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Breaking Down the Non-Hold’em Games Part 3

In Part 1 of this series we looked at the more popular non-Hold’em games including Omaha and the Stud variations. In Part 2 we looked into draw games which are in fact more popular in live settings than they are online. There are a few more games to touch on which most players have either never heard of or have no clue how to play. The two games we will look at in this section are Chinese Poker and Pineapple.

Chinese Poker

One of the most popular games in high-stakes poker rings is Chinese Poker which is a game that sees millions of dollars pass hands on a daily basis. If you have watched much high-stakes poker on television or follow the poker world online you will have undoubtedly heard Chinese Poker mentioned but probably never understood how the game was played. Players like Phil Ivey, Doyle Brunson, and Phil Hellmuth reference this game all the time and while it is somewhat easy to play the rules can be a bit confusing.

The great thing about Chinese Poker is while there is not a lot of skill involved there is just enough to separate those with a clue from those without one. Luck does play a big factor in Chinese, but there is a difference in a game of all luck and a game driven by it. In Chinese Poker amateurs will convince themselves they are running bad when losing and will feel as if they cannot be beat when winning. Knowledgeable players can sit back and confidently know they will eventually win their opponent’s money.

Chinese Poker Rules

First of all, players must have an understanding of basic hand rankings like you find in Texas Hold’em. Here is a quick refresher course from best to worst before we go deeper into Chinese Poker:

Royal Flush

Straight Flush

Four-of-a-Kind

Full House

Flush

Straight

Three-of-a-Kind

Two Pair

One Pair

High Card

In a standard Chinese Poker game each player will be dealt 13 cards which means up to four can play at once with a typical 52 card deck. From there players will each make three hands, two five card hands and a three card hand. The three card hand is known as the “front” hand while the five card hands are referenced as the “middle” and “back” hands. The back hand MUST be the highest ranking hand of the three and the front must be the lowest. It is important to note that you cannot make a 3 card straight or flush in the front hand, you can only make three-of-a-kind, one pair, or a high card hand. After players have sorted their hands they will place them face down in front of them, with the 3-card “front” hand closest to the middle of the table followed by the “middle” hand and then the “back”.

At this point players are ready for the showdown portion of the hand. Players will reveal their hands together and begin calculating who has the best hand strength in each section. This is where scoring comes into play which can be quite confusing to those new to the game.

Chinese Poker Scoring

It is easiest to understand scoring by working with a heads-up game of Chinese Poker. Once all three hands are revealed players will earn a “point” for each hand where they beat their opponent’s corresponding hand and will lose a point every time their hand fails to beat their opponent’s hand. Let’s look at an example between two players:

Player A

Front: Ac Qd Th (-1)

Middle: 6s 6d 5s 5h Kh (+1)

Back: 7s 7d 7c Ad Jd (-1)

Player B

Front: 2s 2d 3c (+1)

Middle: 5c 5s 9d Td Jc (-1)

Back: 9h Ts Js Qc Kd (+1)

In the above example Player A will earn 1 point for winning the middle, but loses both the Front and Back. As you can see Player B will gain 1 point total for the round while Player A will lose one point, for a 2 point swing. Before the game starts players will decide the value of a point and whenever the game finishes that number will be multiplied by the difference in points between the players in the game. If there are more than two players you will multiply the point amount (in $) by the number of points (positive or negative) you have to determine the pay outs.

A four-handed game can seem much more complicated. but as long as you understand how to award points you will be able to quickly figure out who won/lost during each hand. You will need to pit each player’s hand against one another and award/subtract points for every single possible combination. The best way to make sure you are doing this properly is to use a pad and pen and confirm the scoring with your opponents.

There are a few ways to spice the game up even more and that can include special points stipulations for certain hands and situations. For example, you can play where any full house in the middle gains an extra point, or if you happen to sweep a player you gain another point. You could even weight these rewards, if you get trips in the front hand you gain two extra points instead of just one bonus point or a straight flush is worth five points in any position! Just make sure you clarify these rules before you begin playing as you don’t want any controversy when money is on the line.

