Why drinking in China is a lot like poker

“Gan Bei!” or in English, “Bottoms Up!”, can sometimes be the two most dreaded words in China. Often, business dinners and other social occasions in China will be accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol and exhortations to drink up. Under some circumstances, those words can also be a lot of fun if you play your cards right. And we don't mention card accidentally. For in China, drinking anything alcoholic with any group of people larger than 2 or 3 can be a lot like playing poker. Instead of chips, think drinks. Drinks, usually Bai Jiu, or “white liquor”, something like Vodka, are the currency of the game. Instead of a poker hand, think about your drinking capacity and the limits of your drinking companions. The object? To be the last man standing. Or, if not the last man standing, the last man to fall off his chair. At all costs, avoid being the first one to lose your dignity. When drinking in China, you can use all the skills which apply in poker: knowing when to bluff, knowing how to read your opponents and knowing when to raise and when to fold.

Red Cat Journal has seen its share of strategies and here are a few of our favorites:

Teamwork. Find a buddy, or better yet, find a group of buddies. Decide on a target. Then, use “tag team” tactics to “Gan Bei” your target on a one-to-one basis. Before long, the target will have drunk in a ratio of X to 1, relative to your team members, where X is the number of members on your team.

Front Loading. Start off really strong early in the drinking session, not backing down from any “Gan Bei’s” and initiating a few yourself. Then, having proven yourself early, you may be able to take it easy as the drinking session progresses. A more severe version of this tactic is to leave early, giving a good excuse, after your initial strong showing. You will be able to avoid the pain of overdoing things later on but also avoid offending your companions by having drunk early and often.

The Nuclear Option. One of our favorites. Early on, when challenged to drink, you should “raise” by tripling or quadrupling the amount of alcohol proposed by your challenger. If your challenger proposes one shot, you should counter with a proposal of three or four. A key part of this strategy is that your counter-challenge must be accompanied by a loud and friendly speech. Loud, so that all your companions can see you performing the nuclear option. Friendly, so as not to offend your companions. For instance, propose a toast to close friendship and mention that three shots are what is required to sincerely do justice to your feelings. Oftentimes, your proposal will be declined for one reason or another and you will not have to carry through. However, you will find that the nuclear option will tend to reduce the quantity of future challenges. To pursue the nuclear option effectively you must either be able to handle the quantity of alcohol you propose or else you must be a good bluffer.

Faking Illness. When you want to avoid all drinking, you can fake illness. Mention something about a medicine which you are taking for some ailment. Then, decline all drinks as there could be an “adverse reaction” from mixing alcohol with the “medicine” you are taking.

Cheating. The least gentlemanly option. When all else fails, you can cheat. Find a non-alcoholic drink similar in appearance to the one you are supposed to be drinking. Then, find a way to get this in your cup instead of the real thing. Sometimes, co-operation with the wait-staff is essential to pull this off effectively. Arriving early and drinking on your “home turf” also helps. Just be sure that if you are caught, you have a good joke to lighten up the situation. Otherwise, your companions may never trust you again.