|Si Guoqi and his wife appear on a TV program.(GT)|
Among the mahjong tiles randomly placed on the table, he can tell which tile he will pick up before doing so. When playing cards, he can tell what other players are holding. He is neither a magician nor a god of gamblers, but a warrior against gambling.
Si Guoqi, 40, has devoted his time to trying to get gambling addicts out of their habit since 2008, after teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to his wife's severe gambling addiction.
Through his personal experience, Si said he and his wife have succeeded in helping more than 7,000 people to quit their addiction in the past five years.
"I find that gamblers are increasing. More young people under than 25 are coming to me," Si, who has just returned from a month-long anti-gambling campaign in Hohhot, Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, told the Global Times on Tuesday. "Nevertheless, it will not affect my confidence in our anti-gambling fight. I've decided to make it a career."
Road to redemption
In 2002, Si and his wife Cheng Juan moved from a small town to the city of Puyang, Henan Province. The couple quickly joined the hairdressing industry and opened a small barber shop. Three years later, they owned three large-scale hair salons and earned around 600,000 yuan ($98,040) annually.
However, their fortune did not last long as Cheng began to play mahjong. At the beginning Cheng played it to relax but she slowly became addicted, spending nearly all day at it.
"I tried many times to get her to stop. But every time she broke her promise and continued gambling," Si said.
One day in 2008, after losing 10,000 yuan, Cheng borrowed more money from friends. That night, she lost a further 300,000 yuan and signed an IOU in lieu of cash. The next day, a stranger took the note to Si. In anger, Si slapped his wife and kicked her out of their house.
"We argued every day. She lost nearly all our savings. I even thought of divorcing her," Si said. To repay their debts and make ends meet, they had to sell their business.
A couple days after, Si saw a TV interview with Zheng Taishun, an anti-gambling expert who has exposed many gambling frauds. He realized that his wife might have been cheated as well.
"I swore to save my wife, otherwise my entire family would be ruined," he said. Si took his wife to Zheng and arranged a game between them. No matter how good Cheng's hand was, Zheng could always tell what she had. In the two hours that they played, Zheng never lost.
"I then realized that most gambling games were traps. He had opened my eyes," Cheng said. She told her husband that she would never spend another penny on gambling.
To express their gratitude, the couple joined Zheng's anti-gambling club and planned to dedicate three years to help other gambling victims.
They went to Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and rented an apartment in the city to open a consulting workshop. The first person that came to see them was a 30-year-old male, who started quarreling with Si after some words exchange.
"It was really hard at first, many people didn't understand why we were doing this. In the first four months, only a few came to consult," Si said.
But then, a TV station in Chengdu found the couple and interviewed them which changed their fortunes. During the 2009 Spring Festival, the phone rang constantly and many people sought out their help.
But their success rate soon caused them to doubt their skills as virtually none of their patients quit gambling successfully.
"I realized the effect of oral persuasion was too light on its own," Si admitted.
Then he began to visit skilled professionals and sharpen his techniques. After months of practice, he became a skilled player of mahjong who could use his skills to show gamblers the error of their ways, sending their success rate to 95 percent.
"At first, I mainly hoped to pull my wife totally out of her addiction by involving her in the anti-gambling campaign. But gradually, I found I couldn't stop the campaign when more and more people came to me," Si said.
The couple set up websites and developed tools to uncover swindling tricks. So far, they have spent about 600,000 yuan in their quest, even selling their house and moving into a smaller one to save money.
Their main principle is to never accept a penny from the gamblers, or even a meal. The couple brings a rice cooker and chopsticks to every city they traveled to.
Due to the impact they started having on the revenue stream of illicit gambling, the couple began receiving threatening messages and calls. Some even called to question their incentives.
"The governmental crackdown on gambling is insufficient. Some underground gambling sites even have connections with the police," Si said. "Gambling is very harmful. I found that most young gamblers were involved in drug use and pornography as well."
Example of victimhood
Zhang Qianwei has lost more than 30 million yuan on gambling. The now 36-year-old Hetian jade shop owner in Beijing used to own a company selling agricultural seeds and fertilizer.
He grew addicted to poker and mahjong four years ago and gambled all his money away, even being forced to sell his company. His wife divorced and left him, forcing him to raise their 4-year-old son alone.
Then, in the winter of 2011, his mother saw Si on a TV show demonstrating card and mahjong tricks. She called Si for help and took her son to his rehabilitation center in Zhengzhou, Henan Province.
"At first I didn't believe him," Zhang told the Global Times. "But then I lived in his rehabilitation center for two months. Every day he came and showed us how gamblers played tricks on us."
In the end, Zhang decided to start over. "Si was such a kind-hearted man," he said. "He didn't forget people like us, he helped us time and time again."
"I'm not against mahjong or other games for entertainment. But once it affects your job, family and health, it becomes gambling," Si said.
"Gamblers will never win. You may win once, but you will lose more next time, you will lose interests in your career and your family. That will cost you way more," he noted.