I’ve often been asked what Royalty system I think is best – and since I happen to be addicted to the game, I often ponder the question myself even without being prompted to do so. First, it must be stressed that there is no “right” answer. There may be an industry standard, but there is certainly no “right” answer; just like how the the NBA uses 4 12-minute quarters and College Basketball is 2 20-minute halves, what royalties one consider “best” come down to personal beliefs as to what best balances the competing interests.
What, exactly, are those interests? There are three core elements of the game – properly setting a hand (not fouling), having relatively better sub-hands than one’s opponents, and making royalties. If we didn’t have royalties, then there would be no incentive to go for a big sub-hand once you have guaranteed yourself a relatively stronger sub-hand than your opponent; if three of a kind on its own is good enough in the back, there is no reason to go for a full house, thereby turning the last two spots in the back into throwaway cards. Although such a game would be interesting in the abstract, it likely would become boring fairly quickly. That is why Royalties are so important – they add a significant incentive to go for a big hand, even at risk of fouling, and thereby increase the overall complexity and excitement to the game. However, the bonuses do not simply exist to add excitement; this key concept appears lost on a lot of people. It is certainly true that one of the big reasons that the game has become so popular is the bonuses for big sub-hands that one gets, however, this does not mean that the royalties should be viewed simply as a way to make the game exciting; the royalties exist to offer incentives to aim for big hands – the fact that they make the game exciting and fun to play arises out of that principle.
Therefore, since royalties exist to provide incentive to go for big hands – the most optimal royalty structure is one that structures the payouts proportional to the risk one takes (either of fouling or of not having good sub-hands in the other two rows) in going for such a hand. The only caveat is that the reward cannot be so great as to warp gameplay as to make the game ONLY about such a bonus. To borrow an example from sports, if the NBA awarded 10-points for shots from beyond the arc, the result would be too much emphasis on shooting jumpers from beyond the arc, if one gave a bonus of 100 points for Quads in the back, people would treat the front and middle sub-hands as nothing more than 8 throwaway spots to put cards that didn’t help them have quads in the back. To continue with the example, the compromise the NBA reached was that they rewarded long-range jumpers with one additional point – to the league, this was enough of an incentive to be worth the added risk of a higher percentage of missed shots, without offering such a huge incentive as to turn the game into nothing but shooting shots from beyond the arc.
Now, for the truly rare royalties – the ones that require a very specific set of circumstances to even contemplate “going for it” in the first place (a Royal Flush in the back would be the best example) the aforementioned problem is not a huge issue. It’s impossible to turn the game into a “Going for the Royal Flush competition”.
However, a secondary problem emerges – namely, that if the payout is so massive for such a hand in an attempt to reflect the rarity of both the circumstances and the successful completion, the occassional “blind luck stumble” into such a hand creates such a massive swing that it can essentially destroy one player’s massive point-lead built over many hands. Yes, luck in theory evens out, so this is not a paticularly big issue – over time, both players will have the same “blind luck stumble” into a hand so the swings will even out, but going back to the NBA example, would people really find it fair if there was a rule that awarded 25 points for a 3/4rs-court length shot (to encourage trying such extremely tough shots), and then a team that has thoroughly outplayed for an entirely game and is down 25 oints with 30 seconds to go, launch one full court hail-mary, sink it, tie the game up? Even though the rules were designed to award a significant number of points to incentivize a player to take such a low percentage shot, most people would find such a huge swing to be “unfair”. Turning back to Open Face Chinese – while there are entirely valid reasons to make a Royal Flush worth 50 or 75 points in the back (to incentivize a player to pass over flush cards in an attempt to hit a royal), the flip side is that such a huge bonus can also result in an inferior player being thoroughly outplayed for the entire session and then hitting a royal by pure dumb luck and wiping out the entire night’s worth of victories for the superior player. Thus, the incentive for going for a big hand cannot be SO huge that it introduces too much random swings based on who happened to stumble into a super rare royalty that night.
So what does this all mean? Simply put, Open Face Chinese Royalties have to be analyzed under the rubric of being proportional to the risk inherent in going for such a hand, both in potentially fouling one’s hand, and in neglecting to build strong sub-hands in the other two rows, while at the same time not being so large as to pervert overall gameplay by placing too much emphasis on achieving the royalty in question or by being able to single-handedly swing the results of the game from one side to the other based on nothing more than pure chance. And yes, I fully acknowledge that the preceding paragraph is about as dorky, academic and “lawyer-y” as one can be when trying to describe Open Face Chinese Royalty rules.
Admittedly, there are certain areas, such as Straights and Flushes in the middle, where I am not quite sure what is the best royalty payout – I believe it should be greater than it is but I don’t quite know yet how much “greater” it should be. I welcome any opinions on such issues. On the other hand, there are other areas where I feel my proposed royalty guide below is quite good and entirely defensible, and I plan to write such defenses and post them on this blog (I still welcome any opinions on these issues as well, please let me know what you think on any of these royalty ideas, whether positive or negative – firstname.lastname@example.org).
So, now that I’ve most likely thoroughly bored you, the reader, allow me to move on to Part II – my actual proposed Royalty set, and then get into articles on why I think certain royalties should be certain payouts.