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.