Pai Gow Poker


Pai Gow poker is a poker game which combines poker and the game Pai Gow, which used to be played with special dominos and dices. Pai Gow is an ancient Chinese game, full of symbols and fascinating enigmas. Games combining poker and Pai Gow seem to have started forming in the mid 19th Century. Only a hundred and more years later, in the 80’s, has Pai Gow poker appeared in Californian card-rooms. The Las Vegas casinos adopted the game the following year, and casinos elsewhere have followed since.

Pai Gow is a “one on one” game, in which a player does not play against the other players around the table but against the dealer. Each player, including the dealer, receives seven cards. With these he must make up two hands, one hand consisting of five cards and the other consisting of two cards. The aim in the game is to have two hands that are higher ranking than the dealer’s two hands.

The ranking of hands is Pai Gow is similar to the regular poker ranking. The game is played with 52 regular cards plus one joker. The joker can function as a limited “wild card”: it can either replace an Ace or replace any card that completes a hand to be a straight, straight flush or royal flush. Pai Gow is played on a Black Jack sized table. There is a maximum of six players to a game.

Perhaps due to its Far Eastern roots, Pai Gow is a relatively slow game, different from most speedy casino games. It is a game easy to learn and know well. You don’t need to have large amount of money to join a Pai Gow game. It is a game of low money risk: you will never lose huge sums of money in Pai Gow. On the other hand, your winnings will not be huge as well.

How to play the game

The game of Pai Gow starts off with a wager. Every player places the chip in front of his seat.

Then the dealer gives out seven cards to each of the players and to himself. To decide which player is first to get the cards either a dice or a random number is used.

Once a player has his seven cards, he needs to break them up to two hands: a five-card hand, called the “high” or the “back”, and a two-card hand, called the “low” or the “front”. The high hand is ranked like in regular poker, with one exception: an Ace-5 straight is considered the second highest ranking straight (the first being Ace – 10 and the third King – 9). The low hand can either be a pair or singles, with 2-3 as lowest rank and Ace-Ace as highest rank.

The players must organize their hands in such a way that the five-card hand ranks higher than the two-card hand. For instance, if a player receives a pair of three and a pair of eight he may not make his two-card hand a pair of eight. If a player does not follow this rule, his hands will automatically lose.

After the players finished organizing their cards, the dealer turns over his cards and organizes them in accordance to a set of rules called “the house way”.

Each player compares his two hands to the dealer’s two hands. There are several possible outcomes:

  1. If both of the player’s hands are higher than both the dealer’s hands, he wins the game.
  2. If both of the player’s hands are lower than both the dealer’s hands, the dealer wins and the player loses his wager.
  3. If the player wins one hand and loses the other it is called a “push”, and no money will be won or lost.
  4. If one or both hands tie, it is called a “copy”, and the dealer wins the hand.

If two hands are four of a kind, the hand with the highest ranking four of a kind card is the winner. For example, if the banker has a Jack four of a kind and the player a King four of a kind, the player’s hand wins.

If two hands are a full house, the hand with the highest ranking three of a kind is the winner. For example, if the dealer has three Aces and a pair of 8 and the player has three Queens and a pair of 10, the dealer’s hand wins.

Because many hands are push hands, casinos don’t make much money from Pai Gow games. One way of tackling this “disadvantage” is by setting a 5% percent commission, paid to the house at every winning hand. Some casinos will deduct that amount on the spot, so the player will automatically receive 95% of his winning pot. Other casinos keep records of winning hands and charge a player only after he leaves the poker table.

An Example of a Pai Gow Hand

Using an example of a hand might help understanding how the game works and what are the possible strategies when playing it.

Let’s say that you are dealt the following cards, as shown in the picture:
Ace of Hearts, joker, 9 of Clubs, Queen of Hearts, 10 of Clubs, Queen of Diamonds and King of Hearts.

You have the following options of compiling two hands:

  1. Back: Pair of Aces (using the joker), pair of Queens and a 9. Front: A king and a 10 (high cards) With this combinations you have a good chance of beating the back hand but a low chance of beating the front hand. The chances you have of losing the game or winning the game are both relatively low.
  2. Back: Pair of Aces (using the joker), King, 10, 9. Front: Pair of Queen. With this combinations you have a good chance of beating the front hand but a low chance of beating the back hand. Again, the chances you have of losing the game or winning the game are both relatively low.
  3. Back: 9-King Straight (using the joker as queen) Front: Ace and Queen With this combinations you have an excellent chance of beating the back hand band a pretty good chance of beating the front hand. This would probably be your best shot.

Pai Gow Strategy

  • Players that are use to regular poker and play Pai Gow poker tend to forget that in this game you win the pot only if both your front and your back hands are winning hands. Getting all excited over having a royal flush is nice, but if your two-card hand is 2 and 3, you will not win the pot. If, for example, you have a pair of 8 and a Jack three of a kind, they should be split up between the two hands, even though by doing so you lose a full house hand.
  • When having the option of making two average ranked hands or one strong hand and one weak hand, the second option might be wiser to take. This way you are playing it safe, because chances are it will be a push, and you won’t lose your money. Go for the two average hands, the bigger the chances of losing that hand.
  • A pair in the low hand and a three of a kind in the high hand will usually win the game. The higher these cards rank, the smaller the chances that the dealer hands will beat your hands.
    On average, a player who plays ten hands of Pai Gow will win three hands, lose three hands and push four hands. (This assuming that he knows how to play the game correctly!)

More about Pai Gow

The Dragon Hand

A possible twist to the game is to use a “dragon” hand. The dealer deals out a hand to an empty seat. Any player may choose to take that hand and play it. That player plays both hands, and by doing so he increases his possible gains as well as his possible loses.

The Banker

Pai Gow offers the option of having a player be the banker. The other players, including the dealer, play their hands against the banker’s hands. The banker scoops the pot in case of a tie, pays from his own money to winning players and collects any lost bets.

Sometimes the role of banker in a Pai Gow game is rotated amongst the players. If there are six players playing (a full table) plus one dealer, each player will get to be the banker every seventh play. Other games deal out the banker position by zigzagging back and forth from the dealer to the players. A player cannot act as banker if he did not play at least one hand where the dealer was the banker. Some casinos offer the option of “co-banking”, a player and a dealer who bank together, splitting between the costs and the prizes.

The banker is the person with the highest odds of winning money. His advantage over the other players is clear: in a “copy” situation, he will win the pot. However, the banker is also the player who risks the most money. In order to become a banker a player must have enough money so that he is able to pay off everyone’s bets.

House Edge Chart

Possible Outcomes in Pai Gow Poker

Outcome Probability
Player wins both 28.55%
Tie 41.47%
Banker wins both 29.98%

Pai Gow Poker Index Values Chart

This chart shows the chances of different hand combinations of winning the game.

