Origins of Pai Gow Poker
Although Pai Gow Poker, which is played in card clubs and casinos throughout the world, has its origins in the ancient Chinese pastime game of Pai Gow (which used to be played with dominoes), it’s a far more exciting variant of its conventional counterpart. Furthermore, its relation to the original Pai Gow is only in a very tenuous way.
If we trace back its history, we’ll find that Pai Gow used to be actually played during the times of Song Dynasty, dating as far back as 960 A.D. – 1279 A.D. At that time, it used to be played by players arranging 4 tiles into 2 pairs of back-hand and front-hand each. Its main objective was to defeat both the banker’s hands, to receive even money on the bet amounts.
However, the traditional Pai Gow never went beyond the Chinese gambling salons owing to its complex nature. Its complexity was such that back in 1979, only Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas used to offer Pai Gow as a gambling option, mostly to cater to the needs of Oriental players.
The new age Pai Gow Poker on the other hand is an American invention. It first started getting played in the California’s card club circles during 1985, starting with the Bell Card Club. Its introduction by the Bell Card Club’s owner Sam Torosian was mainly for attracting wealthy Asian gamblers into his club. How he got introduced to Pai Gow was through a Filipino patron who first introduced him to ‘Puy Soy,’ another Chinese card game that pitted players against the banker by dealing out 13 cards, divided into 3 poker hands.
Sam immediately loved the idea, however, had to tweak it as his patrons found the 13-card ‘Puy Soy’ a little too slow for their liking. The end result was the 7-card version wherein 7 cards would be used for the formation of 2 poker hands. This new version had a stark similarity to the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow, as it also featured a hand behind and a hand in front.
The player would need to beat both the banker’s hands to win even money and would at least need to win one hand to end up with a draw. Losing both hands would make him lose whatever amount he/she had wagered.
The idea of introducing a joker to the regular 52-card deck was Torosian’s. Furthermore, it was he who made the basic poker rules applicable to the winning combinations in Pai Gow Poker. Such a move made Pai Gow Poker much easier to understand and play, thereby increasing its acceptance and popularity.
The all-new ‘Pai Gow Poker’ was launched on a Friday night at couple of tables at the Bell Card Club. It became such a hit that within a week, 30 more tables had to be allocated to the game, and soon the entire Bell Card Club had nothing but Pai Gow Poker tables in it. Such was the popularity of the game that these tables even blocked the restrooms’ entrances as well as the main entry of the club. What more, Sam had to set a few of them up in the hallways too!
All casino card players were greatly impressed by the unique blend of American West-style card play and the Chinese heritage offered by Pai Gow Poker. Soon, the Bicycle Club’s owner, George Hardie took notice of this stupendous popularity enjoyed by Pai Gow Poker and introduced the game to his club, which was the largest card club in the world at that time. Not surprisingly, the move was met with a similar overwhelming response.
By the year 1981, Pai Gow Poker had made inroads into several casinos at the Las Vegas strip. From there on, it spread into many more in the Atlantic City, followed by its overseas venture into Monte Carlo and Buenos Aires. Finally, Pai Gow Poker made a complete circle and returned to its country of origin, China, becoming one of the highlight card games in casinos at Macau.
Despite the fact that Pai Gow Poker had very interesting origins, its story, as far as its inventor Sam Torosian is concerned, is pretty sad. Sam never filed a patent for the game and thus lost out on a huge fortune running into hundreds of millions of dollars. As a result, he retired without even getting a penny in royalties for this highly popular card casino game of the modern era.