How to play Chinese poker: rules, strategy and options

How to play Chinese poker: rules, strategy and options

Chinese poker is a card game in the poker family that is very different from the traditional game variants that most poker players are familiar with (such as Texas Hold’em). Each player is dealt 13 cards in a game of Chinese poker and must make two five-card hands and one three-card hand..

The player scores points based on making the best hands according to the standard poker hand ranking. Here’s a look at how to play Chinese poker.

What is Chinese Poker?

Chinese poker is a poker game that uses a standard 52-card poker deck along with a traditional poker hand ranking. You can play the game with 2-4 players.

In Chinese poker, each player is dealt 13 cards. In standard Chinese poker, these cards are dealt face down.

From these 13 cards, you must make two separate five-card combinations, as well as one separate three-card combination.

According to the rules, you must place the three hands in order from strongest to weakest according to the poker hand rankings.

The strongest hand should go to the place marked “back hand”, the second strongest hand to the place “middle hand”, and the weakest hand to the place “front hand”. Two five-card hands always go to the back and middle positions, and a three-card hand always goes to the back position.

At the end of each round, players reveal their hands and earn points for each hand that outperforms the hands of other players in the same spot. When all points are calculated, the next hand begins.

Players can also earn bonus points for strong hands, known as “royalties”.

Chinese poker rules and gameplay

Let’s look at an example of a Chinese poker hand. Suppose you are playing a two-player game and you are dealt the following cards:

You must split these 13 cards into two separate five-card combinations and a three-card combination. The stronger five-card hand should move to the back hand position, the weaker five-card hand should move to the middle hand position, and the three-card hand should move to the front hand position.

The back hand must always be stronger than the middle hand and the middle hand must be stronger than the front hand. Failure to follow these rules results in a “fault” and automatically awards your opponents the highest possible score against your hands.

With the 13 cards you’ve been dealt, the strongest hand you can replace is as follows:

How to play Chinese poker: rules, strategy and options

This hand gives you a full house, nines and tens.

With these cards, the strongest possible hand you can get in the middle looks like this:

How to play Chinese poker: rules, strategy and options

With deuces full of fives available to the middle hand, you now have full houses for both the back hand and the middle hand.

So this queen high hand remains your front hand:

How to play Chinese poker: rules, strategy and options

While this way of placing your 13 cards makes a lot of sense, it may not be the optimal solution based on Chinese poker scoring. Let’s see why:

Chinese poker scoring system

Several different types of scoring can be used in Chinese poker. One of the more common types gives one point for each position where your hand is better than your opponent’s.

For example, in a two-player game, you earn one point if your back hand is better than your opponent’s back hand. If your middle hand beats your opponent’s middle hand, you get one point, and the same if your front hand beats your opponent’s front hand.

If you beat all three hands against your opponent, you get a three point bonus (known as stingy).

In a 3-4 player game, you score individually against each opponent and then add those scores together to get the final score for the round.

Let’s say you’re in a two-player game and you’ve dealt your 13 cards into three Chinese poker hands as shown above. You and your opponent turn your cards face up:


your hand: 9♠9♣9TT♣

Opponent’s hand: ANDQuestionTnine3

You win the reverse hand and get +1 point.


your hand: 222♣55♠

Opponent’s hand: 7♠6five4♣3♠

You win the middle hand and get +1 point.


your hand: L♠W♠8

Opponent’s hand: Question8♣8♠

You lose your front hand and get -1 point.

You win the back and middle hands but lose the front hand to your opponent. This scoring earns you a total of one point per round.

Could you arrange the cards differently and score more points? The answer is yes, and let’s look at the optimal solution for your hand:


your hand: 5♠52♣22 hours

Opponent’s hand: BUTQuestionTnine3

You win the reverse hand and get +1 point.


your hand: K♠J♠T9♠8

Opponent’s hand: 7♠6five4♣3♠

You win the middle hand and get +1 point


your hand: T♣99♣

Opponent’s hand: Question8♣8♠

You win the first hand and get +1 point

You take all three hands and get a +3 bonus

While your back and middle arms aren’t as strong in this configuration, both are still good enough to outmaneuver your opponent. Your front hand also wins in this scenario, as you have one pair better than your opponent.

You get a total of +6 points for winning all three hands (+3 total) and getting the scoop bonus (+3).

