Chinese Poker

A Chinese dragonChinese Poker, also known as Pusoy, is a form of poker where players receive thirteen cards, which they must split into three poker hands. This mechanic is similar to that found in Pai Gow Poker, although in Chinese Poker, the players are playing against each other, rather than the house. Unlike most forms of poker, Chinese Poker and its variants are limited to four players because of the comparatively large number of cards each player gets. It’s also unusual because wagers are settled player-to-player, rather than with a traditional poker betting structure.

Despite its somewhat unconventional play, Chinese Poker has been embraced by the serious poker community. Chinese Poker was played at the World Series of Poker in 1995 and 1996. It is spread at a number of casinos in the United States. Open-Face Chinese Poker, a variant where five of the player’s thirteen cards are exposed to their opponents, was introduced in the United States in 2012, and has become increasingly popular as a side game in poker tournaments in the last several years.

Object of Chinese Poker

The object of Chinese Poker is to split the thirteen-card hand given to a player into three hands in such a way that, ideally, each of the hands is stronger than their opponents’ hands.

Setup

Like most forms of poker, Chinese Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck of playing cards. Denexa 100% Plastic Playing Cards are perfect for any game. You will also need something to bet with, such as poker chips.

Players should agree as to the value of one unit. All transactions will be conducted in multiples of this unit. Unlike other poker games, hands are compared from player to player, not against all other players at once, so two players may mutually decide that one unit will be a different value for transactions between those two players in particular.

Shuffle and deal thirteen cards to each player. Any unused cards are set aside and have no further bearing on game play.

Game play

Each player looks at their cards and separates them into three hands: a three-card hand, called the front hand, a five-card hand stronger than the front hand, called the middle hand, and a five-card hand stronger than the middle and front hands, called the back hand. This act is called setting the hands. Straights and flushes are not counted as such in the three-card front hand. If the hands are not set with the strongest hand as the back hand and the weakest as the front hand (according to the standard rank of poker hands), this is considered a foul and none of the player’s three hands are eligible to win. Once a player has decided how to set their hands, they place them face-down on the table, with the back hand closest to them and the front hand closest to the center of the table.

A few particular thirteen-card combinations are considered to be naturals. A player must declare and reveal the natural prior to the other hands being exposed if they wish to score it as a natural, although the player has the option to set the hands and score them as usual if they feel they will score better that way. Any natural will always beat a regular hand, but if two natural hands are compared against each other, the higher-ranked one wins. A winning natural hand is paid three units, except for the dragon, which is paid thirteen units. Payments are made by each opponent immediately upon declaration. The naturals, from highest to lowest, are:

1. Dragon
A thirteen-card straight, from 2 up to ace. Suits are irrelevant. If there are two dragons, they tie. (This hand is not set into front, middle, and back hands.)
2. Three flushes
A flush in the middle and back hands and a three-card flush in the front hand (the only time a flush in the front hand is usable as a hand). If there are two players that hold this, the tie is broken by comparing the strength of the back hand, then that of the middle hand, then that of the front hand.
3. Three straights
A straight in the middle and back hands and a three-card straight in the front hand (the only time a straight in the front hand is usable as a hand). If there are two players that hold this, the tie is broken by comparing the strength of the back hand, then that of the middle hand, then that of the front hand.
4. Six pair
Six pairs and one unpaired card. If two players hold this, compare the highest pair, then the next-highest, and so on until the tie is broken. (This hand is not set into front, middle, and back hands.)

Prior to the hands being revealed, but after any naturals have been paid, a player who does not feel confident about their hand may choose to surrender (fold). A surrendering player makes a flat two-unit payment to each opponent, regardless of what the opponent holds.

All remaining players (other than those who held naturals and who surrendered) then reveal their hands. Each player compares their three hands against each of their opponents’ hands, one at a time. By default, a player pays their opponent one unit for each hand that they lost. If a player loses all three hands, they are said to be scooped and must pay three extra units (for a total of six units).

If a player holds a three of a kind in the front hand, a full house or better in the middle hand, and/or four of a kind or better in the back hand, they are paid out at higher rates if the hand wins:

  • Front hand, three of a kind: 3 units.
  • Middle hand, full house: 2 units.
  • Middle or back hands:
    • Four of a kind: 4 units.
    • Straight flush or royal flush: 5 units.
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