When I was in Form Three, I began playing few card games among close friends. There were a number of card games that we played, among them was pakau, dua puloh satu, poker, terup keling, but the most liked among my friends was a card game called race. Most Muarian boys during my time surely knew how to play this game. We learned this game from the older guys who would play this game by the hours and sometimes they even skipped their dinner and continued playing as late as 2.00am. They only felt hungry after finishing the game and most would cycle to town to the kedai siang malam along Jalan Sisi. If they were lucky, Pak Mail’s mee bandung would still be opened. They played this game with money and normally the winner would pay for their late dinner.
Race is played by four person. Each person will be given seven cards but the first person to move will be given eight cards. The balance of the cards will be placed at the center. The four designs of the cards are spade, heart, diamond and flower but Muarian Malays called these as spid, lekuk, getin and kelawar respectively. The objective of this game is to form a set of consecutive numbers from one to ten, Jack, Queen and King of the same design. For example, out of the seven cards you have, you need to form four cards bearing the numbers one, two, three and four of the same design and the other three cards bearing the numbers one, two and three of another different design. Or you can form three cards of the same design with the numbers in consecutive and the balance three the same numbers of different designs. For example, you can collect three 5s or four 5s of different designs.
The first player will throw one card from the eight cards. If the second player takes the card, we called it as makan. But if he doesn’t, then he will pick one from the center cards. If the center card that he picks doesn’t belong to the set that he wants, he will throw it to the next player and it goes on until one of the players manage to win the game. The winner must shout kadang the moment he wins the game. There is another form of winning the game and that is if the a player throws a card and that card happens to be the winning card for the next player. We call this as sampai. When only four card are left, then each player will take a card each and this is called kopek. If nobody wins after the kopek, then the one with the lowest points wins the game. We called this as kecik mata.
The stake for the games varies according to the house rules but in our case, the one who manages to kadang gets thirty cents from the three players, the ones who mange to sampai gets twenty cents and the kecik mata will get ten cents. Sometimes when we had a lot of money particularly during the Hari Raya, we would raise the stake double. The older folks normally played as big as Ten dollars, five dollars and three dollars respectively.
There is one interesting feature of this game we called Kambu. It means taking a chance. For example, you have one and four of spades and the player next to you gives you either two or three spade, you are taking a chance if you took it. Once you take a card from the player next to you, you can’t throw away the card. You have to keep the card until the game is over. We called this as tak boleh muntah.
While the objective is to form a set of consecutive numbers, you must at the same time be able to control by not giving away your unwanted cards to the next person freely. For example, if earlier you had given him a four of diamond, you must not give him five or six of diamond, or any fours of different design. If you have no choice but to give him because of circumstances relating to your own cards and he does not game, then you won’t be fined. But if he does and win the game by sampai, then the game stops and you have to pay plus on behalf of the other two playes to the winner. This is called bayar keliling.
“Let’s play race”, Yem suggested to Halim and me. The three of us were cycling back home after seeing an English movie at the Rex cinema. It was almost 5.30pm when we almost reached the Muar High School. On every Thurday afternoon the three of us would always find time together cycling around Muar town and if we noticed a good movie, we would watch it depending on our budget. Fridays and Saturdays were weekends for Johoreans of my time.
“Good idea”, I answered. “Let’s invite Ajis Mak Enggor”, I continued as we need four players for the game. Ajis was a good race player and every player always avoided sitting besides him. He could control your cards like he could read your mind.
We were along Jalan Majidee in front of the school building and the road was the same road where Ajis stayed. It was a hot day as it would always be after the monsoon season. 1965 was the year I sat for my LCE examination but I thought it was too early to begin my studying. I had plenty of time, maybe I could start studying seriously in two or three months’ time and so for the time being I still wanted to enjoy my life.
Gambling was strictly forbidden by most parents of my time. If you were caught gambling or your neighbour reported your misbehaviour to your parents, you could get a terrible lecture or even be chased out of the house. Therefore it was a very serious matter and not to be taken lightly. We were very naughty young boys and had wanted to learn many things what the adults usually did and one of them was gambling. The only different was our stakes were very low.
Ajis agreed to join the game and we set the time for the game at 9.00pm after our dinner. The place would be at my room.
I arrived home before the maghrib prayer and immediately perform my ablution using the bathroom inside the house which was besides our dinning table. I must make sure that grandma or grandpa noticed the waters over my head. Such a pious young lad would never think of getting involved in anything prohibited by our religion. After my prayer, I checked my budget and noticed I had about three dollars and that should be enough to play the game.
