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Poker has many varieties but all in all, it is a card game that combines skill, strategy, and gambling. This is the reason why Chinese locals love to play the game despite it being banned from mainland China. One of the poker variants Chinese people play is Pai Gow Poker. Whilst poker games share betting as an intrinsic part of the play, betting procedures often vary along with the number of face-up and face-down cards and the number of community cards.
What is Pai Gow Poker?
As mentioned, Pai Gow Poker is one variant of poker. It was developed by Sam Torosian, a casino owner during the mid-1980s. The game is one of the simplest to learn of all the poker variants. In this game, players simply have to make two poker hands: one 2-card hand and one 5-card hand. If two poker hands beat that of the dealer’s, the player wins. If only one of the hands is a win, it is a push. If both of the poker hands lose, players lose their bets.
Its simplicity and pace allowed it to become a casino staple game, perfect for those looking to enjoy a slower-paced game.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
This simple game is essentially a game of pushes. Players can simply sit down in a casino and play with the same stake all day long, making it a low-risk casino game for beginners and experienced players. It is a great pick-me-up game especially for expats visiting China. They can talk with other players on the table because all of the players are playing against the dealer so, in essence, they can all win and lose together. Some casinos even allow their dealers to teach the players on how to set their cards.
How to Place a Bet in Pai Gow Poker
Similar to any casino games, players have to place their bets before they receive any card. Unlike in Texas Hold’em or Pot Limit Omaha, this is the only bet players can make for the whole duration of the hand. Bets should always be within the minimum and maximum allowed bets per table.
Do note, however, that some Pai Gow tables allow players to make a bonus bet on getting a “premium” hand. In several casinos, it is considered three-of-a-kind or better. Premium hands get better pays on their bets and do not depend on whether the player will win or lose their main bet.
However, word of advice: Do not bet the bonus. Why? Most casinos have a comparatively large house edge on the bonus bet. Most players lose a chunk of their money over the bonus bet.
The Pai Gow Poker Deal
Once all bets are placed by each and every player, they will receive seven face-down cards each coming from a 53-card deck (standard 52-deck card plus a joker). The dealer will automatically deal seven cards each even if the table is not full. The remaining four cards will remain face-down as a muck pile.
As soon as the dealer picks up any unused hands, each player can start setting or arranging their Pai Gow hands.
Arranging a Pai Gow Poker Hand
The players’ main task for each game is to set or arrange the cards into the best poker hands possible. The backhand or the high hand should be the 5-card poker hand whilst the front hand or the low hand is the 2-card hand. Since it only has two cards, the low hand could either be a pair or two high cards.
Joker in Pai Gow
Instead of using only 52 cards, Pai Gow uses a 53-deck card with the inclusion of a joker so there is really the possibility that a player will be dealt the joker. Once a player gets a joker, they can use it in three ways:
- It can be any card to complete a straight.
- It can be any suit to complete a flush.
- If players cannot use it for either, it will always have the value of an ace. Thus, in a two-hand card, the joker is always considered an ace.
Pai Gow Special Rules
The simple game of Pai Gow only has one rule: The five-hand card should always be higher than the two-card hand. For instance, players dealt with an Ace of Hearts, Queen of Clubs, Jack of Spades, 8 of Diamonds, 8 of Clubs, 4 of Spades, and 2 of Hearts can arrange it as:
High: 8 of Diamonds – 8 of Clubs, – Jack of Spades, 4 of Spades, and 2 of Hearts
Low: Ace of Hearts and Queen of Clubs
Notice that the high hand has a pair whilst the low hand is only Ace high. Putting the pair of 8s will cause you to foul your hand and lose the bet.
The 5-card hand follows the same ranking used in standard poker rankings except for some casinos where the A-2-3-4-5 straight or wheel is regarded as the 2nd highest straight. Whilst some casinos have dropped it, some might still be using it so make sure to check with the local casinos in Macau.
Strategy for Arranging a Pai Gow Hand
Since Pai Gow Poker will let you lose money if you lose one hand, most poker players strategise to at least get one hand to win and force a push. Some create a strong two-hand card without outranking their five-hand card. However, players who can create a strong five-card such as a straight or even better often freeroll on their two-card hand to force a win.
The basic strategy to win Pai Gow without pairs would be to leave the highest ranked card in the high hand and put the second two highest ranking cards in the low hand. This arrangement will make the low hand better without actually outranking the high hand.
- For cards with one pair, the best strategy is to put the pair in the high hand and place the two highest cards in the low hand.
- For dealt hands with two pairs, the best way to arrange it would be to split the two sets of pair if they are a pair of Aces, set of two high pairs (i.e. QQ-AA), one high pair (QQ-AA) and one medium (88-JJ).
- Players would also find it useful to split two medium pairs and one high and one low pair if they don’t have an Ace. It would also be good to split one medium pair and one low pair and two low pairs if they don’t have an Ace or a King.
- It is also good to play three-of-a-kind in the high hand unless the dealt card includes three Aces. For hands with three Aces, it is best to play a pair in the high hand and Ace-high in the low hand.
- Flushes and straights should always be in the high hand unless the hand also has a two pair. If so, split them accordingly.
- Always split quads into two pairs only if they are JJ or better.
- Always keep quads together is they are 6 or lower.
- Only keep a quad together if an Ace is also present in the hand.
- Players with a full house should play the pair in the low hand and the three-of-a-kind in the high hand unless there is a second pair. If there is a second pair, play the higher of the pairs in the low hand.
- Players who get five Aces with the joker should always split them unless they also have a King pair. If so, players should play all five Aces in the high hand.
Pai Gow Dealer Rules
Dealers in casinos are required to set their hand in specific ways. The House Way varies from every casino so it is best to check with any local casino to see their version to allow you to strategise better.
Winning Pai Gow
As soon as all hands are set, the dealer and player will compare their hands. If both of the player’s hands are better than both hands of the dealer, players win 1:1 on their bet. If only one of the hands is better, then it is considered a push. If both of the dealer’s hands are better than the player’s, the player loses. Do note that in cases of a tie or hands with similar hands, the dealer will always win the hand.