Pai Gow Poker
Pai Gow poker is the brainchild of Commerce Casino manager Fred Wolf and his friend Sam Torosian, born in the 1980s. Trying to draw players into the crowded Los Angeles market, the duo went on a quest to create new card games for the commercial casino market, and Pai Gow was probably their biggest hit.
Based on a Chinese domino game, Pai Gow poker uses traditional poker hands in a revamped format that pits players against a single banker. Thanks to its complexity and strategy, Pai Gow poker online is one of our favourite games to play. Here are some of the best casinos available for Canadians to enjoy this fabulous card game at:
How to Play Pai Gow
Pai Gow poker is a fairly complex game, and with its two-hand format, it does take some getting used to.
To get started, a standard 52-card deck plus a single Joker is used. it’s preferable to play with six players plus the dealer, though it is possible to play with fewer people:
- Cards are shuffled and dealt, with seven face-down piles of seven cards per pile. Seven piles must be dealt, regardless of the number of players at the table.
- Players are assigned a number 1-7, and then one of those numbers is chosen at random (often by a dice roll if 6 or fewer players are playing).
- The player that corresponds with the number chosen receives the first pile.
- The other piles are distributed to the rest of the players in a counter-clockwise direction.
- Once dealing is done, players put forward one five-card hand and one two-card hand (a poker pair).
Goal of Pai Gow
The goal of the game is to beat the banker (either the dealer or another player at the table). The outcomes work in the following way:
- The player wins both hands and wins their bet
- The dealer wins both hands and the player loses their wager
- The player wins one hand and the player wins the other. In this case, the hand is a push and the bets are a push. Many tables require a commission to be to the dealer on all the players winning hands (around 5%). In this case, a push hand will leave you worse off than the house.
How to Form a Winning Hand
The order of winning hands in Pai Gow is almost identical to that of regular online poker, but there are exceptions:
You are required to produce one 5 card hand (standard poker rankings apply) and one 2 card hand (usually a high card or a pair).
The 5-card hand must always outrank the 2-card hand.
At some casinos an A-2-3-4-5 straight ranks higher than a K-high straight, but below an A-K-Q-J-10 straight. The Ace makes all the difference.
One Joker is left in the deck and acts as a “bug.” The Joker can be used to complete a straight or a flush, but not to make pairs or other hands. In a two-card hand, the Joker plays as an Ace. (There are a few casinos that play the Joker as completely wild, but those are rare online).
If a player cannot make a pair or better with their cards, it is called a ‘Pai Gow’ (non-hand).
Below is a rundown of the traditional poker rankings with their odds.
- 1 Pair: This is when you land two of the same type of card. (2x Kings, or 2x Aces, etc). Pays 1:1
- 2 Pairs: This is when you have two sets of pairs in one hand. Pays 1:1
- A Straight: All 5-cards in your hand run in consecutive order of value (2,3,4,5,6, etc). They need not be of the same suit: 6♣-5♠-4♦-3♣-2♥. Pays 2:1
- 3 of a Kind: This is a hand that has 3 matching card values in it (3x 9s, etc). Pays 3:1
- A Flush: When all 5-cards in your hand are from the same suit. They need not run in consecutive order (all hearts, or all spades, etc): A♣-10♣-8♣-4♣-2♣. Pays 4:1
- Full House: This is when you have ‘one pair’ and a ’3 of a Kind’ together in your hand. Pays 5:1
- 4 of a Kind: A hand where four of the same card value is in the hand (4x 5’s, etc). Pays 25:1
- Straight Flush: this combines the principles of the Straight and the Flush. All five cards in your hand are of the same suit and run in consecutive order: 8♣-7♣-6♣-5♣-4♣. Pays 50:1
- Royal Flush: This is the same as a Straight flush, but it combines the 5 highest value cards: A♥-K♥-Q♥-J♥-10♥. Pays 150:1
- 5 Aces: Pays 400:1
- 7 Card Straight Flush with Joker: Pays 1000:1
- Royal Flush and Royal Match: Pays 2000:1
- 7 Card Straight Flush: When the top hand and bottom hand combine to provide a 7–card straight flush. Pays 8000:1
Study and learn these hands off by heart so that you can spend your efforts on strategy, rather than on remembering which hands rank better.
Pai Gow Poker vs Regular Poker
There are a few main differences to consider, none of which is critical. When choosing which version of poker to play, it’s mainly a matter of personal taste.
- Combinations: As mentioned above, one key difference between Pai Gow poker and regular poker can be the order of winning hands and the addition of the Joker to the deck.
- Variability: Another difference is that instead of playing against all the players at the table (like in Texas Holdem), gamblers are only betting against the banker. This creates for less variability.
- Strategy: In this game, as opposed to say Texas Hold’em, you’re constantly considering two hands at a time, so you need to keep a larger picture strategy in mind when building your hand.
- Side Bets: There are a number of side bets allowed in the game that differ from traditional poker games. Three of the most popular include:
- Fortune Pai Gow: Players can make side bets on trips or better
- Pai Gow mania: Players can make up to 2 side bets
- Emperor’s Challenge: A side bet on whether a player will get Pai Gow (non-winning hand).
What Are Your Odds?
In Pai Gow poker the odds are always going to be the same. Instead of worrying about how to read other players, bluffing and the like, you just need to focus exclusively on the best way to arrange your own hand. The best players can bring the house edge down to a narrow minimum. An average house edge is around 2.84%
Pow Gow Strategy
Pai Gow poker can get pretty complicated, but once mastered provides for much fun. One tip I can give you is that it pays to be the banker when you can, since the banker has better odds.
Try to remember these tips:
- The banker always has better odds on winning.
- Another is that the best Pai Gow pokers players manage to strike a balance between their five-card and two-card hands — don’t just go all in on the five-card and forfeit the two-card hand. For instance, if you can build a full house, you actually shouldn’t play it in your five-card hand. You’re better off with three-of-a-kind in your five-card hand and a pair in your two-card hand.
- If you get two pairs, you’re almost always going to split them. The exceptions are when your kickers include a Q or better — in that case, throw both pairs in your five-card hand and put the Q, K or A in your two-card hand. It’s actually a bit more complex than that, but if you’re looking for a quick, dirty estimator on how to handle two pairs, this has been known to work well.
Pai Gow Poker is a challenging game with a lot of extra dimensions including the If you like to think while you play, then this is the game for you. Whether you play online, or play among friends, one thing’s for sure, Pai Gow Poker will keep you on your toes!