Created by Sam Torosian and Fred Wolf, Pai Gow Poker is an American version of the Chinese dominoes game Pai Gow.
It’s played with a standard 52-card deck with a Joker shuffled in. The Joker can be played as an Ace or a limited wild card that can only be used to fill out a straight or a flush.
Played with up to six players, the object of Pai Gow Poker is for a player to take the seven cards they are dealt, and to make the best five card hand possible, and the best two card hand possible.
By rule, the five card hand must exceed the two card hand. Be careful here. If the two card hand is higher, this is considered a foul and you automatically lose. The two card hand is often referred to as the “top” or “small” hand, while the five card hand is often referred to as the “bottom” or “big” hand.
These hands are to be played against the house or the banker. The house usually act as the “banker”, but in some cases, a player can be designated the “banker”. If a player chooses to act as banker, that player’s hands must follow house rules.
Here are the basics to Pai Gow Poker.
How to Play
Player place their wagers as set by the table minimum.
Seven stacks of seven cards are then dealt. Regardless of the number of players, seven hands are always dealt. Remaining cards are discarded.
Numbers 1-7 are then assigned to each player. This can be done either electronically or by dice. When done by dice, the dealer rolls three six-sided dice. That number is then counted clockwise until the number is reached. Players numbers then begin by dealing counter clockwise.
If a player spot is empty, one of two things can happen depending on the casino. 1) The hand is assigned, but then placed in the discard pile. 2) The extra hand is played as a “dragon hand”. After the hands are set, each player is then given the opportunity to place another bet to play the dragon hand. Once accepted, the player that accepts the dragon hand is basically playing two hands. Casino’s rules may vary, but the general rule of play is that the dragon hand is turned over and played under house rules. This is done because the player has already seen their hand, so it could influence the way a player would set the dragon hand.
Players are now given the opportunity to serve as banker. The role of banker falls to the house if no player chooses to be banker.
Certain casinos will allow players to share in the banking duties with the house, sharing half of the winnings or losses. This is an advantage considering the bankers wins all ties. The disadvantage is that players must play their hands using the dealers house rules. Also, certain casinos will require a player acting as banker to have enough money to cover the other player’s bets.
-If both of the player’s separated hands beats the banker’s, the player wins.
-If only one of the player’s separated hands beats the banker, it is considered a tie.
-If both of the player’s separated hands lose to banker, player loses.
Now let’s take a look at winning hands and some basic strategy.
No Pairs- With no pairs, straights, or flushes, players should set the second and third highest cards in the two card hand.
One Pair- With a single pair, players should keep the pair in his/her five card hand and put the two highest remaining cards in their two card hand. 65% of the hands played will be covered by the no pairs or one pair strategies, so there are really no exceptions to this rule.
Two Pair- There are many ways to play two pairs, whether it’s playing the high pair behind and the small pair in front, or two pair behind and higher cards in front. Basic strategy would be to place small pairs in front if pairs are Jacks through Aces. If pairs are 7’s through 10’s, player should place both pairs in back if an Ace can be put in front. If pairs are 2’s through 6’s, players should place both pairs in back if a King can be put in front, player should split otherwise.
Three Pair- Considered a very good hand, players should always play the highest pair in front with no exceptions.
Three of a Kind- Three of a kind should be played behind with remaining high cards played in front, unless the three of a kind are Aces. In that case, player should always split Aces. A pair of Aces should be played behind with an Ace high in front.
Straight/Flush/Straight Flush- With any of these three, highest cards should be played in front with remaining complete hand in back. If a player has a straight or a flush with two pair, the player should play as if it were two pair, and dismiss the straight or flush. With a three of a kind, the pair should be played in front.
Full House- Player should play the pair in front with the three of a kind in back. With a three of a kind, the higher pair should be played in front with the smaller three of a kind in back.
With a four of a kind, it should be played as two pair.
With three pair and a straight/flush, a player should play his hand as three pair with Aces in front.
Five Aces- A pair of Aces should be played in front.
In Pai Gow Poker, the house generally has an edge of 2.8%.
This edge consists of two factors:
1) With a general Rake of 5%, this accounts for around 1.6% of the edge.
2) The house enjoys an additional 1.2% edge over non-banking players.
Now if a player chooses to be banker, they can take back the 1.2% edge because all ties are won by the banker.
Pai Gow Poker is a laid back, relaxed game were the art of setting your hand is part of the fun. So learn the strategies and have some fun.