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Top-10 Chinese Poker variations

5 Aug 2013

By Aaron Todd
If you follow any high-stakes poker players on Twitter, you may have been seeing a lot of talk about Open Faced Chinese Poker lately in their feeds. The game has taken the poker world by storm, and it's created a lot of interest in Chinese Poker generally.

There are so many variations of Chinese Poker, it can be quite confusing. As a result, it's important to know what variation you're playing before you start. Never assume anything. But don't let the endless variations deter you! It's the perfect game when you have four or fewer people because you can be very social and enjoy each other's company while still doing some wagering.

Here are 10 great Chinese Poker variations.

10. Chinese Poker
Basic Chinese Poker is the simplest variation, and definitely the one to start with if you've never played before. Deal each player (no more than four) 13 cards. Each player arranges those 13 cards into three hands, two five-card hands and one three-card hand up top. The hands must be arranged in such a way that the bottom hand is better than the middle hand, and the middle hand is better than the top (three-card) hand.

Once every player has set their hands, they are turned face up and each player's hands are scored against the other players. Each hand is worth one point, and an additional point is awarded for winning the majority of the hands. So if Player A beats Player B in two of three hands, he wins two points (+2 for winning two hands, -1 for losing one hand , +1 for winning the majority of the hands). If Player A then beats Player C in all three hands, he wins four points (+3 for winning each of three hands and +1 for winning the majority of the hands).

If your hand is really bad, you may be able to surrender, depending on the rules set by the people you're playing with. If you choose to surrender, you owe each player two points; not a bad deal if you think you're going to be scooped by everyone.

After the scoring is complete, the deck is shuffled and a new hand can begin.

9. Chinese Poker with royalties
Once you've mastered Chinese Poker you can add in royalties for high hands. How difficult you want to make the royalties to achieve is up to you, but most commonly, you need at least quads in the back, a full house in the middle or trips up top.

Royalties are commonly awarded one extra point per person, and many people play that you have to declare that you're holding a royalty before a hand is revealed. I have no idea why this rule exists, but make sure you find out if it does if you're playing with royalties.

Other rules can be added for extremely rare hands, such as automatic scoops for 13-card straights or hands with 13 cards ranked deuce through nine or six pairs.

8. 2-7 Chinese Poker
In this version, instead of placing your second-strongest hand in the middle, you place your worst possible poker hand in the middle, using 2-7 rules (best possible hand is 7-5-4-3-2; aces are high and straights and flushes count as high hands). This version of the game allows for new and fun strategies. If you're holding three 7s and could make a full house with them, do you go for the full house and hope your 9-high in the middle is good? Or do you break up the full house and play the nuts in the middle? With 13 cards, you have a lot of information about how good people's hands may be in the middle (especially if you're holding a lot of 2s and 7s). Sometimes it's best to just throw five leftovers in there and essentially forfeit the 2-7 hand, but you'll have to make that determination on a hand-by-hand basis.

This version also makes it much easier to play a super powerful hand up top; trips aren't uncommon because the three-card hand only needs to beat the bottom hand, and you can throw the rest of your trash in the 2-7 hand.

7. Chinese Poker with Badugi
In this version, you deal an extra four cards to players (maximum of three players) and in addition to two five-card hands and a three-card hand, players arrange a four-card badugi hand. Badugi is traditionally a four-card triple draw game, where players attempt to make the best possible low with four unsuited cards. The best possible hand is A-2-3-4 unsuited. Pairs and suited cards are counterfeited, so if a player holds Ah, 2h, 3c 4s, it's only a three-card hand (Ah, 3c, 4s), which is worse than any four-card hand.

This version once again presents interesting decisions, as you may want to put any four cards there, or you might have a chance to play the nuts. Increasing the number of cards also makes it easier to hit hands like quads or a straight flush.

Scoring in this version works exactly the same, except with four hands to score, most hands are pushes (2-2), +3 (3-1) or +5 (4-0).

