My Intro to Open Face Chinese Poker[ return to main articles page ]

Published on Jan 25th, 2013
Prior to my trip to the Bahamas for the PCA earlier this month, Open Face Chinese Poker (OFC) was just a series of words I'd heard a bunch of times in the forums and on Twitter. I finally caught the bug when I sat down to watch a few friends play live down there and it was suggested to me that I download the OFC iPhone app. I did, and ever since that moment I've been playing pretty much non-stop.

OFC is a great game because it requires a great deal of skill and math to be good, but also involves all kinds of gambling. At this early point in the game's history, there are a lot of unsolved strategy problems. Setting your first five cards can be a bit of a shot in the dark. Many of the people playing have strong math and probability skills, but that's only part of the problem. The game is complex and there's a diverse array of situations that can come up. In this article, I touch on the basics of the game: rules, very general strategy components, where the game is happening, and who's playing.

The Rules

OFC is played somewhat like traditional Chinese Poker in that each player is dealt a total of 13 cards and from those cards must make two 5-card hands and a 3-card hand. Those hands must be in descending order from back to front. The first 5-card hand (called the back) must be the strongest hand, and the second 5-card hand (the middle) must be weaker than the back but stronger than the 3-card hand (the front).

The difference between OFC and traditional Chinese Poker is that in OFC, each player receives 5 cards to start and sets those 5 cards open face, starting with the player to the left of the dealer. Following the initial set, cards are dealt one at a time and are placed facing up in one of the player's three hands. Once a card is laid down, it cannot be moved.

Players get 1 point for each hand that is stronger than the opponent's hand in that same position. If a player takes all 3 points from an opponent, they get an additional 3 points from that opponent, for a total of 6. This is called "scooping" your opponent. If a player mis-sets their hand by not finishing with three hands in the proper order of strength (also known as "fouling"), they automatically get scooped by all other players who did not foul.

There are extra points called "royalties" that are given out for particularly strong hands. While these royalties often vary depending on whom you're playing with, in the version I've been playing, you get the following royalties for hands in the back:

Straight - 2 points
Flush - 4 points
Full House - 6 points
Four of a Kind - 8 points
Straight Flush - 10 points
Royal Flush - 20 points

Any of these same hands in the middle gets double the aforementioned royalty. In the front (the 3-card hand), you get a royalty for any hand that's at least a pair of 6s. It's one point for 6s and an additional point for each step up (2 points for 7s, 3 points for 8s, etc.), all the way to 22 points for trip aces.

One interesting thing to know about royalties is that at least in the version of OFC that's currently available on the iPhone app, you only collect a royalty from an opponent if your hand is stronger than theirs. If the opponent has a stronger hand, not only do you have to pay them their royalty, but you also receive nothing from that opponent.

Basic Strategy

There's not much out there at this point about OFC strategy. There are some forum threads that aren't incredibly detailed and a couple of tutorial videos. There are some not-too-difficult math problems that can be done to determine what's the best place to set a card in a given moment. It often involves calculating EV when you're hoping for a big hand to get a big royalty but risk fouling by passing up safer opportunities to complete your board.

Besides doing the math while playing, it's important for a new player to know that it's nearly impossible to make good decisions without paying constant attention to how your opponents are setting their hands. A good decision against an opponent's made royalty hand can be a very poor decision against a hand that looks like it's headed toward fouling. And obviously you shouldn't be counting on picking up a 9 when there are already 3 or 4 of them on the board! Pay attention to all the cards you can see, not just your own. Otherwise, you're giving up a huge edge.

I chatted with Chris moorman1 Moorman about OFC strategy and I'll be publishing another article about that conversation in the next couple of weeks.

Who's Playing?

The first ever OFC tournament was played at the PCA. It was a \$2,150 buy-in event that featured 59 entrants (and 19 re-entries) and impressively pulled together a prize pool of just under \$150,000. Peter Jetten won the first prize of \$52,380. While he's certainly the top all-time winner at this point in OFC tournaments, this is a game that's played at dazzlingly high-stakes by many of the world's top poker players. Shaun shaundeeb Deeb (pictured) noted in an interview that he has played for as much as â‚¬1,000 per point!

Others play for as little as \$1 per point, a much friendlier entry point for those just trying to learn the game. And on the iPhone app, you can play against friends or the computer for free and learn about what kinds of situations come up in this game. Just beware that once you start playing, you may not do anything else for a few months...

So who's playing OFC? More and more people all the time. At live poker events and venues, this game is being played constantly. OFC is getting a lot of buzz, and it's only a matter of time before variations of the game start showing up on major online poker sites. Until then, I recommend downloading the iPhone app and seeing what this game is all about.

Play Open Face Poker with other players from around the world! Download the full version here.

1. Will definitely be trying this with a few friends this weekend. \$2 per point! :)
2. Let me know when and where, I'm in. I live next door in Johns Creek

3. OFC is an absolute blast. I've been playing a bit before our regular home game gets going and also playing with my wife and 8 year old son. It's a great learning tool for him.Last week I was in Vegas and it was being spread at the Venetian. I jumped in for \$5 a point. Was getting crushed early due to me just getting bad cards. I did blunder one hand, but it didn't hurt me much. The sickest hand of the night was when one guy had quads, boat in the middle, and 66 up top for 21 points plus 6 for scooping me, minus 4 for my flush. I had to pay him \$115. Fought my way back some after being down \$500 or so, left the table after maybe 4 or 5 hours down 300.If you're wondering, Venetian was charging \$5 per player every dealer change, so \$10 per hour. If you don't know Chinese, learn it, it's a blast.Also, if you play the ipad app against the computer, I think there's still a flaw in it that will allow the computer to crush you. It's really only good to play against other humans for now.
4.
Originally Posted by whaler55

.......If you don't know Chinese, learn it, it's a blast. Also, if you play the I-pad app against the computer, I think there's still a flaw in it that will allow the computer to crush you. It's really only good to play against other humans for now.

Heard Deeb runs better than the computer.

Agree though, beating computer is like winning a 1000 runner MTT.
Edited By: xx tully xx Jan 26th, 2013 at 03:54 AM
6. I def see the computer get the run-goods quite a bit, but I also see them do completely stupid things like set their cards to foul when it's entirely unnecessary. There are a lot of flaws in the computer play, but I still think playing against it is good practice as you learn how to make calculations based on what you can see