Taking a Look at Chinese Poker

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Poker has taken many different forms over the years, with Texas Hold’em currently holding its place as the crowned king. But what of the lesser known forms of poker, those which still have plenty of players but are yet to take off in the same astronomical manner as the most popular? In this article, we want to take a look at Chinese poker and hopefully introduce new players to some of the fun and opportunities that this game represents.

Understanding the Basics

Chinese poker is one of those games we wish we had known about when we first started our poker careers. Not only does it involve some of the key aspects of many other forms of poker, it does so in an environment that is incredibly welcoming to the uninitiated.

The game itself is easily played with two to four players and a single deck of cards. Going in, the only real knowledge required is that of traditional poker hands, which many of us internalised long before we played our first real money game. To begin, each player is dealt 13 cards, which are then to be separated into three sets.


Quick understanding of card combinations is the key to success

These sets are the top, middle, and bottom. The top set of cards requires only three cards, while the middle and bottom require five each. The rules here state that the bottom set must be of the highest worth, the middle must be the next highest worth, and the top set must have the lowest overall worth. While there are other rules as can be found in this Chinese poker guide, these are the most fundamental components against which the other hands are measured.

It should also be noted that, unlike in traditional poker, there is no betting or bluffing, which can often be inhibiting factors for newer players, especially those unfortunate enough to face off in their early games against sharks.

A Little Backstory

As is the case with many forms of poker, the origins of Chinese poker are not fully understood and are thought to have been lost in the annals of time. There are hints and rumours, however, which point to a game of distinctly Chinese foundation. The first of these ideas is that the game is one which is based on the Chinese game of pai gow, a more established gambling pursuit dating back nearly a thousand years.

Other ideas state that the game is more of a combination of these early versions and Western poker games. This is based on the thought that Chinese poker was created by Chinese labourers who, upon reaching the United States, saw fit to create a game which borrowed elements from both sides of the world.

The game did eventually see an entry into the World Series of Poker in 1995 but it failed to take root at first entry and was eventually dropped. Despite this, its initial success and visibility inspired a fan base and popularity which persist to this day.

The Who’s Who

With less of a directly competitive environment and one which is less visible than its more established counterparts, it is only natural that Chinese poker doesn’t quite measure up to the likes of Texas Hold’em when it comes to star power. That said, there is still a wide range of professionals who are fans of this particular incarnation.


6947367158_1dc97db756_oPhil Ivey” (CC BY 2.0) by Supl0v Poker

Phil Ivey – Hold’em pro and Chinese poker enthusiast

Chinese poker has been shown to be popular whenever it turns up, even with some of the biggest players in the world, it just doesn’t tend to appear in the most televised or reported upon tournaments. In fact, some of the most popular and successful poker players in the world, such as Phil Helmuth and Phil Ivey, are reported to be big fans of the game. Often this is the case of touring players, who travel to and around the eastern world and have exposed themselves to the overseas reputation of the game.

Is Chinese poker Right for You?

While Chinese poker is certainly a strong choice for newer players, it is certainly not entirely relegated to those fresh to the sport. Just like any other card game, whether or not Chinese poker is right for you depends on what you enjoy out of card games, and how much you appreciate a directly competitive element.

As a game which does not include betting, bluffing, or hand reading, this is a game which offers a very different experience than many of its more visible contemporaries. Chinese poker, much like blackjack, is a game of playing the cards rather than the other players. That said, Chinese poker does involve direct competition so, in this, it finds itself in a sort of middle ground between blackjack and traditional poker-type games.

This also means that aspects of traditional poker do carry over to the Chinese variant. The basis here is the quick understanding and recognition of the best possible combination of card sets, abandoning the weak for the strong and maximising your chances with what you have. It is because of this that the game stands so well among newer players. As each game effectively asks players to create two full hands and a partial one, it is a great way to get the feel of building the best hand and consolidating knowledge into real action. 

Picking up Steam

As it stands today, Chinese poker is still an incredibly popular game in both the East and the West. While traditional Westerns casinos might not offer this game as regularly as their eastern cousins, the world of online gaming has, in many ways, picked up the slack, with Chinese poker becoming a regular feature in the domain of the online casino.

While it does fit as one of the best ways to introduce new players into the rules of poker hands, the actual game runs much deeper than that, encouraging a building of confidence and key skills to a level of high competence. Whether or not you feel interested enough to insert this game into your regular rotation, this is absolutely a game which every poker fan should experience. Who knows, it might even become your game of choice.