One of the newest poker games to spread throughout the poker world is Open Face Chinese Poker. This is a variant of Chinese Poker and can be played with 2-4 players. It's popularity is largely due to how fun the game is and that no one really knows how to play optimally. It's especially fun when drinking with friends!
As stated earlier, Open Face is a variant of regular Chinese Poker. Regular Chinese works like this:
Each player is dealt 13 cards, face down. Each player then sets their hand with 5 in the back, 5 in the middle, and 3 up top. Your back hand must be your strongest hand, middle next strongest, and weakest up top, based on standard 5 card hand rules. (Even though there are 3 cards up top, it's still the best 5 card hand, making AAA the highest possible top hand.) Once everyone is set, players reveal their hands and tally up the points. Each row is worth one point, and certain hands count as royalties for extra points. (See scoring for more details).
Open Face Chinese Poker Rules
Since Chinese Poker is pretty easy to solve, a variant was created that takes a lot of skill, luck, and gamble. Instead of being dealt all 13 cards face down, each player is dealt 5 cards, face down. The player to the left of the button sets their hand first, face up. Once your hand is set it can never be changed. Then each player sets their hand in order, all face up. This gives the button a pretty distinct advantage as they get to see dead cards before setting their hand.
Once all players set their 5 cards, each player receives 1 card at a time, face up, in order starting with the player to the left of the button. This card can be placed anywhere on their board. This continues until each player has 13 cards, with 5 in the back, 5 in the middle, and 3 up top. Once all hands are completely set, each player tallies up their points. Remember, your hand must follow the order of strongest in back, second strongest in middle, and weakest up top or your hand is a foul. Scoring is described in detail below.
Chinese Poker is played with points. Before starting, all players agree on the value of 1 point. It's common for most new players to start at $1 per point. Games have been talked about as high as $10,000 per point for the high rollers/degens! When all cards are set, players compare their back, middle, and top boards. Each board in your hand is worth 1 point. If your back hand is stronger than villains, you win 1 point. Same goes for your middle and top hands.
If you foul your hand, meaning you didn't follow the correct hand strength (Back > Middle > Top), you have to pay double, for 6 total points. If both players foul, it' s a push and no points are won or lost.
You can also be scooped, meaning your hand is set correctly, but the other player beats you on each board. This is also worth double, for 6 points total.
Both regular Chinese and Open Face Chinese Poker have royalties which are bonus points for strong hands. Royalties are only awarded if your hand is set correctly. A fouled hand awards no royalties. All royalties are shown below.
Regular Chinese Royalties
Regular Chinese Poker: Top Hand
Regular Chinese Poker: Middle Hand
Four of a Kind
Regular Chinese Poker: Back Hand
Four of a Kind
Open Face Chinese Royalties
Open Face Chinese Poker: Top Hand
Open Face Chinese Poker: Middle Hand
Four of a Kind
Open Face Chinese Poker: Back Hand
Four of a Kind
To make it easier to remember, a pair of sixes up top is worth 1 point, and each pair above sixes is worth 1 more. This goes all the way up to trip aces, which are worth 22. Also, middle royalties are worth twice what they are in the back.
OFC Scoring Rules & Tips
- Usually players agree to a set number of rounds before playing. For example, you and Villain may agree to play 20 rounds in your session.
- It's easiest to add up each player's hand and subtract the totals, don't worry about subtracting points on the boards.
- Start with the bottom board and work your way up.
- If both players have royalties in a live hand, they both count towards the total!
- In the case of a tie on any board, it's a push and no points are awarded for that board.
- When playing 3 or 4 handed, each player plays against each other. Start with one person and compare their hand to all 3, then do the rest. However, you don't have to plan out who owes who after every hand, just keep track of the running total and in the end it's easy to see who owes. For example, if playing 4 handed, and it ends up
Player 1: -25
Player 2: -31
Player 3: +45
Player 4: +11
Player 1 owes 25 and Player 2 owes 31, for a total of 56. Player 3 and 4 take their winnings from their total, in this case Player 3 would take 45, and Player 4 would take 11, for a total of 56.
Let's look at a few Open Face Chinese Poker scoring examples, with and without royalties. Try to add the hands up yourself and press Show Results to see if you were right!
Example 1: Two Players
Hero wins the bottom for +1, the middle for +1, and Villain wins the top for +1. Overall, Hero wins 1 and Villain loses 1.
Hero: +1 / Villain: -1
Example 2: Two Players
Well that's a bummer, Hero fouls. So that means Villain gets +6 points for the foul, and he has a straight on the bottom for +2 royalty bonus, for a total of 8.
Hero: -8 / Villain: +8
Example 3: Two Players
Boomshakalaka! Hero scoops Villain for +6, and picks up +4 flush royalty bonus in the back, and +2 trips royalty bonus in the middle.
Hero: +12 / Villain: -12
Example 4: Three Players
The easiest way I've found to score 3-4 handed is to start with one player, and compare their hand to everyone else, then move to the next player. Starting with Hero:
Hero v Gus: Gus wins +5 in back, Hero wins +1 in middle, Hero wins +2 up top. Hero -2 / Gus +2
Hero v Phil: Phil fouled, so has to pay 6 plus another 3 in royalties. Hero +9, Phil -9
Gus v Phil: Phil fouled, so he has to pay 6 plus another 6 in royalties. Gus +12 / Phil -12
Grand Total Hero: +7 / Gus: +14 / Phil: -21
Example 5: Four Players
So now it gets a bit more complicated. First off, no one fouled, so rule that out. So just like the 3 player example, let's do one person at a time, starting with Hero.
