Opening Hand Strategy
Configuration of your first five cards is the most complicated decision you'll have in Open Faced Chinese Poker. Since there are hundreds combinations of hands that you might have, it's best to work from a list of priorities.
- Play trips, quads, or two pair in the bottom
- Play three-to-a-flush in the bottom
- Play a Queen or better in the top
- Play trips in the bottom
- Play average pairs in the middle (22-TT) along with an off
- Play connected cards in the middle/bottom
- Play a Ten or better in the top
- Play off-cards in the middle
On its own, the above strategy beats the computer player on the iPhone app ABC Open Face Chinese Poker, which is a relatively good Open Face artificial intelligence engine.
Tend to follow this order of operations from the top down. If you are dealt a hand with two queens and three connected cards, you will split the queens between the top and bottom because the third rule dictates that you should play your Queen in the top and your connected cards in the middle. Your remaining queen (an off) is played in the bottom.
While beginners often think that they should play their strongest cards in the back, and never split pairs, this strategy shows that it's not always the case. You can play one or two offs in the back and try to allow them to pair up later. By placing stronger cards in the middle and top, you secure wins (and avoid being scooped) by, ideally, having a hand that's stacked toward the top. While it does increase the risk of you fouling your hand, that is often not the case, as you have seen less than half the cards that will come.
While the above strategy works 80% of the time and avoids the most common mistakes, if your hand doesn't readily fit into any of the categories listed, play it how _YOU_ see it working best.
Play an off with your pairs
If you play a pair, you're often looking to complete trips or two pair so that you can play stronger hands up the line. If you play an off, you increase your outs by three by allowing your trips to come as well as two pair.
Win top without fouling
While a good chunk of your cards will be spent playing for that flush, straight, or full house in the bottom, don't neglect top. If the cards you need don't come, try to have a better Top hand than your opponent. Avoiding the scoop is crucial to winning the small-ball game.
Filling in the rest of your hand
Don't play cards lower than 6 up front if you can avoid it. Even if you pair fives or lower, you get no points for it.
Keep your options open or close them. It's usually best to keep an opening in each row in order to keep your options open, but if one of your hands (top or middle) cannot be improved without fouling, lock it down with an off as soon as possible.
Don't foul away your royalties!
If you've secured more than five points in royalties, for example, if you've got a flush or better in the bottom, the rest of the hand should be devoted to avoiding fouling.
Playing against an opponent in Fantasyland
When your opponent is in Fantasyland, you are most likely going to get scooped no matter how you play, so rather than play to avoid fouling, play for the strongest possible hands you can. This means going for the flush or full house in the back as well as high pairs up top. If you can get QQ or better in the top hand, you'll go to Fantasyland on the next hand, even if you get scooped by three better hands!