Playing Well in Chinese Poker
This article originally appeared in Poker World
in 1996.
If you play Chinese Poker for a while, you soon realize
that your results in any given session depend very much on the cards you pick
up. Sometimes, hand after hand falls into place and the chips just roll in. On
other days, even your good hands get beaten time after time. This fact, the
large shortrun variance of Chinese Poker, leads many players to believe that
skill is not an important part of the game. But, as the saying goes, the cards
even out in the long run, and the better you play, the more likely you are to be
a winner over time. In this article, we'll discuss what it means to play well in
Chinese Poker.
There are two steps in the play of a Chinese Poker hand:
finding the plausible alternatives and then choosing the best one. Often the
alternatives are apparent as soon as you sort your cards, but not all hands are
like that. Sometimes a thorough examination is needed to uncover plays that are
disguised by more obvious ones. Many players underestimate how often they miss
the best play until they use the CPOKER computer program, which gives its play
of each hand after you have made your choice. It is really quite a shock when
the program chooses a play that you completely overlooked and that you surely
would have made had you seen it. Failing to find the best alternative can be
very expensive. One player, who is also expert in Blackjack, told me: "It's
like playing Blackjack and, every 100 hands or so, doubling down on 16 against
the dealer's Ten". In games among good players, the frequency of missed
plays is probably the biggest determinant of who wins the chips in the long run.
So playing well in Chinese Poker means, first of all, that you very rarely
overlook the best play.
To ensure that you are examining all the alternatives,
you must develop a systematic approach to use on each hand. One method is to
first look at all the possible plays if you choose to play a flush in the Back
hand. With a six card or longer suit, be sure to consider the effects of
removing each card (or group of cards) from the flush. Then consider what
straights might be played in Back. Finally, look at the pair structure of the
hand and see what happens if you choose a full house or two pair as your Back
hand. Whatever method you select, use it on every hand and remember that your
enemies are fatigue and lack of concentration. It is difficult but essential to
maintain focus for as long as you choose to continue playing.
Now that you know the possible plays, the second step in
playing well is choosing the best of them. There are two approaches to solving
this problem: a welldeveloped intuition and a mathematical method of evaluating
hands. Good intuitive players have, through long experience, developed the
ability to judge which play will produce the best results in a variety of
situations. But, unless they use a computer to check out their judgements, these
players run the risk of making the same mistakes over and over again. An
inferior choice might work out better than the best choice several times in a
row, and the intutitive player will be misled into adopting tactics that will
cost a lot of chips in the future. Mathematical players, on the other hand,
estimate the "win probability" of each hand segment (they say, for
example, that a KJ flush in the Back wins 50% of the time), and use those
numbers to estimate the longrun expectation of a play. Their problem is the use
of the word "estimate" twice in the last sentence. Win probabilities
vary depending on the exact composition of a hand and the playing habits of
opponents, and converting those numbers into expectation is not an easy task. As
you might guess, the best players use a combination of the mathematical and
intuitive approaches.
In the next few articles in this series, we're going to
work on developing your judgement in evaluating alternatives. Then, later on,
we'll introduce the mathematical approach. Here are a few of the hands we'll be
considering soon. Take a deck of cards and see if you can find the best play
with each of them:
1. (S)73 (H)3 (D)AT93 (C)AK9754
2. (S)KQJ54 (H)4 (D)A843 (C)K74
3. (S)KQJ (H)J9 (D)AT63 (C)AQ75
4. (S)Q543 (H)AT96 (D)J93 (C)Q2
5. (S)K543 (H)AT96 (D)A93 (C)Q2
