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How to Play Chinese Poker

7 April 2010, By:
Chinese Poker is one of the more popular poker variations you'll find as a side game in both live card rooms and home games. It's a particular favorite of poker pros who like a little gamble to break up the stress of playing long tournament hours.
chinese poker rules
chinese poker rules

(Image: 888poker)

Chinese Poker Rules are also really easy to grasp so you can pick up the game quickly but the nuances of good Chinese Poker strategy can keep you interested for years.

Read through this article plus our Chinese Poker strategy tips and you'll be playing Chinese Poker like a pro in no time at all!

Chinese Poker Rules - How to Play a Hand

A hand of Chinese Poker is made up of three simple parts and plays out as follows:

  1. Deal
  2. Setting up hands
  3. Showdown

How to Deal a Chinese Poker Hand

Each player is dealt 13 cards, all face down. As a full deck of cards on has 52 cards, only 4 players can play a hand of Chinese Poker at any one time. A typical round of Chinese Poker has 3 or 4 players but it is also commonly played heads-up.

Important note: All the cards in the deck are dealt out for every hand. If there are just 3 players in the hand, the fourth set of 13 cards is discarded.

In a heads-up game each player use one set of 13 cards and keeps the second for the next hand to save dealing again. He or she can't, of course, dig into the second hand to retrieve cards for the hand currently being played.


How to Set Up a Chinese Poker Hand

Now each player uses his 13 cards to build three poker hands:

  • Back Hand - 5 cards
  • Middle Hand - 5 cards
  • Front Hand - 3 cards

Players can distribute their cards any way they like as long as they follow these two rules:

  • Back Hand must be stronger than the Middle Hand
  • Middle Hand must be stronger than the Front Hand

For example: if you put a straight in your Back Hand you can't put a flush in your Middle Hand.

Standard poker hand rankings are used to determine high and low hands but straights and flushes are ignored for the front (3-card) hand.

Chinese Poker Rules - Scoring

Once all players have set their hand, the showdown occurs and all players put down their three hands face down in front of them.

The Back Hand is placed closest to the center of the table followed by the Middle Hand and then the Front Hand.

Hands are then flipped over and compared group by group:

  • Back Hands to Back Hands
  • Middle Hands to Middle Hands and
  • Front Hands to Front Hands

Points are distributed according to a pre-defined system. There are several popular scoring systems.

chinese poker scoring

Standard Chinese Poker Scoring System

As the default:

  • For each of your opponent's hands that your corresponding hand beats you win one point from that opponent

For example: You win the Back and Middle Hands but lose the Front Hand. You win 1 point for Back and 1 point for Middle but you lose 1 point for Front. So your total score is +1 point.

2-4 Chinese Poker Scoring System

With this scoring system if a player wins two out of three hands against an opponent he or she receives 2 points (instead of 1). If he wins all three hands he receives 4 points (instead of 3 in the standard scoring system).

Winning all three hands is called "scooping." With this system scooping gets relatively less profitable. It's worth twice as much as a normal win instead of three times as much.

1-6 Chinese Poker Scoring System

In this scoring system winning two hands gives you 1 point, as in the standard scoring system above. But winning all three hands is worth 6 points.

Now scooping gets really, really interesting. You should be much more willing to lose single hands while trying to scoop the whole shebang.

Western and Eastern Chinese Poker Rules

The Action Poker Network, for example, was one of the few online poker networks that offered Chinese Poker and had two different scoring systems:

  • Western
  • Eastern

In the poker lobby games were marked with W or E to show which type they were. The Western system is equal to the 2-4 system described above. You get 2 points for winning two hands and 4 for scooping.

The Eastern system is a standard scoring system with a few special hands added:









Full house








Straight flush




Royal flush




When you have a special hand you get the bonus only (in that segment).