5-Card Hand 5-Card Index 2-Card Hand 2-Card Index
9 high 0.0002 2-Mar 0.0007
10 high 0.0018 2-Apr 0.0021
Jack high 0.0081 3-Apr 0.0034
Q-5 0.0086 2-May 0.0046
Q-6 0.0108 3-May 0.0057
Q-7 0.0154 4-May 0.0068
Q-8 0.0209 2-Jun 0.0079
Q-9 0.0247 3-Jun 0.0089
Q-10 0.0257 4-Jun 0.0099
Q-J 0.0257 5-Jun 0.0108
K-5 0.0265 2-Jul 0.0118
K-6 0.0299 3-Jul 0.0128
K-7 0.0374 4-Jul 0.0138
K-8 0.0479 5-Jul 0.0149
K-9 0.0586 6-Jul 0.0164
K-10 0.0654 2-Aug 0.0178
K-J 0.0671 3-Aug 0.0187
K-Q 0.0671 4-Aug 0.0196
A-6 0.071 5-Aug 0.0206
A-7 0.0829 6-Aug 0.0222
A-8 0.1019 7-Aug 0.0259
A-9 0.1245 2-Sep 0.0292
A-10 0.1453 3-Sep 0.0301
A-J 0.1575 4-Sep 0.0309
A-Q 0.1608 5-Sep 0.0319
A-K 0.1608 6-Sep 0.0335
pair of 2’s 0.1729 7-Sep 0.0376
pair of 3’s 0.2048 8-Sep 0.0472
pair of 4’s 0.2377 2-Oct 0.0543
pair of 5’s 0.2716 3-Oct 0.0553
pair of 6’s 0.3067 4-Oct 0.0563
pair of 7’s 0.3432 5-Oct 0.0574
pair of 8’s 0.3842 6-Oct 0.0591
pair of 9’s 0.4274 7-Oct 0.0632
pair of 10’s 0.4691 8-Oct 0.073
pair of jacks 0.5125 9-Oct 0.0921
pair of queens 0.564 J-2 0.105
pair of kings 0.6184 J-3 0.1062
pair of aces 0.6852 J-4 0.1073
two pair 3’s high 0.7503 J-5 0.1085
two pair 4’s high 0.7543 J-6 0.1102
two pair 5’s high 0.7601 J-7 0.1142
two pair 6’s high 0.7676 J-8 0.1232
two pair 7’s high 0.7767 J-9 0.1414
two pair 8’s high 0.7867 J-10 0.1729
two pair 9’s high 0.7969 Q-2 0.1931
two pair 10’s high 0.8074 Q-3 0.1945
two pair jacks high 0.8146 Q-4 0.1957
two pair queens high 0.8203 Q-5 0.197
two pair kings high 0.8257 Q-6 0.1989
two pair aces high 0.8261 Q-7 0.2027
three 2’s 0.8286 Q-8 0.2109
three 3’s 0.834 Q-9 0.2269
three 4’s 0.8393 Q-10 0.2551
three 5’s 0.8446 Q-J 0.2994
three 6’s 0.8499 K-2 0.3268
three 7’s 0.8552 K-3 0.3285
three 8’s 0.8609 K-4 0.3302
three 9’s 0.8665 K-5 0.3323
three 10’s 0.8718 K-6 0.335
three jacks 0.8771 K-7 0.3398
three queens 0.8823 K-8 0.3487
three kings 0.8876 K-9 0.3641
three aces 0.8909 K-10 0.3895
straight 2-6 0.903 K-J 0.4291
straight 3-7 0.9105 K-Q 0.4858
straight 4-8 0.9176 A-2 0.5196
straight 5-9 0.9211 A-3 0.5217
straight 6-10 0.9246 A-4 0.5242
straight 7-jack 0.9316 A-5 0.5272
straight 8-queen 0.9385 A-6 0.5312
straight 9-king 0.9453 A-7 0.5378
straight ace-5 0.9522 A-8 0.5483
straight 10-ace 0.9623 A-9 0.5647
flush 6 high 0.9658 A-10 0.5892
flush 7 high 0.9659 A-J 0.6248
flush 8 high 0.9662 A-Q 0.6744
flush 9 high 0.9668 A-K 0.7409
flush 10 high 0.9682 pair of 2’s 0.7899
flush jack high 0.9705 pair of 3’s 0.8116
flush queen high 0.9744 pair of 4’s 0.832
flush king high 0.9804 pair of 5’s 0.8512
flush ace high 0.9974 pair of 6’s 0.8693
full house 0.9984 pair of 7’s 0.8884
four of a kind 0.9995 pair of 8’s 0.9083
straight flush 1 pair of 9’s 0.9268
five aces 1 pair of 10’s 0.9439
pair of jacks 0.9593
pair of queens 0.9726
pair of kings 0.9839
pair of aces 0.9945

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