Chinese Poker Rules

Chinese on the side

Popular due to its simplicity and portability, Chinese poker  is a commonly played game among poker professionals during their down time.

Since Chinese poker doesn’t use any chips or betting, it’s technically not “poker,” but its usage of the poker hands is what gives the game its name.

This game is played with two to four players, a standard 52 card deck and some way to keep score.

Chinese poker can be broken up into three sections:

1)    The deal

2)    Hand Selection

3)    Showdown and Scoring

The Deal

After shuffling, the dealer deals out the entire deck into four hands (13 cards per hand). If you're playing with four players, each player gets one hand. If you’re playing with three players, the fourth hand is discarded and left unused.

In a two-player game, each player receives one hand and reserves a second for the next hand (saving the dealer having to re-deal). A player is only allowed to look at his own hand, and in a two-player game he can only look at the hand he's are currently playing.

Hand Selection

Your hand consists of 13 cards. It's your job to break these 13 cards into three hands: top, middle and bottom.

The bottom hand must be a five-card poker hand and must be the best hand of all three hands you select. The middle hand must be a five-card poker hand and must be worse than the bottom hand but stronger than the top hand.

The top hand must be a three-card hand and must be the worst hand of all three.

Five-Card Hands: The five-card hands follow the standard poker hand ranking; you can find a description of the poker hand rankings here. (there will also be a link at the bottom of the article).

Three-Card Hands: In Chinese poker the three-card hand can only be high card, pair or triples. There are no flushes or straights allowed for the three-card hand.

Hand example

The easiest way to understand how to make your three poker hands is to actually do it. Below is an example of one way to sort a 13-card hand, but it's always easier to do and understand when holding actual cards.

The best thing you can do is deal yourself 13 cards from a deck and work on making hands for yourself.

                          

Although you can separate this hand in many ways, arguably the best way to sort this hand would be:

Bottom:          

Middle:          

Top:      

As you can see, the bottom hand is the best with an ace-high flush. The middle hand is second best with two pairs, jacks and nines. The top is the weakest with a pair of threes.

Showdown and Scoring

Once all players have their hand sorted, you immediately score the hands. In scoring you compare each specific hand (top, middle or bottom) to every other player’s hand of the same type. The better hand earns a point off of the player with the weaker hand. For example:

Bottom

Player 1: Full House

Player 2: Flush

Middle

Player 1: Two Pair

Player 2: Straight

Top

Player 1: Pair (Kings)

Player 2: Pair (Fours)

In this scenario, Player 1 wins the bottom (1 point), Player 2 wins the middle (1 point), and Player 1 wins the top (1 Point).

For this hand, Player 1 won two points, while Player 2 only won one point. Because Player 2’s point is a wash with one of Player 1’s, it only makes sense to keep track of the profit, thus you would say that Player 1 would net one point.

If you have multiple players, each player evaluates his hand against all other players:

Bottom

Player 1: Full House (10’s full)

Player 2: Flush (9 high)

Doyle Brunson
The used to spread Chinese at the WSOP. Doyle took second to Steve Zolotow in 1995.
 

Player 3: Straight (Ace high)

Player 4: Two Pair (Aces and 4’s)

 

Middle

Player 1: Two Pair (7’s and 8’s)

Player 2: Straight (King High)

Player 3: Two Pair (Queens and 5’s)

Player 4: Pair (Jacks)

 

Top

Player 1: High Card (King)

Player 2: Pair (2’s)

Player 3: High Card (Ten)

Player 4: Pair (9’s)

 

As you might have figured out, scoring for four players can be tricky. Thus it’s best for each player to keep track of his own scores versus every other player.

Player 1’s score:

Hand

Player 2

Player 3

Player 4

Total

1

-1

+1

+1

+1

 

Player 2’s score:

Hand

Player 1

Player 3

Player 4

Total

1

+1

+3*

+1

+5

 

Player 3’s score:

Hand

Player 1

Player 2

Player 4

Total

1

-1

-3*

+1

-3

 

Player 4’s score:

Hand

Player 1

Player 2

Player 3

Total

1

-1

-1

-1

-3

As you can see, scoring with four players is slightly involved (the fewer players you have the easier it is to score). The totals are really only for the player to keep track of how he's doing, as the payout when the players finish playing will have each player settle up against every other player individually.

