Pai Gow

Introduction to Pai Gow Poker

Craps is a popular dice game that you can play online as well as at land-based casinos. In fact the craps table is one of the noisiest at a land-based casino because of the excitement that the game generates. There is not much strategy involved – you have to roll the dice and you win or lose based on the outcome of the dice roll – and that is what contributes hugely to the popularity of this game.

Pai Gow Poker is a popular game that you find in both land-based and online casinos today. We will discuss the finer details of Pai Gow Poker in later sections. Before we do that, we take a brief look at the history of this fun and exciting casino game.

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Brief History

Pai Gow Poker is derived from the Chinese game of Pai Gow, which literally translates to 'make nine' and was inspired by the military in terms of the precision that was part of the game. It was created in 1985 by Sam Torosian, who owned the Bell Card Club. He took inspiration from the 13-card game of Pusoy, about which he heard from a Filipino customer.

Realising that arranging 13 cards into 3 hands could be slow compared to the speed of some of the other casino games, he modified it to a game that used 7 cards that had to be split into 2 hands – faster, simpler and therefore easier to learn and that much more fun for players. He took Pai Gow as the base and replaced with dominoes with the playing cards, while retaining the modified form of Pusoy. And so a new exciting poker game was born!

Originally known as double handed poker, Pai Gow Poker first took off in California, before casino operators in gambling hotspots like Las Vegas and Atlantic City picked it up and made it a well-known game variety. Initially played with 52 cards, it was upgraded to include an additional joker to spice things up and make winning that much easier.

Rules of Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is an interesting game with rules that make it different from other poker games.

The following are the major rules associated with the game:

  • The game is played with 53 cards between the player and the dealer at an online casino.
  • At a land-based casino up to 6 players can play against the dealer at a Pai Gow Poker table.
  • The deal involves 7 cards each to the player and dealer and not 5, unlike most other poker games.
  • The player's cards are dealt face up; the dealer's cards are dealt face down.
  • The objective is to separate the 7 cards into two hands, one of five cards and another of two cards.
  • The 2 card hand can be either a pair or have two high cards.
  • The highest 2 card hand is a pair of Aces.
  • The 5-card hand plays much like regular poker, except for one small thing: the second highest straight or straight flush is the A-2-3-4-5 and is placed between A-K-Q-J-10 and K-Q-J-10-9.
  • The highest-ranked 5 card hand is a Five of a Kind formed using the Ace.
  • If the joker appears in the deal it can be used as a wild to form the best possible hand among the following:
    • Flush
    • Straight Flush
    • Straight
  • The joker also counts as an ace.
  • The player's 2-card hand cannot be stronger than his 5-card hand. If that happens the player commits a foul and automatically loses.
  • Once the 2 hands are created, the dealer's hand is separated into 2 individual 5-card and 2-card hands respectively.
  • The player wins if his 2 hands are stronger than the 2 hands of the dealer.
  • The player loses if the dealer's 2 hands are stronger than his hands.
  • The game goes into 'push' mode if only one of the player's hands is stronger than one of the dealer's.
  • If one of the player's hands matches one of the dealer's the game is tied; the dealer always wins a tied hand.
  • If you win the money is paid out and the next game is set to start. At land-based casinos there is a 5% commission that the winner has to pay the casino.

Some online casinos also offer the 'House Way' option. It is available once a player has placed his wager and been dealt his cards. In this option, the player is provided the top 2 hand options for the cards he has been dealt; he can use it to form the best hands.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

The hand rankings for Pai Gow Poker are similar to what you see in a regular poker game, with the highest-ranked hand being 5 Aces. We list the hands in order of rank below:

Five AcesFour Aces with a joker.
Royal Flush10, J, Q, K, A of the identical suit.
Straight FlushFive consecutive cards from the same suit. The Joker can be used as a wild.
Four of a KindFour cards of the same numerical value and of different suits
Full HouseThree cards of one numerical value with two of another numerical value.
FlushFive non-sequential cards from the same suit. The Joker can be used as a wild card.
StraightFive consecutive cards of different suits. The Joker can be used as a wild card.
Three of a KindThree cards of the same numerical value, with two other random cards.
Two PairTwo cards of one numerical value and two cards of another numerical value. The fifth card is irrelevant.
PairTwo cards of one numerical value with three other random cards.

For the 2-card hand, the hands possible are only 2 high cards and a pair. The pair is of course ranked above the high-card hand.

