Open Face Chinese Poker: The Next Big Variant?

Doyle Brunson once famously called No Limit Hold’em (NLHE) the Cadillac of Poker, then along came Pot Limit Omaha (PLO) and suddenly NLHE had no more oomph than a three wheel Robin Reliant.

Poker games are continually evolving, and that’s the one reason that the game as stood the test of time as the most popular card game in the world. The repeated speciation and divergence of poker has brought us to Open Face Chinese (OFC); but is it a fad, or does it have the power to outrun the Cadillac and Ferrari?

“When analyzing whether a new derivative of poker is going to be successful you have to look at the standing of the fish in the game,” said Bodo Sbrzesny before continuing, “There isn’t a future in a card game if the fish aren’t going to like it…so does the game make the fish happy?”

Sbrzesny makes an excellent point and to answer that point you have to take a journey to where the fish spawn –  the largest online poker rooms in the world.

PokerStars held their latest player council pow-wow on the Isle of Man recently and taking pride of place on the player’s agenda was the potential to introduce an OFC format into the common suite of games.

“Open Face Chinese will not be coming to Stars. Programmers have already developed very sophisticated bots that perform at a very high level in this game of perfect information, making it a poor choice to add to our selection of games.” Said PokerStars spokesman Steve Day

Now that’s not good news.

If PokerStars are not going to allow the game to be played then it’s difficult to see any other site choosing to buck the trend. If OFC is not going to make an appearance in the online realm then the opportunities for the fish to increase the liquidity of the game diminishes vastly.

But does this mean it’s relegated to the role of fad?

“I don’t think it’s a fad, but I don’t think it’ll ever be as popular as PLO or NLHE.” Said Dave Nicholson. “For me, the game is more ‘gambling’ than ‘poker’. You can definitely have an edge over someone, so it’s not pure gambling and it’s fair to say the opportunity for edges is a lot bigger in OFC than it is in regular 13 card Chinese.

“Chinese poker has been around for years. I think OFC will definitely replace regular Chinese, for the most part, but I’m pretty sure it’s here to stay.”

Nicholson believes it’s a game for gamblers and that’s the vibe that I get when I travel on the circuit. Another vibe I got was that it was a very quick and easy game. It would seem my attitude would make me a fish.

“I think it’s here to stay but growth is/will level off as there is way more strategy than there appears, so it takes a high level-thinking mind to really pick up. So it has appeal to masses but mastery is for a few.” Said Jason Wheeler from his smoking hut in Amsterdam.

“The way I see it the old version of Chinese poker is very limited as far as skill goes, whilst OFC requires a lot more thinking and therefore skill. It also kills the reason why I enjoyed old Chinese as a social game to play with friends. When you play OFC everyone is taking forever to make their decision, counting outs, analyzing your setup etc.” Said Martin Jacobson.

So we have a game that is going to attract the gambler and you can gain a big edge in it because it is also a complicated mathematical conundrum that can be solved by a bot. Now I understand why poker players love it so much. Jason Wheeler believes there is another key ingredient as to why OFC will be around for a long time.

“You can always modify the rules or add bonuses, etc. This means you can gamble, gamble, gamble.” Said Wheeler.

And boy can people gamble when they play OFC!

“I’ve heard stories of games in Macau where people are winning/losing 1-2m US$ in sessions of OFC. And in Vegas this year people were playing $3k/point (200 point swings – $600k – being reasonably common), so I think as far as spreading to the recreational gamblers it already has, and it won’t have a problem that way. I think PokerStars decision not to put it online is actually beneficial for  this environment.” Said Dave Nicholson.

With high stakes OFC side events being held at the European Poker Tour (EPT) and World Poker Tour (WPT), not to mention the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Carnivale of Poker successfully trialing an OFC side event in the summer, that will likely lead to the first WSOP OFC bracelet in 2014, all the signs lead to OFC becoming a prominent fixture in the game; but the lack of online exposure that NLHE and PLO can glean will hinder it progression into the top tier of poker games for now.

So fad or the next big thing?

The answer, as always in poker, is ‘it depends,’ or as Little Dave so eloquently puts it.

“OFC is a game that you can  play while chilling over a few beers with your friends, or you can go to Macau and play 50k HK$ a point.”

That doesn’t sound like a fad to me.


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