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A Combination of Chinese Tiles and Classic Poker


Pai Gow Poker


The ancient game of Chinese tiles gets an overhaul in this amusing and relatively new variant of the classic Poker game. It might be based on an old and slow paced game, but nothing about it screams dated with the Poker twist it’s received (amongst other things). Since its inception online, Pai Gow, or double-hand Poker, has got faster and simpler. “Win together, lose together!” is the motto of the game as every player plays against the house, unlike in other variations of Poker where the players battle each other and bluff their way to acquire the contents of the pot. The game therefore draws a similarity to the other Casino Poker game, Casino Hold’em, within which every player plays against the house. Traditionally, each player takes a turn as banker thus gaining a small edge when in that position. The American version was created using playing cards instead to make it easy to use for the western player. As a land casino table game, it isn’t one of the most popular and generally is outplaced by Blackjack, Three-Card Poker and Roulette on the casino floor. Online, however, the game is a little simpler to play; it’s a one versus one with the virtual house and, as a result, the game enjoys growing popularity amongst online table game players looking for something that little bit different than the stock games or slots. Overall, it’s an enjoyable and friendly game much like Craps, but a lot less complicated.



Why play Pai Gow Poker?



  • It’s a low-risk game
  • It’s fun and sociable
  • It’s a game of luck as well as skill




The History of Pai Gow Poker


Pai Gow Poker is established on the century-old Chinese game of tiles or dominoes and when translated means ‘nine’. The game used 32 dominoes to make a whopping 35,960 four-tile combinations – imagine keeping track of all of the possible combinations! In today’s modern version of the game, the dominoes have been replaced by cards, adding to its growing popularity. The old game goes as follows; approximately eight players would arrange four tiles each into two hands, what was known as a “back” and “front” hand. The objective of the game was the same as it is today, to beat both of the banker’s respective hands. The winning bets paid out even money (1:1), however, deciding upon the winner was overly complicated so it never caught on in the western world until much later. During the 19th century, the rules of the game were altered and it once again became extremely popular in China. It made its way onto US soil during the 1980s and was the baby of the American casino owner (of the Bell card club in Southern California) by the name of Sam Torosian in 1985. It was here in California that many Chinese immigrants came to set up home. Pai Gow Poker reared its head along the Las Vegas strip in 1987 and took some time to reach Atlantic City due to some laws of the state. It was initially designed to encourage more Asian players to gamble at American casinos. Nowadays it can be found in many online casinos accessible all over the world.



Playing Online Pai Gow Poker


The contemporary game is played with up to six players and one who acts as banker/dealer. Pai Gow is one of the few card games that uses the joker alongside a standard deck of 52 cards, to give it that extra kick. When playing Pai Gow online, the house or casino takes on the role of the banker. Before the game begins, each player must place a wager. Most online casinos offer a pretty wide bet range on table games to accommodate all bankrolls so you should find something that suits, I’ve seen anywhere from a single credit to 1000 credit stakes available with a multitude of options in between! A roll of the dice determines who will receive their cards first. Each player is then dealt seven cards face down and must arrange his cards to create two Poker hands from the cards given. These consist of a five-card and a two-card hand, termed the “behind” or “big” hand and the “front” or “small” hand, respectively. At this point, only the players can look at their cards, and the dealer cannot. Once you’ve decided upon your two hands, they must be placed face down back onto the table so that the dealer can reveal his cards. No one can touch or rearrange their cards after the dealer has exposed his, so make sure you’re satisfied with your hands before setting them down. Now it’s the dealer’s turn to arrange his cards into his two best hands as specified by the “house way” rules.