Chinese Poker Strategy

While there is undoubtedly more luck involved than strategy it is still important to pay attention to a few key points when playing Chinese Poker. Much like split-pot games such as Omaha Hi/Lo, scooping should be your goal at all times. You should either be trying to scoop an entire hand (winning all 3 hands) or blocking your opponent from being able to scoop you. This means instead of laying out three mediocre hands you would rather place two bad hands and one strong hand. Some players tend to overrate back hand strength while underrating front hand strength. Having a flush in back is nowhere near as strong as having a medium to big pair up front. A big pair like KK is very unlikely to lose up front, only failing to win about 8% of the time. Conversely a hand as strong as an Ace-high flush in back will lose nearly half the time! Keep this in mind when setting your hands.

From there you can adjust accordingly to how your opponents seem to be playing the game. If they like to go with three medium strength hands at all time you should always be looking to make one virtual lock hand in one of your three spots. This will assure not getting scooped and open the possibility of scooping your opponents from time to time. Learning how to set your hands properly will take some time and practice. Whenever you are bored deal out some hands and work on setting them to the best of your ability. While a lot of players will concede Chinese Poker as “pure luck” you now know that is certainly not the case. There is plenty of math involved in this game and those who understand even the basics are better off than the majority of gamblers taking part in Chinese Poker.

Where to Play Chinese Poker

A few online sites have experimented with Chinese Poker including Carbon Poker and Tiger Gaming, but up to this point the game remains much more popular in live circles. Chinese Poker is a great way to pass time between tournament breaks, when relaxing at home with friends, or if you just need to scratch your action itch for the day. Remember to always use a pad and pen to score and make sure your opponents understand any special rules on points before the game begins.

Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple

Pineapple and the more popular Crazy Pineapple are Texas Hold’em variants that are quite a bit of fun to play. The main difference between pineapple games and Texas Hold’em is players start with three hole cards instead of two! In standard Pineapple players must discard one of the 3 hole cards before the flop and in Crazy Pineapple players can hold onto three cards until after the flop where they will then choose which hole card to remove from their hand. Crazy Pineapple is the much more popular version of the game and is typically played as a split-pot game where half the pot is awarded to both the high and low (8-or-better) hands.

Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple Rules

The rules are simple; betting and hand strength is exactly the same as Hold’em games with the only difference being the discard. Action begins to the left of the Big Blind before the flop, moving to the left. After the flop, turn, and river the player immediately to the left of the dealer button still involved in the hand is first to act. Once the final round of betting is complete players will table their hand and the best hand wins.

Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple Strategy

Much like most poker games starting with strong hands will lead to profitable situations in pineapple games. Big pairs and three-card straights are great ways to start off in pineapple as they have the best chance to improve to a winning hand. Some hands, like trips, are very poor starting hands as all three cards cannot be used and your ability to improve is impaired due to blocking one of your own outs.

The presence of a third hole card typically results in showdowns being won by stronger hands than in your normal Texas Hold’em game. Players will flop strong draws due to extra combinations and due to the fact that the game is usually played in a Fixed Limit setting they will have no reason not to draw to improve their hand. Because of this you should be wary when obvious draws such as flush and open-ended straight draws complete as it will be very likely for an opponent to have made a strong hand.

When playing the split-pot version of Crazy Pineapple starting with good two-way hands is necessary in order to scoop pots. Stay away from weak low-hands like 2-4-5 that can conceivably just win one side of the pot. Either try to play very strong high-hands like K-K-x or hands that can win both sides like A-A-2. Remember, you will have to discard one of the cards but you can decide after the action closes on the flop. Because of this, position is also very important as it is in all draw games. Being able to see your opponent’s actions will give you a better idea of the best plan of action for your hand.

Where to Play Pineapple and Crazy Pineapple

Most players wanting to participate in games such as Crazy Pineapple will be hard-pressed to find them anywhere but in home games with friends. However, there are a few sites that have been known to spread Pineapple including Ultimate Bet and Paradise Poker. Unfortunately these games do not run all that often but when they do they can be quite lucrative as weaker players enjoy the action and do not always fully understand the complex rules/strategies of the game.

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