Special Rules

There are also variations in hands and rules in the game:

Scooping: When a player scoops (wins all three hands against one player), typically this player will win a bonus. The standard bonus is double the points, meaning Player 2 would win 6 points off of Player 3 for his scoop in this hand.

Fouled Hand: If a player fouls his hand (either sorting the hand against the rules or having an illegal amount of cards in a specific hand) the opposing players automatically scoop.

Lowball in the Middle: Instead of having the middle five-card hand as a standard poker hand, you can play with the middle hand being a 2-7 Lowball hand.

  •  

      While some players award royalties to any player with a royalty worthy hand, it’s common for royalties to only be awarded to the player who wins the comparison for that hand. For example if player 1 had quad sixes, but player 2 had quad sevens, only player 2 would get the royalty.

      Some players make it even more complicated by attaching different point amounts to each specific royalty.

      In Chinese, the rules for point awarding are never set in stone. You and your opponents can play any system, rules of combination you like - just make sure everyone agrees on all the rules before you start the deal.

  • Royalties

    Most people who play Chinese will play with royalties (or bonuses). Although there are a large number of variations in the royalties you can play, the most commonly played royalties are as follows:

    Strong Hands: Typically quads or better in the bottom, a full house or better in the middle and trips in the top will earn you a Royalty.

    13-Card Hands: Making one 13-card hand (straight from 2-A). These hands will automatically scoop regardless of the hand versus hand comparison.

    Three of the Same: Another form of 13-card hand consisting of three flushes or three straights.

    No People: Also a 13-card hand. Being dealt 13 cards without a single face card.

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Johnny B 2013-08-23 11:50:58

Is it legal to set a hand in which the middle and bottom hands (the five-card hands) are exactly the same? For example, would a hand with two royal flushes (however unlikely) be considered legal, or would it be considered fouled? I my search of articles on CP, I haven't seen anything that addresses this situation specifically.

Grundy 2013-01-03 22:09:02

Peter is correct. The Jacks should go on top and the middle should be 9's and 3's.

Grundy 2013-01-03 17:07:47

I play Chinese Poker often and when I introduce the game to new players I try to remember to explain the only royalty hand we recognize, which is the 13-card straight. I have alluded to this rule on more than a few occasions mostly as humor because the odds are so astronomical.

“If you are dealt a 13-card straight, you automatically win”. (sweep; scoop; whatever)

The problem is that when people are just learning the game, they have enough concerns already that remembering this obscure rule about a remarkably rare hand is the least of their concerns and is easily forgotten….

Last night I was dealt a 13-card straight (Yes!) and I declared the hand before the others were set.

My declaration was met with disbelief from my opponents and a spectator all of whom I have played against many times. Two guys recalled me saying something but they thought I meant a 13-card straight-flush (can you imagine?).

They did not honor my “natural” hand even after I attempted to impress upon them two things:

1) I have told these guys about this before. We just never thought we’d ever see it so it didn’t sink in. I wouldn’t just make this up and they know it.

2) I attempted to impress upon them how rare the hand is. A month ago I was bragging about a huge hand. Trip 6’s on top; Quad 4’s in the middle and a Q-high straight-flush on the bottom.

The odds of being dealt a 13-card straight is a lot harder than the previous hand.

They weren’t buying it so I caved and set up my hand: AKQ + 6-high straight + J-high straight in back. I only won the middle from each of my opponents and lost two out of three hands to each of them instead of a full scoop. Quite a swing.

“What’s your point Grundy?”

Make sure you discuss all of the rules every time you sit down and play. Everybody plays with a wide variation of the rules so perhaps someone needs to type out your variations in advance.

Tony 2012-12-11 15:57:49

what if you have a 3 bomb do you have to put it down first?

tard police 2012-10-18 11:44:05

wtf, make more errors.

Peter 2012-03-28 17:52:22

Talking about the example, I'm new to this, but two pair in the middle is a weak hand, why not have it be 9's and 3's and then put the pair of jacks in the top where it improves your chance a little?

Phong, where is the calculator you are speaking of?

Frank 2010-12-09 22:32:50

phong le (if you have a chinese poker simulator or calculator to share it would be greatly appreciated). I had the orignal one and the book, but misplaced it. I think it was by (Don Smolen), and there were a few others I had.

phong le 2010-02-21 04:22:11

I have a chinese poker calculator to share.