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A Week in Los Angeles

This article originally appeared in Card Player in 1995.

Three major casinos in Los Angeles are now spreading Chinese Poker, each in its own distinctive style. I visited them on a recent trip with my wife Florrie, and I'd like to share some of that experience with you.

The first stop was Hollywood Park Casino, which was the first room in the country to offer Chinese Poker. The game is spread in the Pegasus Room, a comfortable alcove just off the main Poker area which also hosted a high-limit Poker game featuring such luminaries as Gabe Kaplan, Jerry Buss and Frank Mariani while we were there. It was fun to discretely observe that game during breaks in the Chinese action. Two or three tables were active on a typical evening with konditions (as they say in California, borrowing a term from Pan) ranging from $10 to $100 per point. The Casino allows the players to structure the game as they wish, but almost all the games were played with natural hands (six pairs, three straights, or three flushes win 4 points), surrender, and no royalties. An exception arose when I played with two friends from Philadelphia and an amiable local. We eliminated surrender and added royalties just in time for me to pick up one of the best hands I've ever held - a straight flush in the back and quads in the middle - and win 15 points from each player. Royalties can be fun!

We got to play in the Chinese Poker event of the Sport of Kings tournament ($200 entry with rebuys) and I continued my streak of early eliminations. I've got to come up with a tournament format that rewards the better player. On the bright side, the event was won by my friend Mike Carson, an excellent player, who garnered the lion's share of the $15,000+ prize pool. Florrie finished in 8th place, just out of the money. Hollywood Park is a great place to play. Whenever I go there, it feels like I'm at a casino managed by friends. Be sure to stop in when you have the opportunity.

The Bicycle Club began spreading Chinese in their main room this Summer, but just recently moved it to the Asian Pavilion. Four tables are available and they're packed every night, almost exclusively with Asian players. Typical konditions were $5, $10 and $25 per point. The action has a definite Oriental flavor: consulting partnerships are common, English is rarely heard, and there are constant background sounds from the adjacent Pai-Gow and Super-Pan-9 tables. Most of the time we felt like strangers in a strange land, but the players were generally friendly and helpful. Just remember that if you play in this environment (and are not Oriental), you are the outsider and you should be especially careful about payoffs, transactions with other players, and understanding rulings by the floorpeople.

The games are structured the Bicycle Club "Asian Way": winning 2 out of 3 gets one point; winning all 3 gets you 4 points. Natural hands automatically win 4, royalties count, and there is no surrender. In addition, you get an extra 3 points from each opponent if you sweep all hands (known as a "home run"). This is an exciting way to play, but the short-run variance is very large compared to the Hollywood Park structure. Consider this hand that Mike Carson picked up: AA K JJJ 9 888 66 4. Jack's full goes in the Back hand and the question is whether to play a full house in the Middle and King high in Front or trip 8's and Aces in Front. Full house - full house will usually win three points from each opponent (2 out of 3 for one point plus a two point bonus) and will occasionally (less than 10%) sweep an opponent for 6 points. The alternate play forsakes the 2 point bonus to try for a likely four point sweep and gives about a 25% chance of winning a home run for 7 points from each player. Mike correctly played full house - trips - pair; at least it seemed correct until the players faced their cards. The full house in Back and the Aces in Front won against everyone, but the three eights in the Middle lost to a straight or flush in each position. Amazingly, King high would have swept the Front and the inferior play would have scored a home run. Instead of the three points he actually won, he would have netted 27 points with other play! That's variance in Spades! If you like fast action, the Bike should be on your list of stops.

We heard that the Commerce Club was spreading Chinese on a test basis and decided to check it out. We arrived to find two tables playing their Mandarin version at $5 per point. "What's the Mandarin version", we asked. The response was a handout resembling a complex computer flowchart. After some study, we found that two out of three wins one point, but a sweep wins six. There are royalties, home runs, and nine different natural hands of various values. You can surrender, but it costs three points per opponent. This structure is not my cup of tea, but Florrie thought it would be fun. Thirty minutes later, we decided that we'd had enough fun and a three point surrender no longer seemed like a bad idea. The Commerce is a great club, but if you go there to play Chinese bring a calculator to figure the payoffs and plenty of money.

Chinese Poker has taken off in California with three major rooms spreading three distinctly different variations. It will be interesting to follow the game's evolution in the months ahead.

Copyright 2000-2020 Don Smolen    This material is sponsored in part by PokerStars.