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 poker hands is what gives the game its name.
The game is played with two to four players, a standard 52-card deck and a few ways to keep score. Read on for the full rundown of the Chinese Poker rules.
How to Play Chinese Poker
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.
Keeping Score in Chinese Poker
Everyone gets 13 cards and then has to organize their cards into three poker hands. Two of the poker hands have five cards and one has three cards.
The only rule is that the three-card hand has to be the worst hand, the middle five-card hand has to be better than the three-card hand, and the last five-card hand has to be better than both other hands.
When everyone’s done setting their hands turn over your hands and compare them to each hand of every other player. Each hand is worth one point against each other player and if you beat someone in all three hands it’s called a scoop and it’s worth a three-point bonus.
Hand Selection in Chinese Poker
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.
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.
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:
Player 1: Full House
Player 2: Flush
Player 1: Two Pair
Player 2: Straight
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:
Player 1: Full House (10’s full)
Player 2: Flush (9 high)
Player 3: Straight (Ace high)
Player 4: Two Pair (Aces and 4’s)
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)
Player 1: High Card (King)
Player 2: Pair (2’s)
Player 3: High Card (Ten)
Player 4: Pair (9’s)
Special Chinese Poker 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 poker 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