2012-03-14 09:26:30 UTC
Two players are playing covered chess with some pieces covered in red
caps are not moved yet
Gamblers in Ho Chi Minh City have ‘invented’ a new way to play Chinese
chess, or xiangqi, for money. It is called ‘covered chess’.
Pieces of a Chinese chess set are covered under plastic caps,
shuffled, and then randomly arranged on the chessboard at the start of
The first move of each piece will follow the rule for the piece at the
corresponding position, meaning that a piece in the position of a
horse will start moving as a horse. But after the first move, the
chess piece is uncovered and returns to its own identity.
The ‘invention’ is merely for gambling and not for mind training, as
it is known that in Chinese chess the move of a piece is normally
prepared two or three moves before, and so the appearance of an
unexpected piece can greatly change the situation of the game.
Therefore, with covered chess, the strategy and result of a game
depends mainly on luck.
Game of chance
The coffee shop owned by a man called Ong Ba on Le Van Khuong Street
in Hoc Mon District always has at least ten covered chess games going
on. People play, watch, debate, and bet noisily around these chess
At a game between “Ugly” Quy and “Scarred” Hoa, regular players there,
ten people were gathering to bet. After several pieces were uncovered,
someone cried out their odds, “Ten at six for ‘Scarred’ Hoa, who wants
There was a reply, “Ok, three hundred thousand.” Soon after the odd
bet, “Ugly” Quy surrendered after two more pieces were uncovered. The
piece “Xe” (chariot) for Quy was at the position of “Phao” (cannon),
and he sacrificed them too quickly for the opponent’s pawns. That’s
why he lost,” an observer commented.
Experienced players of ‘covered chess’ often meet in the Bac Hai
coffee area on Buu Long, That Son, or Chau Thoi Streets. At these
coffee shops, numerous covered chess boards are prepared in advance
Phuc smiled contently, “A game is worth one week’s wage for a
salesperson. But it is not easy to make money with this kind of
gambling. The secret is to remember the incompetent players who love
to bet and then lure them into high bets.” Since the pieces are
covered under caps, he added, cheating becomes ineffective, and this
strategy of choosing poor players is his only measure to ensure
Gambling spreads from street to street
More and more coffee shops are harboring covered chess games, like
those in Huynh Dinh Hai Street, Phan Boi Chau Street and the Mieu Noi
Area of Binh Thanh District, Ha Huy Giap Street of District 12, Le Van
Khuong of Hoc Mon District, and the Bac Hai Area of District 10.
“Hermit” Phuong, a noted player in the Mieu Noi Area, said, “The
chances are of great importance in covered chess. That’s why many
people enjoy gambling on it; whereas in ‘bright’ (normal) chess people
know each other’s level and don’t dare to bet.”
Phuong revealed that the bet for the first game is often VND50,000 (US
$2.5), and is raised gradually based on the players’ eagerness.
Gamblers are gathering around covered chess boards on the pavement of
a coffee shop (Photo: Tuoi Tre)
“In covered chess, you don’t have to make bids openly like in
gambling. So don’t worry about the police and accusations of gambling.
If you lose, simply push the money into the other player’s pocket or
just pay later,” he said.
In the afternoon of March 5, 2012, at Coffee Shop 66 on Huynh Dinh Hai
Street, Binh Thanh District, many Chinese chess boards were occupying
the pavement. Players here seemed to know each other quite well. At
that time, a game had just finished. The player with the red pieces
said, “Bad luck. I give up.” And he took out three one-hundred-
thousand notes from his pocket and gave them to his opponent.
In only two hours, these two men had spent up to three million dongs
($144) on betting. Next to that board, the loser did not pay cash, but
simply said, “It will take five hundred thousand more to be two
At another table, two old men were wrinkling their foreheads,
considering moves with the last pieces to be uncovered. When they were
about to reach the decisive moves, one player suddenly stood up, put
five two-hundred-thousand notes on the table, and said, “One more
million for this game?” His opponent declared after a moment of
meditating, “I challenge back. Three million, to have a round sum.”
After another hour of tense competition, one of the players stood up,
paid money and murmured, “Merely bad luck in this game,” and sadly
left the coffee shop.
Bui Van Hieu, coach of the HCMC Xiangqi reserve team, added, “Covered
chess is popular amongst betting players perhaps due to the large
influence of good and bad luck. It helps erase the gap in skill level
between the two players in each game.
It also adds liberal moves into the games, such as when “Si” (guard)
or “Tuong” (elephant) can cross the river, bringing excitement to
players who love risky bets.”