Pai Gow Poker is an adaptation of the classic Chinese game of Pai Gow tiles. However, unlike the esoteric nature of the tile based game that makes it difficult for foreigners to learn, Pai Gow Poker uses a standard deck of playing cards and regular poker rankings to make the game accessible for players from around the world.
Playing the game online is very simple and most casinos even give you tools to make the game easier if you’re a new player. With a low house edge and a lot of pushes, it is a great game for those who want to see their money last a long time without the risk of losing (or the chance of winning) a huge sum in just a few hands.
While there’s not much to choose from between internet casinos, when it comes to Pai Gow Poker, one in particular has features that we really like that make the game just a little easier to play: www.bovada.lv! For instance, while playing Pai Gow you can use a convenient “house way” button that will set your hands by the same method the dealer uses to set their hands. This will ensure that the casino isn’t getting any additional advantage by setting their hands in a better manner than you are.
Pai Gow Poker Rules
A hand of Pai Gow Poker begins with each player making a bet. Each player and the dealer then receive seven cards face down. Each player must then use their seven cards to make two separate poker hands: a five-card hand, which is scored as a normal poker hand (with the exception that a “wheel” straight of A-2-3-4-5 is usually considered the second highest straight), and a two-card hand, in which a pair or high cards are the only two possible hands to make.
There are several things to consider when making the two hands. First of all, the game is played with a 53-card deck, which includes a joker. A joker can be used to complete a straight or a flush (or a straight flush); otherwise, the joker will count as an ace. Secondly, the five-card hand must always be higher than the two-card hand. In other words, if your two-card hand is a pair of aces, your five-card hand could not be a pair of kings.
After each player has arranged their cards, the banker (usually the dealer) reveals his cards and arranges them into two hands based on a method called the “house way.” These rigid rules are set by each casino, and determine how the banker must play their hands.
Each player then compares their two hands against the two banker hands. If a player wins both hands, he wins even money on his bet, minus a 5% commission (in other words, a $100 bet would win $95). If the banker wins both hands, the player loses their bet. If the banker and the player each win one hand, the bet is considered a push. When comparing hands, tied hands are treated as wins for the banker.
You may have noticed that we did not use the terms banker and dealer interchangeably. This is because – at least in the live version of the game – players also get the chance to play the role of banker during the course of the game. Generally, the chance to bank rotates around the table, allowing each player to bank once during each rotation. The banker only pays a 5% commission to the house on the net win, and is responsible for collecting bets from losing players and paying out bets to winners. In order to bank, a player must have enough money at the table to pay off all bets from the other players.
A typical hand of Pai Gow Poker as played online
Pai Gow Poker Strategy
There are two aspects to strategy in this game: banking, and how to arrange your hands.
The easier aspect to tackle is banking. In general, you should be willing to bank as often as possible, provided that you have the money to do so. In online games, you are unlikely to be allowed to do so, but if you choose to play the game in a live setting (or find an online casino that offers the option), being the banker is a big advantage for two reasons. The first is the rule that ties are counted as wins for the banker, which gives you a slight edge over the players (ties are more common than you might think, at least on the “front” two-card hand). Since you’ll be playing by the house way, you’ll also have an additional small edge over many players who may be playing far less than optimally.
Secondly, the fact that the casino only takes the 5% commission on the net win for the banker means that the commission hurts far less than when you are the player, when you will lose 5% on each individual winning bet. As the player, if you play five hands, winning three and losing two, you will pay three separate commissions on each of the three winning bets. Conversely, if you play against five hands as the banker and win three hands while losing two, the losses in those two hands the players won are set against the profits from the three hands you won, meaning you’ll only pay a smaller commission once.
The more complex part of Pai Gow Poker strategy is how to arrange your hands. Perhaps the best method available is to utilize one of the house way systems that are used by the casinos to set hands for their dealers. None of these systems, to the best of our knowledge, claims to be a perfectly optimal way to play. However, they all come very close to perfect play, and represent a great guide for playing without making any serious mistakes.
Several house ways are published online; we looked for the one that best combined simplicity with solid advice for the player. We’ve chosen to share the following, which is the house way at the Texas Station casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. Most house way systems are similar, with small changes in some areas. The house way at Texas Station is as follows:
House Way at Texas Station
Place the highest card in the high hand, then the next two highest cards in the low hand.
