It has been a busy few years for the game of Open-Face Chinese Poker and all of its fans. This game has been one of the fastest growing games ever, and is by far the fastest growing poker variant. Despite being invented jus a few years ago, Open-Face Chinese Poker is everywhere, spreading form Finland and Russia to China, Europe and the United States. Open-Face Chinese Poker has come a long way, but there is still a long journey ahead of it if it is to overtake the likes to Hold’em and Omaha.

As we look ahead to the future of this game, how does the past look for Open-Face Chinese Poker? Below we have listed the biggest milestones for this game since it was invented, all of which have helped to make it the popular game that it is today.

October 2012: Although it’s hard to pinpoint it down to the exact month, at this point in time Open-Face Chinese Poker had made it to the US and was beginning to attract the attention of professional and amateur poker players. The game was introduced a little earlier than October, but this was the month that saw a post on, written by OFC pro Jennifer Shahade. Her words would inspire thousands of players to take up this game and without this article, OFC might not be the game that it is today, at least not in the US.

2013: In this year TonyBet decided to shift their attentions to Open-Face Chinese Poker. Owned and run by Tony G, this gambling site had existed for a few years, but they hadn’t really found their identity. Once they adopted the game of OFC as their own, becoming the first online poker site to offer games of OFC for real money, they found their niche and they made it work for them.

Summer 2014: In the summer months of 2014, Open-Face Chinese Poker really took off. During these months it achieved its biggest boost in popularity to date, with many professionals and amateurs discovering the game and raving about it. Shaun Deeb was one of these. A former Hold’em pro, Deeb had tried his hand at many variants and he had done well at most, but as soon as he discovered Open-Face Chinese Poker he refused to let go. These days Deeb is one of the most well-known faces in the offline OFC world. The biggest event in poker, the World Series of Poker, announced there would be no OFC events in 2014, but many other Vegas casinos ran OFC tournaments and cash games, including the Golden Nugget. There were also many high-profile tournaments in other countries including one at the Aviation Club in Paris, and one at the biggest casino in the capital of Finland.

December 2014: This month saw the first World Championship of OFC, which was hosted by TonyBet. The Main Event was won by Mikal Blomlie, whilst the high-roller event was won by Jennifer Shahade, who had already done her bit to help this game grow.

April 2015: This month saw the first OFC Grand Prix event, which was hosted by TonyBet. We covered this event here on this site and have already discussed the positive impact that it had on the game.

These are the main dates, but there were many more milestones, including tutorials released by professionals, articles on major poker sites, big tournaments, cash games and so much more. Open-Face Chinese Poker has come a long way in a very short time, and if it continues at this rate then this will be the biggest game in the world in just a few years.

Chinese poker is easy to learn and there is plenty of luck involved – a recipe that emboldens novices to gin up the courage to sit down with top players. There is no betting involved to test one’s nerve, only an appetite for big stakes is required to play. Or low stakes, if the case may be. The stakes are agreed on before the cards are dealt. At this point there is not much reading and game history to bone up on, players need to sit in and play to learn.


Chinese Poker is played with two, three or four players with each competitor receiving 13 cards, delivered face down. The players then builds three hands of five, five and three cards. The hands are laid out on the table on top of each other, with the three-card hand on top.


The bottom hand must be a higher rank than the middle five-card hand and the three-card hand must be the lowest rank. After the hands are set, players announce if they have been dealt any royalties, strong hands that include a straight flush, four of a kind, a full house or better in the middle hand and a three of a kind on top. Straights and flushes do not count on the three-card hand – trips are the best hand on top.


If any player can form three straights, three flushes, six pairs or a Dragon (a 13-card straight) these are “naturals” and automatic winners. Points are awarded accordingly. Once cards have been set and royalties announced, players are given the opportunity to surrender and not play the hand. A surrender costs the player more than losing two of the three hands but not as much as getting scooped, or losing all three hands. Some versions of Chinese Poker do not permit any surrendering and all cards must be played to showdown.


Once the cards are revealed, winning hands are determined and points awarded according to the payable. Chinese Poker games are played for points, much like gin rummy. A royal flush on the middle hand is the highest scorer with 50 points – that can only happen with a royal flush down below as well. Unlike poker, it is possible to finish second best in a hand of Chinese Poker and still win some money.


There are many variants to Chinese Poker, usually regarding scoring. Other twists include a lowball hand in the middle and dealing two 13-card hands that are matched against an opponent’s two hands.


The variation that has caught fire in side games at casino card rooms is a recent innovation and known as Open-face Chinese Poker. It is said to have originated in Finland and was not seen in the United States until 2012. In Open-face, the cards are dealt face-up beginning with a deal of five to each player. From there the hands are built one card at a time. Once a card is set in a hand it can not be moved.


The trick comes in building hands that conform to scoring rules – if the bottom hand turns out not be the strongest and the top three-card hand is not the weakest the player “fouls” and the stakes are forfeited. In a favorite variation known as Fantasyland, the three-card hand is awarded an extra bonus if it is Queens or Better.


Game play is quickened by a deal variation called “Pineapple.” Instead of building hands one card a time, players are dealt four sets of three cards for a total of 17. Four are discarded en route to the final formation of the hands.


The appeal of Open-face Chinese Poker comes in the steady stream of decision making required as the hands are built. Players can see an opponent’s hand and, like blackjack, can make calculations on the cards left in the deck. The lure of big royalty payouts in Fantasyland separates player styles by levels of aggressiveness.


For now, there is no consensus of an optimal strategy to set cards in Open-face Chinese Poker. The poker community is still feeling its way around the Chinese Poker table and that makes for fun game play and big swings at showdown.


