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How to Play Chinese Poker: Rules, Strategy & Variants

Chinese poker is a card game in the poker family that plays quite differently from traditional game variants that most poker players are familiar with (like Texas Hold’em). Each player gets 13 cards in a game of Chinese poker, and is tasked with making two five-card hands and a three-card hand.

A player scores points based on making the best hands according to standard poker hand rankings. Here’s a look at how to play Chinese poker.

What is Chinese Poker?

Chinese poker is a poker game that uses a standard 52-card poker deck, as well as the traditional poker hand rankings. You can play the game with 2-4 players.

A round of Chinese poker sees each player get dealt 13 cards. Standard Chinese poker sees these cards dealt face down.

From those 13 cards, you must make two distinct five-card hands, as well as a distinct three-card hand.

By rule, you must put the three hands in order of strongest to weakest according to poker hand rankings.

The strongest hand must go into the spot designated as the “back hand,” the second-strongest hand goes into the “middle hand” spot, and the weakest hand goes to the “front hand” spot. The two five-card hands always go to the back and middle spots, while the three-card hand always goes to the back spot.

At the end of each round, players show their hands, and earn points for each hand that beats other players’ hands in the same spot. Once all points are tallied, the next hand begins.

Players can also earn bonus points for making strong hands, known as “royalties.”

Chinese Poker Rules and Gameplay

Let’s go through an example hand of Chinese poker. Suppose you’re playing a two-player game, and are dealt the following cards:

How to Play Chinese Poker: Rules, Strategy & Variants

You must arrange these 13 cards into two separate five-card hands a three-card hand. The stronger five-card hand must go into the back hand position, the weaker five-card hand must go into the middle hand position, and the three-card hand goes into the front position.

The back hand must always be stronger than the middle hand, and the middle hand must be stronger than the front hand. Failure to abide by these rules results in a “mis-set” and automatically awards your opponents the maximum number of points possible against your hands.

With the 13 cards you’ve been dealt, the strongest possible hand you can put in the back is this:

How to Play Chinese Poker: Rules, Strategy & Variants

This hand gives you a full house, nines full of tens.

With these cards used, the strongest possible hand that you can now out in the middle is this:

How to Play Chinese Poker: Rules, Strategy & Variants

With twos full of fives available for the middle, you now have full houses in place for both the back and middle hands.

That leaves this queen-high hand as your front hand:

How to Play Chinese Poker: Rules, Strategy & Variants

While this way of arranging your 13 cards makes a lot of sense, it might not be the optimal solution based on Chinese poker scoring. Let’s see why:

Scoring System in Chinese Poker

A Chinese poker game can use a few different scoring types. One of the most common types awards one point for each position in which your hand is better than your opponent’s.

For example, in a two-player game, you earn one point if your back hand is better than the opponent’s back hand. If your middle hand beats the opponent’s middle hand, you get one point, and the same if your front hand beats your opponent’s front hand.

If you sweep all three hands against an opponent, you get a three-point bonus (known as scooping).

In a game with 3-4 players, you tally points individually against each opponent, then add those points together to get your final score for a round.

Suppose you’re in a two-player game and have arranged your 13 cards into three Chinese poker hands as shown above. You and your opponent turn over your cards face up:


Your Hand: 9♠9♣9TT♣

Opponent’s Hand: AQT93

You win the back hand and get +1 points.


Your Hand: 222♣55♠

Opponent’s Hand: 7♠654♣3♠

You win the middle hand and get +1 points.


Your Hand: Q♠J♠8

Opponent’s Hand: Q8♣8♠

You lose the front hand and get -1 points.

You win the back and middle hands, but lose the front hand to your opponent. This tally earns you a total of one point for the round.

Could you have arranged your cards in a different way and scored more points? The answer is yes, and let’s take a look at the optimal solution for your hand:


Your Hand: 5♠52♣22h

Opponent’s Hand: AQT93

You win the back hand and get +1 points.


Your Hand: Q♠J♠T9♠8

Opponent’s Hand: 7♠654♣3♠

You win the middle hand and get +1 points


Your Hand: T♣99♣

Opponent’s Hand: Q8♣8♠

You win the front hand and get +1 points

You scoop all three hands and get a +3 bonus

While your back and middle hands aren’t as strong in this configuration, both are still good enough to best your opponent. Your front hand wins in this scenario as well, as you have a better one-pair hand than your opponent.

You get a total of +6 points for winning all three hands (combined +3) and getting the scoop bonus (+3).

