Pai gow poker is one of the most challenging and refreshingly different table games available at an online casino. Developed in America as an easier-to-understand version of the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow, pai gow poker gives the player a different kind of gamble. While pai gow poker can be fun, it’s important to understand the mechanics of the game and, more importantly, how to stretch your bankroll.
A game of pai gow poker is started when the dealer shuffles and deals seven cards to each player and him or herself from a 53-card deck (with a joker). Players go around and choose two cards to take away from the seven to form the second hand. Players then have a five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand. The only stipulation is that the two-card poker hand must be of a lesser rank than the five-card poker hand. For instance, a player cannot have a pair of eights in the 5-card hand and a pair of nines in the 2-card hand.
The joker is semi-wild. It can do two things:
- Act as an ace
- Fill in a gap in a straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush
The dealer then splits his or her seven cards according to the casino’s house way, or a set of rules on how to split. Then, the dealer compares his or her five-card and two-card hands to those of the players. If both of the player’s hands beat the dealer’s, he or she wins 1:1 odds on his or her bet minus a 5% commission. For instance, if you wager $20 and win, you will get your $20 back plus $19. If both hands tie or are worse than the dealer’s, you lose. Finally, if one hand is better and the other is tied or worse, the bet pushes.
Casino house ways are close to optimal strategy, but usually not exactly. Therefore, it is possible to play the game better than the dealer. While this certainly won’t eliminate the house edge, it can reduce it, especially moreso than playing on hunches. To play pai gow poker correctly, you must look at your seven-card hand and observe what you can make out of it. Figure out the best possible five-card hand, and then look at the strategy points below. It’s crucial that you don’t always pick the best five-card hand, since the two-card hand is just as important.
If the only thing you’ve got is a high card, take the second- and third-most high cards and use them to form the second hand.
If you have one pair, put the pair in the five-card hand and use the two highest non-paired cards in the two-card hand.
Things start to get more complicated with two pair. In general, you will split it up: Put the higher pair in the five-card hand and the lower pair in the two-card hand. However, if you have a non-paired ace, add the rank of both pairs’ cards (jacks are 11, queens are 12, and kings are 13). For instance, a pair of fives and a pair of queens would be a total of 17. If the total is 16 or less, keep both pairs in the five-card hand and take the two highest non-paired cards into the two-card hand. If you have a non-paired king, do the same thing if the total of the pairs is 9 or less.
If you have three pairs, place the highest pair in the two-card hand.
If you have a three of a kind, you will generally keep it in the five-card hand and use the two highest non-matched cards in the two-card hand. However, if you have three aces, only put a pair in the five-card hand and put the third ace with the highest non-matched card in the two-card hand.
Things are most complicated with straights, flushes, straight flushes, and royal flushes. Your decision should be based on the number of matched cards you have.
- If you have one or zero pairs, play the straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush that will leave you with the best cards to put in the two-card hand.
- If you have two pairs, use them instead of the straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush unless they are exceptions according to the rules listed in the two pair section. If so, play the straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush.
- If you have three of a kind, use the straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush, and put the remaining pair in the two-card hand.
Always split a full house into a three of a kind and a pair.
Play a four of a kind according to these rules:
- Aces: Split into two pairs of aces unless you have another pair you could put in the two-card hand.
- Tens or higher: Split into two pairs unless you have an ace you can put in the two-card hand.
- Sixes or higher: Split into two pairs unless you have a king or an ace you can put in the two-card hand.
- Anything less than six: Play the four of a kind.
Finally, if you have five aces (four aces and a joker), put the three of a kind in the five-card hand and the pair in the two-card hand.
As you can see, the strategy for pai gow poker is elaborate. This is what makes this table game so fun. With its low variance, pai gow poker allows players’ bankrolls to last quite a long time, giving them hours of strategic and relaxing fun. You can’t go wrong with these guidelines, so why not give pai gow poker a try at any one of our reputable casinos?