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Open-Face Chinese Poker: Common Problems, Simple Rules

by Derric Haynie |  Published: Apr 30, 2014


Derric HaynieOpen-Face Chinese (OFC) has nearly as many combinations of possible board run-outs as a game of chess,and, similarly to chess, there are also many extremely similar problems that seem to come up again and again.

Let’s take a look at a couple of simpler problem spots that seem to occur pretty often, and can be solved with some generalizations, basic probability calculations, and risk-reward calculations.

Gutshots Revisited

In my last article, I advised you to avoid setting a gutshot-straight draw in the back. Not only is it generally an “all-in” set (you can only bail to one pair, if you are even given that opportunity) with a maximum of four outs, but a straight in the back is the lowest royalty payout, making flush draws and pairs (full house draws) a more attractive alternative. With all that being said, as a game progresses you may find yourself with a three-straight in the back, such as 10Diamond Suit 9Diamond Suit 8Spade Suit, and be asking yourself what to do when you pull the 6Heart Suit. If the rest of the board meets any of these conditions, you may be able to follow a simple probability calculation to determine when it is best to play the gutshot, and when it is best to leave the three-straight open for either running two pair, or an open-ended straight draw:

  • If you are set “all-in” such as already having a pair of aces in the middle
  • If the 6 doesn’t pair the middle (or top when it’s even a viable option)
  • When the hand has generally progressed pretty evenly and slowly

If you find yourself in this spot, then all you really care about is your average hand strength, which means comparing the number of direct outs (gutshot outs) to the number of indirect outs/runner-runner outs to an open-ended straight draw (eight) then completing the straight ( approximately seven, because we already used up one straight card).

If you have four clean gutshot outs, then you are always better off going for the gutshot, rather than waiting for running outs. This means you should generally tend to place the gutshot card with the three-straight when you find yourself facing this problem. Now remember, this advice is based on a few generalizations, and because we are simplifying the problem by ignoring things like our opponent’s board and the risk of fouling, this is just a good baseline rule to follow when you have a tough decision and not a lot of time. So the first basic rule to remember is:

A Four-Outer Hits More Than Runner-Runner

And you can use this any other time you have a four-outer problem, including two-pair issues, or flush draws with a lot of dead cards.

It turns out, it’s not until the three-out comparison that you actually care about the number of indirect outs and number of cards left to draw. For more information on three, two, and one out comparison charts, click here.

Quick FantasyLand Risk-Reward Calculation

This is the classic OFC gambler’s dilemma that allows a good player to take home some long-term profit versus a bad player. Late in a hand we have:

8Heart Suit QDiamond Suit
4Diamond Suit KHeart Suit 6Diamond Suit 5Club Suit
ASpade Suit AClub Suit 3Club Suit

Draw: QClub Suit

And our opponent has:

7Heart Suit 10Heart Suit
KSpade Suit QSpade Suit 5Spade Suit JSpade Suit
ADiamond SuitJDiamond Suit 7Diamond Suit

To determine whether or not we should gamble for FantasyLand (FL) so late in the match, we should pull up the risk-reward equation:

Reward * Chance of Hitting – Risk * (1- Chance of Hitting) >? Play it Safe Board Value

Right away we can plug in a few numbers:

Using the odds charts found here we know that two outs (KClub Suit, KDiamond Suit), with 3 cards to come is 18 percent.

Chance of Hitting = 18 percent

If we hit FL we will win seven royalties plus ~ 12 for FL plus 3.5 (a safe estimate of how often we win plus scoop our opponents, somewhere between one and six points) = 22.5 points

Reward = 22.5 points

If we miss our draw, which happens 82 percent of the time, we foul, costing us approximately six points.

(1-Chance of Hitting) = 82 percent
Risk = 6 points

Put it all together and we have a value of:

(.18*22.5)-(6*.82) = -.87 points

Now we need to compare this with our current board value, or the board value we would have if we played it safe by putting the QClub Suit on the bottom. While we need to run an equity calculation/simulation to be absolutely certain of our position, with a quick glance at our hands, it’s safe to say we have a small lead over our opponent.

They need to hit runner-runner flush on the bottom (23 percent) or bail to one pair which we are likely to beat (sometimes they make two pair, but so do we, so it’s a negligible concern). Their flush draw in the middle isn’t necessarily a concern because they have to hit diamond, diamond, spade, in order for it to work out for them (11 percent). Also, we are beating them up top right now, and will win the top easily over 50 percent of the time, especially since they may use their kings or aces in the middle or bottom. So, even if we didn’t know the exact chances of their draws, we should be able to make an overall glance at the board, and conclude we are in the lead by at least one point.

Play it Safe Board Value = ~1+ -.87 1

Since we lower our EV by almost two points, this is clearly a bad spot to gamble for FL. Had we been in a losing situation where we were significantly behind our opponent in two or three spots, we would have had a clear “underdog” gamble, but because we are already in a favorable spot, it’s not quite the time. This leads us to a couple more simple rules to follow:

Gamble when you are behind, not when you are ahead.

A quick estimation of your average score versus your opponent’s board can really shed light on which play is correct.

What if we had three live outs to the king? This would have upped our chance of hitting to 26 percent and given us a value of 1.41 points. Now, it’s a little too close to call, since we were making a pretty broad estimate of our current board value at ~1. Using an equity calculator, it turns out we are about a 2.3 point favorite with this hand, meaning it is still not quite time to gamble, but maybe would have been closer a street or two earlier. This leads us to another rule:

Every out is crucial when making an all-in set. Count your outs, and mind the count. And when it’s too close to figure out, save tough problems to analyze later.

Practice, Practice, Practice

One of the beauties of this game is that you can play yourself and greatly improve your game. Pausing to evaluate complex decisions can go a long ways to fixing many of your leaks in the game. Also, while FL is usually a no-brainer, there are tough spots about 10 percent of the time. Practice playing one player in FL and one player out. This can improve both sides of your game, and you will feel the improvements when you face off against a real opponent. All it takes to play versus yourself is a deck of playing cards and a few minutes of free time, so take the time to try it out before jumping into a real money game without a ton of experience. This gives us our final rule:

Practicing By Yourself Will Quickly and Naturally Fine Tune Your Skills and Plug Your Leaks.

That’s it for now. In my next article, I will work more with an equity calculator to assess common yet complex decisions that can’t be solved with simple math quite as concisely.

Derric “SixPeppers” Haynie is the author of Quantum Poker and owner of For more articles, OFC solution apps, and information on Open Face Chinese Poker, check out his website dedicated to your open face education.