Pai Gow Poker is an American card-playing derivative of the centuries-old game of Chinese Dominoes. In the early nineteenth century, Chinese laborers introduced the game while working in California.
The game’s popularity with Chinese gamblers eventually attracted the attention of entrepreneurial gamers who substituted the traditional tiles with cards and modeled the game into a new form of poker. Introduced into the poker rooms of California in 1986, the game’s immediate acceptance and popularity with Asian poker players drew the attention of Nevada’s casino operators who quickly absorbed the game into their own poker rooms. The popularity of the game has continued into the 21st century.
Pai Gow tables accommodate up to six players and a dealer. Differentiating from traditional poker, all players play against the dealer and not against each other.
In a counterclockwise rotation, each player is dealt seven face down cards by the dealer. Forty-nine cards are dealt, including the dealer’s seven cards.
Each player and the dealer must form two poker hands: a high hand of five cards and a low hand of two cards. The hands are based on traditional poker rankings and as such, a two card hand of two aces would be the highest possible hand of two cards. A five aces hand would be the highest five card hand. How do you get five aces in a standard fifty-two card deck? You are actually playing with a fifty-three card deck since one joker is allowed into the game. The joker is considered a wild card and can be used as another ace or to complete a straight or flush.
The highest two hands win each game and only a single player having the two highest hands simultaneously can win.
A dice throw from a cup containing three dice determines who will be dealt the first hand. After the hands are dealt, players must form the two poker hands, keeping in mind that the five-card hand must always rank higher than the two-card hand.
When all players have set their hands, the dealer will make comparisons with his or her hand rank for payouts. If a player has one hand higher in rank than the dealer’s but a lower second hand, this is considered a tie.
If the dealer beats both hands, the player loses. In the case of both player’s hands and both dealer’s hands being identical, the dealer wins. In casino play, ofttimes allowances are made for a player to become the dealer. In this case, the player must have the funds for any payoffs due winning players. Of course, the player acting as dealer can corner some large pots if he can beat most of the players.
Some casinos rule that players cannot deal or bank two consecutive hands, and some poker rooms will offer to co-bank 50/50 with any player that elects to take the bank. In all cases, the dealer will ask players in turn if they wish to be the banker.
In Pai Gow Poker, you are dealt “static” cards which means you have no opportunity to change cards to possibly improve your hand. However, as in traditional five-card draw, there are strategies to make the best of what you have been dealt. An example is keeping the flushes or straights in the five-card hand and the two cards remaining as the second high hand.
If you are lucky enough to draw four aces and a joker, you can keep three aces in the five-card hand and strengthen your two-card hand with the other ace and joker. Two pair? Keep the higher pair in the five-card hand and the other two matching cards will make up the second hand.