WSOP: Chinese Poker (1995 to 1996)

[SS] “What do you consider the essential elements that a game needs to be considered poker?” Stan the Stat asked.

[FF] “Playing cards”, Figaro the Fish offered.

[SS] “I’d argue that technically you don’t need playing cards. Many poker games could be adjusted for tiles like those used in dominoes or mah jong.”

[RR] “Betting”, Roderick the Rock proposed.

[FF] “Definitely. You need a way to keep score in each hand and long term.”

[SS] “Agreed.”

[LL] “Bluffing,” Leroy the Lion claimed, “is the single key component that makes poker poker.”

[SS] “While I also agree with you, the World Series of Poker actually once had a game that had no bluffing: Chinese Poker, an extension of Pai Gow Poker which itself came from the Chinese domino game Pai Gow. Pai Gow, whose history can be traced back to the 10th century in China, is almost completely a game of luck, as all players need to do is split four tiles into two groups of two. Pai Gow Poker expanded on this, replacing the dominoes with playing cards and having players create a group of two and a better group of five. Chinese Poker added a little more skill by expanding the game to thirteen cards (groups of 3, 5, and 5).”

Game Name Chinese Poker
Game Type Irregular
Game Limits Point Scoring System
High or Low High
WSOP Years 1995 to 1996
Buyins $1,500 to $5,000
Largest Field 69 (1995 $1,500 event)
Notable Champions Steve Zolotow (won the 1995 $5,000 event ahead of Doyle Brunson)
Basic Rules Each player is dealt thirteen cards to arrange into a row of three cards, a better row of five cards, and an even better row of five cards. The respective rows are compared, with bonus points for winning every row.
History Chinese Poker evolved from Pai Gow Poker in the early 20th century, possibly earlier.
Notes Some rules allow surrendering. Like in Blackjack, this allows you to concede defeat for less than losing every matchup would cost.

[SS] “A modern variation called Open Face Chinese Poker (OFCP) developed in the 2000s, spreading to the U.S. by 2012. In this much more strategic game, players reveal and place their cards in turn, starting with five cards on the first turn then one on each subsequent turn.

An even more recent twist on this, Pineapple OFCP, starts with five cards, but then players reveal three cards at a time choosing two to keep and one to discard. This game requires more cards, so is limited to two or three players.

In December 2013, WSOP Executive Director Ty Stewart asked for input on whether OFCP should be a bracelet event and the conclusion was a clear no. Daniel Negreanu led the charge against the game, and Jack Effel agreed that ‘if there’s no betting or bluffing it’s not a poker game’.”1

[LL] “Maybe somebody will invent a variation of Chinese Poker that includes betting and bluffing so it can return in a few years…”


  1. The merits of Open Face Chinese Poker as bracelet event discussion took place on Twitter on December 23, 2013.

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