Players looking for a card game with a twist might find Chinese poker interesting. The poker variant is not widely common, but you can find it at several top online poker sites. It allows you to enjoy the classic card game differently. It is a distinct variation that might need some getting used to.

However, if you have learned hold’em poker, then you won’t have too much trouble grasping the basics. Open face Chinese poker is the most popular version of the game, but players have other types to choose from as this review indicates. Learn everything there is to know about playing Chinese poker online for the best experience.

Chinese Poker History

The history of Chinese poker is not very clear but some reports claim that it goes back to the introduction of Pai Gow to the western world. Apparently, in the 19th century when Chinese labourers immigrated to the United States, they introduced Pai Gow, and later on, Chinese poker came to being. However, other reports claim that the poker game existed in China long before that. The first time the variant appeared on the world stage was in 1995 at the World Series of Poker. Although the tournament wasn’t as popular back then as it is now, it served as a launching pad for the Chinese variation. Now, the variant is easily accessible at reputable online poker rooms.

The Rules of Chinese Poker

The Rules of Chinese Poker

One appealing thing about Chinese poker is that it’s a little different from standard variations like Hold’em, Draw and Stud. In this poker game, each player gets 13 cards, which is significantly more than other variants offer. No subsequent dealing follows. For this reason, the game can have a maximum of 4 players. The objective is to hold the strongest poker hands. However, the hand combinations are specific to this variant.

From the 13 starting cards, you have to make three separate hands; a front hand with 3 cards, a middle hand with 5 cards and a back hand with the remaining 5. The back has to be better than the middle hand and the middle better than the front. If your cards are not in the correct order, that is a mis-set, and it incurs a penalty. Since the front hand only contains 3 cards, it can’t make flushes. The available options are three of a kind, a pair and a high card.

Table Layout

When playing a Chinese poker game, you will notice that the table layout doesn’t have much going on. The table marks the players positions and includes boxes where participants can set their cards at showdown. Typical of online poker, the table has a button, which represents the dealer. The dealer position moves clockwise from one player to the next. During the showdown, the player to the left of the dealer is the first to reveal his or her cards. A table can host 2 to 4 players.

The Showdown

If you have ever played online poker, then ‘showdown’ is not a new term. It refers to the process of players revealing their cards after betting completes. In the case of Chinese poker, after you finish setting hands, you have to place the cards face down, in front of you. The back hand has to be closest to you, followed by the middle in the next row and the front after that. After announcing whether you are playing your hands, you have to turn the cards face up to expose them. During the showdown, you compare each hand with the corresponding hand from each opponent. For example, middle hand vs middle hand.

Scoring in Chinese Poker

Scoring in Chinese Poker

In Chinese poker, you win or lose points depending on the strength of your poker hands. Rather than blinds and antes, this game uses units. Players have to agree on the stakes before gambling begins. So, what happens is that for every hand that beats another player’s, you get a point. However, if your hand loses, then that’s a point deducted from your score.

If neither hand beats the other, players don’t receive any points. For instance, if your front hand is a three of a kind, it means that it beats the other three hands from your opponents. Hence, you snatch 3 points. Now suppose one of the players has a straight flush in the back. Then your back would lose 1 point if that’s the only better play than yours. But if your back is a full house and the lowest at the table, then you lose 3 points.


Before you play Chinese poker, you have to decide whether to include surrender. The rule requires players to pay a predetermined amount to avoid playing against other participants. How do you determine surrender, though? The amount has to be greater than what it would cost to lose at least two hands but not more than the cost of a scoop. A player who surrenders doesn’t have to pay royalties. Surrender is available for many variants, including Open Face Chinese poker. Nonetheless, confirm the rules first because some Chinese poker types don’t allow it.


A Chinese poker game can have royalties, which are extra units given to a player for holding a particularly strong hand. Whether or not a game includes royalties is decided in advance. The most common combinations that are awarded royalties include straight flush, four of a kind, full house and three of a kind. The value of royalty units can vary across poker games. However, the following is a standard baseline – 3 units for three of a kind on the front hand, 2 units for a full house win in the middle, 4 units for a four of a kind in the middle and back, 5-10 units for a straight flush or royal flush in the middle and back hands.

