Intro

If you’re tired of the traditional poker games like Texas Hold ’em and Omaha, why not mix things up with a game of Chinese Poker? Chinese Poker is played very differently from most other forms of poker as the game uses a points system to determine the winner of a hand, rather than just who has the best poker hand.

Because of this, most players assign a dollar value to a point and settle up at the end of the game. The benefit is that chips aren’t required to play the game as long as you’ve got a method of keeping score.

Chinese Poker is an entertaining game, so let’s look at the rules:

Rules of Chinese Poker

At the start of the game, players must agree on a point value for the game. This is the dollar amount owed at the end of the game for each point a player is ahead. There are also special rules in Chinese Poker, called royalties, which must be agreed upon before the game starts. You can play Chinese Poker with either two, three, or four players.

Once the limits of the game are agreed upon, players draw cards to determine who will begin the game with the button. While there are no blinds, the button determines who is dealt first in each round. The player to the left of the button gets the first card off the deck. Once the button has been placed, the players are dealt cards face down, one at a time, until each player has 13 cards in front of them.

Each player then has to “set” three poker hands:

  • A top hand with three cards
  • A middle hand with five cards
  • A bottom hand with five cards

The hands must be arranged from weakest to strongest, with the weakest hand going on top and the strongest hand on the bottom. The hand strength is determined using standard poker hand rankings, though as the top hand only contains three cards, the only hand strengths that apply are high card, pair, and three of a kind.

Once all three hands have been set, you compare them to your opponents. Hands are compared “like for like,” meaning that your top hand is compared against your opponent’s. You are awarded a point for each hand that beats your opponent’s hand, and you lose a point for each hand that loses to your opponent

Suppose you set a hand incorrectly, either by placing the hands in incorrect strength order or by having an incorrect number of cards in a specific section. In that case, your hand is deemed fouled, automatically losing all three hands against your opponent.

Hand Setting Example

That might sound a little complicated at first, but it’s very straightforward. Let’s take a look at an example of a Chinese Poker hand to see how the hand setting works.

In this hand, you’re dealt the following cards: Ac 8d 9s Tc 6h Kc Ah 4d Jc 6c 6s 9d Kd

Based on the rules we’ve laid out, how would you set this hand? Remember, the aim is to try and get as many points as possible, so we want to try and win all three boards if possible.

While there are lots of different ways to sort this hand, we think that the best way is to sort it like this:

  • Top Hand – Kc Kd Tc
  • Middle Hand – Ac Ah Jc 8d 4d
  • Bottom Hand– 6h 6c 6s 9d 9s

As you can see, we’ve managed to keep our hands in the correct order of strength, with the pair of kings on top, pair of aces in the middle, and a full house on the bottom.

Another way to set the hand would be like this:

  • Top Hand– Ah Kc 8d
  • Middle Hand– 6h 6s 9d 9s 4d
  • Bottom Hand– Ac Kc Jc Tc 6c

In this hand, we’ve sacrificed the strength of the top and bottom to make a stronger middle hand while still keeping the hand strength in the correct order.

How to Score Chinese Poker

When all the hands have been sorted, you can immediately start scoring the hands to calculate the points won or lost. When calculating the scores, you must compare each hand against each player’s hand of the same type. If your hand is better than your opponent’s, you win a point, and if your hand is worse, you lose a point. Let’s take a look at an example with two players.

Top

Player 1 – Ace High

Player 2 – Pair (Threes)

Middle

Player 1 – Three of a kind (Queens)

Player 2 – Three of a kind (Sevens)

Bottom

Player 1 – Straight (6 to T)

Player 2 – Flush (Jack high)

In this example, Player 1 wins the middle point, and Player 2 wins the top and bottom points. This means that their points at the end of the round will look like this:

 

  Player 1 Player 2
Top -1 +1
Middle +1 -1
Bottom -1 +1
Total -1 +1

You can see that the first two points cancel each other out, so the net points gained by Player 2 is 1. The result for a player in a two-player game will always be -3, -1, +1, or +3, based on the nature of the points system. However, players who win all three rounds are considered to have “scooped” the hand. Most Chinese Poker games are played with a rule that gives a bonus for scooping, which is often double the points. So, in reality, the possible points in a two-player game are -6, -1, +1, or +6 – so you really don’t want to get scooped!

