Chinese Poker is another of the many variations of poker that are quickly becoming popular both in land-based casinos and online. Each variation has its own twists which make it somewhat confusing at first; but the challenge of mastering a “new” game keeps many players’ interest piqued.
Chinese Poker has long been popular in Southeast Asia. In fact, it is known as Chinese Poker only in the West. Elsewhere, it has many names.
How to Play
Chinese Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. There are no jokers or wild cards. Each player receives 13 cards. This means that no more than four players can play at one time.
After all players have received their cards, they must arrange them into three hands. The back hand (or bottom hand) must have 5 cards. The middle hand must also have 5 cards. The front hand has 3 cards.
The back hand must be the strongest of the three hands. The middle hand must be next strongest. The front hand must be the weakest. Straights and flushes are strong hands in the middle and back but don’t count in front. The front hand has only three possibilities: three-of-a kind, pair, and high card.
After a player has decided how to arrange his cards s/he places them face down. The front set first, behind it the middle set, and behind the middle set s/he places the back set. When all players have placed their cards they turn them over.
Before comparing one player’s hands to the others, everyone checks to see that the order of strength was followed. If you arrange your hands incorrectly you will be “fined” and you will be out of the hand.
There is no betting in Chinese Poker. Instead, players win or lose points (or units) in head-to-head competition with the other players. The money value of a point is determined before the game.
Each player compares their three sets to the corresponding sets of each opponent. It is possible to lose points on a given set to one opponent and win points with the same set from another opponent. If the two hands being compared are a perfect tie neither player wins.
Sometimes bonuses are awarded for having special hands. Royal flush, straight flush, four-of-a-kind, and full house are special hands. Winning the front hand with three-of-a-kind also wins a bonus. The size of the bonus is determined in advance. The bonus will be higher if the hand is played as the middle hand than as the back hand.
Some hands are automatic winners. These are special situations where a player can use all 13 or sometimes 12 of his cards to form a unique set of hands. In order to win automatically, a player must announce that s/he has an automatic winner before the hands are turned over. The automatic winners are ranked so if two players both have an automatic winner one may outrank the other.
Here are some automatic winners in ascending order of strength:
- 6 pairs. This leaves one card unused
- 3 straights
- 3 flushes
- A complete straight, ace to king unsuited
- A 13-card straight flush
If you think your hand is so poor that you will likely lose on most comparisons, you may surrender before the hands are turned over. You pay each opponent one point.
There are many variations of Chinese Poker. Before playing, be sure that you understand the house rules.
Many new players play a great hand in back, not realizing that their middle and front hands are weak. It is unusual to win all three sets from an opponent, so it’s best to play two hands with reasonable winning chances even if it means breaking up a monster hand. Generally speaking, this means to diversify your strength as much as possible.
A good example of this strategy is the following hand. You have trip aces and a pair of kings. You can play a full house in back but, if you play the pair in front, the trips in the middle, and a straight or flush in back, you could have a more powerful hand.
If you are playing with bonuses, the above strategy will likely change. In that case, you have an extra incentive to play the hand that will win a bonus.
The Challenge of Arranging Your Cards
Many players consider Chinese Poker a mere diversion from the more confrontational games they enjoy playing. Other players prefer the challenge of arranging their cards well, without the need to read their opponents. Luck is more of a factor in Chinese Poker than in other poker forms, but that may be the reason it is growing in popularity.