The Game of the Moment: Open-Face Chinese Poker

October 10, 2012


They may be in Sanremo, Italy, for the PokerStars European Poker Tour, but quite a few players are occupying their time away from the felt with another card game. Earlier this week, Daniel Negreanu, Jason Mercier, Scott Seiver were among the players who partook in a 34-hour session of open-face Chinese poker. We decided to catch up with Mercier and Shaun Deeb to find out what all the fuss was about.


Why has open-face Chinese poker become the new fad?

Deeb: All these new games — all these poker players have played PLO and hold’em enough, so they know who’s better, they know who’s worse. But these open-face games there’s no definitive edge, no one is sure. No one has Poker Tracker or something to prove that they are better than someone else, or that they’re up X amount on them per hand, and it’s such a decision-making game that, like most things in poker, people think they’re a lot better than they are.

And it’s a ton of action, super gambling — there’s just things where you have a two-outer to win 30 points, but if you don’t hit the two-outer you get scooped for 20 points. There are massive swings, it’s fun, it’s addicting and we all like to gamble. We find a way to gamble no matter what we do, so Chinese is the way, and all the other forms of Chinese are solved.

Would you say there is more skill involved than regular Chinese poker?

Deeb: Well, if you think about it, in regular Chinese you get your 13 cards and you should never foul your hand. It’s a complete information game. This one is incomplete; you get five cards then eight one by one, so you’re making eight decisions every hand because your last card (just goes in the last spot.) So, not only do you have eight decisions, but on your first decision you have five cards. You can put them all in the back, some in the back, some in the middle, all in the middle, some in the back, middle or front — there’s so many combinations of hand setting.

There are also dead cards to include. It’s basically similar to a stud game when you’re playing four way in position because there’s 15 cards out there, plus your five, so you know almost half the deck. You can calculate how live your flush is, if your trips or full house is live, if this hand is dead, or how strong are (your opponent’s) hands. It’s an insane game and everyone’s hooked on it. It’s the game of the future. Like now, there are five games going in the hotel lobby every night. I think you’re going to start seeing 10 games in the lobby, then the casinos are going to start spreading them. There’s going to be seven tables of open-face Chinese, all these different stakes, main games, heads-up games — it’s just awesome action.

What’s the highest you’ve ever played per point?

Deeb: I just started playing €1,000 a point. Heads up, though, so it’s a lot smaller than four-way. And, I didn’t have all my action. We built a corporation to play the Russians. It’s basically America versus Russia, and we both have our rails of friends on each side, and we’re all cheering for each other.


Daniel Negreanu and Scott Seiver in a recent game

It’s all fun, we’re all having a good time win or lose. When they make a sick card, or suckout on you, or you take a sick card to foul your hand, we’re all celebrating and laughing. Last night, I was doing jumping jacks with Scott Seiver to get energetic. I won a hand and my opponent was pissed, so he started doing sit-ups with Scott Seiver to balance it. It’s just been a giant show, and it’s been fun.

Why has open-face Chinese poker become the new fad and why is it better than regular Chinese?

Mercier: Open-face is just so much more interesting than regular Chinese. Also because of the sweating (of the cards) that you get. You can make so many different decisions with your hand to take it a different route and go for certain things or royalties, or what not. In regular Chinese, you pretty much just play the hand that you’re dealt, and a good player is going to play a hand the same as any other good player. Where as in open-face Chinese, there’s so many different ways that you can go with playing a hand.

Would you say there is more skill involved than regular Chinese poker?

Mercier: Yeah, I mean, it’s not even close. There’s just infinitely more skill than regular Chinese.

What are some of the unique variations of the game people have been playing or twists that have been added?

Mercier: In the session that I played yesterday, we were playing with all kinds of different bonuses where, like, if you get queens up top you go to fantasy land, we call it, and the next hand you get to play like a normal Chinese hand where you get all 13 of your cards face down. That’s one of the twists

What’s the highest you’ve ever played per point?

Mercier: I think the highest I’ve ever played is €300 a point, so that’s like $400, basically.

What’s the craziest hand you’ve seen?

Mercier: Hmm, craziest hand I’ve ever seen? Actually, I saw one guy make — in back-to-back hands — he made flush, flush, kings, and then he made full house, full house, kings — on back-to-back hands. And those are two of the best hands possible.


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