6. Double deck Chinese poker
One of the drawbacks of Chinese Poker is that it can only be played with four or fewer players. But if you add 52 more cards, you can play with up to eight people. Double deck Chinese Poker adds some interesting elements, as you could end up with five (or more) of a kind. You could have a flush with two aces. It takes a long time to score every round, but it can also be a lot of fun.

5. 19-19
19-19 can only be played heads up, as both players are dealt 19 cards. The remaining cards in the stub are important, as up to two boards will be dealt. The framework of the game is the same as 2-7 Chinese Poker, with a five-card high hand, a five-card 2-7 low hand and a three-card high hand. The remaining six cards are then arranged into an Omaha hand and a Hold'em hand. After the Chinese Poker hands are scored, a board is dealt (with no burn cards) and the Omaha hands are scored. If the players are tied 2-2, then another board is dealt and the Hold'em hand is played to break the tie.

With nearly half the deck in your hand, you can make some assumptions about what might show up on the board; use that information to form your Omaha hand (and to a lesser degree, your Hold'em hand).

4. Open Faced Chinese Poker
The main difference between standard Chinese Poker and Open Faced Chinese (OFC) is how the hand is dealt and set. Instead of getting all 13 cards and setting your hands with complete information about your holdings, in OFC, players are dealt five cards and must place each of those cards in the hand where they intend to play it. Once cards are set, they cannot be moved. Players place their cards in position, in order, so the dealer has an advantage with much more information than the first player to set their hand.

After each player plays five cards, each player then plays one card in position for the remainder of the hand until each player has placed all 13 cards. The great thing about OFC is that it introduces the possibility of fouling, as it's extremely easy to end up with a stronger hand in the middle than on the bottom, or have a stronger hand up top than in the middle. If you foul your hand, you automatically get swept by anyone that doesn't foul, even if you have hands that are stronger than the other player's hands.

Instead of a 2-4 scoring system, most people play OFC with 1-6 scoring, earning one point for winning two of three hands and six points for sweeping all three. As a result, making sure that you don't foul increases in importance.

3. OFC with royalties
OFC is fun enough on its own, but adding in royalties is what really juices up the game. Instead of earning one point for royalties, as is common in standard Chinese Poker, royalties increase in value as you move up the poker hand hierarchy. And since you don't get to see all your cards at once, royalties begin with a straight, because it's so much harder to make high-ranking hands. On the bottom, straights are worth two points, flushes are worth four, full houses are six, quads are 10, straight flushes are 15 and royal flushes are 25. In the middle, all of those point values double. On top, a pair of sixes is worth one point, sevens are worth two, etc., up to nine points for aces. Trip deuces are worth 10, trip threes are 11, and so on.

As you can see, the swings in OFC are a lot bigger than standard Chinese Poker. Get swept by three people in standard Chinese, you'll be down 12 points. Foul your hand in OFC with royalties and you could be down 40-50 points. As a result, it's best to play OFC at 20-25 percent of the stakes you typically play for standard Chinese, at least to start.

2. OFC with Fantasyland
Fantasyland is one of the most fun twists you can add to OFC. If a player hits a pair of queens or better in their top hand, that player enters Fantasyland. In Fantasyland, you receive all 13 of your cards and arrange your hand in typical Chinese Poker fashion, while everyone else must set their hands in OFC fashion. This is obviously a HUGE advantage for the player in Fantasyland, especially if you're playing with royalties, as it's easy to rack up big scoring hands. Hitting quads or better lets a player stay in Fantasyland, but again, be careful, as some players will make you declare that you're staying in Fantasyland before you reveal your hand in order to do so.

1. Pineapple OFC
The latest innovation in OFC is one that I actually haven't been able to try out yet myself so I can't vouch for it. But at the very least, it sounds interesting. Playing with a maximum of three players, the game starts exactly the same, with each player being dealt their first five cards and placing them before seeing the rest of their cards. But instead of receiving one card at a time for the rest of the hand, players receive three cards, throw one away (face down) and play two of them. The result allows players to make adjustments more quickly, and hands are played more quickly. The next time I'm with two other players waiting to have enough people to play a full ring game, you can guess what version of OFC I'll be lobbying for.
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