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Last Updated: December 10, 2018

Niu Niu

Introduction

Niu Niu is a popular gambling game in south-eastern China and Combodia. There are also variations of it in Malaysia, Vietnam, and probably other places in southeast Asia. It can be played socially, in the casinos of Cambodia, and online casinos catering to Asian players.

The word "niu" in Chinese can be translated to cow, bull, or ox, so it is known in English as cow cow, bull bull, and ox ox. The rules are a bit difficult to explain, but playing the game is simple. If you are familiar with the game, I welcome your comments about the game and this page in my at Wizard of Vegas.

Cambodia Rules

To avoid confusion, I will capitalize the names of bets and use lower case when referring those actually playing the game.

Following are the rules as dealt in the land casinos in Cambodia, as I understand them. I will follow those rules by how the game is played on online casinos.

  1. One ordinary 52-card deck is used.
  2. Cards count the same number of points as in baccarat: aces = 1, 2-10 = pip value, face cards = zero.
  3. As in baccarat, if a group of cards has a total point value greater than 9, then the tens digit is dropped and the point value of the hand is the terminal digit of the sum of the individual points.
  4. The two bets available and the Equal and Double. The player may bet on either or both. As mentioned, the player may or may not be given the choice on which hand to bet on.
  5. The dealer will deal to each player and himself five cards.
  6. The Player and Dealer hands shall each receive five cards.
  7. The dealer shall arrange the cards to make the best hand possible in each hand.
  8. Following is the ranking of hands, from highest to lowest:
    • Three-card hand and two-card hand are both zero points, known as a "Niu Niu."
    • Three-card hand is zero points and the two-card hand has 1 to 9 points. The more points within this range, the higher the rank.
    • Impossible to make zero points in the three-card hand.
  9. In the event of a tie, then the side with the highest ranking card shall win. The ranks of the cards, from highest to lowest, is: K>Q>J>10>9>8>7>6>5>4>3>2>ACE.
  10. In the event that the highest rank does not break a tie, then the highest ranking suit shall win. The order of suits, from highest to lowest, is Spades > Hearts > Club >Diamond.
  11. For the Equal bet, if the player chose the winning side, then he shall win 1 to 1, less a 5% commission*. I have heard some Cambodian casinos do not charge a commission, but find this a bit incredible.
  12. For the Double bet, the player shall win or lose according to the following pay table, if he bets on the correct side. A 5% commission will be deducted from all wins.
    • Niu-Niu — 3 to 1
    • Player has 7 to 9 points in two-card hand — 2 to 1
    • Player has 1 to 6 points in two-card hand — 1 to 1
    • High card — 1 to 1
  13. If multiple decks are used, then it is possible to have a tie, which I assume is a push.

Notes

* I have an unconfirmed report that some casinos in Cambodia do not charge a commission on the Equal bet. This would result in a bet with zero house edge.

It should be emphasized that the player can lose up to three times his "bet" if wagering on the Double. It is my understanding that the player must actually place on the table three times what his intended "bet" is, to show he can cover a worst-case-scenario loss.

Online Rules

The way the game seems to be dealt online is a bit more complicated. Here are the rule differences, compared to the Cambodia rules, as I understand it.

  • Six decks are used, instead of one.
  • There is an added type of hand called an Ultimate Niu Niu. This is five face cards and it outranks a regular Niu Niu. An Ultimate Niu Niu pays 4.75 to one on the Double bet and if the player loses to one, he must pay five times his bet.
  • I have never heard of a no-commission Equal bet online.
  • Instead of the player getting his own hand, the dealer will set both the Player and Dealer hands to maximize the score of both. The player may bet on either hand, as in baccarat.
  • To make matters more confusing, the dealer may deal to multiple sets of hands, with three apparently the most common, and the player can bet on any of them. I think I have also seen a situation of one dealer hand vs. three player hands.

One Deck Analysis

The following table shows my analysis of the Equal bet with one deck and a 5% commission on wins. The lower right cell shows a house edge of 2.50%.

Equal Bet — One Deck

Event Pays Probability Return
Win 0.95 0.500000 0.475000
Tie 0 0.000000 0.000000
Loss -1 0.500000 -0.500000
Total 1.000000 -0.025000

I have heard some casinos in Cambodia offer the Equal bet with no commission. I find this a bit difficult to believe. However, if true, then it would be a truly fair bet with no house edge.

The following table shows my analysis of the Double bet with one deck, a 5% commission on wins, and the Ultimate Niu Niu rule. Although I hear single-deck games generally don't follow the Ultimate Niu Niu rule, I will include this table anyway, in case you find such a game. The lower right cell shows a house edge of 4.03%, which is based on the ratio of the expected loss to the smallest possible loss.

Double Bet — One Deck — With Ultimate Niu Niu

Win Winning Hand Pays Probability Return
Yes Ultimate Niu Niu 4.75 0.000305 0.001449
Yes Niu Niu 2.85 0.070791 0.201755
Yes 7 to 9 1.9 0.162713 0.309154
Yes 1 to 6 0.95 0.209773 0.199284
Yes No Niu 0.95 0.056418 0.053597
Tie Any 0 0.000000 0.000000
No No Niu -1 0.056418 -0.056418
No 1 to 6 -1 0.209773 -0.209773
No 7 to 9 -2 0.162713 -0.325426
No Niu Niu -3 0.070791 -0.212374
No Ultimate Niu Niu -5 0.000305 -0.001525
Total 1.000000 -0.040276

As mentioned above, the house edge of the Double bet is 3.99%, if we define it as the expected loss to the amount "bet," where the player can lose up to five times this amount. If we define the house edge as the ratio of expected loss to maximum possible loss, then we would divide that by 5 to get 0.80%. Perhaps a good measurement of the value of the bet is the ratio of the expected loss to the absolute value of the expected win/loss (1.57), which equals 2.56%.

