It’s the poker variant which is all the rage in the poker world and if you are keen on exploring this game, here’s a primer on how to play Open Face Chinese Poker.
Open-Face Chinese poker (OFC) is a turn-based card game, which has become popular in the poker community, especially among high-stakes gamblers, since its invention sometime in 2011. OFC has evolved from ‘regular’ Chinese poker. That said, as long as you know basic poker hand rankings, knowing how to play OFC is not dependent on prior knowledge of Chinese poker. In regular Chinese Poker, each player is dealt 13 cards ‘in the hole’.
They then set the cards in three rows of poker hands. For the hand to be set properly, the back row must be a stronger hand than the middle, and the middle stronger than the front, as illustrated above. A full house in the back, two pair in the middle, and a pair in front is an example of a properly set hand. If these rules are broken, however, the hand is considered fouled or misset (mis-set). Two pair in the back, a flush in the middle and a pair in front is an example of a fouled/misset hand.
In Open Face Chinese Poker, each player is dealt only 5 cards ‘in the hole’. They set these 5 cards and then are dealt one card at a time until each player has received 13 total cards. The same row strength and fouling rules apply.
Players’ front, middle and back rows are compared, and each row won is worth 1 point. If a player has won 2 of 3 rows, they win a total of 1 point (1+1- 1). Additional points are awarded for a ‘scoop’ and also for sub-hands (rows) that qualify for royalties.
SCOOP – If a player wins all three rows, they have ‘scooped’ the opponent and receive a three-point bonus. In total, scooping is worth 6 points: 1+1+1 for winning all three rows, and 3 for the scoop bonus.
TIES – An example of a common tie: player A wins two of three rows, e.g. the front and middle with a pair of 66 in front, and player B wins the back row with a straight. player A wins 1 point for taking 2 of 3 rows plus the 1 point royalty for 66 in front, for a total of 2 points. Player B, however, is awarded 2 points for the back row straight, and the scores cancel each other. Another tie possibility happens rarely but will occur when, for example, player A wins one row, player B wins one row, and both players have the same hand in the third row (885 in front, i.e.).
FOULING – The penalty for fouling in OFC is -6 points; in other words, an automatic scoop for the opponent if they have a properly set hand. If a player has a QQ7 in front and QQ654 in the middle, this is a fouled hand. QQ7 in front and QQ982, however, is a proper set and is not a foul. If both players foul, the hand is a tie at 0 points.
ROYALTIES – Any sub-hand (row) that qualifies for royalties also gets points in a properly set hand. The royalty chart below shows the point values per poker hand made. Typical royalties can be +4 for a back row flush, or +7 for a front row pair of Queens. All royalties are paid, so if player A has a flush in the back row (+4 points) and player B has a full house (+6 points), player A pays a net of +2 points to player B.
MULTI-WAY SCORING – When playing 3 or 4-handed, the first player dealt cards (first to act or under the gun) settles with each successive player until all debts are paid. Then, second to act player settles with the others, and so on. If a player fouls their hand, they automatically owe 6 points to each of the other players plus any royalties owed. Again, all royalties in non-fouled hands are paid.
In many home games and some casino games, Fantasyland is an essential ‘bonus’ component to the game. You qualify to ‘go to Fantasyland’ if you have QQ or better in the front (without fouling). When a player goes to Fantasyland, they are dealt all thirteen cards at once, and they set their cards face down. The other players are then dealt and play a normal hand. The button does not move for the Fantasyland hand — it is considered an extension of the same hand.
STAYING IN FANTASYLAND – Quads or better in the back row, Full House or better in the middle, or Trips in the front allows a player to remain in Fantasyland in the Standard variation. Requirements are different for Pineapple; see below:
Pineapple is a variant of Open Face Chinese that can be played 2 or 3 handed. Each player is dealt 5 cards face down, like in regular Open Face, but after that they get 3 cards at a time. From the three cards they place 2 and discard 1 face down. This process is repeated three more times, each time the players receiving 3 cards, placing 2, and discarding 1. There is one card left in the deck in the 3-handed game; 51 cards are used (13 per player + 12 discards). Heads up, 34 cards are used (13 per player and 8 discards).
Since there are more cards to choose from, Pineapple is a higher-scoring variant of the game. Bigger hands are caught and Fantasyland entered more often.
PINEAPPLE FANTASYLAND – There are many different rules in the many apps, home games, and online and land-based casinos. Some give QQ Fantasyland with 14 cards, some KK with 15, some AA with 14. We recommend a variable-value Fantasyland requirement: getting to FL with QQ is 13-card FL, getting there with KK is 14-card FL and AA+ is 15-card FL.
Multiple players can get to Fantasyland at the same time. Button does not move during the FL hand(s) as it is considered an extension of the same hand. Requirements to stay in FL are generally quads+ in back or trips in front; some games allow a middle-row boat to re-qualify – our suggestion is quads+ in middle if playing 15-card FL.
Gamble a bit more for Fantasyland; Avoid senseless gambles
I started playing regular OFC (where one card is dealt at a time) 3-4 years ago and Pineapple I started about one year ago. While regular Chinese and OFC were very popular for a few years in recent times, Pineapple is all the rage. Every variant in poker has enjoyed extra popularity in waves from Texas to Omaha to Chinese to OFC to Pineapple OFC now. It’s primarily about people wanting to add more gamble to their game.
Lot of people don’t gamble enough in this game. The math is pretty complicated in order to make your hands. You need to employ your math and logic skills to reach a reasonably strong point say 70-80% where you believe you will take the necessary decision. But many players either calculate poorly or they don’t take enough of the odd gamble choosing to risk less. This according to me is a mistake in OFC.
That said, there is absolutely no need for senseless gambles. Sometimes people will get swayed by the beauty of the board and do something like put trips in the middle to strengthen their hand but to what end?! Another example is trying to make a royal flush because it looks so good but realistically that’s not happening too many times but one must be aware to not get caught up in such things.
TIP - Watch your opponent closely at his non-verbal cues as much as his cards and power up your calculation skills.
Play OFC for fun
I started playing OFC 3 to 4 years ago and now OFC is evolved nobody plays regular anymore. From my travels to the US and other poker destinations, I have seen its mostly Indians who play Pineapple, they never play regular OFC. In America for instance way more people play the regular OFC variant. In my mind, it’s a pure gamble because I personally believe that the edge is not that much in OFC. These days I play OFC just to pass time. I used to play OFC a lot but when I realised it’s purely gamble. I stopped playing it regularly. For most players the challenge will be whether to go for Fantasyland or not. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword because on the one hand you don’t want to be stupid about it by recklessly gambling and at the same time, you can’t not take your opportunities because you can score big if you hit. So it’s about walking that fine line between the two.
TIP - Firstly if you must, play this game as a pass time rather than seriously. Your edge will only last for so long and even then it will be a tiny one. As for getting better, chess champ and poker pro Jennifer Shahade is a pretty skilled player in this form and keeps putting out OFC strategy videos from time to time which make for good viewing.
(This piece was originally published in Gutshot Magazine Jun-Jul 2016 edition, and you can take a look at such pieces in our repository of all past editions by clicking here)
Gutshot Magazine is India’s leading real money gaming magazine that covers news, updates, previews, highlights, features and much more across verticals like poker, rummy, and fantasy sports. Our rich history that has spanned over a decade now, Gutshot Magazine has always tied up with events and tournaments that have helped push the awareness of skill gaming in the country. If you are looking for the latest updates across real money gaming, then you have arrived at the perfect destination.
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