Wednesday, February 25, 2015


I was born in the Year of the Rat. This will soon become relevant.

I visited Brenda's extended family this past weekend for CNY, and they are equal parts warm, outgoing and gregarious. Definitely not a quiet bunch. So you can just imagine how charged the atmosphere was when the gaming tables opened.

You see, gaming does... something to Chinese folk. It's the mutagen to turtles, the latex to billionaires, the Hermione to Hogwarts. It changes them, elevates them to something greater than what they were.

Barely ten minutes in, the din from the gaming tables permeated every part of the house. Intrigued, I sauntered over.

I saw ten people crowded around a table, cards held close to chests, stacks of crisp notes held down by oranges on the table. Ah, Twenty-One. Brenda was banker, and when I approached she grinned at me and gestured at the little money hill in front of her.
"She's terrible! She's been cleaning us out!" her aunt exclaimed. "I can't stand these Tigresses and their luck this year!" Dejected faces all around confirmed that Brenda was, indeed, making a killing.

(For the uninitiated, Chinese tradition has it that there are 12 Zodiac animals, each assigned to a year. Legend goes that eons ago there was a jailbreak in the celestial zoo, with the result that 12 animals broke free and regained their freedom. Since then, the years have been ordered in the sequence that the animals escaped – the Rat, then the Ox, the Tiger, Rabbit... Dragon... Cow Elephant Hamster Cat Panda Koala Whale.)

Then something happened.

Brenda started losing.

It began with just a couple of meh hands – too low for her to stay, then too high for the risk to be manageable. Then, slowly, painfully, inexorably, her money pile dwindled away. Brenda became gloomy.

As her relatives cackled at the turn in fortune, another aunt suddenly piped up. "Hanting! What year are you born in? Are you a Koala? Brenda's luck has changed since you came!"

“Rat, Rat, I’m a Rat!”

“Oh my!” a cousin chimed in, “Rats are terrible luck for Tigresses this year! Everyone knows that! Guess you’re washing all of Brenda’s luck away!” A murmur of agreement resounded around the table. “Please stay ok! When you’re here you suppress Brenda’s Tiger luck!”

Brenda turned and gently, sweetly said, “Don’t mind them. They’re just kidding. Stay, please stay.”

(As an aside, scientists have recently made advances in understanding how human instinct works. They posit that the human brain is able to take in many pieces of information and then subconsciously arrive at a conclusion even before the conscious intellect establishes recognizable links. An everyday manifestation of instinct is in the way we recognize danger – an out-of-place smell, an unfamiliar sight, is enough to forewarn one of impending doom.)

I voluntarily left and meandered over to the TV, thinking that I should probably just let her carry on with her game. Minutes later, she whooped and yelled uncontrollably, “I’ve just had three blackjacks in a row!”

My mind raced. The implications were enormous.

What if luck and Zodiac compatibility had a quantifiable relationship? What if, given a large enough sample size and a controlled environment, I could uncover and bend the hidden rules of the cosmos to my will?

Consider the casinos. It would be effortless to design a system that determined your Zodiac sign when your ID was scanned upon entry. We could then funnel people to play at specific tables, where the dealer would of course be your opposing Zodiac sign. Big roller born in-the-year-of-the-Tiger having a flaming hot streak of luck? No problem. Let’s send over five Ratty hostesses to fawn over you and suck you dry.

Lost in thought, I almost didn’t notice Brenda returning and taking a seat next to me. “Sorry sorry,” she said, “it’s just that my luck really changed when you were there. Not saying you’re my jinx or anything, you know it was all just for fun! I was so sad when you went away, you know that I really –”

“Brenda! It’s your turn to be banker again!”

“Coming!” And she was gone.

See, that’s gaming for you. And not even the kind that I like.

No comments: