Pai Gow Poker, a captivating blend of ancient Chinese Pai Gow and classic American poker, has emerged as a favourite in casinos around the world. This game, rooted in the tradition of the Far East yet infused with a distinctly Western flavour, offers a unique gaming experience that combines strategy, luck, and a moderate pace of play. Originating in the mid-1980s, Pai Gow Poker was the ingenious creation of an American casino owner who sought to merge the ancient Chinese tile game of Pai Gow with the universally popular card game of poker.
The appeal of Pai Gow Poker lies in its intriguing format, which requires players to create two separate poker hands out of seven cards dealt to them. This aspect of hand formation demands strategic thinking and offers a depth of play that can be both challenging and immensely satisfying. Unlike the rapid-fire action of traditional poker games, Pai Gow Poker has a more leisurely pace, making it a more relaxed and enduring experience for players who prefer a game that allows for thoughtful deliberation.
In casinos, Pai Gow Poker is known for its communal atmosphere, where players often find themselves rooting for each other against the dealer. This sense of camaraderie, combined with the game’s low house edge and potential for extended play without substantial monetary risk, contributes to its popularity among both novice and experienced players. It’s a game that can be enjoyed by those who appreciate a mix of traditional poker strategy and the thrill of chance, all set within a framework that is distinctively different from other poker variations.
The game’s growing presence in both land-based and online casinos attests to its broad appeal. From its strategic gameplay to the social interactions it fosters, Pai Gow Poker is more than just a casino game; it’s a bridge between cultures and a testament to the evolving nature of gaming entertainment.
Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck plus one joker, which can function as an Ace or as a card to complete a straight, flush, or a straight flush. At the beginning of each hand, players place their bets, after which they are dealt seven cards each.
The primary objective in Pai Gow Poker is for each player to create two poker hands out of their seven cards: a five-card ‘high’ hand and a two-card ‘low’ hand. The high hand must always rank higher than the low hand. The unique aspect of the joker adds an additional strategic layer, as it can significantly alter the potential of a hand.
Once bets are placed, the dealing process begins. Each player, along with the dealer, receives seven cards face down. The challenge and essence of Pai Gow Poker then come into play: players must divide their seven cards into two distinct hands.
The high hand must consist of five cards and is ranked according to standard poker hand rankings. The remaining two cards form the low hand, which can only be a pair or high cards. The crucial strategy lies in how players split their cards, as the aim is to create the strongest possible high and low hands while adhering to the rule that the high hand must outrank the low hand. This task of hand-setting is where the skill and strategy of Pai Gow Poker truly shine, requiring careful consideration of the cards in hand and the potential outcomes.
In Pai Gow Poker, understanding the hand rankings is crucial. The five-card high hand follows traditional poker rankings: from the highest, the Royal Flush, down to the lowest, a single high card. The two-card low hand, however, can only rank as a pair or high cards. The joker plays a special role: it acts as an Ace or as a wild card to complete a straight or flush in the high hand, but it is always an Ace in the low hand.
|Four Aces plus the Joker
|A, K, Q, J, 10, all in the same suit
|Five consecutive cards of the same suit
|Four of a Kind
|Four cards of the same rank
|Three of a kind plus a pair
|Five cards of the same suit, not in sequence
|Five consecutive cards of mixed suits
|Three of a Kind
|Three cards of the same rank
|Two sets of pairs plus any fifth card
|Two cards of the same rank plus three others
|Any hand not above
A key rule in Pai Gow Poker is that the five-card hand must outrank the two-card hand. If a player sets their hands incorrectly (termed ‘foul hand’), they automatically lose their wager. Understanding these rules and rankings is the first step towards developing effective strategies in Pai Gow Poker.
The strategy in Pai Gow Poker revolves around how you set your hands. The general rule of thumb is to strive for the strongest possible high hand without weakening the low hand to the point of making it an easy win for the dealer. Skilled players balance their hand strength, often aiming for a strong but not necessarily the strongest high hand if it means they can strengthen their low hand.
For instance, with two pairs, a common strategy is to split them between the high and low hands, unless you have a single pair of high cards or a pair of Aces. With three pairs, the highest pair usually goes into the low hand. Straights, flushes, and straight flushes should generally be kept in the high hand, but breaking them up can be the right play in certain situations.
|Strategy for High Hand
|Strategy for Low Hand
|Use highest card
|Use second and third highest cards
|Use two highest other cards
|Split pairs (except with high single pairs or both pairs 10s or better)
|Use lower pair
|Three of a Kind
|Use three of a kind (except with three Aces)
|Use pair and Ace
|Use three of a kind
|Use highest pair
|Use two lower pairs
|Keep straight/flush in high hand if no pair, otherwise use pair in low hand
|Depends on individual card strength
In Pai Gow Poker, players win by beating both the dealer’s high and low hands. If a player wins one hand but loses the other, the bet is a push (the player’s stake is returned). If both of a player’s hands lose against the dealer’s, the player loses their bet. If either hand is identical to the dealer’s (known as a ‘copy’), the dealer wins that particular hand.
