The Meaning of Gwat Pai
Gwat Pai is the Cantonese name for Chinese dominoes and the words literally translate to mean bone tiles. It is also the name for a specific game that is played with a Chinese domino set that is popular in Northern China. In South China, Tien Gow is the preferred game that has a different set of rules to Gwat Pai also known as Goo Pai in Mandarin.
Other variations of Chinese domino games include Pai Gow, which is not exactly the same as the Pai Gow poker played in casinos around the world, and others like Tiu U and Kap Tai Shap.
The History of Chinese Dominoes
Chinese Dominoes or Gwat Pai are believed to have been around as far back as the Song Dynasty where the tile set is thought to have been standardized in 1120 by Emperor Huizong. The first written recordings are however traced back to the Yuan Dynasty where Zhou Mi wrote the Former Events in Wulin where he mention gambling tiles, called pupai, and dice as items sold by peddlers during 1162 to 1189 which was the reign of Xiaozong. It is believed he referred to pupai as domino tiles.
Certain tiles are much the same as they were in the 12th to the 14th centuries, which are white with red and black pips. The 17th century also saw the black end double six tiles that were popular at the time and are believed to be the ones that are now played in the western world.
The Gwat Pai suits known as Chinese and Barbaric were renamed during the Qing Dynasty from 1644 to 1912. They became better known as Civilian and Military suits to avoid offending the ruler Manchus.
The Chinese Domino Tile Set Explained
32 Tiles make up a full set of Chinese Dominoes or Gwat Pai, which are made up of two suits, Civilian and Military. The civilian set consists of two sets of 11 patterns. Each pattern on the tiles is named according to Chinese symbolism and ranked in importance of such symbolisms. Their meanings are roughly translated to English to mean heaven; earth; man; flower; harmony and so on. Knowing which tile symbolism is more significant than the other is important to know which tiles rank higher.
The military suit of tiles is made up of ten different tiles but are considered to be five pairs as the points add up to five different total. An example of this is the 4-5 tile and the 3-6 tile both equal to nine points. The military tile rank according to the points so those with matching numbers rank equally. There are however two tiles that are not paired, the 2-4 tile and the 1-2 tile. When these two tiles are played together they are considered a suit of their own which is called Gee Joon, the Supreme suit. In the Pai Gow game it is the highest-ranking pair.
Most variations of Gwat Pai games follow the same ranking system but the games Pai Gow and Tien Gow use slightly different ranking systems.