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Pai Gow Poker Basics, How To Play, Strategy, Plus History Of The Game – an article by Ankur Vyas

Pai Gow Poker

Sam Torosian and Fred Wolf, the inventers of Super Pan-9, invented the game Pai Gow Poker. The game is derived from Pai Gow (a Chinese game of dominoes), but is emphasized in the American format – it implements on poker hand value instead of Chinese Dominoes. Pai Gow Poker can be played with a set of six players and the dealer. The game is to be played with a 52-card deck and a joker. The joker is a type of wild card which can be used in flushes or straights or by default acts like an Ace. To win, one has to defeat the dealer. The game is best understood in sequential stages as described below. 


For players of pai gow poker, he/she must create two poker hands out of the seven cards dealt by the dealer. Both these hands follow standard poker rules. However there are some exceptions which is described later. The value of the two cards must not exceed the hand value of the five cards. The cards are called as per their settings or placements given to the players. The two card hand can be called ‘minor’, ‘on top’, ‘small’, or ‘in front’. The five card hand is often called ‘big’, ‘bottom’, or ‘behind’. The reason why the two-card hand is called “front” is because it’s closer to the dealer while the five-card hand is called behind because it’s closer to you. 


After shuffling, the cards are served in seven piles with seven cards, each pile facing downwards. The remaining four cards are kept untouched regardless of the players involved. Each player is assigned a number from 1-7 as their betting position, starting from the dealer and going clockwise above the counter. A number is chosen from that 1-7 assigned before – practically by dice or electronically – and then begins the deal counter clockwise. If a spot is vacant it is still assigned but on the discard pile with the four untouched cards. 

Hand Ranking (Cards) 

Basically the two-card hand is one-pair and high cards. The hand rankings are quite different than the casinos using the hand A-2-3-4-5 as above a King high straight is, however, below A-K-Q-J-10 at Ace high. This rule does not apply in most of the casinos in California and Michigan, A-2-3-4-5 is the lowest straight possible. In Californian casinos the joker is completely a wild card, it can enhance all hands or straights. However, it’s different in the case of others. 

It is the player’s responsibility to ensure that the 5-card rank is higher than the 2-card rank. If it is not, then this is called a foul and the player loses. As for the two-card hand, the highest is a pair of Aces, and then going down from a pair of Kings to three and two. Two separate individual cards are also a possibility. The cards are generally ranked according to standard poker rules. The two card hand cannot have a flush, since this requires five cards. Also there are several house rules you should be aware of before you place a bet and start gambling. Various land-based casinos each have their own set of rules. 

Determining to Win 

If the hands two and five of seven cards beat the dealer’s corresponding hand then the player wins the bet. If the player wins any one, he continues or else loses to the banker. Ties are always an advantage for the dealer. For example, if a player’s two-card hands lose to the banker and the five hands is a tie, then the player loses. Casinos in California charge a flat fee to play, win, or lose. Other casinos charge a five per cent commission on the winnings which cannot be seen too often as this game takes more time as compared to other games. When all the cards have been dealt, the dealer’s cards are turned up by the banker, whose job is to re-arrange the cards into the highest possible combination. After the banker arranges the cards both hands (that is, the five-card hand and the two-card hand) are compared to that of every player and the payouts are given accordingly. In order for the player to win both their five-card hand and two-card hand must beat the dealer’s respectively. However, if only one hand beats the dealer’s hand while the other does not then it is a tie and no money is exchanged in the process. This is called a ‘push’. Nothing happens when the cards are pushed. Note that when comparing hands between the dealer and the player and if it is a tie then the banker wins (but the banker must have a tie on both hands or one-hand beating the player’s and the other a tie). Also if one hand is a tie and the other hand the player wins then this is also called a push. Usually the two-hand cards is placed in front of the five-hand cards. 

Basic Strategy 

A player should keep in mind to make the highest two-card hand leaving the five-card hand behind. A player can expect a medium to high in five-card hands and an Ace high on top. One should know the tables quite extensively and an approximate value can be calculated with a few rules of thumb. A player can always use House Way when confused as House strategies are always optimal – House Way is the arrangement of the dealer’s hand as it is pre-determined. 

The House makes its money by taking a 5% commission on all winnings. When comparing the hands there could be a tie, which is also known as a copy. Every copy the money goes to the banker. The House way is the fixed rules that govern how the dealer’s hand will be arranged.

The Author:

Ankur Vyas is a prolific author writing on diverse subjects such as online casino gambling and more. You can also vist

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