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Updated: July 8, 2024
Chinese poker

Chinese Poker

Chinese poker is a unique variation of poker that doesn’t follow the same rules as the more popular variants like; Texas Hold’em, Omaha, and Stud. It is a beginner friendly variant of poker, where basic knowledge of hand rankings is enough to start playing. 

The format as the name suggests originates from China, and frequently has unexpected outcomes due to a large element of luck involved. Hence, the game is quite exciting, and fun for inexperienced players, who can win on the short term against experienced opponents.

Unlike normal poker variants, Open-Face Chinese poker or simply Chinese poker is played with 13 cards which are dealt to the players at the start. Players have to divide the 13 cards given to them into 3 different poker hands. One hand has to be of 3 cards, and the other two hands have to be of 5 cards each. Players have to arrange their respective hands to form the best possible combinations to beat other players, and their hands.

Chinese Poker Rules

Maximum 2-4 players can play the game with a standard deck of 52 cards, since all players are dealt 13 cards at the start of the game. 

In Open-Face Chinese poker there is no betting during the rounds. Players agree to play ‘per point’, and a monetary amount is pre-assigned to a total number of points a player needs to get to win. 

Once 13 cards have been dealt, players have to complete three hands – top, middle, and bottom. Each player’s top hand is measured against the top hand of their opponent, middle hand is measured against the middle hand, and bottom with the bottom hand. Player’s will gain or lose points based on their hand ranking against their opponent’s.

There are a few rules that are outlined below:

  • Winning Outright: If a player makes three flushes or three straights in Chinese poker, they win the entire hand outright by default. This is regardless of what the opponent’s cards might be. The player will straight away gain 3 points from all opponent’s who haven’t folded or surrendered at the start.
  • Surrendering: This is kind of like folding in normal formats of poker when a player feels that they don’t have good enough cards. This should be done at the beginning of a hand, and the player who surrenders has to give up 2 – 2.5 points in a game. 
  • Mis-set hand/ Foul: If a player arranges their cards in the wrong order or their 5- card hands are not of a higher value than their 3-card hand, then they are likely to be penalized. The hand will be considered forfeited, and three points each will be given to all the remaining players.

Chinese Poker Hands

The standard poker hand rankings remain similar for Open-Face Chinese poker as well. Players need to remember the hand rankings to appropriately arrange their hands from strongest to weakest.

Here’s a chart to remind you of the standard poker hand rankings:

  1. Royal Flush: 10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit.
  2. Straight Flush: 9-8-7-6-5 of the same suit or any other card in consecutive order of the same suit.
  3. Four-of-a-Kind: K-K-K-K, basically similar ranked four cards of different suits.
  4. Full House: A-A-A-7-7, a combination of Three-of-a-Kind, and a Pair.
  5. Flush: K-10-7-A-4, all cards of the same suit.
  6. Straight: 8-7-6-5-4, cards have to be in consecutive order, but can be of different suits.
  7. Three-of-a-Kind: A-A-K-K-K, three cards of the same rank have to be in the hand.
  8. Two Pair: A-A-7-7-J, two-two cards have to be of the same rank.
  9. One Pair: K-K-Q-8-6, two cards have to be of the same rank.
  10. High Card: A-J-10-2-4, non connected, unsuited. It is ranked on the highest valued card in the hand.

So, in Chinese poker, the 3-card hand or the first row has these possibilities:

  • Three-of-a-Kind
  • One pair with a kicker card
  • High Card

How to Play Chinese Poker?

The first objective of Open-Face Chinese poker is to make a qualifying hand. There is a strict rule, that the bottom hand has to be at least as good as the middle hand, and the middle hand has to be at least as good as the top hand. For example: If a player already has placed a pair of kings in the middle row, and has a straight draw in the bottom row with cards lower than a king, then they must look to complete the straight or the hand becomes invalid, and they lose the point.

The basic rules of Chinese poker are as follows:

  1. Dealing: The ‘Dealer’ button moves from one player to the next clockwise after each hand. The dealer has to deal out 13 cards to each player, starting with the player on their left.
  1. Setting: Each player has to arrange their 13 cards into 3 poker hands. The first row has to have 3 cards, the middle, and bottom row will have 5 cards each. The middle, and bottom hands have to be the highest ranking hands possible from their 13 cards.
  1. Placing/ Exposing Hands: Players have to organize their hands on the table with the 3 card hand at the top, the middle hand, and then the bottom hand with their highest possible combination on the table. All cards have to be placed face down on the table.
  1. Playing the Hand: Players then have to announce if they are going to play their hand or surrender, starting with the player on the left of the ‘Dealer’ button.
  1. Royalties: The ‘Royalties’ are announced before the game can proceed. These are bonus points awarded to players for having particularly strong hands.
  1. Revealing of Hands: Players will now expose their hands face up, starting with the top row, followed by middle, and bottom.
  1. Scoring: The part where winning hands are determined, and points are given out to the players who are winning the particular hand. 
  1. Next Hand: After the points, and money is awarded to the winner, the dealer button moves one position to the left. The game continues into the next round or hand.

