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2-7 Open-Face Chinese Poker Strategy Talk with Nikolai Yakovenko

Nikolai Yakovenko

Earlier this week, poker pro Nikolai Yakovenko, co-creator of the ABC Open-Face Chinese Poker iPhone app, introduced the 2-7 variant of Open-Face Chinese — a.k.a. "2-7 OFC" or "Deuce Pineapple." Today he offers some strategy help for those getting started with the game.

Expanding the OFC Mix

As a mixed games player, I get a Pavlovian rush whenever my hand is {7-}{5-}{3-}{2-}. I draw one, and squeeze a {4-} for the wheel then peek over to see if my opponent is reaching for chips. There’s something magical about playing a game where the nut-nut hand comes in so often, yet not often enough to make it any less exciting every time it does.

The thrill of 2-7 lowball (played as triple draw, no-limit single draw, and in variants like badeucey, badacey, or even razz-deucey) is that so many hands are almost great, oftentimes just one card away from the coveted wheel. Many times a player is obviously drawing to such a hand, while his opponent is pat with a pretty good hand, betting on the wheel draw to miss this time around.

Especially heads up, limit 2-7 lowball is probably the closest we’ve got to a face-up poker game. That said, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before the game made its mark on open-face Chinese poker.

The variant is played deuce-to-seven low in the middle and is dealt just like OFC Pineapple, just with a low hand swapped in. For example:

2-7 Open-Face Chinese Poker Strategy Talk with Nikolai Yakovenko 101

As in high-only Pineapple, you’re making three hands — a top, a middle, and a bottom hand. Except that here the middle hand is played 2-7 lowball, while the top and bottom hands are high hands.

To make sure that there’s a balance between risk and reward, the middle low hand must make a 10-low or better. If not the whole hand fouls. There are points bonuses for making a nine-low (+1), an eight-low (+2) or a seven-low (+4), and the {7-}{5-}{4-}{3-}{2-} wheel sends you to Fantasyland.

The top-hand Fantasyland minimum goes up to kings ({k-}{k-}+), since it’s a little easier to make big hands on top when you aren’t needing to make a strong high hand in the middle as well. For a final twist, if you make both kings up top and a wheel in the middle, that takes you to 15-card Super Fantasyland.

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The 15-card super bonus has been tried before as a bonus for really-hard-to-make hands in high-only OFC, but it especially makes sense for a game where you are trying to improve both your low and high hand at the same time.

It’s hard to make both {k-}{k-} on top and a wheel in the middle. Whenever you’re close… go for it.

Okay, enough rules. Let’s have a Q&A.

Q: There seem to be different OFC variants popping up from time to time. What makes this one special?

Playing for a low hand in the middle is fundamentally different from other variants. Meanwhile, thanks to well-chosen rules and bonuses, 2-7 OFC still feels like the same game with fast-paced play, instant regret, about one-third of hands going to Fantasyland, and another one-third that foul.

Q: Where did the “Deuce Pineapple” rules and concept come from?

Like all the best card games, this game emerged from small tweaks tried by multiple players. But word on the street (i.e., Twitter) is that these specific rules and bonuses were made famous by a couple of pros on the tournament circuit. I’ll leave it to them to claim credit if they so choose.

Q: The middle bonuses seem kind of low. What’s up with that?

Yes, since the game keeps the top-hand bonuses from high-only OFC, and it’s easier to make big pairs on top, the game definitely skews more toward the top hand. However, don’t get caught needing two low cards on the last draw to make a qualifying ten-low in the middle. You’ll miss two-thirds of the time. Worth it for trips on top… but perhaps not for a smaller bonus.

Q: I feel a strategy section coming on...

That’s not a question at all. But yes.

A Look at Some 2-7 OFC Strategy

The game is new. Nobody really knows how to play, and it’s not likely anybody has played more than a few hundred hands of it lifetime — unlike the millions of hands of high-only Pineapple OFC played on my ABC Open-Face iOS app every month.

