Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow poker isn't one of the most well-known gambling games, but you will still find it in a lot of brick and mortar casinos and many online casinos as well. Invented in 1985, it's based on the Chinese domino game of Pai Gow, using cards instead of dominos. There's a strong possibility of pushes (where players get their bets back), so it's a favorite among players that like to make their money last.
In Pai Gow poker, players compete against the banker with the objective of creating the best five card hand and the best two card hand from the seven they are dealt. In some casinos, the house always plays the role of banker. In others, each player gets a chance to act as banker in rotation.
When playing online, it's normally the house that always plays banker. The rules described below make that assumption. We have also provided some basic strategy advice for the game and have listed the best online casinos for playing Pai Gow poker.
Pai Gow Poker Rules
The rules of Pai Gow poker are a little more complex than some of the simpler casino games, but they are straightforward enough. A standard deck of 52 cards is used, plus a semi-wild joker. The joker can be used as an ace or to complete a straight, flushes, and straight flushes. At the start of a hand, the player places a stake and is dealt seven cards. The dealer is also dealt seven cards, face down.
The player must divide their cards into a two card hand and a five card hand. The two card hand can be either a pair (highest rank wins) or just a high card (again, highest rank wins). The five card hand can be any standard five card poker hand with traditional rankings. There's one exception: as the joker can be used as an ace, it's possible to create a hand of five aces. Five aces are the best possible hand, beating a royal flush.
Players are obliged to arrange their cards so that the five card hand is higher than the two card hand. If they create a pair in their two card hand, then their five card hand must be at least a higher pair or better. Once they have created their two hands, the dealer turns over their seven cards and must also create a two card hand and a five card hand following the same rule.
The players' hands are compared to the dealer's hands. If a player wins both hands, he wins the stake at a rate of 1:1 (i.e. doubling his money). The house usually takes a small commission on winning bets, typically 5%. If the dealer wins both hands, then the house wins the player's stake. If the player wins one hand and the dealer wins the other, it's a push and the player's stake is returned.
Strategy in Pai Gow poker is all about how you set your two hands. At most online casinos, you'll be given an option to set your hands the house way, meaning your two hands will be automatically arranged according to a pre-determined strategy: usually close to the theoretically optimal way. When this isn't an option, you'll have to set them yourself. You may prefer to do it yourself anyway.
As a general rule, you should try to create the highest ranked two card hand you possibly can while ensuring you have a higher five card hand. Perfect strategy is actually quite complex, and it's virtually impossible to memorize exactly what you should do with every single possible combination of cards. There are a few broad rules that you can stick to, however, to keep you close to optimal strategy as follows:
- If you have no pairs, straights, or flushes, then put your highest card in your five card hand and your 2nd and 3rd highest cards in your two card hand.
- If you have just a single pair and nothing else, put the pair in your five card hand and your two highest unpaired cards in your two card hand.
- If you have three pairs, put the highest pair in your two card hand and use the other two pairs to create two pairs in your five card hand.
There are others rules, but these are the ones you'll need to remember most often. If you have the option of having your hand set in the house way, this is usually the simplest way to go, and it saves you having to think too much about exactly what to do.
Playing Pai Gow Poker Online
Pai Gow poker isn't as widely offered as some of the more popular casino games, but it's still fairly easy to find a place to play. We have compiled the following list of what we consider to be the best Pai Gow poker casino sites currently around.
Author: Brad Johnson
Updated: March 2015
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