tool. But if you want to be saving on ink you definitely don't want to be using a Q-tip.

There are other factors that greatly contribute towards the number of decks one might be able to mark up with a limited amount of ink. However, I don't want to write up an instructional manual. I simply want to say that it's impossible to tell how many decks one might be able to mark up.