Chinese Poker

Chinese Poker

Chinese Poker has been part of the Asian community for many years and is a highly popular card game, especially today. The popularity of the game has been picked up among players in the wider poker community, due in part to the fact that Chinese Poker is easy to learn and acts as the perfect springboard to more complex variants of poker where skill is more important than elements of luck. Although both skill and luck play a part in the outcome of Chinese Poker, it seems that luck is the more prominent factor of the two.

Players who are familiar with the hand rankings in poker and want to practice before learning other types of the game such as Texas Hold'em and Badugi will find that Chinese Poker is the perfect game to do so on. Today, Chinese Poker is a popular choice among players at live poker rooms, as well as online poker rooms.

The game is easily accessible for new players, who enjoy the fact that a maximum of four players can sit at a Chinese Poker table at one time. Also, because luck plays a big part in the outcome of the game, beginners also have a good degree of success over advanced players, therefore giving them a boost of confidence and increasing the enjoyment factor of the game.

Click for details on history, hand rankings/nicknames and poker terminology/glossary.

Chinese Poker in a Nutshell

Chinese Poker is a multiple handed card game, with a maximum of four opponents per table. Players are dealt 13 individual cards each and there are no community cards as there are in other variants of poker.

The Objective of Chinese Poker

The main objective of Chinese Poker is to arrange the 13 dealt cards into the three strongest poker hands possible. Two of the arranged hands will consist of five cards each and the third and final hand will consist of three cards.

Hand Rankings in Chinese Poker

A winning hand in Chinese Poker is determined by traditional poker hand rankings, familiar to all. They are as follows, listed from the strongest hand to the weakest hand:

Hand Description
Five Aces Four Aces and a Joker
Royal Flush Ten, Jack, Queen, King, Ace of the same suit
Straight Flush Five cards of the same suit that are ranked in order (for example, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine and Ten of Diamonds).
Four of a Kind Four cards that are of the same rank (for example – four Sevens).
Full House Three of a kind and a single pair (for example – three Kings and two Fives)
Flush Five cards that are of the same suite, irrespective of their ranking (for example – Four, Six, Nine, Ten and Queen of diamonds).
Straight Five cards that are of different suits but are ranked in order (for example – Two, Three, Four, Five and Six of different suits).
Three of a Kind Three cards in a hand that have the same ranking (for example, three Fives).
Two Pair A hand that consists of two sets of pairs (for example, two Sevens and two Queens).
Pair Two cards that have the same value (for example, two Nines).

Setting-Up a Game of Chinese Poker

Chinese Poker is played with a standard pack of cards, which is shuffled and cut before the cards are dealt. While the maximum number of players at a table is four (the optimal number), two people can also play.

Players are dealt their thirteen cards with the objective, as stated, being to arrange these cards into three poker hands and beat the rival’s hands of poker with stronger cards.

The three hands of poker are arranged as follows: A back hand of five cards, a middle hand consisting of five cards and a front hand consisting of three cards. It has to be remembered that the back hand (the first hand consisting of five cards), needs to be stronger than the middle hand, which, in turn, needs to be stronger than the front hand. If players are not able to complete their hands in this order, they will tally up a penalty.

The front hand may not consist of straights and flushes and therefore the strongest possible hand is a three of a kind.

Determining the Winning Hands

Once the hands are completed, they are placed in front of the player, with the front hand towards the center of the table, the middle hand behind that and the back hand nearest to the player.

When the hands are completed, they are revealed against the hands of the opponents around the table. Back hands are compared with other back hands, the middle hands against other middle hands and front hands against other front hands.

Players will then receive points for the hands that they beat and lose points for hands that they lose. Should hands match in value, players don’t lose points, nor do they lose any.


Before the game commences, players need to decide on the value of single unit points in the game, say $1 each. Chinese Poker is played on a points (or units) system, so that each time a player wins a point, that point is valued at $1. If Chinese Poker is being played online, the amount will be determined beforehand and will appear in the rules and conditions of the game.

Comparing Hands

If we take the case of a game of Chinese Poker being played among four players, the maximum amount, six different comparisons are made, as follows:

  • Player 1 is compared to Player 2
  • Player 1 is compared to Player 3
  • Player 1 is compared to Player 4
  • Player 2 is compared to Player 3
  • Player 2 is compared to Player 4
  • Player 3 is compared to Player 4’

Scoring in Chinese Poker

As Chinese Poker is a diverse game that is played in a number of different communities, there are a number of ways to count the score in the game. Over time, different poker rooms and online poker sites have adopted different scoring options. We will outline some of the more common methods.

2-4 scoring is definitely the most common and acceptable form of scoring in Chinese Poker. It essentially works as follows:

  • One point is awarded to the player with the highest back hand.
  • One point is awarded to the player with the highest middle hand.
  • One point is awarded to the player with the highest front hand.
  • Each player’s total has bonus points added.
  • An additional point is awarded to the player with the highest total overall.
  • In addition, the player who has the highest total is awarded the difference between the two other scores.
  • In short, the player who manages to create two out of the three best hands will earn two points, while the player who wins three out of the three hands earns four points.

1-4 Scoring - This system of working out scores at the end of Chinese Poker is similar in nature to the abovementioned 2-4 scoring, with one major difference: The player who wins two out of three hands is not given an overall point. In 1-4 scoring, players are awarded bonuses and surrenders, which are worth two points.

