All About Open Face Chinese Poker
It's unusual to see an upstart poker variant catch fire among the game's enthusiasts as much as open-face Chinese poker (OFC) has in the past year. OFC has become the recreational activity of choice for young pros looking for a new challenge in poker. If you follow any poker pros on Twitter, it's not uncommon to see mentions of nosebleed OFC games being organized. Even for low-stakes recreational player, OFC poker presents a fun new alternative to the humdrum of Texas hold'em and other established variants.
Rules of OFC
OFC is ideally played with four players but can be played with three or just two. Each player is dealt 13 cards in total; in a four person game, exactly the whole deck is used.
Each player must make three poker hands: a top, middle, and bottom. The top hand contains just 3 cards, the middle and bottom hands contain five cards each. By default, the bottom hand must beat the middle hand which must beat the top hand according to traditional poker hand rankings. In other words, if your top hand is A99, your middle hand must be at least a pair of tens or better and your bottom hand must be even better than the middle hand. In the event that this hierarchy is not followed, your hand is considered "mis-set" and an automatic loser to the other players in the game.
There are many different forms of OFC poker, but the variant OFC enthusiast and poker pro Ben LeFew recommends begins with dealing five cards down to each player. Players must set or assign each of these cards to either their top, middle, or bottom hand. Once a card is assigned to a hand, it is locked in and cannot be moved.
Once each player has set their five cards face down, all cards are turned face-up on the table. Players are then each dealt one card at a time which they must set in either their top, middle, or bottom hand. "Board awareness is paramount," notes LeFew who says that since all cards are up you need to take into account if any of your outs are already dead.
Once the deal is complete and all players have set their hands, it's time to determine the winners and losers. In LeFew's favorite version of the game, all players are scored independently among each other. You'll want to use a pen and paper for keeping track of the points. If two of your three hands beat an opponent, you win two points from that player. If all three of your hands beat an opponent, or if your opponent has mis-set their hand, you "scoop" them and receive six points from that player.
Point totals are tracked throughout the course of the game and players settle up when the night is over. OFC can be played for harmless, recreational stakes as low as $0.10 per point. But if you want to join some of the most competitive OFC games on the planet, you better bring your checkbook as some poker pros play for $500 a point or more.
But wait, there's more. OFC point scoring can also be played using "royalties" which are bonus points that are awarded to players based on achieving certain high hands. In LeFew's favorite OFC game, the following royalties are awarded: two points for a straight, four for a flush, six for a full house, ten for quads, 15 for a straight flush, and 25 for a royal flush. These are points that every player in the game owes you. For example, if your hand scoops all three of your opponents and you also have a royal flush, you would receive a whopping 93 total points on that hand (six from each opponent for scooping them and 25 from each opponent for your royal flush royalty).
Moreover, in LeFew's game, royalty point scoring doubles for the middle hand. Since the strongest hand must be the bottom hand, it's unusual for anyone to make a straight or better in their middle hand. Therefore, royalties are doubled for middle hands (four for a straight, eight for a flush, etc). LeFew says that with royalties he has seen 80+ point swings in one hand. It may be worth bearing this potential for extreme variance in mind when determining how much each point will be worth in your game.
In one final twist, the players in LeFew's personal favorite style of OFC poker use what is called the "Narnia rule". The Narnia rule states that if you make a pair of sevens in your top hand, you are dealt the subsequent hand face down and get to set the hand entirely after all other players have set their hands. This creates a huge advantage since you know what your opponents have and can set your hand optimally in accordance to their respective hands. "I've seen guys drawing dead to Narnia still desperately going for it," says LeFew.
If you're looking for a new poker variant that is both wildly entertaining in a recreational format and yet also quite the mental challenge, give OFC a try. It's unlikely you'll ever see this game played for the prestige of a World Series of Poker bracelet (although bracelets did used to be awarded for the traditional face-down version of Chinese poker). However, if you're a fan of recreational home poker games, it seems all but inevitable that your game will soon incorporate OFC into the action based on the surging popularity of the variant occurring in the poker world right now.