Chinese Poker


Naturals are types of royalties awarded to players if their cards fall into unique categories. An eligible player receives royalties immediately before anyone can surrender. Also, if you receive the bonus points, you can’t play your hand. The remaining participants can continue with the current hand. Here are the poker hands that qualify for naturals:

  • Three straights
  • Three flushes
  • Six pairs (for all 3 hands)
  • Four 3 of a kind
  • Three 4 of a kind
  • Three straight flush
  • Dragon – 13 different cards containing Ace through King

Bonus Score

Players can decide to have bonus units for a player who wins multiple hands in the same round. You can decide to award a 2 out of 3 or 3 out of 3 wins. The player with the winning hands gets an extra unit from each of the other players.

Hands in Chinese Poker

Hands in Chinese Poker

Knowing the value of hands is essential when playing Chinese poker. Setting your poker hands requires knowledge of rankings so that you can arrange cards from the strongest to the weakest. This poker variant uses standard poker rankings, which are:

  • Royal Flush – The highest straight – 10, J, Q, K, A.
  • Straight Flush – Five consecutive cards, same suit.
  • 4 of a Kind – Four cards, same rank
  • Full House – Three cards, same rank plus a pair.
  • Flush – Five cards, not in order, same suit.
  • Straight – Five consecutive cards.
  • 3 of a Kind – Three cards, same rank.
  • Two Pair – Two cards, same rank plus two of a different rank.
  • Pair – Two cards, same rank.
  • High card – No matching combinations.

Chinese Poker Terminology

The terms in Chinese poker might be a bit different from what you find in other variants. Here are some terms to watch out for:

  • Three straights – A straight in the front, middle, and backhands.
  • Clean sweep – A hand that wins automatically.
  • 12 Colours – A clean sweep hand comprising 12 cards of one color with the 13th as an offsuit.
  • Dragon – The highest possible hand, which contains a card of every value.
  • Pusoy – How Chinese poker is referred to in the Philippines.
Popular Chinese Poker Variations

Popular Chinese Poker Variations

As with many poker games, this variant has several iterations. Therefore, players can try out different types of the game to cut the monotony of playing the popular version. Learning the Chinese poker rules for other variations helps you improve your skills. Below are the common derivatives of this poker game.

Open Face Chinese Poker

In this version, you first receive 5 cards rather than 13. Starting from the player to the left of the dealer button, you have to set your cards in the hands where you wish to play them. Once your turn is over, you can’t change the setting. After every player sets their hands, another card for every participant is dealt around the table. Dealing continues until everyone has 13 cards. Open Face Chinese poker can have royalties and surrender.

Taiwanese Variant

The biggest difference between this version and the regular one is scoring. In the Taiwanese variant, if you lose all three hands to one player, then you have been scooped and your opponent earns double the base units. Scoping all three opponents is called a home run, which doubles the payment.

Singaporean Variant

Besides the 6 pairs, 3 straights and 3 flushes, the Singaporean version adds another hand worth three points. It’s called ‘small cards’ where all the cards must fall between 2 and 9. When special hands go against each other, neither player wins. Another rule is that the player who wins all three hands gets double units.

Chinese Poker Tips and Tricks

Chinese Poker Tips and Tricks

Although this variant relies on luck more than other poker games, learning a few tactics can still help. The game is uncomplicated for the most part, which makes it easy to commit careless mistakes. For this reason, you have to be cautious about every move you make. A good way to win is to know which rules to leverage. We include some useful tips to help players, especially beginners.

Avoid Getting Scooped

Getting scooped, which means losing all your hands to one player, costs you points. You can lose as much as 6 units depending on the scoring system being used. Some hands, such as a straight with two or fewer pairs, are prone to scooping. Therefore, learn about such hands and avoid them if you can.

Make Use of Surrender

Sometimes, surrendering costs less than getting scooped. You might have to pay the cost of two lost hands for surrendering compared to the price of three in a scoop. Hence, you should take advantage of the surrender rule when the situation calls for it.

When to Surrender?

Timing your surrender is crucial. So, how can you tell? Evaluate your cards keenly. Study the probability of certain hands winning in this variant. If the chances are low for your hand, then leave. Note that even if you have one great hand, if the other two are too weak, then surrender is practical.

Chinese Poker – A Poker Variant with a Twist

With all the poker variations out there, why should you play Chinese poker? The distinct gameplay of this variant is the biggest selling point. Most poker games have a hint of hold’em in one way or another. Therefore, some poker versions can get monotonous. Chinese poker offers something different. Although the objective is still to have the best hand, the process is different. Besides that, it is an impressively simple game to learn. Once you study the rules of the different variants, you can have as much fun as you allow yourself.