Playing Pai Gow Poker

Follow the steps listed below to get started with Pai Gow Poker:

Basic Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Pai Gow Poker is a poker variant and therefore strategy has a role to play in the game. The game is exciting and winning is trickier compared to other poker games as you have two hands to play with and both your hands have to beat both the hands of the dealer. Losing either hand causes a tie, which can be a more frequent occurrence as a win because the probability of winning one hand out of two is always going to be higher than winning both hands.

There are a few things you can follow in terms of strategy to increase the odds of your winning at Pai Gow Poker.

  • Remember to keep your 2-card hand at a lower value than your 5-card hand. A stronger 2-card hand over a 5-card hand results in a foul and automatic loss. At an online casino you get alerted if you put together a 2-card hand that is stronger than your 5-card one.
  • Ensure that you split the 7 cards such that you have a fair chance of both hands being strong and winning. For instance, how would you split a hand of 7-10-A-7-A-5-7-8 into 2 hands? The obvious option is to split it into 7-7-7-A-A and 10-8. That leaves the push option very likely to come into play as you end up with an extremely weak 2-card hand. So would it help to split it 7-7-7-10-8 and A-A? That is a call you will need to be able to make.
  • If you have a weak 7-card hand overall, ensure that the strongest card remains in the 5-card hand and then push the next highest cards to the 2-card hand.
  • If you have a hand with a pair, place the pair in the 5-card hand.
  • If you have a hand with 2 pairs, you have multiple options again:
    • You could use both in the 5-card hand to ensure a strong hand. This would make the 2-card hand vulnerable to loss.
    • You could place the stronger pair in the 5-card hand and the weaker pair in the 2-card hand. While this is not a guarantee of a win, it does even out the odds a bit.
  • If you have a 3 of a Kind place it in your 5-card hand. If you have three aces, one option you can explore is to split it up so that you have an Ace Pair in the 5-card hand and an ace as a high card in the 2-card hand.

Some Pai Gow Poker Tips

Pai Gow Poker is unconventional compared to some of the other poker games, but is still quite popular among players. Here are a few tips to help you increase your chances of winning.

  • When you are playing at a land-based casino, go for the bank because that is one of the best ways to swing the odds your way. Banking is worth trying out, even though it requires a healthy bankroll. You can also look to co-bank with the dealer. Play at a table that has minimal or zero players if your strategy is to bank a lot.
  • Don't chase behind high hands. Most new players look to build high hands, influenced by their video poker experience possibly. However, remember that you have to build 2 hands here and going for the high hand could weaken your second hand, thereby sending the game to push mode. The ideal solution is to balance out both hands; you could have a Three of a Kind in your 5-card hand and a pair in your 2-card hand, for instance.
  • Never ignore the 2-card hand. That is where a lot of players slip up; the 2-card hand may be a smaller hand but is as important as the 5-card hand.
  • Manage your bankroll well and ensure you do not overshoot it. Set the playing limits for yourself before you get started with the game and stick to it regardless of whether you are winning or losing.
  • Never hesitate to ask for help if you need it, especially at a land-based casino. Read the instructions and rules carefully and know your payouts as well.

Pai Gow Poker FAQs

The following are some FAQs related to Pai Gow Poker.

What is the strongest hand I can create for the 2-card hand?

There are no craps strategies that can help you win continuously because it is, after all, a game of chance. However, there are tips you can use to reduce the house edge at times and pick up a win.

What is the strongest 5-card hand in Pai Gow Poker?

The strongest 5-card hand in Pai Gow Poker is a hand of 5 Aces. This hand is achieved when you have 4 Aces and a joker in your original 7-card hand. The hands in Pai Gow Poker are more or less the same as for regular poker, except that the second highest ranked hand of all straight and straight flush hands in the 5-card hand is the A-2-3-4-5. This hand is lodged between the hands A-K-Q-J-10 and K-Q-J-10-9.

When did Pai Gow Poker come into existence?

Pai Gow Poker was created in 1985 by Sam Torosian as he was looking for a new and fast poker game for players at his club. The game is based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow and uses a modified format of Pusoy, a 13-card game that requires the hands to be split into 3.

What is the possibility of a push happening in Pai Gow Poker?

In Pai Gow Poker a win is possible only when both the 2-card and 5-card hands are strong enough to beat the dealer’s hand. Winning only one of the hands results in a push. The probability of a push occurring is therefore significantly high.

What happens if I tie with the dealer?

The tie situation arises if one of your hands matches the dealer’s corresponding hand. The dealer always wins a tie.