How do you play Pai Gow Poker?
What is Pai Gow Poker?
Before explaining how to play this insanely popular card game, let’s take a brief look at what it is and how it came to be!
While it may sound like the game originated in Asia, Pai Gow Poker – known as double-hand poker in some places, was actually an American invention. Sam Torosian, owner of the California Bell casino created the game in 1985. Unfortunately he didn’t patent the game, and experts have estimated his wealth from royalties had he patented it would be well over $100 million!
It’s a 52 card game that’s a combination of 7-card stud and dominos. The best way to think about the game is that your goal is to make two hands; one with two cards and one with five cards. If both your hands beat the dealers hand then you win; if one beats the dealer and one loses to the dealer, it’s a push, and if the dealer beats both of yours, then you lose your bet.
The great thing about this game is it’s perfect to get a lot of gaming in for not much money comparatively, because as you can probably tell, lots of games end in a push! The odds are great that at least one of your hands will beat the dealer’s, which means there isn’t a high risk of losing your money involved in the game and it’s a very relaxing game compared to say, Blackjack! As all players on the table are playing against the dealer, it also creates a great sense of community within everyone playing at the table.
How to play Pai Gow Poker
First thing you’ll do at the table is place your bet; only after all bets are placed will the cards be dealt, this bet will also be the only one you can place during this hand. Each table also has a minimum and maximum bet, so of course yours will have to be within these limits. Some tables also have a bonus bet you can make, which is a bet that you’ll get a premium hand, consisting of a three of a kind or better hand. The better the hand, the more the house will pay out on your bet.
Once bets have been placed, the dealer will deal seven face down cards to each player from a 53 card deck (including the Joker). Any empty spaces on the table will also get seven cards, and the final four cards in the deck will be placed face down on the table as a muck pile. The dealer will then pick up any hands on unused seats and you can then pick up your hand.
You’ll want to arrange your seven cards into two hands, again, one with two cards and one with five. There are only two rules: The low (two) card hand can only be a pair or two high cards – while the high (five) card hand is a standard five card poker hand, and the 5-card hand must have a higher value than the low hand. If the two card hand has a higher value than the five card hand, then it is considered fouling your hand and will result in you losing your bet. Not ideal! Once everyone has arranged their hand, you’ll place your cards face up on the table, then the dealer will do the same and compare cards.
As for the Joker, you can substitute this for a different card in a few ways. Firstly, it can be used to complete a straight in a hand, and take on the form of any card in that straight. It can also take on any suit in order to complete a flush hand. If the Joker isn’t used for either of these, or is in the low hand, then it will be considered an ace.
The high hand is ranked with standard poker hand ratings, so there’s not much to be confused about there, apart from one hand in SOME casinos: The wheel straight (A-2-3-4-5) can be considered the second highest straight, so always check the house rules on this one when you sit down!
Tips and tricks
A common strategy in this game is to make your low hand as strong as possible (while also being outranked by your high hand), so that it can beat the dealer’s, ensuring a push and causing you to keep your bet and keep playing for longer! Of course if you can make a very strong high hand, such as a straight or higher, then you should aim for that as it’s likely to beat the dealer and your low hand can generally be good enough to win with.
Each house has a different set of rules of how to set their hands, so it’s always worth checking this beforehand, so it gives you a better idea of how to strategise your hand!
If you have hands with no pairs, generally the safest thing to do is leave your highest card in your high hand and put the next two highest-ranking cards in your low hand. This way you maximise your chances of a push in that situation and ensure your high hand is still higher scoring than your low hand.
Never take up the bonus bet. While this is generally a low risk game, the house always has a huge edge on the bonus bet, so if you’re looking to bleed money slowly, betting the bonus is a great way to do so!
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