1-6 scoring, or Mandarin scoring, is different to the other two methods but is less common than 2-4 scoring. The method works as follows:

  • The player who wins two out of three hands at the table is awarded a point.
  • If a player wins three out of three hands, six points are awarded.
  • Bonuses and surrenders (worth three points) are also awarded.
  • A player thus has the possibility to win 18 points altogether ie. six from each of the opponents.

Surrendering in Chinese Poker

In some scoring methods, surrendering is an alternative option. This is essentially when players can throw in their hand (surrender) and pay a penalty, which is a set, pre-determined amount, to the other opponents around the table. The amount depends on the scoring method used – in a 2-4 scoring methods, players will pay two penalty points, while in a 1-6 scoring game, the player will pay three penalty points.

Bonuses in Chinese Poker

Players are also able to earn bonuses, depending on the variant of Chinese Poker being played out. The bonuses will differ from poker room to poker room, or even from table to table and it is worth checking them out beforehand to see what applies.

An example of a bonus could be: Earning one point if the player has a full house in the middle hand, earning two points if the player has a three of a kind in the front hand, earning three points if the middle or back hand consists of a four of a kind, or earning four points if the middle or back hands consist of a straight flush.

Special Hands in Chinese Poker

Players will notice that some variants of Chinese Poker allow for special hands to be formed. These are essentially 13 card hands that automatically win all ordinary hands, as long as they are declared to the opponents before the cards are exposed.

If a special hand is held by more than one player, he wins a specified amount of points and the player with the lower value special hand loses the value of the points.

The other hands are exposed only after all the special hands have been declared, exposed and paid out.

Examples of special hands include:

  • A hand that consists of six pairs and one extra card (13 cards in total). If, in the rare case, two players at the Chinese Poker table hold this type of hand, the player who has the highest pair wins. Should the highest pairs be equal, then the second highest pair determines the scoring. The player with this type of special hand earns six points.
  • If a player has a hand that consists of five card straights in the back and middle hand, as well as a three card straight in the front hand, this is considered a special hand in Chinese Poker. Should more than one player at the table have three straights, the winning hand is the player who has the highest straight, and so forth. The player with a three straight hand is awarded three points.
  • Should a player produce back and middle hands that consist of flushes, and the front hand consists of a three-card flush, this is special hand and earns the player three points. Should more than one player at the table have this type of hand, the player who has the strongest back hand wins, and if these are equal, the player with the strongest middle hand is compared, and so forth.

Other Forms of Chinese Poker

Chinese Poker

As players seek out Chinese Poker at poker rooms and online poker sites, they may come across different variants of the game. For example, they may find the option of playing Chinese Poker against the house where one player acts as the banker and the other players compare their hands to the banker’s (as opposed to each other’s). Should an individualhand tie in this case, the house wins.

Another variant is when players who win all three hands are paid extra points – usually between one and three - for their sweep.

A final variant found at poker rooms is when players can win their points from a pool. This method essentially has all players put three units into a joint pool before the Chinese Poker cards are dealt. In this game, the cards are compared between all four players instead of between pairs of players. When working out the score in this method, the player with the best front hand is awarded four points, the player with the best middle hand is awarded four points and the player with the best front hand collects four points. Should a player have all three of the strongest hands, he wins the entire pot and earns an extra three points from all the other players around the table.

Chinese Poker Strategy

As determined, luck plays an important part in Chinese Poker, but skill and strategy are undoubtedly just as important. An element of strategy is required, for example, to determine how to build the three different hands. While the simplest method may be to make the strongest back hand and then use the remaining cards to make the other two hands, since all the hands are compared to each other, the player needs to consider making the best possible hands across all three – and this is where strategy is absolutely necessary.

Common strategies in Chinese Poker, as suggested by the experts:

  • Organize your cards – It is highly recommended that players organize their cards as they are dealt to them by suit. Do so will help players see if they are holding a flush or not. Once the cards have been sorted by suit, players can then determine if they have sequences by arranging their card by ranks. This method makes order in what could be a very confusing array of suits and ranks and will ensure that players don’t overlook valuable hands that can earn them points.
  • Vary your card arrangements - A suit with five cards or more can be arranged in more ways than one. Players are recommended to create a hand with a flush and one without a flush. This is so that players have more than one option to ‘fight’ against an opponent’s best hand.
  • Don’t forget to arrange the hands in the right order – It shouldn’t be forgotten that the back hand has to beat the middle hand which in turn has to beat the front hand. Avoid penalties by remembering this rule!


Chinese Poker

As can be seen, Chinese Poker is so popular among players because it uses familiar poker hand rankings and uses them to create a variant of poker that is both exciting and different. The diverse rules of the game that vary from location to location, ensure that there is always a type of Chinese Poker that suits a player to the tee.

Chinese Poker is growing in popularity by leaps and bounds since the advent of online casinos. More and more players outside the Asian community are learning about this game and trying it out at their favorite online poker rooms.

The beauty of Chinese Poker is that it leans towards the familiar through classic poker hand rankings, but also relies on elements of luck and skill so that players are able to develop their own strategies and pitch these skills against their opponents. Since luck is also such a strong element, new players are able to enjoy the game without being ‘fearful’ of more advanced players beating them each time, and it allows them to win significant amounts of points. With all that said, it comes as no surprise that Chinese Poker is considered one of the most exciting games on the circuit.

Posted by CCJ Team