Chinese Poker Bonuses (Royalties)

In addition to scoring points for putting together better corresponding hands by position than your opponent, you can also score bonus points in Chinese poker. These bonuses, known as “royalties,” are generally awarded for assembling a particularly strong holding.

Royalty bonuses can vary from game to game. Some royalties award points for putting a strong hand in a certain position, while others give points for certain conditions of your 13-card hand overall.

Some Chinese poker royalties could include the following, based on the most commonly used bonus format in the game:

Single Hand Bonuses

  • Back Hand – You score three extra points for making a straight flush, and two points for a four of a kind in the back hand position.
  • Middle Hand – You score four extra points for making a straight flush, three points for a four of a kind, and two points for a full house in the middle hand position.
  • Front Hand – You score three extra points for making a three of a kind in the front hand position.

13-Card Hand Bonuses

Some royalties award for points when your 13-card hand meets certain conditions. These one-hand bonuses are known as “naturals.”

Naturals could include the following (most common bonus score assigned in parenthesis):

  • Dragon (36 points) – Drawing a 13-card straight from high-card ace through low-card 2.
  • 12 Royalties aka all broadway (32 points) – Drawing all cards jack or higher.
  • Three Straight Flushes (24 points) – Drawing two distinct five-card straight flushes, along with a three-card straight flush. (Royal flushes count as straight flushes).
  • Three Quads (20 points) – Drawing three distinct four-of-a-kind hands with one additional card.
  • All Low 2/Highs 1 (12 points) – Drawing a hand where all 13 cards are eight or lower, or eight or higher.
  • Full-Colored (10 points) – Drawing a hand where all 13 cards are red (hearts and diamonds), or all 13 are black (spades and clubs).
  • Four Triples (8 points) – Drawing four three-of-a-kind hands with one additional card.
  • Six-and-a-Half Pairs (6 points) – Drawing six pairs and one additional cards (four of a kind counts as two pairs).
  • Three Straights (4 points) – Drawing two five-card straights and a three-card straight.
  • Three Flushes – (3 points) – Drawing two five-card flushes and a three-card flush (an eight-card flush counts as two flushes).


In some formats, a player can choose to “surrender” their hand, without trying to assemble their 13 cards into separate hands. This play is equivalent to folding in a standard poker game, but comes at a cost.

A surrender allows your opponent to collect more points than they would if they one two of three hands, but less than the amount of scooping.

Some Chinese poker games don’t allow surrendering, however.

Chinese Poker Variations

Open Face Chinese Poker

Traditional Chinese poker sees all players receive all 13 cards at once, face down, and turn them face up when they’ve assembled their three hand.

A game variant called Open Face Chinese Poker (OFC) deals each player the first five of 13 cards to begin the game. Each player takes those five cards and starts assembling their three hands, with all cards face up.

Once a player sets a card into one of their three hands, it can’t be moved. When the first round is complete, each player takes turns drawing one card at a time, and placing that card into one of their hands.

The object of Open Face is the same as traditional Chinese poker, with the object of scoring a better back, middle, and front hand than your opponent.

Royalties usually pay higher in Open Face, as it’s much harder to make strong hands because you don’t know which cards are coming. Mis-sets are also much more common.

Fantasy Land Bonus In OFC

If a player makes a pair of queens or better with their front hand, that player enters Fantasy Land in the following round.

When you’re in Fantasy Land, you get all 13 cards at once, and don’t assemble them until all other players have set their hands. You can remain in Fantasy Land in the following round if you meet the following conditions:

  • Make trips in the front hand
  • Make a full house or better in the middle hand
  • Make quads or better in the back hand


Pineapple plays much like Open Face Chinese Poker, but differs in the way the cards are dealt. Each player begins with five cards, and begins assigning them to their hands much like OFC.

After the first round, each player takes turns drawing three cards, placing two into their hands and discarding one. The discards are only seen by the player that drew the card, which can be used as an advantage to deny your opponent of high-scoring cards that they’re looking for.

Final Thoughts

While you’re not going to see Chinese Poker played in major tournaments, in most poker rooms, or at the World Series of Poker, the game can be a fun diversion.

You can find plenty of places to play Chinese Poker online and hone your skills. While you can develop a game theory optimal strategy for traditional Chinese poker, that’s much harder to pull off in OFC and Pineapple.

Check out some the following article from Upswing Poker:

Poker Hand Rankings & The Best Texas Hold’em Poker Hands

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