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The Fun of Open-Faced Chinese Poker

by Matt Lessinger |  Published: Dec 26, 2012


Matt LessingerI won’t discuss the rules here since that has been done elsewhere. If you are not familiar with the game, there’s an excellent brief video on the website under the “Strategy” heading which explains how to play. I highly recommend watching it. You could also Google “How to play Open-Faced Chinese Poker” and you will find the video.

You may have read about this game in other Card Player articles or seen it discussed online. It’s gotten a lot of attention since pros have starting playing it for high stakes, but most of us aren’t pros and don’t play for high stakes. It doesn’t matter. Open-Faced Chinese Poker (OFCP) is a game for everyone, and I’ll give you several reasons why you’ll like it, even if you never play beyond your kitchen table.
Casual players enjoy this game because:

1. It’s fairly easy to learn and play: That doesn’t mean it’s easy to play well. In fact, it’s deceptively difficult to play correctly. But that’s what makes hold’em great, right? Both games seem easy on the surface, and anyone can win any given hand. The difficult part is winning consistently. The good thing is that people generally remember the hands they won, and those winning hands provide enough enjoyment for them to want to continue playing, even if they are losing overall.

2. Each player can see what the others are doing: Several of the all-time most popular board games have something in common: there is no element of secrecy. In games such as Monopoly, Life, and Trivial Pursuit, everyone is fully aware of everyone else’s progress. That is also the case in OFCP, and a large part of what makes it more enjoyable for casual players than standard Chinese Poker, in which each person’s hand is completely secret until the end.

3. There is no time pressure: Although neither version of Chinese Poker has any strict time limit, the pressure often feels greater in the standard version. Experienced players set their hands quickly, and then have a tendency to stare down their less experienced opponents, who often feel the need to play faster because they don’t always want to be the last person to finish setting their hand. Then if those players end up making an error, it simply increases their frustration.
In OFCP, the game is definitely more fun if it is kept moving at a reasonable pace, but you don’t have to worry about your opponents playing faster than you. Other players can’t act until you finish your action, so while they might needle you, you can take all the time you want and make sure you place each card in a way that satisfies you.

4. Everyone is always in action: Even in a lot of kitchen-table variety poker games, there is the option to fold. But once you fold, you have to sit there and wait until the hand is over before you can get back into the game. In OFCP, everyone plays every hand, which keeps everyone interested, and no one ever feels left out.

5. Even terrible hands stand a chance: The luck of the draw is important, just as in any poker game. But one of the keys to OFCP is that, as long as you don’t foul your hand, you can always collect from others who have. When someone gets five strong starting cards, they often gamble in the hopes of creating a monster hand, only to end up misplaying and/or fouling. That leaves the door open for someone with any weak, but valid, hand to profit. This isn’t hold’em … you can’t go folding your 7-2 offsuit! But you’ll probably win more often in this game with an awful starting hand like J-8-5-3-2 then you will in hold’em with 7-2.

6. You decide how much you want to gamble: You can play it safe and always play not to foul your hand. Or, you can try for big hands and larger bonus payouts. Whether you are conservative or a risk-taker, you can shape your strategy to fit your natural tendencies. Or in true poker-player fashion, you can observe the tendencies of your opponents and shape your strategy around their styles of play.

7. It can be played by any-sized group: The game plays well with anywhere from two to four players. If you pick up a fifth or six player, simply break out another deck and split into two groups. With more than four players, you can even experiment with a tournament-style format. Play three or four rounds at each table, then have the winners from each table go on to play each other for the title.

8. You can tweak the rules to suit you. There is a standardized bonus payout structure for any hand straight or higher. You can use that structure or create one of your own. You can also alter the basic payouts. For example, according to the Card Player video, winning two out of three hands is worth one unit, while scooping all three hands is worth six units. My friends and I typically prefer payouts of two units/four units rather than one/six. We feel that fouling your hand, which costs you six units, should be more punitive than getting scooped. You could use either of those systems, or create one of your own.

9. It has passed the “significant other” test: This might be the most important point. I played OFCP for the first time with my poker-playing friends and we all liked it. Then we each explained the game to our wives, none of whom are serious card players, and they all took to it as well. In fact, they even asked when would be the next time that we’d get together to play! That never happens with a card game!

The bottom line is that I’m sold on this game, my friends are sold, and even our significant others are sold. If you’re not already playing OFCP, my guess is that you will be soon. ♠

Matt Lessinger is the author of The Book of Bluffs: How to Bluff and Win at Poker, available everywhere. You can find Matt’s other articles at