Chinese Poker: a beginner’s guide

| December 5th, 2018

Every single day millions of people all around the world settle down for a game of poker  -in casinos, in bars and, more and more today, online too. There are also a huge number of different types of poker that they play from the most popular Texas Hold’em to more obscure versions of the game.

One of the most interesting, and one which is growing fast in popularity, is Chinese Poker. It’s a fast moving game that shares many of the features with traditional poker but without the betting and bluffing elements – a blessing, perhaps, for people who feel less than comfortable with the more psychological elements of the game.

Its origins are obscure although it may well have originated in China, a country known for its love of gambling, despite the activity being officially illegal, although it’s thought that many millions do play for money every day.

How to play

The principle of Chinese Poker is very simple. The game is normally played between four players but games between two and three also take place.

Each player is dealt a total of thirteen cards, face down. They then have to arrange them into three hands, two containing five cards and one containing three. Respectively, these are known as the “front”, “middle” and “back”. These need to be the strongest possible hands that they can make under the rules of the game. Straights and flushes don’t count but pairs and triples do. When the cards have been sorted into hands the players range them from strongest to weakest and compare with each others’ to see which is the strongest in each category of “front”, “middle” and “back”.

The winner of each hand receives a unit, or point, and because each round is divided into three separate hands, it’s always possible to win something even if you come second. There are also special bonuses to be won called “royalties” which apply to particular hands including four of a kind and naturals like six of a kind. These are paid by the other players to the one who has achieved the special hand.

Players can also choose to surrender their hands if things don’t seem to be going their way although this will attract a penalty costing more than if they had lost two out of the three hands but less than if they had lost all three

The Open Face version

As already mentioned, in standard Chinese Poker the cards are dealt face down but there’s another variation on the game called Open Face. As the name suggests, in this the players are dealt an initial five cards face up which they have to arrange to start creating the three hands. The next 8 cards are also dealt face-up and the players have to distribute them, as in the closed face version of the game, to build up the “front”, “middle” and “back” hands. In some versions they are dealt three cards at a time and this version is believed to have originated in Finland.

Tournament play

Although no longer the case, the was a time when Chinese Poker was even featured at the most prestigious event in the world of poker, the World Series that is held in Las Vegas each summer. In the years of 1995 and 1996 it was even a so-called bracelet event in which players could complete for one of the much coveted bracelets that are almost as important to professionals as the prize winnings themselves.

However, the particular nature of Chinese Poker made it too complex for the organizers to incorporate into the tournament over the long term so it was then reduced to being a side-show rather than part of the main event.

But its worldwide popularity continues to grow and today more and more online poker sites are starting to introduce it to their players’ delight. It even has some very high-profile celebrity fans. One of these is the Olympic swimming champion Mark Phelps who has admitted to enjoying a game of the Open Face variety as mental preparation for a big race. It’s also very popular in Macau, the one place in China where the nation’s love of gambling can be indulged without fear of a run-in with the authorities.

So if it sounds like the type of poker you might enjoy, why not seek out a game at a casino near you, or even online, and you might never look back!

101 Comments | Leave a comment | Comment feed

  1. Somuchpoker says:

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    Excellent guide! Just reading the whole article, I am now playing poker online. Keep it up!

  8. Been playing Hold’em and Omaha, and this is different. Thanks for sharing this detailed guide!

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    Thanks for this poker guide! I can’t wait to play my nex game.

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  13. I am still very new to open face. How do you master it? Thanks!

  14. Michael Smith says:

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  16. Contact us says:

    I’ve played online a lot! Eager to learn and experience this Open Face version.

  17. Warren Gay says:

    Thanks for this guide! I’m just a little bit confused on “Straights and flushes don’t count but pairs and triples do.”
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  18. click says:

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  23. Great I found this site, I wanted to learn how to play these cards. Thanks for sharing.

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  36. Great write up on Chinese poker, appreciate the read and instructions for beginners just starting out!

  37. I’ve just started playing chinese poker and your tips have been helping me immensely, thank you. -John

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