Chinese Poker has been gaining quite a bit of traction in the past few years and Todd Brunson drew some media attention when he called the Open-face variation of the game “a cancer” in the poker world. The implication being that there is harm being perpetrated on poker by the game’s mere existence, with the potential of delivering a lethal blow.


From this seat at the table the arrival of Chinese Poker reminds me of the exchange between Peter Lorre and Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, with Lorre assuming the role of “Chinese Poker” and Bogart playing “Hold’Em.”


Lorre: You despise me, don’t you.

Bogart: If I gave you any thought, I probably would.


Brunson points out the obvious in disparaging Open-face Chinese Poker (OFC): there is no betting and no bluffing and it is not even poker. Exactly, so what is the fuss? Brunson objects to the game even being dealt in poker rooms since Gin Rummy is not offered, nor is backgammon. Fair enough, but enough players want to play OFC, especially for high stakes, that card rooms are going to deal it. Who are some of the gamblers enjoying hands of Chinese Poker and what attracts them to the game?


For Phil Hellmuth, “Chinese killed Texas Hold’em for me.” He found himself playing OFC in such long sessions and for such high stakes that he compared its addictive qualities to that of crack cocaine. He considers some huge losses he took in learning the game to be nothing more than tuition.


Brandon Cantu, winner of two World Series of Poker bracelets, is credited with being the Johnny Appleseed of Chinese Poker among American pro players. For him the game provides an antidote for the ills that plague poker, chief among them being slow game play, being out of the action entirely on so many hands and being a lousy spectator experience if you can not see the hole cards.


Cantu encountered the game in the iconic century-old Aviation Club de France in Paris before it was raided and forced into judicial liquidation earlier this year. Cantu had spent several days hopping into Chinese poker games in between hands of Hold’em before running into New Yorker Shaun Deeb and teaching him the game.


Cantu fattened his wallet at Deeb’s expense in long-running early games but those hard lessons created a new convert. Deeb now plays Chinese poker almost exclusively and for stakes as high as he can find. In 2014, he captured top honors at the an open-face Chinese poker tournament at the Poker Stars CaribbeanAdventure in the Bahamas.


The cadre of top poker pros who could be found engaging in side games of OFC grew to about 12 to 15 including, Daniel Negreanu, Robert Mizrachi and Barry Greenstein. All seem to agree that the biggest attraction of the game is its freshness.


At this point in the evolution of Texas Hold’em all the top players, and many of far lesser caliber, know all the optimal strategies and game play at any particular table can quickly become a mechanical exercise in executing standard plays. Not only does the optimal strategy of open-face Chines Poker remain unsolved but the players themselves admit to bafflement at seeing opponents they respect playing hands differently than they would set the hands.


At the same time OFC is easy to learn and offers enough luck and volatility that newcomers will not shy away from tables with name players. They will win enough to keep coming back but the pros can still recognize patterns and read the deck well enough to find the game profitable in the proverbial long run.


For now OFC has pushed its way past being a novelty to earn a place in the upper echelon of card games. It may not be poker but there are big enough stakes to draw gambling’s biggest players to the game. It seems inevitable that a computer program will come out that will outperform humans and everyone will be setting their hands and chasing points the same way. Until that happens, however, you are likely to keep on hearing plenty of buzz around open-face Chinese poker.







I am sure you remember when Gregory “the Mad Greek” Grivas pulled four eights on the final hand to win the Chinese Poker event at the World Series of Poker. The owner of a San Diego electronics company, who plays most of his poker in pot-limit Omaha in California card rooms, gave out an ear-piercing war whoop when the winning cards were revealed at the final table. Everyone remembers that, right? You don’t? Really? Think hard.


It is understandable that not many remember the Mad Greek winning his bracelet in Chinese Poker in the WSOP. It was not last year, nor the year before that. It was back in 1996, after all. That was the second, and last, appearance for Chinese Poker during a brief two-year run on the dance card of poker’s biggest event.


Chinese poker is a four-man game with each player receiving an equal number of cards from a standard 52-card deck and siphoning them off into three separate hands of five cards, five cards and three cards. The play is for points earned by matching each of the hands against their equivalents at the table. Traditional poker hands are used to ferret out the winning hands, although the ranking does not transfer exactly.


In the first decade of the century a variation of Chinese poker emerged where players were only dealt five cards, face up instead of face down. Each player then took turns building the three requisite hands by drawing cards in turn. Open-face Chinese Poker (OFC) has ignited in popularity in poker rooms in recent years, especially in high-limit side games. It even got a seat at the table in the World Series of Poker in 2013 as a non-bracelet event.


So, is Chinese Poker the next big thing in poker, where the future of the game is headed? Well, if you are of the opinion that betting and bluffing are at the essence of poker and those strategies are what make it the world’s best card game – and most players are – then it is impossible to take Chinese Poker too seriously. There is no betting on ones hand in Chinese Poker, either in the building or at the end.


By way of analogy, it would be as if there was a game to challenge the supremacy of American football that used the same name but only allowed the ball to be touched by the feet. The ball could never be picked up and thrown and players could not deliver courage-sapping defensive tackles. Oh, there is a game like that? How is that doing in unseating American football from the throne of sports in the United States?


Aside from the common name and the formation of the hands, Chinese Poker has no relation to poker. The game it most resembles is Gin Rummy, in the building of hands and the quest for points. Traditionally, rummy was the game that was dealt in card rooms by players waiting for a seat at the poker table. In the 21st century, Chinese Poker has assumed the same role as Gin Rummy in the previous century.


That does mean there are not players who prefer Chinese Poker to Hold’Em and that there is not plenty of money changing hands in OFC games. There are devoted OFC players and there is big money being drawn away from poker tournament pools for them to chase. But as for Chinese Poker coming off the sidelines to become the main attraction, that just does not seem to be in the cards.