Chinese Poker Scoring

Like the regular formats of poker, Open-Face Chinese poker doesn’t have a blind or ante structure. Instead units or points are decided for each hand, and they have a predetermined monetary value attached to them.

Players do not require chips to play this game because a simple pen, and paper will suffice. The points won or lost are written down, and the monetary value of those points can be settled between players once the game ends.

Every player collects one point from each opponent whose hand they beat. This process is repeated for the top, middle, and bottom hands during each round of the game.

If there are 4 players in a game, this is how the points are awarded based on their hands:

Player 1: Highest ranked bottom hand = +3 points

Player 2: +1 point

Player 3: -1 point

Player 4: Lowest ranked bottom hand = -3 points

How were the points awarded?

  • Player 1 collects 1 point each from each of the losing players, as their bottom hand is the strongest.
  • Player 2 gives 1 point to player 1 for losing to them, but collects points from 3 and 4 ending up with +1 point.
  • Player 3 gives 1 point each to player 1 and 2, but collects a point from player 4. Hence they have -1 point.
  • Player 4 gives away 1 point each to the other 3 players, and hence ends up with -3 points.

Chinese Poker Royalties

Royalties are pre-determined bonus points given out to players for having a particularly strong hand. While the exact number of points for each royalty is decided beforehand, there are two types of royalties that are given in Chinese Poker.

  1. Hand Ranking Royalties: These bonuses are given out on select hand rankings, and where they are located – Top, Middle or Bottom.
Top HandPtsMiddle HandPtsBottom HandPts
3-of-a-Kind3Full House2Full House0
Straight Flush10Straight Flush5
Royal Flush20Royal Flush10
  1. Naturals: These bonus points are awarded on the basis of all 13 cards available to a player. It is awarded before any player can surrender, and also the player will not play their hand. 

Hand – 3 points

Six Pairs – 3 points

Three Straights – 3 points

Three Flushes – 3 points

Dragon – 13 different cards (Ace through to King) – 13 points

Chinese Poker Game Variations

There are two main variants of the game of Chinese poker. The more common variant is the Open-Face Chinese poker, the other one is called Pineapple. Both even have a legendary element added to the game called ‘Fantasy Land’.

  • Open-Face Chinese poker: In this version players have to make three different hands from their 13 cards, placed out in 3-5-5 order. Players start with 5 of their ultimate 13 cards, and have to start placing their cards face up to start forming their top, middle, and bottom hands. None of these cards, once placed in a row, can be moved to another row.

Scoring happens just like regular Chinese poker, as the best winning hand takes points from all the other players whose hands were beaten.

  • Pineapple: This variant is very similar to Open-Face Chinese poker, but cards are dealt out differently. After the first five cards have been placed, players don’t receive one card at a time anymore. Hereafter they are given 3 cards each time, and must place 2 of them on their tabled hands, and discard the remaining card face down.

The way drawing works in this game, there are only 5 turns between players in this speeded up variant. A maximum of 3 players can play unlike normal Chinese poker, since the rest of the cards will make up the discard pile.

Chinese Poker Strategy and Tips

  1. Do not commit a foul: Mis-setting a hand or basically arranging hands in the wrong way can result in lost points. Try not to commit a foul by arranging your hands correctly according to poker hand rankings.
  1. Remember your opponent’s face up cards: Try to memorize the cats that are open for all your opponents, then it will be easier to understand which cards are available inside the closed deck, and what hands you can still make.
  1. Don’t give up on your top hand: The top row still accounts for 33% of your points even though it is only 3 cards. Try making this hand as it could give you a good start to getting points early, just in case the middle, and bottom hand turns out to be inadequate.
  1. Be mindful of the opponent’s changes in strategy: This applies to Open-Face or the Pineapple version of Chinese poker as cards are placed face up, and you can understand what hands your opponent is trying to make. If they are going for less unlikely hands to score bigger points, play safe, and make the easier hand combinations first. 
  1. Play small stakes: Due to a massive luck factor in what cards a player gets in Chinese poker, the variance, and swings is very high. It doesn’t matter how you arrange your hand at times, if someone gets huge royalties, and wins after bagging a royal flush. So, it is better to play with lower amounts which you can afford, instead of betting high, and losing big.

Chinese poker is like a game of opportunities, where you can come second, and still win some money. It’s a fascinating game for three kinds of poker players – The beginners who might find it easy compared to the actual game of poker, the professionals who can afford to play high stakes games for huge turnovers, and the thrill-seekers who play their hands simply based on luck. 

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