Place the pair in the high hand, and the two highest unpaired cards in the low hand.
There are several rules to follow here, depending on what pairs you hold:
- If you hold a pair of aces and any other pair, always split the pairs.
- If you hold a pair of face cards and a pair of sixes or higher, always split the pairs.
- If you hold two pairs of sixes or lower, always keep both pairs in the high hand.
- If you hold any other two pair, split the pairs unless you have an ace; in that case, keep both pairs in the high hand, and put the ace in the low hand.
Always put the highest pair in the low hand, and the other two pair in the high hand.
Three of a Kind
Always play three of a kind in the high hand, unless you have three aces; in that case, play a pair of aces in the high hand, and use the third ace in your low hand.
Two Three of a Kinds
Play the lower three of a kind in your high hand, and split the higher three of a kind, using that pair in your low hand.
Play the straight as your high hand. If you have a six or seven card straight, keep the lowest straight possible, playing the highest possible cards in your low hand. If a five or six card straight contains a pair, use the pair as the low hand if that would not break up the straight. If your straight contains two pair, use the two pair rules to determine how to play the hand.
You should use the same rules here as with a straight. In most cases, you will play the flush as your high hand. If there are six or seven cards in the flush, keep the lowest possible flush, leaving the highest cards for your low hand. If your hand contains a pair, use that pair for the low hand if it won’t break up your flush. If your hand contains two pair, use the two pair rules instead.
Straight and Flush
In this case, make the best possible legal low hand (this will usually mean keeping either the straight or the flush, with the two highest remaining cards or a pair serving as the low hand).
Split the full house, putting the three of a kind in your high hand and the pair in your low hand. The one exception is to keep the full house if your hold a pair of twos and an ace/king to play in the low hand. With a full house and an additional pair, play the higher pair in your low hand.
Four of a Kind
A four of a kind should be played according to the rank of the quads, as follows:
- Sixes or lower: Always keep the four of a kind together in the high hand.
- Sevens through tens: Split the four of a kind unless you have an ace and a face card (or any pair) to play in the low hand.
- Jacks through kings: Split the four of a kind unless the hand has a pair of tens or higher that can be played in the low hand.
- Aces: Split the four of a kind unless the hand also has a pair of sevens or better that can be played in the low hand.
In most cases, you’ll keep the straight flush as your high hand. If you hold two pairs of tens or higher, or any two pair with a pair of aces, then split the pairs. With any other two pairs and an ace, play the two pair as your high hand and the ace as your low hand. If playing the hand as only a straight or flush would allow you to play a face card or better in the low hand when you have to play a weaker low hand to keep the straight flush intact, play just the straight or flush.
Usually, you’ll play the royal flush as your high hand. If the royal flush also contains a pair, play the pair in the low hand if possible. If the hand contains two pair, use two pair rules instead. If you can play a king-high or better while retaining a flush or straight in the high hand, split up the royal flush.
Split the five aces into a three of a kind for the high hand, and a pair of aces for the low hand. The only exception is if a pair of kings can be played in the low hand; in that case, keep the five aces in the high hand.
Since both the house ways used by casinos and the strategies used by players can vary (and in some cases, players can improve very slightly on the house way), the exact probabilities involved in Pai Gow can vary somewhat. Calculations made based on various house ways methods and assuming that both the player and banker are arranging their hands in the same manner have determined that the player will win both hands approximately 28.6% of the time, the banker will win both hands about 29.9% of the time (the banker advantage is derived from winning ties), and the hands will result in a push (i.e., both sides winning one of the two hands) about 41.5% of the time. Using those figures, the house edge against a player is 2.73%.
Figuring out the edge is more difficult when you are in the role of the banker. Using the same numbers above, the banker will face a .2% house edge (after considering the 5% commission) in a one-on-one situation against the dealer. However, with more players involved, the house edge decreases. In fact, the player will actually hold the advantage as the banker if there are two or more players involved in a hand against him! Of course, you will be limited in the number of opportunities you have to bank, meaning that the small advantage you have as the banker isn’t enough to overcome the edge you have as a regular player…unless you’re betting far less than the other players at the table, and are willing to risk a lot to bank against high rollers.