Friday, June 26, 2009

Me Chinese, Me Play Joke

If you hang out with serious poker players of any sort, you've probably heard of Chinese Poker. Chinese Poker is a poker variant that is extremely popular in the poker community. When I lived in Ireland, I got heavily involved in Chinese Poker. To say that I got addicted to this game would be a gross understatement.

The Basics
There are many variations of the game, but the basics are pretty simple. Each player (up to 4 players) gets 13 cards from a standard 52 cards deck. The 13 card hand is split into three hands: a 3 card hand (the front) and two 5 card hands (the middle and the back).

The back hand must be higher in value than the middle and the middle must be higher in value than the front. The highest hand you can have in the front is a three of a kind (straights and flushes don't factor into the value of the front hand). The other two hands are ranked based the standard poker scale.

Each player plays one-on-one against each of the other 3 opponents. If you win 2 out of the 3 hands, then you win a certain amount of money. If you win all 3 hands, then you get more money. The amount that you win depends on the type of scoring system you use. The most common scoring system I have seen awards 2 points for winning two out of three hands and 4 points for winning all three hands (called "shooting" or "scooping").

There are also "special hands" that are automatic winners, regardless of what the other players are holding. These hands include the following:
* 6 pairs
* 3 flushes
* 3 straights
* A 13 card straight
* 12 of one suit

Bonuses are also awarded if you get high ranked hands in your three set hands. These include the following:
* Trips in front
* Full House in the middle
* Four of a kind (middle or back)
* Straight flush (middle or back)

For more information on the rules of Chinese Poker, you can check out the Wikipedia entry:

Finding a Local Game
Last week, I came across a dated blog post from 2005 about Chinese Poker being dealt at some of the local California card rooms. This rekindled my obsession with the game and I headed off to search a casino that still dealt it. I was directed to the Bike, where there was a game running in the outdoor pavilion. There was a $5/point game already going, but they started up a new table just for me (they were more than willing to accommodate a newbie). I sat down without knowing what the hell I was getting into.

House Rules at the Bike
They use a 1-6 scoring system: 1 point for winning 2/3, 6 points for scooping all three hands. If you tie one hand and win the other two, then you win 2 points. Special hands are honored (4 points), but you have to turn your 13 card hand up (with just a single card revealed). Bonuses are awarded as well: 2 points for a full house in the middle, 3 points for trips up front, 4 points for quads, and 5 points for a straight flush.

One strange twist that the locals play is called "Aces". If you have one more Ace than your opponent, then you get an extra point. If you have two more Aces than your opponent, you get two. If you have three Aces and your opponent has none, then you get 6 points. If you have all four Aces, then you get 8 points.

The Ace rule does not require any skill and all players will break even in the long run. The only thing it does is increase the variance in the game. Playing Aces is optional, but players who do not participate are not exactly welcomed with open arms.

The bad news is that I got my ass handed to me at that game. The locals are pretty much experts at the game although I did spot a few mistakes on their part. Unfortunately, I made quite a few mistakes as a result of being new to this version of the game and because of underestimating the power of the scoop. Since I usually play with the 2-4 scoring system, I wasn't quite used to the scoop being worth 6 times the two of three win. I'll be ready for round two in a few days!