Pai Gow Poker

Joseph MacNaughton

Pai Gow: The Tabletop Casino Poker Game with plenty of Action

Brief History of Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker, also known as double hand poker is a variation of the Chinese game Pai Gow that is traditionally played with dominoes. The game came to life in the mid-1980s, introduced in the United States by the owner of the Bell Card Club Sam Torosian. He had heard of a different game called Chinese Poker where each player is dealt thirteen cards, but he thought a more simplified version using seven cards would be easier for newcomers to learn.

Unfortunately for Torosian, he did not patent this game he invented which could have netted him millions! The game gained rapid popularity by the end of the 1980s and was played at most casinos in Las Vegas and continues to be played in online and land-based casinos.

This game is more of a casino tabletop game than a competitive poker variation against other players, with minimal house advantage depending on the Casino that’s hosting. Players are dealt seven cards to form two hands that both beat the dealer. This game can also be played amongst friends where the banker or dealer position will rotate each hand.

How to Play Pai Gow Tabletop Poker and Rules

The idea of Pai Gow poker came from Chinese poker, which became then further simplified. The rules may vary slightly between venues, but here are the most common form of the game. Traditionally played with six players and one dealer. The deck used will be a standard 52 playing card deck with the addition of 1 Joker. This gives the deck 53 cards in total. The dealer will deal out seven cards face down to each player. This will leave four cards remaining that will be called the muck or dead pile. Usually, if there are not six players sat down the dealer will still deal the cards to the empty seats and then transfer these cards to the muck when the deal is complete.

The aim of Pia Gow is to make two different poker hands, one containing two cards and the other holding five. The only hands you can make with the two card hands are pairs and high cards. The 2 and 5 card hands will be ranked using the standard high card poker rankings as shown below

PAI GOW POKER HAND RANKINGS

POSITION

Hand

Description

Example

1ST

Royal Flush

Top five cards in sequence in the same suit

A♥+K♥+Q♥+J♥+10♥

2ND

Straight Flush

Any five cards in sequence in the same suit

3♣+4♣+5♣+6♣+7♣

3RD

4 of a Kind

Four identical cards of any value

J♣+J♦+J♠+J♥+K♥

4TH

Full House

Three of a Kind + A pair

7♥+7♦+7♠+A♠+A♣

5TH

Flush

Any five cards the same suite

A♣+7♣+4♣+3♣+10♣

6TH

Straight

Five cards of any suit in number sequence

8♥+9♦+10♦+J♥+Q♣

7TH

3 of a Kind

Three cards of the same value any suit

A♣+A♦+A♠+4♠+J♦

8TH

Pair

Two cards of same value any suit

K♦+K♥+2♥+7♣+10♦

9TH

High Card

The highest value card in hand where A is Highest

A♦+7♦+4♣+Q♣+9♦

 

Some casinos will give a Wheel hand which is A-2-3-4-5 the second highest straight ranking while in standard poker that hand is the lowest straight. Jokers can be used to complete straights and flushes for the five card hands and can only be used as an Ace for the two card hands.

Before the cards are dealt, you must place a bet that is equal to or higher than the table minimum bet. YThe five card hand must be stronger than the two card hand, or you have fouled. If you fouled, it is up to the Casino whether they will call your hand dead or they will rearrange it in accordance with their house rules.

You are trying to get both of your hands to be stronger than the dealers. You win the bet if you can do this. If neither hand beats the dealer, you lose your bet. If one of hand wins while the other falls short, you tie and push your bet, meaning you neither win nor lose.

The only advantage the dealer has in this game is that any ties in hand ranking go in favour of the dealer (or house). For example, if you have 77 in your two card hand and the dealer also has 77 in their two card hand, the dealer wins.

Most casinos will have a set dealer that deals every hand. Other casinos will arrange it that each player takes turns being the dealer (also known as the banker). When the casino is the dealer, they must set their hand according to the instructions of the 'house way'. This will vary slightly from casino to casino without making much of a dramatic difference to the outcome.

Depending on the casino there will be a 5% commission off every winning hand or a small amount of money you must pay before the start of every hand that goes to the casino. This is because the house edge is very low in this game and the only advantage the dealer has is winning hand ranking ties. There are some casinos and places still offering close to 0% rake, but these venues will typically charge the players by the hand or by the hour to sit down.

Core Strategies to Making a Profit

Many game strategies have been developed, over the years, and you may have to play and separate your hands differently than you usually would in a poker game. The most important thing to remember when sitting down at a Pai Gow table is to not foul! Fouling is when you make your two card hand stronger than your five card hand. This action is not allowed, and you could very well lose your bet every time you do this. It is a good idea to double check that your five card hand is stronger than your two card hand before laying your cards down!

Generally speaking, if you have two pairs, you should split them between your two card and five card hands (also known as the front and back hands). The reason for this is because if you place your two pair at the back and don't have much at the front, you will likely end up with a pushed bet. While having your stronger pair in the back and your weaker pair in the front you have a better opportunity to beat both of the dealer's hands.

Look out for that joker. Jokers are semi-wild and will add much value to your hand every time you get dealt one. A good thing to think about is if the Joker will be better used to make a strong high card in the front or to complete a straight or a flush in the back. Jokers can even make 5 of a kind in some casinos, and sometimes a bonus or extra reward is given if you make this hand.

Try to find a Pai Gow poker game that has the lowest amount of rake or commission. You want to play in a game that is going to take the smallest amount of money away from the table. Most online sites will have a lower commission than brick and mortar casinos and a higher hand per hour rate, but you will not get to play the role of the dealer.

There are particular strategies and rules that the dealer/banker in a casino or online site must follow. They must rearrange their hand to the 'house way' which is a custom researched strategy. One strategy could be to copy the casino's set strategy. Most casinos and online sites will even publish what approach they will be playing, which is similar to how some will tell you exactly how they will play blackjack. If the casino is confident enough to play their strategy, it is likely an almost optimal strategy to play.

Things to be Aware of when Playing Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a fast-paced game that involves a lot of pushes and near wins and losses. This can give some excitement and fearlessness to have chips getting pushed back and forth. It is a game where there is some strategy and skill involved, as there is with most forms of poker and tabletop games.

As long as you can avoid fouling your hand, the edge on this game is relatively low and is comparable to blackjack. Reading up on game strategy on how to arrange and set up your hand in specific situations can give players an extra edge and help to push more hands rather than losing outright.

There are many variations of Pai Gow Poker including all sorts of fun bonuses and prizes. Be careful as some of these variations, bonuses and side bets have been designed to increase the house edge and take your money.

Be mindful that you are playing against the dealer and not other players, even though at times the other players may take turns being the dealer and you are then playing against them. Your goal will always remain to beat the dealer's two hands. The other players at the table are somewhat irrelevant, besides a bit of camaraderie when taking the dealer down or when the dealer has two weak hands! 

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