Open-Face Chinese Poker: Still in its infancy

Around the time of the 10th anniversary of the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure, Open-Face Chinese Poker (OFC) hit what appeared to be its peak. On flights, on breaks, on drives, during meals, and whenever someone had a deck of cards or access to the mobile application, professionals, amateurs, and media members alike were grinding the thirteen-card game first invented by the Russians.

Or the Fins.

Or perhaps it was just Shaun Deeb.

No one really knows who actually invented it - unless you talk to the Russians, Fins, or Deeb - but OFC was taking over. The first-ever OFC tournament was held at the PCA, and the winner was Peter Jetten. Jetten outlasted 58 other players, 18 of which reentered, and bested a final table of all Russians. He earned $52,280 for the victory, and can always claim that he is the first OFC tournament winner ever.

After the PCA, the buzz started to die a bit. There were issues with the application, leading to deleted games and other complications, and OFC became less of an obligation for grinders and more of an enjoyable hobby. This life cycle is common for several things in society today - particularly within the poker community.

Back in 2012, several top professionals were grinding the German game Achtung on breaks. Team PokerStars Pro Vanessa Selbst won the World Series of Achtung during a day off at the 2012 WSOP, and nearly everyday you could catch a tweet or two about the snake-like game. At the 2013 WSOP, there wasn't an Achtung game to be had.

With shortened attention spans and a wide variety of other games and applications available, it's easy to move from one really awesome, amazing new thing to the next. And thus, the future of OFC appeared to be grim once the application started acting up.

But it didn't go away.

The creators of the application released a much-needed update that included four-color decks and a popular version of OFC named "Criss Cross." Despite needing to pay for the update, those that play on the application were pleased with the changes. Even Team PokerStars Pro Barry Greenstein, who spoke out against the application in fear of potential cheating, could be found grinding on his iPad on Monday during Day 1a of the EPT Grand Final Main Event.

While The Bear was playing on the virtual felt, there were a host of players playing in a €2,150 OFC side event with multiple reentries. The tournament generated a field of 52 players, including 17 reentries, creating a total prize pool of €138,000. Two Russians made the final table only to be ousted by a North American, as Team PokerStars Pro Jason Mercier was the last man standing.

Ironically, Mercier, who hadn't won a live tournament since December of 2011, told James Mitchell on a break that a Russian was going to win.

"I have even money that the winner will be Russian," Mitchell, who just made the final table of the EPT Berlin High Roller, told Mercier.

"You'll probably win," Mercier told him. "Although Victor (Ramdin) has a ton of chips."

Indeed, Mercier's fellow Team Pro led the tournament at the time, but unfortunately he fell in fourth place, earning €12,700.

Mercier, who started the final table with very few chips, was able to spin it up thanks to a good run of cards wherein he made a boat and quads. Suddenly he was heads up with the chip lead against Yakov Onuchin, and when the dust settled, Mercier was the champion.

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Throughout the day, several players in the Main Event, most notably Paul Volpe, would muck their hands and jog up the steps to the secondary tournament area to sweat the OFC. In contrast to the silence of the Main Event, the OFC event was filled with laughter, smiles, and conversation. The players were very loose and having loads of fun rather than sitting silently and listening to music. The dichotomy was stark, and players who were withering away in the Main Event wanted to get in on the fun. They wanted to escape the monotony of another no-limit hold'em tournament.

The next major OFC tournament will take place at the 2013 WSOP during the later stages of the Main Event, and surely the contrast of excitement and dullness will arise once more. While those who are deep in the Main Event will struggle through long days of troublesome ICM decisions and gut wrenching coin flips, those who have already busted will laugh away while enjoying a game that has neither been solved nor perfected by any of the top professionals.

OFC is not a fad; it's here to stay. The game will continue to evolve in the coming weeks, months, and hopefully years, until neither the Russians, Fins, or Deeb can lay claim to its inception. That probably won't stop them, though.

Rich Ryan
@PokerStars in PokerStars news