Clean Sweep Groups

Action Poker also allowed special hands called clean sweeps. They gave the following bonuses:




13 Colors 13 cards same suit


Dragon One of each rank


12 Colors 12 cards same suit


3-of-a-kind + 5 Pairs (4-of-a-Kind can count as 2 pair)


3 Straights Straights in Front, Middle, and Back


3 Flushes Front, Middle, and Back suited


6 Pairs (4-of-a-Kind can count as 2 pair)


Chinese Poker Scoring for Money

Players can agree to any type of monetary payout in Chinese Poker but the standard way of keeping score monetarily is with a points = $ system.

Usually each point is given a monetary value before the game starts. Some people may play for 10c per point while some high rollers have been known to play for as much as $1,000 a point.

Of course you can play without money too.

Optional Rules for Chinese Poker

Chinese Poker comes in many shapes and forms and can combine a range of special rules. Basically it's up to the players in each Chinese Poker game to agree to the specific rules they'll play with before the game starts.


Chinese Poker Rules - Surrendering

Sometimes you're allowed to surrender your hand before the showdown. Surrendering is typically more expensive than losing two of three hands but cheaper than being scooped.

Chinese Poker Rules - Invalid Hands

If a hand is not valid for some reason (eg. the Middle Hand is higher than the Back hand) that player may have to pay each remaining opponent some predefined amount. A common example is the player has to pay the amount he would pay if the other player had scooped.

Chinese Poker Rules - Special Hands

Sometimes players agree to award special hands with extra points. Such a hand is sometimes called a "royalty."

If a player has a royalty each opponent has to pay him a predefined number of points for that hand with no effect on the usual showdown.

Chinese Poker Rules - Low in the Middle

In this variation the Middle hand is played low, meaning the lowest ranking poker hand wins (much like Razz or 2-7 Lowball). Aces are high and straights and flushes count against the low hand.

Play Chinese Poker Online Free No Download

As you can see Chinese Poker isn't a particularly hard poker game to learn but before you start playing for $1,000 a point it's a good idea to get some solid Chinese Poker strategy under your belt and practice playing a few (or a few hundred) hands against some easy competition.

If you'd like to play Chinese Poker for Free you can either download a number of free apps in the App Store or you can create an account at TonyBet online and play the free play version of Chinese Poker.

How to Play Open Face Chinese Poker

how to play open face chinese poker

A popular variation of Chinese Poker is what is known as "Open Face" Chinese Poker. In Open Face Chinese Poker you are still making three separate poker hand (Front, Middle and Back) but the way the cards are dealt and placed in the hands is different.

In Open Face Chinese Poker the rules are:

  • Each player is dealt 5 cards
  • Those 5 cards are then set face up in any of the Front, Middle or Back Hands
  • Each player is then dealt one more card at a time
  • Each dealt card must be placed in any of the rows as the player sees fit
  • Play continues card by card until all 13 cards have been placed openly in one of the 3 hands

As you've likely guessed, having to set your hands without knowing exactly what cards are coming next dramatically alters your optimal strategy and how confident you can be in determining the final ranks of each hand.

Scoring Rules in OFC Poker

Scoring in OFC is similar to Chinese Poker in that a point is typically won for every hand that you beat of your opponents. Royalties are also awarded for making particular hands and there are bonuses for scooping. Penalties are given for fouling or surrendering your hand as well.

Fantasyland in Open Face Chinese Poker

A popular version of Open Face Chinese Poker has a special set up called "fantasyland" that a player can reach by having Queens or better in the Front hand without fouling (having any invalid hands).

Once in Fantasyland the player will be dealt all 13 cards at once in the next hand and can set tall hands in advance, just like in Chinese Poker. That player can then stay in Fantasyland if he can play trips in the Front Hand, a Full House or better in the Middle Hand or Quads or better in the Back Hand.

The player in Fantasyland also doesn't have to reveal all of his hands until all other players have set their hands in the normal OFC fashion (5 cards open at first, then one by one.)

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