At the dinning table, grandma advised me to study very hard. She referred Form Three as Kelas Tujuh while Form Five was Kelas Sembilan. I can’t figure out until today why the older folks those days referred Form Three and Form Five as Kelas Tujuh and Kelas Sembilan respectively. She said she wished she could live to see me entering the university, just like cousin Kak Bulat, her eldest grandchild. Grandma always praised Kak Bulat when it came to studying. ‘You must be like Kak Bulat and make everyone proud’, grandma would always tell me. She would often tell me not to mix with bad companies, and not to indulge in some undesirable activities like smoking and gambling. Grandpa seldom spoke but I am sure he knew that I was the culprit whenever one of his cigarettes was missing from his cigarette box.
The three of them arrived at my house at exactly 9.00pm and went straight to my room. Yem brought along a packet of used cards, maybe more than six months old. Some of the cards were even torn out and whoever got that cards we knew what the cards were. We sat at the floor right beside my bed. Yem took the cards and began shuffling.
“What is your capital?” Halim asked me. “Two dollars”, I answered. I had three dollars but I would rather not spend the whole three dollars on gambling.
“What about you?” I asked Halim back. “I have five dollars” answered Halim. Then he took a newly bought packet of cigarettes of ten. It was Player’s Gold Leaf costing forty cents per packet. Ajis too had the same packet he just bought at the sundry shop near his house.
To avoid any suspicion, I put on the radio and managed to get a Singapore program of half an hour’s of the latest songs. “Ok, let’s start the game and we must end before 11.30pm”, I said to the three of them.
Yem shuffled the cards and distributed them to each one of us. I sat besides him and so I received eight cards. The first song played over the radio was Elvis Presley’s ‘You’re the devil in disguise’. Even when in Form Three, I didn’t know what was the meaning of disguise and I sang it my way…You’re the devil in the sky. Let Elvis sang his song, but for now I need to concentrate on my cards.
All of us were silent planning our moves and thinking of the right choice of sets. The radio kept on airing all the latest songs and we were beginning to enjoy our game. Halfway through the game Halim was loosing quite a lot and so was I. Ajis was winning the most while Yem won a bit. Although all form of gambling rest purely on luck, the game of race could change your bad luck if you knew how to strategize your moves. At the same time you must be able to assume the sets played by your opponents. When I realized that I had only fifty cents left, I changed my style and adopted a different strategy.
Half an hour before 11.30pm, I managed to recover but Halim kept on loosing and was about to finish his five dollar capital. By now he had smoked about four sticks and kept cursing his bad luck. Ajis was smiling so wide and did most of the shuffling. Winners always shuffle the cards. Yem was doing quite alright and still winning but not as much as Ajis.
When the game ended, Ajis won about six dollars and Yem maintained his winning of hardly a dollar. Halim lost all his money and I lost about one over dollar.
“Ok guys, let’s cycle to town and have our mee bandung, all on me”, Ajis said in a very happy mood. The four of us cycled to town heading towards kedai siang malam. That night Ajis ‘painted the town red’.
In weeks to come we became addicted to gambling and played race practically everyday. We played the game after school until evening and we played the game after our dinner. By and by even our stakes increased, from ten cents to twenty and eventually to fifty cents. Everyday grandma gave me fifty cents to school and I spent only ten cents while the balance was meant for the race game. Sometimes when I had no money to play, I would lie to grandma that I need some money to buy certain books. The situation became worse when the three of us skipped our prayers. My lessons in school too took a bad turn. I seldom did my homework and would only do it in the early hour of the morning. At school my concentration became less attentive and my class teacher Mr. Quek began to notice that I was lacking in my improvement particularly on the subject he taught which was Health Science. “What’s wrong with you Kamaruddin, you are not getting any better in your lesson”, he once told me.
One evening, Halim came to my house and he looked not quite himself. He had a very important message for me. His lecturing was a monologue and I listened well. He suggested that we stopped gambling at once and to return to our happy days of cycling to town, watching movies, going to parties and creating some ‘adventures’ we used to create. Before this conversation, I had the same idea and it was a matter of time before I could tell my two buddies. Now that Halim had opened his mouth first, I agreed with him immediately. We both agreed that gambling would do us more harm and unless we stopped this bad habit, we could one day turn into someone dangerous to our neighbourhood and even to the society we lived in. The same evening we told Yem the same thing and likewise he concurred with us. Later we told Ajis to stop this bad habit.
One night while the three of us were at the Taman Selera, we recalled those moments when we used to gamble. Then we imagined ourselves still with this bad habit and we imagine the worse scenario. We could have become dishonest person, untrustworthy and very bad influence to society and above all we could even bring shame to our families. We realized why our religion prohibited gambling because we learned that the end result is always a sad ending.
It will be not honest for me to say that we never played the game in our latter years. We did but only to entertain ourselves and maintained our discipline and the ability to behave in a controlled manner.
We were growing and we wanted to learn many things but one thing we learned was that gambling would do us more harm than good.