We’ve just released the Deuce Pineapple variant in the app, however, so that will soon change. Heuristics will emerge, and various strategies and shortcuts will bubble up. Until that happens, you can practice the game against our Deuce computer opponent. It plays far from perfectly, but here are a few principles that have stuck out to me thus far.

1. Start making the low hand early

Like writing a term paper, don’t wait until the night before to throw together an outline. By far the easiest way to foul in Deuce is to leave too many middle low cards unplayed with one or two rounds left to go.

Everything is context specific, but as noted above if you need to make two low cards on the last draw, you will foul two-thirds of the time. If you need one card, you’re less than one-third to foul. And that could be a lot less than one-third if your low draw is live.

Projecting it out for two draws left, a hand with one spot left in the middle is very unlikely to foul, a hand with two spots left is moderately likely to foul, but if you need three or four more low cards to qualify, you’re gonna run out of rounds.

So do try to make a good low. Hold out for a wheel if you can get one, but otherwise make sure that you don’t get caught without some sort of low hand, or a least a four-card low draw heading into the last round. Unless you’re drawing to a massive hand on top, the risk isn’t worth it.

2. Try to make aces or kings up top, but don’t forget about trips

This is a tricky one. In general, aces and kings go up top, as they get you at least +8 bonus points as well as take you to Fantasyland. But if you don’t get one of those cards early, leave yourself the possibility of backing into top trips, and a straight or flush on the bottom.

These situations are hard to spot, but you can notice them if you pay attention.

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And a good job out of you, Dr. ABC!

Trips on top don’t come in often, but with bonuses starting at +10 for three deuces — and a hand that takes you to Fantasyland — even a 1-in-3 shot at trips makes for a nice value. So don’t be shy about playing that small pair on top if you can freeroll for trips, and are taking no foul risk to do so.

3. Play aggressively, as it’s still all about The Land

I spoke to a few serious players with a lot more Deuce experience than myself, and there was a wide range of disagreement about the value of Fantasyland.

That said, it’s still a bonus round worth pursuing. Because of the 10-low in the middle rule you can actually foul in Fantasyland, which is strange and unwelcome. But this happens less than once every 10 hands, and so it’s not substantially different from just making a very weak Fantasyland hand in high-only Pineapple Open-Face.

When in Deuce Fantasyland, it’s easy to make trips up top or a wheel in the middle, so you stay in Fantasyland more often. It’s not unusual to stay for two or three hands in a row, and I’m sure that once it’s on the ABC app, we’ll have people telling us about about their opponents staying for six or seven Deuce hands in a row. The bonus for trips up top add up, so the bottom line is keep shooting for Fantasyland as you would in high-only Pineapple.

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4. Discards are face-down

As the pot-limit Omaha player sitting on {J-}{10-}{10-}{10-} never fails to remind you, blockers are a thing. Your opponent can’t catch the cards that you discard face down, even if you can’t use them yourself.

The face down discard is a only small part of high-only Pineapple strategy. You’re glad to catch the cards that your opponent needs, even if you throw them away, but it’s rare that you will change your play in order to hide information from an opponent.

I think that Deuce OFC strategy will be different. Making wheels and qualifying low hands is a big part of the game. If your opponent needs a {4-} for the wheel, and you catch a four yourself, you should absolutely throw it away face down if possible.

If he thinks his wheel is live your opponent will hold out for it just a little while longer, increasing his chances to foul. This matters, especially if it makes the difference between him making a seven-low (with a six in it), against fouling the whole hand by staying for a wheel. A single live card can swing those probabilities by 20% of more, and whenever your opponent makes a mistake you benefit. So if you’re going for a nine-low already, it may be right to put a worse low card in your hand, just to toss a wheel card face down from your opponent.

Deuce Pineapple will appeal to some poker players more than others, but it’s a good, well-balanced game without an obvious dominant strategy. I look forward to exploring the nooks and crannies of this new twist on OFC.

Thanks for reading, good luck, and see you in Fantasyland!

For more OFC strategy advice click here and follow me on Twittter at @ivan_bezdomny.

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