Chinese Insanity

It is no mystery that loads of gamblers and poker players enjoy killing time with Chinese poker. I confess being one of them. I have played some seriously insane sessions of Chinese poker, and I doubt if there is anyone in Finland who has played more hands of Chinese poker than I have. Once the game starts, anything between 10-30 hours is easily possible, if not longer. It is like a bunch of drunks who agree to have just one drink and then proceed to empty bottles until they can't lift the glass anymore.

Today the most popular form of Chinese poker is perhaps Open-Face Chinese, where players are dealt five cards face down, and after organizing them they continue by taking one card at the time from the deck. This form of Chinese poker is relatively new and also very complex to analyze, so most of the players are making mistakes in it unlike in the normal Chinese. To make the game even more complex, sometimes players are using doubling cube in the Open-Face Chinese, just like in backgammon.

I am not very skilfull in Open-Face Chinese, and usually I prefer to play normal Chinese poker. It has been immensely popular among Finnish poker players for years. To keep the game fresh we have often introduced some new twists to the game. Sometimes the players change cards with each other, and sometimes we deal extra cards. In America, they occasionally play "deuce-to-seven" in the middle, but this has never been popular among the Finns.


For some reason the Finns have always played the game with 6-1 scoring system, where you get 6 points for a scoop and 1 point for a win. In America the scoring system is normally 4-2, where the scoop is 4 points and a win is 2. To bring more variance to the game the Finns normally play the game with triple royalties. So, if you get quads in the back you get 6 royalty points, instead of the normal 2. I don't quite like this rule, since the game now has an even bigger luck factor, and it becomes more of a royalty hunt than anything else. But heck, at least the game gets seriously swingy.

These days we often play something we call "Punishment Chinese." First we agree how many rounds we are going to play, which is usually 3 or 4. Then we deal the first round. The player who gets most points in that round is the winner and will get 14 cards in the next round. We call him the "14 card man." The extra card he gets will be placed on his top hand, where there are now 4 cards instead of the normal 3.

The opposite of 14 card man is the player who loses the first round. He now only gets 12 cards and is "in the punishment." Naturally he is in a major disadvantage, and he can only place 2 cards in his top hand instead of the normal 3.

The player who gets 14 cards and the player who gets 12 cards are always subject to change based on the points of the previous round. Whoever wins the round will be the 14 card man in the next one, and whoever loses it will be in the punishment.

After we have played the number of rounds we agreed, usually 3 or 4, we then deal every player 13 cards again and start over. The reason we normally agree some limited number of rounds is because it is so difficult to get away from the punishment once you are stuck there. It is quite common to lose the first round and then lose easily all the next rounds until you get 13 cards again.

Since it is very rare for the 12 card man to scoop the 14 card man we have agreed a major royalty for it. It is worth 30 points. This brings some extra excitement to the game and it also makes it possible for the punished player to score big even with 12 cards.

We also have some special cards in the deck. Deuce of spades brings you 2 royalty points if you win the hand it is placed in, and deuce of clubs brings your opponent 2 royalty points if he wins the hand you have placed it in. And if deuce of spades and deuce of clubs face each other in the same hand and the player with deuce of spades wins it, he will get 8 royalty points. We call this "Nevalaatio" after Jussi Nevanlinna, who quite soon after this rule was introduced showed his opponents how it is possible to get 8 royalty points just about every round.

What I love about Chinese poker is that it is a very simple game but nevertheless takes some time to master. Since it is so simple, it is easy to introduce new variations to it and make it more interesting. The new twists and variations also usually slightly change the optimal way to play the game. For example, if you get royalties with deuce of spades you usually have to organize your hand differently.

And when it comes to Open-Face Chinese, I really need to start playing it more and learn it way better. I have only played few hours of it, but from my experience it is very swingy and packed with action. The game has quite a bit of strategy in it, since you need to play conservative, or go out and attack based not only on your own cards but also based on what cards your opponent catches. I don't doubt that Open-Face Chinese will get even more popular in the future. And I really don't want to be the only sucker who doesn't know what to do in the game when everyone is playing it.

Ville Wahlbeck is a member of Team PokerStars Pro

Ville Wahlbeck
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