Introduction to Chinese Poker 

Chinese Poker is a poker variation that is played on a standard 52 card deck in which every player receives 13 cards. That means that the maximum number of players that can play this game at a time is four. 

Some historians believe that Chinese poker has been existant for thousands of years and that it was developed at the same time Pai Gow had been introduced. There is also another theory about the origins of this game according to which this version of poker is actually a more recent development and that it came to be around the time when western poker had been incorporated into the ancient game of Pai Gow.  

This variation of poker has been quite popular among the gambling community ever since it was introduced to the global gambling scene back in 1995 when the prestigious World Series of Poker Bracelet event took place. 

Chinese poker is a straightforward game and you’ll only need basic knowledge of poker hand rankings to get right on it. Also, unexpected outcomes are frequent, and luck plays a huge in this  in this version of poker. Therefore, even if you’re a beginner, you’ll have a good shot of winning in the short term, even against more adept opponents.

If you’re interested to know more about why this version of poker is so prevalent in the western world to date, do go through our article as we discuss the main features of the game. 


Chinese Poker Rules 

In Chinese poker, each player will be dealt with 13 cards at once. When a player receives the cards, he/she needs to line up their cards up in two rows of 5 (the middle and the back rows) and one row of three cards (the front row). 

Players must arrange the cards in rows so that the back row consists of high cards (highest hand possible), while the front row consists of low cards (lowest hand). Straights and flushes don’t count in the three card hand.  

When players receive their cards, they need to arrange them in three lines (rows), each placed face down on the table. When all the players have placed all of their cards on the table, they will announce whether or not they want to play. The round starts with the player that sits left to the dealer and continues clockwise.  

Once all the cards are set, players compare each of their three hands with their opponents’ corresponding hands. In the most common scoring system, the player wins two points when two of his hands are stronger than his opponent’s, and if the player’s all three hands are better than his opponent’s, he/she will win a bonus point. That means that if a player sweeps all three hands, he will win four points.

Some players that have certain hands (royalties) are awarded additional points. Depending on which Chinese poker variation you play, the points per royalty can differ. These bonus points make the game incredibly exciting, especially when one player fails to create three hands according to the rules − ascending in value from bottom to top. 

There are a few variations that derived from the original game. These include: 

  • Open-Face Chinese Poker 
  • Low In the Middle 
  • Criss Cross 
  • The Will 
  • 11-Point Game 

How To Play Chinese Poker 

Chinese poker is a game played by two to four players. The luck element plays a much greater role in this version of poker than in regular poker and only requires a basic knowledge of poker hands, making it much more appealing to beginners. Each game (round) lasts approximately 20 minutes, depending on how many players are participating. To start the game, each player receives 13 cards. 

Each player must create three groups or rows using those 13 cards − two rows that contains five cards each, and one row that contains three cards. The two rows that consist of five cards are known as the back and the middle, while the row that consists of three cards is called the front (row). 

The sets must be arranged according to the following rules: 

  • The front (three) card row must be the lowest hand 
  • The back (five) card row must be the highest hand 
  • The middle (five) card row must be the middle hand 
  • Straight and flushes don’t count in the back row. 

Once each player arranges their cards in three rows, they need to place them face down in front of them − first comes the front, then the middle, and then comes the back. 

Showdown 

Once all players have arranged their cards in three rows, they need to place them face down in front of him − first the front, then the middle, then the back. 

Players must place their back hands so that they are closest to the center of the table. Back hands are then followed by the middle hand and the front hand.

The showdown begins by players flipping the cards over and comparing them group by group: 

  • Back hands are compared to back hands 
  • Middle hands are compared to middle hands 
  • Front hands are compared to front hands 

Points are distributed according to a pre-defined scoring system. There are several scoring systems in this poker version, but we’ll talk about the standard Chinese poker scoring system. 

In the standard Chinese poker scoring system, you win one point for each winning hand. 

For example, you win the Back and Front hand but lose the Middle hand. You win one point for Back, and one point for Front but lose one point for the middle hand. So your total score is +1 point. 

Players who opt for the standard playing style cannot fold their cards. However, if the Surrender rule is included, it is possible for a player to withdraw from the round. In some variations, surrendering will cost you a certain amount of points.

If you’re playing Chinese poker with the 6-1 rule, a scoop (victory in three hands) will earn you +6 points. If at least one of your three hands is strong, the risk of getting scooped is very low. On the other hand, if you can set at least a flush in the back hand, or a pair of eights or better in the front hand, then you should give up the hand and avoid losing all six points. 


Variations of Chinese Poker 

As we have mentioned earlier in the article, there are a couple of variations of Chinese poker. The most popular one is Open-face Chinese Poker (OFCP). 

Like other poker variations, OFCP players receive cards from the dealer and try to make the best possible hands, while their opponents try to do the same. The difference between OFCP and most poker games is that no bets are placed during the rounds of play. Instead, players play on ‘per point’ system where the game is scored in points, similar to card games like gin rummy or hearts. 

If you’re familiar with standard Chinese Poker, you’ll quickly get acquainted with OFCP. There are some notable differences between the two variants. In standard Chinese poker, players receive all 13 cards at once, while the dealing procedure in OFCP is different.

Dealing the Cards in OFCP

OFCP is also played on a 52-card deck, and the maximum number of players that can play at once is four. 

The players receive cards one at a time, starting from the player sitting left to the dealer. Players in Open-face Chinese poker receive five cards at the beginning of the round, unlike in the standard version where they receive all 13 at once. 

Once all players receive their cards, they must arrange them (according to the rules) face up on the table and create their Back, Middle, and Front rows. Once these cards are placed, they cannot be rearranged later on. 

After the initial five cards are placed face up on the table, players will receive one card face down at a time, until all remaining cards have been dealt out. Players will then take turns to complete their rows with the remaining cards. 

After all the cards are in place, the showdown begins. As in standard Chinese poker, OFCP players will compare their corresponding hands, and players who beat their opponent’s corresponding hand will win one point. A sweep (win all three hands) provides three points. 

OFCP also features royalty bonus points. For example, you can win 25 points for a Royal Flash, 10 for quads, and 2 for straights. 


Conclusion 

Although Chinese poker is more of a game of chance than a game of skill, you’ll need to develop some strategy to be successful. You can’t just jump in and rely completely on luck, because you’ll get beaten more times than not. Form a working strategy, and build the three strongest hands that you can. 

Don’t forget to arrange your hands or rows in the correct order and in line with the rules. Remember that the back hand has to be ‘stronger’ than the middle hand which in turn has to beat the front hand. Don’t risk getting swept, and if you don’t have at least one strong hand, surrender whenever possible. 

Finally, use a pen and paper to keep up with what units you have won or lost and to whom.