If you are unfamiliar with Pai Gow Poker, the table may look rather strange and forbidding, with fire-breathing dragons attacking your hand. It’s more important that you pay attention to the real master of the lair, the banker and his hand, since that’s the one that you have to beat.
Pai Gow Poker is a spin-off of the traditional Pai Gow game played all across Asia in homes and in casinos. If you have never played that game either, forget it was mentioned, except that this is why the poker table has dragons on it.
The maximum number of players per table is six (6) plus the dealer.
Understand the Game
The game is played with one deck of 52-cards plus 1-Joker, even in casinos that have an affinity for multiple deck shoes. Each player bets on either the high hand or low hand to win before the cards are dealt. The object of the game is to beat both of the banker’s hands.
In order to determine who will be dealt the first hand and thus play first, the dealer then shakes three dice and totals the numbers showing. The banker is always the numbers 1, 8 and 15 and if the dice total any of these amounts, the dealer receives the first card and plays ahead of the players. In this example, if the dice total is 6, the player that sits in the fifth seat gets dealt first and plays first.
If any player spots are empty, the banker will still deal the same number of cards to that empty seat.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
The cards are then dealt in counter clockwise fashion with each player and the banker receiving a total of 7 cards. Still using the example of the deal, player 5 sets his cards and decides which cards will go into the 2-card hand and which into the 5-card hand in that order. The 2-card hand goes into the box closest (the front) to the dealer and the 5-card in the back. Continuing counter clockwise, each player in turn sets their hand in the same way, as does the banker in turn. All cards are placed face down.
Once everyone has set their cards, the banker starting with Player 5 (in this case), turns both hands over and compares their like hand to his like hand. In other words, the comparison is the 5-card to the 5-card and the 2-card to the 2-card. Every player is playing against the banker.
In order to win, both hands must be higher than the bankers. If one hand wins and the other hand loses, it’s considered a push and both, the bank and player, break even with no money to either. If both hands are won by the house, the stake placed before the deal goes to the bank. While in blackjack ties become pushes, in Pai Gow Poker, the push is determined only by each place winning one of the two hands. You can start to worry now, because the House wins all ties.
The 2-card hand is always called the “front hand”, “low hand” or “second highest hand” and the 5-card hand is always called the “back hand” or “high hand”. If you are reading a detailed instruction on how to play Pai Gow, it’s important to know that.
Minimum bets are usually $5 per hand and players must give 5% of their winnings to the dealer or have him take it from the winnings.
Pai Gow Tips and Strategies
There are plenty of tips and strategies to be found online for playing your best possible game. Most of these talk about playing the House Way, which is the way that the dealers are instructed to play the cards for the bank. For the most part, all casinos use the same basic strategy and this should be learned by everyone who wants to try Pai Gow Poker.
Once you are able to get a hint at why the dealer is splitting or moving cards from to the high or low hand, you’ll have a better feel for what you should or could do to beat him. The best strategy is to play your best, no matter what the so-called experts say about splitting this and not splitting that.
Quite a few new players test their skills in video or simulated online games. This is the absolutely worst thing you can do, because the element of the human reaction to each play is removed. No one at a casino table is going to eliminate their own emotional hunches or reactions and play like a computer. You’ll never learn to develop a strategy by playing a machine.
When deciding how to set your high and low hands, try to balance them and create the best possible hand for each instead of making one hand good and the other less likely to win. The best you can do in making one hand strong and the other weak is a push. You have a better chance of winning if the hands are each as good as they can be. (You might want to practice at home by dealing yourself 7 cards and creating the best hands possible. It will help you to make good decisions at the table without slowing the play for everyone else.)
There is just no one way to win at Pai Gow Poker or any other casino operated game. But, learning to play well will keep you from losing your shirt ahead of everyone else.
As is true with all casino games, the odds are always in the houses favor. Our experts proved, that in general, 41% of the time you will see a tie – where the dealer wins both hands. On average, 44% of the time there are pushes.
Pai Gow FAQs
Why is it that a player is playing two hands at the same time and does that give you an advantage?
First, remembering the rules that the dealer must deal a full hand, even to empty spaces – called the Dragon hand. The dealer will offer each of the players the opportunity to play the Dragon’s hand if they wish to before it goes to the house. However, if a player does wish to take the Dragon’s hand, they still have to play the way the house would play it, with no personal strategies involved.
Are the rules the same in Pai Gow Poker for every casino?
No. As with the rules for any game of Poker, modifications in play (wild cards, high-low cards, etc…) can be made as well as the rules can be modified according to the casino.