Players turn over their cards and begin comparing their individual hands to those belonging to the dealer to win. The players’ “big” hands are compared to the dealer’s “big” hand, and same goes for the “small” hands. It is of the utmost importance that your “big” hand has a higher value than your “small” hand, otherwise your hand will be considered void. With regards to the joker, the semi wild-card plays a dual role in the game, although its use is limited; it can be used as a filler card to complete a straight, flush or straight flush. In the other winning Poker hands (for example, in the case of a royal flush, full house, four of a kind etc.), it is played as an Ace. Your five-card hand is ranked according to standard Poker rules – of course, it goes without saying that the only Poker hand that can apply to the two-card hand is a pair or no pair, after which the highest cards determine the winner. The following are some possible outcomes:



  • If both your hands are worth more than the banker’s corresponding hands, then you win and the dealer pays out your bet.
  • If only one hand is worth more than the corresponding hand belonging to the dealer, it is considered a tie, or push, and no one wins.
  • You lose your wager when each hand of yours is worth less than the banker’s corresponding ones.
  • If you both have the same hand values, the dealer automatically wins and you lose the bet.
  • Finally, in the case of a push on one hand and a win for the dealer on the other, it is the banker who wins. However, if it were vice versa and the player wins one hand while the other hand is tied, this is regarded as a push and so no money is exchanged.


So, let’s say you were dealt KK, QQ, 10, 8, 5 with no flush. Ideally, you want to keep the cowboys in the big hand (hoping the dealer can’t beat the pair) and the Queens in the second hand to hopefully beat the dealer’s next best hand. It’s against the rules to put your best hand in the smaller of the two hands, so despite the simplicity of play, you will need a strategy. The key thing with this game versus regular Poker is to remember that you have two hands which you need to win with, don’t get blinkered or lasered in on one big hand – you only need enough to beat the dealer with both, they don’t both have to be monsters! To help you out, here are the Pow Gow Poker hand rankings:



Five Aces: Consists of A-A-A-A plus a Joker.


Royal Flush: Consists of 10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit.


Straight Flush: Includes five sequential cards of the same suit, ranked in order. For example, 7-8-9-10-J of Hearts.


Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank. For example, 2-2-2-2.


full House: Is made up of three matching cards of one value and two matching cards of another value. For example, Q-Q-Q and 6-6.


Flush: Is formed when all five cards are of the same suit, irrespective of their ranking. For example, 2-4-6-9-Q of Diamonds.


Straight: Consists of five cards of different suits in a sequence. For example, 3-4-5-6-7 of different suits, however, in the game of Pai Gow A-2-3-4-5 is the second highest hand.


Three of a Kind: Is made up of three cards of the same rank. For example, 7-7-7.


Two Pair: Is when you have two cards of the same value plus another two cards of another rank. For example, 10-10 and 3-3.


One Pair: Is formed using two cards of the same rank. For example, 6-6.


High Card: Can be any one of the following cards: Ace, King, Queen, Jack.



If you’re still not sure about how to set cards, in an online game you can choose the ‘House Way’ option to help you.



Beginners’ Tips


Now that you’re up to date with the rules and winning hands of the game, here are a couple of suggestions which could help you become a Pai Gow expert in no time!



  • The most basic rule of Pai Gow Poker is that your “big” or “behind” (high) hand must be worth more than your “small” or “front” (low) hand or you will be disqualified from the game. Remember that your low hand is just as important as your high hand. Ideally, you should try to find the right combination of two equally strong hands with the odds of winning both. Remember, you lose if only one hand wins.
  • In this variation of Poker, the conventional ranking rules apply, although with one strange anomaly; the A-2-3-4-5 straight (which is called "the wheel") is considered the second highest straight. Some casinos have dropped this outrageous rule, while others have embraced it, all the more reason to be aware of it.
  • Unlike most casino games, in Pai Gow Poker the player may bet against the dealer and other players. This type of wager is known as "banking”. Unfortunately, this is not offered in online play.
  • The turn to act as banker is supposed to rotate around the table, but at some casinos, it zig-zags between the dealer and each player in turn. The player may always decline to bank (which is usually the case), therefore, the option to do so will revert to the next player. A word of advice; when given the opportunity to be the banker you should always take it. When hands are duplicated, the bank wins and the odds move from 1% to 2% in the banker’s favour. In this position, you should bet as much as possible and as little as possible when you’re not playing banker. In brick and mortar casinos the role is passed around between players (sometimes there is a limit to the number of hands you can play in this position).
  • A full house should never be played as your high hand.
  • If you are given three pairs, the highest-ranking pair should go in the small hand. The other two pairs give the player a sound high hand. In the case of six cards to a flush, the lowest high card should start the flush, leaving the high card to be played in the small hand.


