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Subject: Fireplace Poker - the definitive version rss

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Tuomas Korppi
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I've been developing Fireplace Poker, which I submitted to Sean's card game contest. Here's my current version, constructive feedback is welcome.

Equipment:
2 players
5 standard 52 card decks shuffled together, no jokers
A cribbage board or 62 poker chips, each worth one point.

Deal:
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Each player is dealt hand 13 cards. The rest of the cards form the draw deck.

Turn:
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In each turn, the player in turn first takes cards from the draw deck so that he has 13 hand cards. Then the player melds a poker hand that satisfies the following conditions:

* The poker hand consists of five cards.
* The poker hand cannot contain two or more identical cards. (For example, it cannot contain two eights of hearts.)
* The poker hand must be a pair of jacks or higher. (For example, any two pair is higher than a pair of jacks.)

To form the meld, the player can use his hand cards and cards he obtains by poking the opponent's melds. (It is also permitted to use only hand cards to form the meld.)

When the player pokes the opponent's poker hand, he takes one card from it (no more than one!) and removes the rest of the cards that form the poker hand from the play. (Collect them in a face-down pile.)

The player can poke 0-5 opponent's poker hands, but the cards obtained by poking must be used in the new meld, and the new meld must be higher than the poked poker hands. (It is enough that it is higher, not necessarily of higher type. For example, 55554 and AAAKK are both higher than KKKAA. Also, kickers count so JJ987 is higher than JJ986.)

After the player has formed the meld the player may obtain points. If the player has more melds than the opponent, he scores one point for each meld he has more than the opponent. Otherwise, the player does not score.

After that turn passes to the another player.

End of game:
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The game ends immediately when either of the players has 31 points or more. That player wins the game.

Special situations:
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If the player either cannot form the required meld or does not figure out a way to form it: The player shows his hand cards to his opponent, and the opponent decides how the player forms the meld. The opponent is not bound by the "no two identical cards in the meld" and "the meld must be at least a pair of jacks" rules.

If the draw deck ends: The play continues, but new cards are not drawn. If the player has less than 13 hand cards when forming the meld, he has the option to pass instead of forming a meld. After the pass the scoring is done as usual. The game ends after two consecutive turns with passes. (Do the scoring also after the second pass.) Then the player with more points wins. If tied, use the number of melds as a tie-breaker.

Scorekeeping:
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To keep track of the score, use either of the following options:

(1) Cribbage board.

(2) In the beginning of the game, give each player 31 poker chips. When a player gets points he removes one of his chips per point. The game ends, when either player has got rid of all of his chips.

Strategy tips:
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* If you have a 13 card hand with no duplicate cards, it is always possible to form either two pair or a straight. Hence, with prudent play, you should not encounter situation where the opponent decides how you play. To ensure that such a situation does not arise, try to get rid of duplicate cards and save pairs/triplets.

* Royal flush cannot be poked. Thus, try to save cards than can form royal flushes in the future. Also, other straight flushes and four of a kinds are quite difficult to poke, so try to save cards for them.

* When you form a four of a kind, you can take the fifth card by poking the opponent's high full house or a lower four of a kind.

* Three of a kind is often better used to form a full house than three of a kind. (High) full houses seem to score quite many rounds until poked.

* Your opponent's melds are a mixed blessing. They affect the scoring, but they also are your resource to be used in your melds.

* The game seems to progress in streaks: When a player has a lot of high melds, he tends to score a turn after turn. Finally, the the opponent finds out a way to poke most of the melds to form a high meld himself, and his scoring streak begins. Since the streaks may be quite long, a runaway leader is not actually a certain winner.

* The start player seems to have a slight disadvantage, since the opponent has the first oppoturnity to poke.

* Forming straights and flushes usually breaks pairs and triplets (potential full houses) and potential straight flushes. Thus, straights and flushes seem to have use only as a last resort if you cannot form any else meld.
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