Personal Thoughts on OFC Royalties Part III – Why Middle Trips Should Get Nothing

As the title indicated, it is my contention that the optimal royalty structure would have Trips in the Middle Sub-Hand not be worth any points. They would get nothing – Good Day Sir! (Props to anyone who gets the reference).

A lot of people freak out when I mention this – for whatever reason, Middle Trips have somehow become a beloved feature of Open Face Chinese, despite the fact that as far as I know, the rule only came about in March or April of this year. I personally remember playing at Venetian without Middle Trips as a Royalty in February, and then at some point in late March, someone said that people have begun playing Middle Trips being worth 2 points to try to give the Middle more weight/value, and somehow the rule stuck. The reason I mention the rule’s short history is so people can understand this rule is not some bedrock principle of Open Face Chinese – I’m not reinventing the wheel by advocating for it’s removal. Heck, when Jason Mercier and Friends first tweeted out the improved royalties after the PCA (switching Quads from 8 to 10, SF from 10 to 15 and RF from 15 to 25, and double in the middle), they did not include such a rule, so it’s not even something that was attached to that rule change. Someone just thought of it one day and it stuck.

The reason why it stuck is most likely because people feel that the middle hand is neglected and does not have enough importance – Straights and higher are very hard to come by in the Middle, so people felt that a small bonus for Trips would make the Middle Hand carry more weight. Although I agree with the sentiment of wanting to make the middle hand more important, having a Trips Royalty was a horrible way to do it.

First, from the perspective of a Rules-Obsessed Lawyer Geek, having Trips in the Middle being worth 2 completely destroys the simple and clean royalty structure where the Middle Royalties are simply double whatever the back is. Having the Middle simply be double the Back makes the rules a lot shorter, simpler, and “cleaner”; it allows, for example, for me to say – “Royalties are Straight 2, Flush 4, Boat 6, Quads 10, SF 15, Royal 25 in Back, Double in the Middle, and up top, 6s are 1 point, 7s are 2 points, 8s are 3 points, and so forth until Aces are 9 points, and all trips are 20”. That’s the entire rule set. Adding trips in the middle fucks that up (pardon my language, but it’s entirely appropriate here). That was why Venetian tried to adopt Trips in the back as a 1 point royalty (a rule I supported) – it kept the incredibly easy and clean rule set where the Middle royalties were simply double what the Back royalties were. So from that perspective, Trips in the Middle are annoying because they screw up what was otherwise a perfectly simplistic royalty structure that was easy to describe and follow along with.

But, if it was a good rule for game-play, then I would be okay with the rule even though it messed with the beauty of how simple the royalty set-up was, because game-play is more important than being happy with how simple the rule-set is. The problem is that it’s not – the rule is also a bad rule from the perspective of what is the optimal game-play royalty rule.

The reason it’s bad is that Trips as a royalty does not accomplish the goals behind why royalties exist. One does not “go” for Trips in the middle – it is something you stumble onto once you have a made back sub-hand. Yeah, I will admit that occasionally, one plays Trips in the Middle when you are still drawing to a Flush or Straight in the back, but you would also do the same thing with Two Pair in the Middle (and odds are you made the play hoping to shoot for FantasyLand, not for the 2 point royalty). The point is, Trips come when you have a pair in the middle and you luck into the Three of a Kind card, and you either have a made hand in the back or have a very live draw. At no point did you decide to “shoot” for trips – you were shooting for pairs in the middle and stumbled onto Trips, and at no point did you decide to take on some amount of risk of fouling or making a very bad hand in order to be awarded the 2 point royalty if you are successful. Straights and Flushes in the middle require one to “shoot” for the hand, often times risking having a bigger top than middle (for example, you have a flush in back, and 765 in middle, and you get a J, if you want to go for the straight, you risk fouling if you put the J up top if you don’t improve the middle – a run out of 932 leaves you on 13th street needing to hit a card). And if you don’t hit the straight, even if you don’t foul, you also typically will end up with just one pair or Ace high in the middle – in the aforementioned example, if you pick up a 4 and are now open ended, then you get a K so it goes up top, now if your straight draw outs die out, you’re looking at a pair of 7s at best, and possibly A-7 high in order to simply not foul.

Of course, that is the risk one takes when you decide to go for a straight in the middle as opposed to looking to pair your live middle cards. The point is that one does not decide to go for trips – you either go for the straight/flush in the middle, or you look to pair your live cards (and most likely, try to 2-pair/trips so you can shoot for FantasyLand). That is why Trips shouldn’t be worth anything – you don’t “earn” the royalty.

This concept was what I discussed in the introduction post, and why I stressed it so much – royalties are not simply bonuses for big hands – they exist to encourage “shooting” for the big hands while incurring the associated risk inherent in shooting for said hands. Trips does not encourage shooting, nor does it incur any risk. It is simply something one stumbles onto as a nice bonus for a big hand. That is why it makes no sense as a rule. You don’t earn the royalty, you don’t incur any risk.

I understand the desire to make the middle hand more important. However, first, Trips as a 2 pt royalty came about right around the same time FantasyLand did – and I believe the Middle’s importance in making FantasyLand by itself puts an incredibe amount of importance in the middle (I can think of no better example of how trips don’t matter than pointing out that someone playing trips in the middle before finishing a made hand in the back is not doing it for the 2 pt royalty, rather they’re probably doing it to shoot for FantasyLand), combined with boosting the royalties for Straights/Flushes/Full Houses in the middle sufficiently accomplish the goal of putting a significant amount of value and emphasis on having a strong middle sub-hand.

That Said, I know that a lot of people do like trips in the middle – so I want to know everyone’s thoughts. I’ve Created a Poll – please feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments section in addition to Voting.

Personal Thoughts on OFC Royalties Part II – The Actual Proposal

Back Sub-Hand:

Straight 2, Flush 4, Full House 6, Quads 10, Straight Flush 15, Royal Flush 25

Middle Sub-Hand:

NO BONUS FOR TRIPS, Straight 5, Flush 10, Full House 15, Quads 20, Straight Flush 30, Royal Flush 50.

Top Sub-Hand:

Pair of Twos to Sixes: 1 pt, Sevens 2, Eights 3, Nines 4, Tens 5, Jacks 6, Queens 7, Kings 9, Aces 13, Trips 20.

Fantasyland at QQ+ up top, with a 14-card fantasy land for AA or Trips. For 4-player games, I do acknowledge this requires either shuffling a card back into the deck or somehow the discarded card being played on a certain street, and would welcome suggestions on how to best make that work while still allowing the new standard of “player sets his FL away from the table” to be the way FL is played.

Shoot The Moon: 20 Point Royalty + you do not payout any points for being scooped (or losing 2 out of 3), if you successfully play Q-high or worse in the back and 8-high in the middle.

In the next few days I will be writing posts that address each of the proposed changes – the 0 pts for trips in the middle, the increased bonuses for Straight/Flush, the increased bonuses for middle hands in general, the small pair up top bonus, the increased bonus for Kings and Aces, and the shoot the moon bonus.

Personal Thoughts on OFC Royalties Part I – Overview

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 –

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.