Betting in Pai Gow Poker usually involves a fixed minimum and maximum bet. Some casinos also offer side bets, such as betting on getting a premium hand like a full house or better, which adds an extra element of excitement and opportunity to the game.
Unique to Pai Gow Poker is the option for players to act as the banker. In this role, a player goes against all other players at the table. The banker position rotates around the table, giving each player the opportunity to take on the house’s role.
Being the banker has advantages: the banker wins on copy hands and can have a lower house edge compared to when the house banks the game. However, the banker must also be able to cover all bets made by the other players at the table, which can be a considerable risk. Opting to bank is a strategic decision that experienced players may choose to take advantage of under the right circumstances.
Advanced strategies in Pai Gow Poker often involve nuanced decisions about hand setting. For instance, when dealing with a full house, the common approach is to use the three-of-a-kind in the high hand and the pair in the low hand. However, if you have a second pair, it might be more advantageous to keep the full house intact and use the second pair as the low hand.
Another advanced consideration is the analysis of the dealer’s upcard in casinos where this is visible. This card can offer insights into the potential strength of the dealer’s hand, influencing your hand-setting decisions. Additionally, understanding the specific house way – the method a casino uses to set its hands – can provide strategic insights, especially when playing as the banker.
One frequent misstep in Pai Gow Poker revolves around the balance in setting the hands. Players often err on the side of being too aggressive or too conservative. An overly aggressive approach typically sees players focusing on creating a very strong high hand, sometimes at the expense of the low hand. While this might seem like a sound strategy, it often leads to pushes – situations where you win one hand but lose the other, resulting in no overall gain. This can be particularly frustrating when a more balanced approach might have secured a clear win.
Conversely, erring on the side of too much caution – constantly playing safe – can also be detrimental. This conservative play might involve always keeping pairs together in the high hand, regardless of their strength, leading to a weak low hand. Such a strategy might reduce the risk of losing both hands, but it also significantly limits the potential to win outright. Players should strive for a balance, aiming to maximise their chances of winning both hands without overly weakening one hand in favour of the other.
Another common mistake lies in underestimating the role of the joker. In Pai Gow Poker, the joker is not a typical wild card. Its use is restricted: it can be used as an Ace or to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush in the high hand. In the low hand, it serves only as an Ace. This limitation means that while the joker offers flexibility, its strategic application is key. Misusing the joker, either by not leveraging its full potential in the high hand or misapplying it in the low hand, can result in suboptimal hand configurations. Understanding and mastering the use of the joker is an essential part of Pai Gow Poker strategy, crucial for turning a mediocre hand into a winning one.
Mastering Pai Gow Poker is about understanding the nuances of hand setting, the balance of risk and reward, and the subtleties of the game’s strategies. It’s a game that rewards patience, careful consideration, and the ability to adapt strategies based on the hand you’re dealt. While Pai Gow Poker may not have the rapid pace of other poker variants, its strategic depth and the unique challenge of playing against the dealer make it a deeply engaging and enjoyable game.
Whether you’re a seasoned poker player or new to the world of casino games, Pai Gow Poker offers a refreshing change of pace and a distinctive style of play. With practice and experience, players can find a great deal of enjoyment and success at the Pai Gow tables, combining the thrill of poker hand formation with the satisfaction of strategic decision-making.
What is Pai Gow Poker?
Pai Gow Poker is a casino table game that combines elements of traditional poker with the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow.
How many cards are used in Pai Gow Poker?
Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck plus one joker.
What is the joker's role in Pai Gow Poker?
The joker can act as an Ace or complete a straight, flush, or straight flush in the five-card hand.
How do you win in Pai Gow Poker?
To win, both your five-card (high) and two-card (low) hands must beat the dealer’s corresponding hands.
Can you tie with the dealer in Pai Gow Poker?
Yes, if one of your hands wins and the other loses, it’s a push, and your bet is returned.
What happens if my high hand is lower than my low hand?
If your high hand is lower than your low hand, it’s a foul, and you lose your bet.
Is Pai Gow Poker suitable for beginners?
Yes, its moderate pace and simple rules make it suitable for beginners.
Can players be the banker in Pai Gow Poker?
Yes, players often have the option to take turns being the banker.
Does Pai Gow Poker have a high house edge?
The house edge in Pai Gow Poker is relatively low, especially when playing as the banker.
What are some common strategies in Pai Gow Poker?
Common strategies include splitting pairs wisely, balancing the strength of both hands, and understanding when to play as the banker.
Offers a slower, more considered pace than other poker games.
Low house edge, especially for players opting to bank.
Combines elements of luck and strategy, appealing to a wide range of players.
The joker adds an interesting strategic twist to the game.
Suitable for players at various skill levels, including beginners.
Can be slower-paced, which might not appeal to all players.
The rules for setting hands can be confusing for new players.
Ties are common, leading to more pushes than wins or losses.
Banking requires a larger bankroll to cover all bets at the table.