High-Stakes Open Face Chinese Poker

No one blinks twice when large amounts of money are thrown around the Aria casino. This is, after all, the centerpiece of the CityCenter complex that is the largest privately funded construction project in United States history. The stunning curved glass and steel high-rise towers are the work of Argentine-American architect César Pelli, progenitor of the world’s tallest buildings. This is the place where Masa Takayama flies fresh-caught Bluefin Tuna direct from the Japanese coast to his Bar Masa kitchen four times a week. So it takes some serious dollar amounts to arch eyebrows around the Aria.


But that is what has happened since Open-Face Chinese Poker (OFCP) blew into town a few years back. Open-Face is the variant of the traditional Chinese Poker game where players build and showdown three separate hands. The difference in Open-Face is that the cards are exposed as the hands are constructed. It is a four-player game although the popular Pineapple variation is often played by pros with three and it can also be contested heads-up. There is no betting in OFCP but rather the hands are played for points.


 

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High-Stakes Open Face Chinese Poker

It is those points and how much they are worth that are generating the buzz around OFCP. At Aria the games are often played for thousands of dollars per point. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in chips can move around the table in a single hand. When talking with a poker professional about OFCP it does not take long for the conversation to get around to “swings.” The big swings in a matter of minutes are what draw gamblers to the game.

 

Open-Face dates back to the mid-2000s but the game knocked around under the popular radar for most of its existence until some pros began playing high stakes side games. Incidents were reported of players skipping big-money buy-in Hold’em tournaments to remain at the OFPC tables. One attraction of Open-Face to big players is that you can quit while you are ahead – or behind – and not be forced to play until the end of a tournament.

 

Open-Face even had a trial seat at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in 2013. It has not been invited back and the game’s recognition has grown not from the massive number of players taking it up but from the reports of massive numbers of dollars being wagered in casinos like Aria and those in Macau. Focusing on the boxcar-sized stakes rather than luring large numbers of player seems to be the tack for growing OFPC online as well.

 

TonyBet Poker has emerged as the leading player in online Open-Face. In December 2014 the first-ever live Tonybet Open Face Chinese Poker World Championship. A few WSOP bracelet holders showed up and after 13 hours of play the big winner was two-time American women’s chess champion Jennifer Shahade who claimed the lion’s share of the biggest OFPC prize pool (€218,500) to date. The High Roller event required a €10,000 buy-in.

 

The €1,000 Main Event Pineapple drew 135 players, touted as the largest field ever assembled for an Open Face Chinese event. Tonybet worked hard to put fannies in those virtual seats. The site ran daily satellite tournaments and gave away three tickets to the Main Event every week leading up to the clash in Prague.

 

Tonybet has committed to its evangelism for OFPC as the first poker site to play the game online. The site has increased its number of preliminary events leading to the 2015 Open Face Chinese Poker World Championship from 12 to 17. The satellite tournaments can be entered for as little as €5. So it is possible to experience those big swings even when the numbers involved will not cause a stir in the poker rooms of the Aria casino.

 

The Open-Face Chinese Poker community remains comparatively small. Mostly it intrudes into poker news feeds due to its high stakes. Whether down the road those headlines will be about high participation rates is a card that remains hidden.