Chinese Poker is a set-making comparing game, with elements of both Mahjong and the Poker card game. The game’s rules are fairly simple, with the bulk of its strategy involved in “setting” the three different hands of one round of Chinese Poker.
Chinese Poker, as with its cousin game Pai Gow Poker, is considered a casual game that is beginner friendly, with the game largely based on luck and basic statistical skills.
How to Play Chinese Poker?
Chinese Poker is played using the standard 52-card Anglo-American deck. Only one deck is used. Only four players at most can play in a game at a time, though playing with 2 or 3 persons is also possible.
Although up to 8 players could be added with an additional deck, the game would actually change as some melds would become much more likely in a double deck and would therefore alter the game.
Determining Units of the Game
At the start of the game, players must determine the “unit” of the game. As payouts for Chinese Poker can depend on the quality of a player’s hand, it is important to establish a minimum “unit” of money, with each payout determined by the unit.
For example, if all players agree that a single unit is $5, and a player wins with a hand worth 3 units of payout, then that player will receive $15.
Once the units have been determined, the Dealer will deal out 13 cards to each player. If there are not at least 4 players, the Dealer will still deal 13 cards to each player, but leave the remaining cards to the side.
Players then “set” their hands. There are three different hands in Chinese Poker:
- Front: made of three cards.
- Middle: composed of five cards.
- Back/Bottom: composed of five cards.
The Back Hand must have the highest meld value, according to the card hierarchy explained below. The Front Hand must have the lowest meld value, with the Middle Hand between the meld values of the other two hands.
If the Front hand is higher than the Middle or Back, or if the Middle is higher than the Back, then the hand has “fouled.” Fouled hands are surrendered, meaning a fouled player is unable to win any units from the round in which they fouled.
Once each player has set their hand appropriately, they will declare if they are going to Play or Surrender.
Players that decide to play will then compare their cards against each other’s cards. A player receives 1 unit for each of their hands that are better than another player’s respective hands.
For example, player 1 has a front hand that beats Player 2, 3, and 4’s front hand. Fronts are compared to Fronts, Middles to Middles, and Backs to Backs.
Any player that manages to win all three hands against a single player will be paid out an additional 3 units, for a total of 6 per player. A player that wins against all other opponents in a 4-player game would receive 18 units.
Players may also surrender their hand, if they so wish. Surrendering players must pay 2 units to each player and cannot win any units for the rest of the round. This is better than losing all three hands, which will cost 6 units per player.
In order to understand which hands are worth more or less, please use the reference “Card Hierarchy” below.
Chinese Poker Rules
The official rules of traditional Chinese Poker are listed below:
- Players that foul their hand must pay 3 units and cannot be paid any units by any player.
- Players that are dealt Naturals are paid immediately before any players have surrendered, and before any comparing has occurred. Players should declare their Natural, and display it to the table for inspection.
- Players that falsely declare a Natural should be considered fouled.
- The Front must be worth less than the Middle and both must be worth less than the Back.
- The Dealer may or may not be a player.
Hand Rankings & Scoring
Chinese Poker uses regular poker hands for scoring, as well as Naturals.
The normal poker hands are listed below, in order:
|Royal Flush||10♦, J♦, Q♦, K♦, A♦|
|Straight Flush||4♥, 5♥, 6♥, 7♥, 8♥|
|Four-of-a-kind||4♦, 4♣, 4♠, 4♥, 5♣|
|Full House||3♥, 3♦, 5♣, 5♠, 5♦|
|Flush||3♥, 5♥, 8♥, 10♥, K♥|
|Straight||2♥, 3♣, 4♠, 5♠, 6♥|
|Three-Kind||2♥, 5♠, 5♥, 5♦, 8♦|
|Two Pair||2♥, 5♥, 5♠, 8♠, 8♥|
|Pair||3♥, 3♠, 5♦, 8♠, 10♣|
There are also the Naturals, paid out the moment they are received by a player. Players should declare their Naturals, before any players have had the chance to surrender. Once a player is paid out for their natural, they will continue into the game to further compare their hands against other players’.
Naturals are combos that pay out regardless of other players’ hands, even if other players have a higher ranking natural or a higher set of hands.
The Naturals, in order of highest to lowest, are listed below:
A thirteen-card Straight Flush. Pays 108 units from each player.
E.g. 2♥ 3♥ 4♥ 5♥ 6♥ 7♥ 8♥ 9♥ 10♥ J♥ Q♥ K♥ A♥
A thirteen-card Straight. Pays 36 units from each player.
E.g. 2♥ 3♣ 4♥ 5♠ 6♥ 7♣ 8♠ 9♥ 10♣ J♣ Q♠ K♥ A♦
A combination of Face Cards and Aces only. The name refers to the fact that this natural can at most have 12 face cards, the total number in a deck. Pays 32 units from each player.
E.g. J♦ J♥ J♣ J♠ Q♦ Q♥ Q♣ Q♠ K♦ K♥ K♣ K♠ A♣
Three Straight Flushes
Each hand can form a separate Straight Flush. Pays 24 units from each player.