Bonuses in Chinese poker (royalties)

In addition to earning points for making qualifying hands in position better than your opponent, you can also earn bonus points in Chinese Poker. These bonuses, known as “royalties”, are usually awarded for building a particularly strong holding.

Royalty bonuses may vary from game to game. Some fees award points for a strong hand in a certain position, while others award points for certain conditions of your 13-card hand as a whole.

Some Chinese poker fees may include the following, depending on the most commonly used bonus format in the game:

One hand bonuses

  • Back hand – You get three extra points for making a straight flush and two extra points for four of a kind in back position.
  • Medium hand – You get four extra points for making a straight flush, three points for four of a kind and two points for a full house in middle position.
  • front hand – You get three extra points for doing a triple in front hand position.

Bonuses for 13 cards

Some royalties are awarded for points when your 13-card hand meets certain conditions. These one-handed bonuses are known as “natural” ones.

Naturals may include the following (the most common bonus point is shown in brackets):

  • Dragon (36 points) – Drawing a 13-card straight from ace high to 2 low.
  • 12 royalties, or the whole of Broadway (32 points)) – Drawing all cards of a jack or higher.
  • Three straight flushes (24 points) – Drawing two separate five-card straight flushes and a three-card straight flush. (A royal flush is considered a straight flush.)
  • Three fours (20 points) – Drawing three different combinations of four of a kind with one additional card.
  • All Low 2/High 1 (12 points) – Drawing a hand in which all 13 cards are eight or lower, or eight or higher.
  • Full color (10 points) – Making a hand in which all 13 cards are red (hearts and diamonds) or all 13 are black (spades and clubs).
  • Four triplets (8 points) – Playing four triplets with one extra card.
  • Six and a half pairs (6 points) – Drawing six pairs and one additional card (four counts as two pairs).
  • Three straights (4 points) – Drawing two five-card straights and a three-card straight.
  • Three flushes – (3 points) – Drawing two five-card flushes and a three-card flush (an 8-card flush counts as two flushes).


In some formats, a player may “deal” their hand without attempting to collect their 13 cards into separate hands. This game is equivalent to folding in a standard poker game, but comes at a cost.

Surrendering allows your opponent to score more points than if he played one of two out of three hands, but less than the sum of the capture.

However, some Chinese poker games do not allow you to give up.

Variants of Chinese poker

Open Chinese Poker

In traditional Chinese poker, all players receive all 13 cards face down at once and turn them face up when they have completed their three hands.

A variant of the game called Open Face Chinese Poker (OFC) deals the first five of 13 cards to each player to start the game. Each player takes these five cards and begins to collect his three hands, with all cards face up.

Once a player puts a card into one of their three hands, it cannot be moved. When the first round is completed, each player in turn takes one card and puts that card into one of their hands.

The goal of Open Face is the same as traditional Chinese poker, with the goal being to get a better back, middle, and front hand than your opponent.

Royalties usually pay more in Open Face as it’s much harder to make strong hands because you don’t know what cards are coming. Errors are also much more common.

Fantasy Land Bonus in OFC

If a player hits a pair of queens or better with his front hand, that player enters Fantasyland on the next round.

When you are in Fantasyland, you receive all 13 cards at once and do not collect them until all other players have spread their hands. You can stay in Fantasyland for the next round if you meet the following conditions:

  • Take trips in the front hand
  • Make a full house or better in a middle hand
  • Do quads or better in the back hand

A pineapple

Pineapple plays the same way as Open Chinese Poker, but differs in the way the cards are dealt. Each player starts with five cards and begins to distribute them in the hands in the same way as OFC.

After the first round, each player takes three cards in turn, puts two in his hand, and discards one. The discarded cards are only visible to the player who drew the card, which can be used as an advantage to deprive an opponent of the high-scoring cards they are looking for.

Final Thoughts

While you won’t see Chinese poker played in major tournaments, most poker rooms, or the World Series of Poker, it can be fun to play.

You can find many places where you can play Chinese poker online and hone your skills. While you can develop an optimal play strategy for traditional Chinese poker, this is much more difficult to implement in OFC and Pineapple.

Read the following article from Upswing Poker:

Poker Hand Rankings and Best Poker Hands in Texas Hold’em


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