Next, here is a table for the Double bet without the Ultimate Niu Niu rule. In this case, five face cards would not necessarily outrank any other Niu Niu. The probability of an Ultimate Niu Niu with one deck is 1 in 3,282, so there is almost no difference in the odds. The reduction in house edge is 0.003%, as measured by the ratio of the expected loss to the amount lost for a No Niu or a Small Niu.

Double Bet — Without Ultimate Niu Niu — One Deck

Win Winning Hand Pays Probability Return
Yes Niu Niu 2.85 0.071096 0.202624
Yes 7 to 9 1.9 0.162713 0.309154
Yes 1 to 6 0.95 0.209773 0.199284
Yes No Niu 0.95 0.056418 0.053597
Tie Any 0 0.000000 0.000000
No No Niu -1 0.056418 -0.056418
No 1 to 6 -1 0.209773 -0.209773
No 7 to 9 -2 0.162713 -0.325426
No Niu Niu -3 0.071096 -0.213289
Total 1.000000 -0.040245

Next, I hear that some casinos in Cambodia only charge the 5% commission on wins of 2 to 1 or more. The following table shows how that would effect things.

Double Bet — Without Ultimate Niu Niu — Reduced Commission — One Deck

Win Winning Hand Pays Probability Return
Yes Niu Niu 2.85 0.071096 0.202624
Yes 7 to 9 1.9 0.162713 0.309154
Yes 1 to 6 1 0.209773 0.209773
Yes No Niu 1 0.056418 0.056418
Tie Any 0 0.000000 0.000000
No No Niu -1 0.056418 -0.056418
No 1 to 6 -1 0.209773 -0.209773
No 7 to 9 -2 0.162713 -0.325426
No Niu Niu -3 0.071096 -0.213289
Total 1.000000 -0.026936

This reduced commission rule lowers the base house edge from 4.02% to 2.69%.

Six Deck Analysis

The following table shows my analysis of the Equal bet with a 5% commission and six decks. The lower right cell shows a house edge of 2.48%.

Equal Bet — Six Decks

Event Pays Probability Return
Win 0.95 0.496431 0.471610
Tie 0 0.007137 0.000000
Loss -1 0.496431 -0.496431
Total 1.000000 -0.024822

As mentioned in the one-deck section, if you find the Equal bet with no commission and no other rule changes, the house edge would be exactly zero.

The following table shows my analysis of the Double bet with the Ultimate Niu Niu rule, based on six decks. The lower right cell shows a house edge of 3.99%, which is based on the ratio of the expected loss to the smallest possible loss.

Double Bet — With Ultimate Niu Niu — Six Decks

Win Winning Hand Pays Probability Return
Yes Ultimate Niu Niu 4.75 0.000586 0.002785
Yes Niu Niu 2.85 0.069930 0.199301
Yes 7 to 9 1.9 0.160321 0.304610
Yes 1 to 6 0.95 0.208974 0.198525
Yes No Niu 0.95 0.056619 0.053788
Tie Any 0 0.007137 0.000000
No No Niu -1 0.056619 -0.056619
No 1 to 6 -1 0.208974 -0.208974
No 7 to 9 -2 0.160321 -0.320643
No Niu Niu -3 0.069930 -0.209791
No Ultimate Niu Niu -5 0.000586 -0.002932
Total 1.000000 -0.039948

As mentioned above, the house edge of the Double bet is 3.99%, if we define it as the expected loss to the amount "bet," where the player can lose up to five times this amount. If we define the house edge as the ratio of expected loss to maximum possible loss, then we would divide that by 5 to get 0.80%. Perhaps a good measurement of the value of the bet is the ratio of the expected loss to the absolute value of the expected win/loss (1.56), which equals 2.56%.

Next here is a table for the Double bet without a special category for an Ultimate Niu Niu.

Double Bet — Without Ultimate Niu Niu — Six Decks

Win Winning Hand Pays Probability Return
Yes Niu Niu 2.85 0.070517 0.200973
Yes 7 to 9 1.9 0.160321 0.304610
Yes 1 to 6 0.95 0.208974 0.198525
Yes No Niu 0.95 0.056619 0.053788
Tie Any 0 0.007137 0.000000
No No Niu -1 0.056619 -0.056619
No 1 to 6 -1 0.208974 -0.208974
No 7 to 9 -2 0.160321 -0.320643
No Niu Niu -3 0.070517 -0.211550
Total 1.000000 -0.039889

With six decks, the probability of an Ultimate Niu Niu is 1 in 1,705. Treating an Ultimate Niu Niu as a regular Niu Niu decreases the house edge by 0.006% with six decks.

Similar Games

Finally, I am aware of some major rule variants, which I won't analyze on this page, but they are worth mentioning.

  • Saigon 5 Card — Similar game involving a joker. This link takes you to my analysis of it.
  • There is a similar game called out of Malaysia, which seems to have the same rules, except the 3 and 6 are semi-wild and may be used as 3 or 6 points, much like in pai gow tiles.
  • Sometimes there are also jokers in the deck, for example in the second dealer hand in .

  • in my forum at Wizard of Vegas.
  • — This page endeavors to explain in broken English the rules of a Niu-Niu app.
  • — Niu Niu rules in Chinese

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank andrew888 for his help understanding the rules of Niu Niu as played in Cambodia.


Written by: Michael Shackleford

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