Also commonly referred to as double-hand poker, Pai Gow Poker is basically the traditional Chinese Pai Gow game’s Americanized version, in the manner that the former is played using playing cards, and not the conventional Chinese dominoes.
Pai Gow Poker is played using the normal 52-card deck, and a single joker. You can see Pai Gow Poker being actively played in any off-line or online casino throughout the world, for instance Bet365 (where you can also avail Bet365 bonus upon initial sign up). The game is played on a specially created Pai Gow Poker table having place for six players, apart from the dealer. The whole idea of the game is defeating the bank, which in most cases is the casino dealer. Alternatively, any of the playing six players can also assume the role of the Pai Gow Poker banker cum dealer.
How the wins are decided
Unlike the regular poker game, wherein you are required to make a best of five hand and then compete against the players sitting at the table, in Pai Gow Poker, the objective is to create two different poker hands from the seven card hands dealt to the players (by the dealer) - a two-card hand and a five-card poker hand, and compete against the banker/dealer.
As per the Pai Gow Poker rules, the rank of the five-card hand must always be higher compared to the two-card hand, and that’s also the reason why the five-card hand is often referred to as the ‘big,’ ‘bottom,’ ‘behind’ or ‘high’ hand; while the two-card hand is referred to as the ‘low,’ ‘small,’ ‘in front,’ ‘hair,’ ‘minor,’ or ‘on top’ hand, as the latter are normally placed in front or ahead of the five-card hand after a player has set them based on his/her strategy.
How cards are dealt
As mentioned above, Pai Gow Poker involves six players apart from the banker/dealer, with each one of them receiving seven facedown cards. So, the dealer first shuffles the cards properly and then deals seven different hands of seven cards each (including himself/herself). The four leftover cards (from the 53 card deck including one joker) are kept aside as unused no matter how many people are playing the game.
The game involves seven betting positions, starting from the banker or dealer, and each one of those positions is assigned a unique number from 1 to 7. This assignment happens from the banker/dealer and then in counterclockwise direction around the table. In most casinos, any number from 1 to 7 gets randomly selected either with the help of dice or electronically, followed by dealing of the cards beginning with the position ascertained, and then proceeding further in counterclockwise direction.
Another common way of using dice for selection of the starting number (who’d act as the dealer) is by rolling three 6-sided dice, followed by counting the betting spots in clockwise direction, starting with the first position and continuing until the number gotten on the dice roll.
The hand stays assigned regardless of whether a player is sitting in a particular spot or not, and is then added to the discarded pile of four unused cards at the time of play. Many casinos throughout the world, including the ones in Europe and Las Vegas, ensure that an extra hand is dealt to the vacant seat, often referred to as the ‘dragon hand!’
Once all the players at the table have figured their strategy and set their Pai Gow Poker hands (the five-card and two-card hands), they’re asked about their willingness to play another bet for the dragon hand, if there is any on the table. In most cases, the bet amount for the dragon hand is the minimum set for the table, going up till the bet placed by the player on his/her original hand. The granting of the dragon hand is on first-come first-serve basis and whichever player asks for it first, gets it. In such a scenario, the player effectively plays two different hands. Although the rules may vary from one casino to the other, and depend on whether it’s an off-line or an online casino, in most cases the dealer is responsible for turning over the dragon hand and setting it as per the house rules. The reason behind this is that the player who’s playing the dragon hand, apart from his/her own, is already in possession of seven cards which he/she has seen. As a result, his/her knowledge of his/her original hand could impact the way the dragon hand is set.
Rankings of hands in Pai Gow Poker
When it comes to various rankings of hands in Pai Gow Poker, the two-card hands are ranked either on the basis of high cards or pairs.
The five-card hands on the other hand are ranked based on the standard ranking of poker hands, with a slight exception in some of the casinos wherein the A 2 3 4 5 sequence may be ranked higher than the king-high straight (9 10 J Q K), but lower compared to the ace-high straight (10 J Q K A). Otherwise, the A 2 3 4 5 straight is always considered as the lowest of all the straights.
The joker functions as a bug. You’re allowed to use it either as an ace, or for completing a flush or a straight in a five-card hand. When employed in a two-card hand, the joker always functions as an ace. These rules are universally applicable except in a handful of casinos where the joker can be purely used as a wild card.
How the wins are decided
For a player to win the bet, his/her both hands (five-card and two-card) must beat the corresponding hands of the banker. In the event that only one hand of the player beats the corresponding one of the banker, neither the banker nor the player wins the bet and the bet gets tied or pushed onto the next one. If both the player’s hands are lower than the corresponding hands of the banker, the player loses his/her bet.
There could be another scenario in which the player loses one of his/her hands to the banker and ties the other one with the banker. In this case, the player will lose his/her bet to the banker. To give you an example, if the player’s five-card hand is smaller than the banker, but his/her two-card hand has the same value as the banker, it’ll be the player who loses his/her bet. This rule gives a slight advantage to the banker in Pai Gow Poker.
On the other hand, if a player commits a foul, meaning that he/she makes his/her two-card hand stronger than the five-card hand, or in the event that he/she places an incorrect number of playing cards in his/her separated hands, he/she would attract a penalty, either by way of rearrangement of his/her hand as per the house rules or by forfeiting his/her hand.
If you’re playing Pai Gow Poker in an off-line or an online casino such as Bet365 (regardless of whether you’re playing using your Bet365 bonus or not), the games would be dealt and banked by the casino and the banker would set his/her hand in a certain pre-specified manner, often referred to as the ‘house way.’ As a result, the dealing casino personnel wouldn’t be using any sort of strategy for beating the players.
In Pai Gow Poker games where the players act as bankers and dealers instead, they are free to set their hands whichever way they like. However, there may be certain situations where the players may choose to act as co-banker with the house. In this case, the player’s hands will need to be set as per the house rules or in other words, the house way.
A large number of casinos usually put a flat charge of 5% on all the bets, regardless of whether they are won or lost. In other casinos, a 5% commission may be taken out from the winnings, often referred to as the rake. Although this percentage may seem high to some new Pai Gow Poker players, please know that it is charged keeping in mind that Pai Gow Poker is played far more slowly compared to other casino games like blackjack etc. Furthermore, there are several pushes too. Hence, the house normally doesn’t collect that 5% commission of fee as frequently as in other popular casino games.
Popular variants of Pai Gow Poker
There are certain Pai Gow Poker variants that have become immensely popular throughout the world. You’re most likely to find these variants regardless of whether you’re playing in an off-line or an online casino such as Bet365. On a side note, if you do play in an online casino like Bet365, make sure that you ask for your signup Bet365 bonus before placing any bets.
Coming back to the Pai Gow Poker variants, majority of them were created between years 2004 and 2009. The first of these variations was Pai Gow Mania that allows the players to place two side bets rather than the conventional one side bet for every Pai Gow Poker hand.
Another popular variant is Fortune Pai Gow wherein the players are allowed to place a side bet on poker hand rankings of trips or higher. It’s a highly popular variant that’s enjoyed in casinos all over the world.
Emperor’s Challenge is one more Pai Gow Poker variant where the players can place a side bet on the 7-card Pai Gow. Finally, Pai Gow progressive is also extensively played by Pai Gow lovers where a progressive jackpot is added to the Pai Gow table. In most casinos, this jackpot is created using £ 1 side bets over a period of time.