Variations of Pai Gow Poker


You will see that additional features have been added to the base of the game to create the following versions. These variations of Pai Gow are, in fact, quite rare and not easily found online. They are even less common in land-based casinos. Regardless, if you do come across one of these games, be sure to give them a ‘Gow’!



As the name suggests, there are no ties (pushes) in this variant of the game, therefore, the banker always wins if a tie is drawn. As a result, the odds of winning are definitely in the banker’s favour.



Pai Gow Mania: This is the same game, except with two additional side bets, one of which you can make after you view your first three cards, and the second you can make after all your cards have been dealt.



Fortune Pai Gow Poker: In this version, the skill element of the game has been removed as you are required to judge your hand without splitting it. You’re also given an envy bonus, that is, a fixed limit which is paid out when the higher-ranking hands are disclosed. The game sometimes features a progressive jackpot which can be all yours with a seven-card straight flush.




Playing Pai Gow Poker for Real Money


Pai Gow Poker has been developed at many online casinos for both head to head casino play and live dealer play. If you’re a beginner, you can start yourself off with free play until you get used to how the game works. If you’re looking for a big payout, you should check our top five reputable casinos at the top of the page for a safe place for your deposit. It’s an easy game to optimise for mobile use so you should have no problems at all finding a site to play at. We review some of the best sites by game on a regular basis to help with that.




FAQ


Is there an optimal strategy I can use to win at Pai Gow Poker?

Being a game of mixed elements of luck and skill, seasoned players have come together and created an optimal, yet rather complex, strategy to get you on top and winning. First of all, when you have no pair, straight, or flush, you should play the highest card in your big hand and the next two highest cards in your small hand.



Two Pair: In a hand where you have two pairs including a pair of Aces, you should split them. If the top pair is K-K, you should also split them except when the other pair is deuces, in this case, play them together and play the two highest remaining cards in the low hand. Otherwise, use these two-pair rules:


  • 6-6 and lower, split unless you hold an Ace, then play together with the Ace and the next highest card in the low hand.
  • 7-7 through to 10-10, split unless you hold an Ace, then play together with the Ace and the next highest card in the low hand.
  • J-J through to A-A, split - obviously with the highest pair in the high hand.

Three Pair: In this scenario, it’s best to play the highest pair in the low hand.


Three of a Kind: Always play your pairs together except when the cards are Aces, then play a pair of Aces in the big hand and a single Ace with the next highest card in the small hand.


Straights and Flushes: Keep the straight or flush in the high hand, choosing whichever gives you the highest card for the low hand. The exception is when you also have two pairs, in this case, revert back to the two pair rules. Straights and flushes are best kept together in the five-card hand unless you also have a 10-10 or better. In instances when you have a 10-10 for a five-card hand with an A-K or better for the two-card hand, you might want to consider breaking up the straight or flush.


Four of a Kind: Like two pair, four of a kind has some guidelines too:


  • With 6-6-6-6 or lower, keep them together.
  • In the case of, 7-7-7-7 through to 10-10-10-10, you should split them into pairs unless you have an Ace or better to play in the low hand.
  • With face cards such as Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks, you should always separate them, unless you have another pair to play in the low hand.

Five Aces: You should always split this hand unless you also have a pair of Kings, then you should play the Kings in the low hand.