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How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker is the card version of an ancient Chinese domino game that goes by the same name, Pai Gow. The poker version was invented In 1985 in the USA by Sam Torosian, owner of the Bell Card Club. It then gained popularity in Las Vegas in the late 1980s before gathering momentum worldwide.

With a little knowledge of the basics, Pai Gow poker is easy to learn and play. It can be found at casinos in Vegas and beyond, although not all casinos will offer Pai Gow tables. Alternatively, it can be found at casino sites, which encompass many popular table games online.

This article will get you started with the basics of the game. Read on to find out how to play Pai Gow poker.

The Basics

Pai Gow poker is played with a standard 52-card deck, along with one joker card. The joker can be used as an Ace, or to complete any straight or flush, making it the most powerful card in the game.

In Pai Gow, players have to make a 5-card poker hand and 2-card poker hand from the seven cards that they are dealt. The aim is to beat the dealer’s 5-card and 2-card hands to win the bet.

The dealer will start by shuffling the deck and the dealing out seven card hands, six to players and one to themselves. The remaining four cards in the deck are then burnt. If there are less than six players, the hands are still dealt but then are also burnt.

Players then arrange their seven cards into a 5-card and 2-card hand. It’s important to note that your 5-card hand must always be stronger than your 2-card hand, otherwise the hand is voided and must be forfeited or rearranged.

If both the player’s 5-card hand and 2-card hand are stronger than the dealer’s, they win the bet.

Hand Strengths

So, what is a strong hand in Pai Gow poker? Understanding hand strengths is the first step to learning the game and how to win. Thankfully, it’s not too complicated, especially for those who have played other types of poker before.

The two card hand is comprised of pairs or high cards. A pair of aces is the highest, down to a pair of twos. If no pairs are made, then the ace is highest, down to 2-3, which would be the lowest possible 2-card hand.

When it comes to the 5-card hand, Pai Gow follows very similar hand rankings to other poker games like Texas Hold ‘em. In order, the rankings are: Royal flush, straight flush, four of a kind, full house, flush, straight, three of a kind, two pair, pair and high card.

There are two exceptional hand rankings in Pai Gow poker. First, five aces is actually the best possible hand in Pai Gow. This can be achieved by using four aces and the joker card. Second, a wheel straight, A-5, is the second strongest straight behind only the broadway, 10-A.

Aside from those two exceptions, follow usual poker hand strengths when playing Pai Gow.

Placing bets and arranging hands

There is only one round of betting in Pai Gow. This takes place before the dealer gives out the cards. At this point, players can place their bets, which can be anything from the minimum to the maximum allowed on the table. Choose a table that has betting limits that you are comfortable with and always play within your bankroll.

Once bets are placed, the dealer will give out the seven card hands to each player and then to themselves. In a casino, the dealer will be the same person. In home games or private games, the dealer can be rotated to keep it interesting.

Once you have been dealt seven cards, it’s time to arrange the hand into your 5-card and 2-card hand. You can do this in any way that you please, as long as the 5-card hand is stronger than the 2-card hand.

Once you have arranged your cards, they are placed face down with the 5-card hand at the back and 2-card hand at the front. The dealer will then reveal their own 2-card and 5-card hands and compare theirs to the players.

Remember, in Pai Gow you always play against the dealer. Your hand will only be compared to the dealer’s and not to the other players.

Scoring in Pai Gow

The scoring is very simple in Pai Gow. If you win only one of the hands, i.e. the 2-card OR the 5-card, then the round is a “push”, aka a draw. Bets are returned to the player and you do not win or lose.

If you lose both hands, then your bet is scooped up by the dealer.

To win the round, you must have the stronger cards for both hands. Your 2-card and 5-card hands must both beat the dealer. In this case, you will win the round and double your original bet.

If the player and dealer reveal the same hand strengths then the dealer takes the round by default. This gives the dealer and therefore the casino a slight edge in the game.

There are also a number of side bets available in Pai Gow, such as the Fortune Pai Gow Poker and Emporer’s Challenge. Check casino rules to understand what side bets are on offer.

Pai Gow Strategy

Pai Gow poker is mostly a game of chance. It all depends on what cards you are dealt and how they stack up against the dealer’s cards. There are no additional rounds of betting following the initial bet, and so it’s not possible to raise the stakes according to hand strength and, unlike in bragging games, there is no option to bluff.

There is some skill involved and choices to be made when it comes to how to arrange your hand. Sometimes, arranging the cards will be obvious and you may only have one option. In other cases, you may have to arrange your cards in a way that prioritizes the strength of either your 2-card or 5-card hand.

For example, if you are dealt 9,9,T,T,J,Q,K, you could arrange the cards in several ways. You may opt for a very strong 5-card hand with the straight, with 9,T,J,Q,K. This leaves you with a weak 2-card hand of 9,T.

Or, you might choose to arrange the cards with a strong 2-card hand of 9-9 and a medium 5-card hand of T,T,J,Q,K.

In the first case, you almost guarantee a push by winning the 5-card. In the second case, you take a risk of losing both hands but have more potential to win both hands too.

All in all, Pai Gow poker is a fun, easy and slow-paced casino table game with reasonable house odds. With a basic understanding of hand strengths and rules, you’re good to go. If you need help, the casino will usually be happy to arrange your hand according to the house rules.

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