Tensions between the US and China are adding to the enthusiasm for card games in China

BEIJING, Aug 28 (Reuters) – China’s bankers and corporate executives have become increasingly reliant on domestic capital in recent years as foreign financing has dried up, but a popular way to get that money may well be to ‘break eggs throw”.

The term refers to guandan, a poker-like card game that has been around for decades, but was revived a few years ago by venture capitalists who noticed its popularity among wealthy local government officials in the eastern regions.

“Officials like this game, so let’s join in,” said Yang Yiming, an investment banker whose job involves raising government funds for semiconductor- and defense-related projects.

Growing interest in business circles has fueled a craze for the game nationwide, in part due to financial constraints stemming from poor relations with China’s largest trading partner, the United States.

This month US President Joe Biden banned some investments in semiconductors and imposed controls on other sensitive sectors in a bid to curb trade and financing that could give rival Beijing a technological edge.

Total U.S. venture capital investments in China fell to $9.7 billion last year from $32.9 billion in 2021, data from PitchBook shows.

Domestic private capital has also declined as President Xi Jinping has expressed his preference for a stronger state presence in the economy in recent years, by cracking down on areas ranging from technology to real estate to tutoring.

As investment prospects deteriorate, financiers are increasingly viewing the game as a way to build “guanxi,” or connections, with officials in control of local projects, particularly those that foreign investors may find too risky.

“In finance, information is currency,” said Yang, for whom a game of guandan has become a standard game before entertaining local officials.

“During a game that can drag on for hours, we’re forced to chat and sometimes useful information is shared when people feel comfortable and trust you.”

Yu Longze, a Beijing-based broker, said his boss this month ordered all employees to learn the game.

Like Bridge, the classic, the game is played with four players in teams. With two decks, players must discard poker and other special card combinations to clear their hands before their opponents.

“By observing a person’s playstyle, you can tell if they’re smart, aggressive, or a team player. That can help you decide if you want him as a business partner,” said a businessman named Huang, who runs a private clubhouse where the game has become a popular pastime of officials and company executives.

But not everyone considers guandan as a business tool.

Many players say they simply enjoy the mental stimulation of a game that is cheap, easy to play and allows them to socialize – aspects which together explain its appeal to all walks of life.

Customers ranged from retirees to young professionals looking to make new social connections, said Hua Min, who opened the first bar to host guandan games in the capital Beijing this year.

Li Keshu, a lawyer, said playing with his friends at a park helped overcome the social isolation and economic frustration of the COVID-19 years, when China erected strict barriers against infection.

“It’s free. Unlike ‘Texas Hold’em’ or Mahjong, this game doesn’t need to be played for money to be fun. On the contrary, money spoils friendship and the game.”

While the players Reuters spoke to said they don’t gamble, Chinese officials have been criticized in the past for taking bribes by playing card games or the traditional pastime mahjong.

In April, the ruling Communist Party’s Anti-Corruption Inspectorate reprimanded one of its officials in eastern Anhui Province for, among other things, playing guandan during a training session.

In a sign that Beijing is not concerned about the growing interest in the game, China’s national sports bureau this year organized the first nationwide guandan competition.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Edited by John Geddie and Clarence Fernandez

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Jennifer Adams

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