Things are a little different in a multiplayer game, as each player evaluates their hand against all other players, meaning that if you lose big against one player, you have the chance to win some points back against another. Let’s take a look at what a multiplayer hand of Chinese Poker looks like:

Top

Player 1 – Queen High

Player 2 – Pair (Fives)

Player 3 – Pair (Fours)

Player 4 – Pair (Tens)

Middle

Player 1 – Two Pair (Kings and Threes)

Player 2 – Three of a kind (Nines)

Player 3 – Two Pair (Jacks and Deuces)

Player 4 – Straight (Four to Eight)

Bottom

Player 1 – Flush (Ace high)

Player 2 – Straight (Ace high)

Player 3 – Full House (Eights full of sixes)

Player 4 – Flush (Nine high)

There’s quite a lot to work out here, and it can get tricky. Let’s take a look at what the points table would look like:

 

  Player 1 Player 2 Player 3 Player 4 Total
Player 1 / -1 -1 -1 -3
Player 2 +1 / +1 -6 -4
Player 3 +1 -1 / -1 -1
Player 4 +1 +6 +1 / +8

 

As you can see, Player 4 was the clear winner of the hand, winning 8 points, scooping Player 2 in the process.

It’s best if each player is responsible for working out the points for their hand against everyone else, rather than one person trying to work them all out.

If you want one person (such as the dealer) to be responsible, the most efficient way to figure it out is to start with the player on the button and compare their hand against Players 2, 3, and 4. Then move to Player 2’s hand and compare that against Players 3 and 4. Finally, compare Player 3’s hand to Player 4’s, and you’ll have compared every hand against each other.

Each player is responsible for settling up with every other player when the game is over.

Royalties

An additional rule that is included in most Chinese Poker games is royalties. These are bonus points you can get in a hand for meeting specific criteria. The most common royalties are for making strong hands, with the top, middle, and bottom hands having different criteria for bonus points. Here’s the most common royalty structure that players use for strong hands:

  • Top– Three of a kind (3 points)
  • Middle– Full House (1 point) / Four of a kind (3 points) / Straight Flush (4 points)
  • Bottom– Four of a kind (2 points) / Straight Flush (3 points)

However, other royalties, called naturals, are immediately rewarded upon dealing, meaning that the player does not have to set their hand. Here are the most common ones used:

  • Three Straights
  • Three Flushes
  • 13 unique cards (often called a Dragon)
  • Six Pairs
  • Four “Three of a Kind”
  • Three “Four of a Kind”
  • Three Straight Flushes
  • No picture cards
  • All picture cards

The bonus points given for these hands significantly differ depending on the rule set, so this must be agreed upon before the game starts.

Chinese Poker Special Rules and Variations

As the rule set is agreed upon before the players begin, it opens up many possibilities for variations. Technically, you can have any rule you like as long as the players agree to it. Here are the most commonly played variations of the game:

  • Low in the middle– In this game, the middle hand is played as a 2-7 lowball hand, while the other two hands remain the same.
  • Criss Cross– A heads-up variation where players are dealt two simultaneous hands, which they must play against each of their opponent’s hands. Players are not allowed to move cards between hands.
  • First to Eleven– In this game, the scoring system is changed to one point for the entire hand rather than one for the top, middle, and bottom. The first player to eleven points wins.
  • Wheel Straight– As the name implies, the strength of the wheel straight has been improved in this game. It is now the second strongest straight, which means it beats a king-high straight but loses to the ace-high straight.
  • Open-Faced Chinese– This may be the format of Chinese Poker you’re most familiar with. The aim of the game is the same, but players are dealt five cards to start with and must set their board face up, one card at a time.

One final rule that you may see when playing Chinese Poker is surrendering. If a player is dealt a bad hand, they can surrender, losing a greater amount of points than if they lost two out of three hands, but less than what they would lose if their opponent scooped them. The most common surrender fee is 2/2.5 points.

Chinese Poker Online

Most people find Chinese Poker easier to play online, mainly when playing with more than two players, as the computer tracks all the scores automatically. However, every few poker sites have Chinese Poker as an option, so your best option is to play on a dedicated Chinese Poker app. Also, if you want to play for money, you’ll have to trust that your opponent(s) will pay up once you’ve finished playing, so it’s best to only play against people you trust.

For players who are used to the commonly played games like Hold ’em and Omaha, a game of Chinese Poker can be a refreshing break from the norm. It’s an exciting game to dive into and a lot of fun to play with friends. If you enjoy playing poker, you’re sure to enjoy Chinese Poker. The best part is, you can play with a deck of cards and a pen and paper, no chips required!