E.g. 3♦ 4♦ 5♦/ 6♣ 7♣ 8♣ 9♣ 10♣/ 7♠ 8♠ 9♠ 10♠ J♠ Q♠
Three 4-kinds, with a single wildcard. Pays 20 units from each player.
E.g. 4♦ 4♣ 4♠ 4♥ 5♣ 5♦ 5♠ 5♥ 6♦ 6♣ 6♠ 6♥ 10♣
All Low/All High
All cards in the hand are either 8 and above, or 8 and below. Pays 12 units from each player.
E.g. 8♦ 8♠ 9♠ 10♣ J♣ etc.
E.g. 8♦ 6♣ 3♣ 2♣ 7♥ etc.
All cards are of the same “color”, red and black. Either all ♣♠ or all ♦♥. Pays 10 units from each player.
E.g. 3♥ 6♦ 7♦ 8♥ 10♦ etc.
E.g. 5♣ 6♠ 3♠ 4♣ 6♣ etc.
Four three-kinds, and a single wildcard. Pays 8 units from each player.
E.g. 3♥ 3♦ 3♣ 4♦ 4♣ 4♥ 5♠ 5♦ 5♥ 6♣ 6♦ 6♥ 6♠ 10♣
Six and a Half Pairs
Six Pairs with one additional wildcard. Pays 6 units from each player.
E.g. 2♥ 2♦ 3♥ 3♠ 4♦ 4♣ 5♥ 5♠ 6♥ 6♣ 7♥ 7♠ 8♣
Each individual hand can form a straight. Keep in mind, straights for the Front hand do not count for normal play, and as such players should not set their hands such that there is a straight in their front hand, if possible. Pays 4 units from each player.
E.g. 2♥ 3♦ 4♣/ 2♦ 3♣ 4♠ 5♠ 6♥/ 9♣ 10♦ J♣ Q♠ K♥
Each individual hand can form a flush. Be aware, Flushes in the Front hand are not counted, as it is only a three-card hand. Pays 3 units from each player.
E.g. 4♦ 5♦ 9♦ / 10♣ J♣ 4♣ 6♣ 3♣ / 3♦ 4♦ 5♦ 6♦ 7♦
No face cards are present in the hand. Aces are considered “low” for the purpose of this natural. Pays 3 units from each player.
E.g. 7♦ 5♦ 6♥ 9♠ 8♣ 10♣ 7♣ 2♣ 6♦ 8♣ 9♠ 2♥ 5♥
Imagine that you are dealt the following hand:
3♣ K♣ 9♥ 9♠ 9♦ A♣ J♣ Q♥ A♠ 10♦ 5♥ 7♥ 2♥
There are no Naturals in this hand. As such, the player must form the best possible three hands they can if they are to win any payout.
Although a player could form a full house in the Back hand (and it must be in the Back hand, as the Bottom hand must have a higher value than the Middle), it is better for the player to form a three-kind, and a straight, in the method below:
|Front||2♥ 5♣ 7♣||None|
|Middle||9♥ 9♠ 9♦ A♣ 3♣||Three of a kind|
|Back||10♦ J♣ Q♥ K♣ A♠||Straight|
In this way, the player has one weak hand, one strong hand, and one very strong hand, rather than two weak hands and one very strong hand.
This is better for the player, as it is more likely to payout 2 units, rather than just one. This increases the player’s chance of winning a net-positive payout.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many cards do you get in Chinese Poker?
Players in Chinese Poker are always dealt 13 cards per hand. In a game with 2 or 3 players, 13 cards should still be dealt out to each player. The last two hands, as it is sometimes done in Pai Gow, should still be dealt out as “absentee” hands, or left in the deck as a pile of discards.
Can two people play Chinese Poker?
Yes. Two people can indeed play Chinese Poker, with each of them being dealt the same 13 cards as normal. The remaining 26 cards can then be dealt in two, 13-card “ghost hands”, or left in a single pile as a collection of discards, depending on the Dealer’s preference.
What is the best hand in Chinese Poker?
The best possible hand is the Clean Dragon. The Clean Dragon is a natural hand, meaning it is dealt without the hand being set in any way. The Clean Dragon is 13 cards with no duplicates in Rank and all of the same Suit. It is essentially a 13-card Straight Flush.
Is Chinese Poker hard to learn?
Chinese Poker is a card-game combination of Mahjong, utilizing the melds of poker instead of the traditional Mahjong melds. Its difficulty is ultimately going to be subjective. Some games come easily to some people, especially if they are similar to games they have played in the past.
Chinese Poker’s rules are relatively simple, although there is a large number of rules themselves. Remembering all of the different melds may be difficult, but with the cheat sheet provided above a player will always be able to check the meld hierarchy in a casual game. After a few dozen casual games, the hierarchy will surely be memorized.
What is a bomb in Chinese Poker?
As Chinese Poker utilizes a single Anglo-American 52-card deck, it is actually not possible to form bombs. This version is confused with another Chinese game, called Guandan.
Guandan uses multiple decks, and as such is much more likely to produce Bombs. Bombs are essentially five-of-a-kinds and above. Although in Guandan, a four-of-a-kind is considered a “bomb”, in Chinese Poker it is simply called a “four-of-a-kind.”