Hero v Gus: Hero wins +5 in back, Gus wins +1 in middle, Gus wins +7 up top. Hero -3 / Gus +3
Hero v Phil: Hero wins +3 in back, Hero wins +1 in middle, Hero wins +1 up top, Hero wins +3 scoop bonus. Hero +8, Phil -8
Hero v Barry: Hero wins +5 in back, Hero wins +1 in middle, Hero wins +1 up top, Hero wins +3 scoop bonus. Hero +10, Barry -10
Gus v Phil: Phil wins +3 in back, Gus wins +1 in middle, Gus wins +7 up top. Gus +5 / Phil -5
Gus v Barry: Barry wins +1 in back, Gus wins +1 in middle, Gus wins +7 up top. Gus +7 / Barry -7
Phil v Barry: Phil wins +3 in back, Phil wins +1 in middle, Barry wins +1 up top. Phil +3 / Barry -3
Grand Total Hero: +15 / Gus: +15 / Phil: -10 / Barry: -20
Starting to get the idea?
As if the game couldn't be complicated enough, Fantasy Land adds an extra variable. Going for Fantasy Land can be stressful and risky, and is pretty rare to hit. But when you do connect, it's very exciting and the pay offs are huge!
Qualifying for Fantasy Land
You qualify for Fantasy Land by ending up with a live hand (that is a hand that does not foul) where you have QQ or better up top. Below is an example of a hand that qualifies for Fantasy Land:
Kings up top, Aces in the middle, and a straight in the bottom. You're going to Fantasy Land, baby!
What You Win for Fantasy Land
By qualifying for Fantasy Land, on the next deal you are given all 13 cards face down at the start of the deal. You can then set your hand (when it's your turn to set) like a regular Chinese Poker hand, yet still receive all the open face royalties. This is a huge advantage because you don't have to worry about drawing cards and you know what your best hand will be right off the bat.
Staying in Fantasy Land
Once you're in Fantasy Land, you can remain there indefinitely by setting a live hand with Quads or better in the back, a full house or better in the middle, or trips up top. So if you qualify for Fantasy Land in an open face game with QQ up top, when you are dealt all 13 cards on the next deal you can stay there with 4 of a kind in the back, a full house in the middle, etc. This continues on every deal until you no longer qualify.
NOTE: In almost every game I've played in, there was a rule that we could never end a game if someone qualifies for Fantasy Land. Make sure to establish this rule before starting to avoid any potential issues.
Strategy & Tips
Since Open Face Chinese Poker is so new, there is little strategy out there. By far the best way to learn is to play. I highly recommend playing for fun/play money before jumping into real money, especially against good players, or you may be eaten alive.
Tips from the Pros: Open Face Strategy Videos
Barry Greenstein, Shaun Deeb and Gus Hansen are experts in this game, and have created a few videos explaining how the game works and talking basic strategy, which you can watch below.
If you're new to Open Face Chinese, or want to brush up on your skills, those four videos above will be a HUGE help.
Here is a list of tips and notes that we have compiled from playing the game, to help new players jump into the deep end.
- The set is very important, this sets up the rest of the hand. For example, if you set a set with 4 to a flush in the back, you have to play the hand assuming you will hit the flush.
- Big pairs up top are very valuable but should be played with caution. It makes more sense to gamble for QQ or KK up top than JJ since QQ+ gives you Fantasy land.
- Always keep track of which cards are completely live (none out), live (1 out), dead (2 out), and completely dead (all out). A completely live open ended straight draw (8 outs) is much more valuable than a draw with 3-4 outs missing.
- Don't be afraid to foul. Playing passively not to foul will not win you points.
- When you hit royalties, it's time to be more careful. For example, you don't want to foul your hand when you have a full house in the back.
- Always watch what your opponent(s) is(are) doing. If you notice they are guaranteed to foul, you want to play more conservative to make sure you don't foul.
- Hitting royalties in the middle is rare and unless you already have a strong back (or strong back draw) it's usually not worth going for.
- Needing two things to happen drastically reduces your chances. For example, if you need to improve your middle and back with 3 cards to come, that is much less likely than just needing to improve your middle. Try to avoid getting yourself into spots where you need perfect-perfect to avoid fouling.
- The game changes drastically between 2, 3, and 4 players. More cards are shown, there is more to keep track of, and the stakes increase. If you foul heads up, you will lose a minimum of 6. But if you foul 4 handed, you lose a minimum of 18!
Where to Play
Looking to play Open Face Chinese Poker online or on your mobile device? Check out our suggestions below.
There are a few Chinese Poker apps in the iTunes app store, and our favorite is ABC Chinese Poker - Open Face. The app is free to play against the computer or friends through the game center for up to 2 active games. You can pay $4.99 to unlock unlimited active games with full features - there is no need to pay extra for anything else. If you play this game a lot, it's worth every cent. The software is slick and plays well. Playing is turned based, so you can play in real time against your friends or wait until you have a few spare minutes to update all of your current games. The only downside is the app is only heads up, so you can't play a 3 or 4 handed game. Download the ABC Chinese Poker app in the iTunes store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/abc-chinese-poker-open-face/id651409079?mt=8
There are many variations of Open Face Chinese Poker, and here we will list the more popular and fun forms.
Pineapple Open Face Chinese Poker
In Pineapple OFC, everything remains the same except two changes:
- On the draw, players are given three cards each, place two on their board, and discard the third face down.
- In Fantasy Land, you are given 14 cards.
For example, 2 players would receive 5 cards to start, and set them as they would in regular OFC. Next, each player would be dealt 3 cards, face down. The player OOP would then place two of their cards on the board, in any open position. The third is discarded face down. Scoring remains exactly the same.
This small change increases the chance of hitting your draws, thereby making the games larger and requiring stronger hands at showdown. This also increases the likelihood to hit Fantasy Land. Also, since you are given 14 cards (instead of 13) in Fantasy Land, the value is increased.
This variation can only be played with 2-3 players.