Pai Gow Poker is a quick-growing poker variation that’s loved and enjoyed by many players around the globe because of its fast-paced and frenetic style, as well as its easy-to-learn nature. As the game’s provided excitement becomes more and more widely known, its popularity is all but sure to continue growing—you’re proof of the point, as there’s a good chance you’re interested in learning more about—and perhaps eventually playing—Pai Gow Poker!
Accordingly, new players will have to learn Pai Gow’s basic procedures and rules if they’d like to partake in its play, and seasoned gamblers will have to learn the game’s ins and outs if they’d like to make a name for themselves in the poker variation.
For any and all types of players—wherever you fall on this spectrum—the following introductory and informational guide on Pai Gow Poker is sure to be useful. Here, you can read about the game’s origin, rules, playing style, dealing style, and winning requirements.
Let’s take a look at Pai Gow Poker’s most important information!
What is Pai Gow Poker?
Pai Gow Poker (often referred to as “double-hand poker”) is a playing-card game that derived from a Chinese domino game, simply called Pai Gow. Instead of using dominos, though, it assigns values to playing cards.
Since its creation in 1985 by the Bell Card Club’s owner, Sam Torosian, Pai Gow Poker has become a hit at countless casinos and betting facilities around the globe. An initially delicate growth in Las Vegas ultimately exploded into one of international proportions, and now, as was said, you shouldn’t be surprised to find a Pai Gow Poker table at virtually any casino and best online casinos you enter.
As an interesting side note, the world-famous poker game hasn’t actually made its creator, Sam Torosian, very much money, as he failed to patent it. While you’d probably expect him to be a rich man at this point, the Pai Gow Poker founder acted upon faulty advice from a lawyer and a “poker expert”, both of whom told him that the game couldn’t be patented.
It turns out it most certainly could have been patented, and Torosian would have made a boatload of cash if he took a little bit of time to do so. Unfortunately, bad advice reached him before good advice did (as is so often the case in life). Now, his loss is your gain—be sure to think of Sam each time you play Pai Gow Poker, and be sure to thank Sam each time you win while playing Pai Gow Poker!
How is Pai Gow Poker Played?
Pai Gow Poker is played with a fifty-two-card deck, as well as one joker (making for a total of fifty-three cards, of course). A banker, along with one to six players, can play together simultaneously. The game’s goal is for players to craft two hands—one comprised of two cards (often referred to as the “small” or “top” hand), and one comprised of five cards (often referred to as the “big” or “bottom” hand)—that boast a greater value than those of the banker.
Moreover, the banker can be an individual specified beforehand or another player, depending on the venue where you play. If you are the banker, it’ll be your hands that are compared with other players’, and it’ll be your cash on the line when the winning cards are determined; the tradeoff is that you’ll also be in a position to win more, as the dealer.
Now, to make it easier for you to navigate to specific sections of the guide (so you can find the exact information you’re interested in), each component of play, as well as Pai Gow Poker’s rules, will be headlined and described below.
Pai Gow Poker’s First Step: Dealing
The first step of Pai Gow Poker play is dealing. As in all poker styles, the deck is shuffled thoroughly beforehand by the dealer. Then, as Pai Gow Poker is once again a seven-card game, you’ll receive seven face-down cards—as will each other player sitting at the table. Seven times seven is forty-nine, and therefore, the fifty-two-card deck, along with the extra joker, will always have four cards left over in any given round of poker; this is simply how the game operates.
Importantly, even if there isn’t a seventh player wagering at a table, the banker will often provide the position with cards (to keep the game balanced and functioning as was intended), depending on the casino you’re playing at.
Thus, you may be allowed to, if you’d like, place a wager on this unclaimed hand—commonly called a “dragon hand”. The amount of this wager can normally be anywhere from the table minimum to your own bet (for your own, specific hand), and is afforded to the first person to vocally claim it from the dealer. Finally, the dealer typically arranges this hand, regardless of who claims it.
The order in which you’ll bet is determined rather simply. The banker assigns numbers from one to seven in counterclockwise order and to each player, based upon his or her position. Then, a dice is rolled (or a random electronic counter is used) to choose one of these numbers, and the player whose number is selected places the first wager. As you’ll find through further reading, Pai Gow Poker’s fast-paced nature is also complemented by a rather logical and easy-to-understand playing style and ruleset.
After your cards have been dealt, your number assigned, and a number selected to initiate the wagering, it’s time to play Pai Gow Poker!
Pai Gow Poker’s Second Step: Playing
As your turn arrives, you’ll be able to place a bet; you’ll select this bet’s amount based upon the quality of your hands, which you’ve already set. The following information will, therefore, describe how hands are set.
Generally, your goal is to arrange the seven received cards into the aforementioned two hands: one consisting of two cards, the other consisting of five cards. Obviously, the difficulty and excitement here are derived from the trade-off of wanting to craft effective two-card and five-card hands. Your two-hand card will be set down on the table in a designated space close to the dealer (hence the hand’s frequently used “top” name), and the five-card hand will be set down on the table in a designated space close to you.
Each two-card hand can consist of a pair, at best, or high cards, at worst. Each five-card hand is judged just as others are in different poker styles— one set of identical cards represents “one pair”, two sets of identical cards represent “two pair”, and so on and so forth. The only exception you may encounter in Pai Gow Poker is that, in some Las Vegas and international casinos, a generally outstanding hand consisting of an Ace, Two, Three, Four, and a Five is made even better by defeating an ace-high straight consisting of an Ace, Ten, King, Queen, and Jack. However, this phenomenon is casino-specific, so you should check a particular gambling spot’s rules beforehand to know how you should play.
Jokers are generally regarded as aces unless they can be used to form a straight or flush. In other words, if your five-card hand consisted of three, four, five, six, and joker cards, you would have a straight. In other instances, the joker would simply be counted as an ace, once again.
After you’ve created the best possible hands, it’s time to see if you’ve won. This step includes comparing your formed hands with those of the dealer.
Pai Gow Poker’s Third Step: Determining Winners
Each Pai Gow Poker player’s hands are judged individually and in comparison to those of the dealer. This means that your hands stand on their own—besides the banker (your hands will be compared with his or hers), fellow players’ offerings don’t affect whether or not you win or lose. However, you may become excited when a friend or family member is lucky enough to win big!
Two-card hands are fairly easy to judge. If you have a higher number pair than those of the banker (say, if you have a pair of tens and the banker has only a pair of twos), you’d win that hand. Because there are only two cards in this hand, its result is entirely reliant upon your high card or the value of your pair, in comparison to the banker’s.
As was said, your five-card hand is judged very similarly to those of other poker styles. Detailed and intricate definitions of each five-card poker hand can be found elsewhere (and you should develop at least a basic understanding of these before playing), but their essentials are as follows (hands are listed from weakest to strongest):
High Card: The weakest possible hand, a high card consists of zero cards that are the same (i.e. pairs), and is therefore judged only based on its largest numerical offering. This five-card hand cannot be played in Pai Gow Poker if your two-card hand includes a pair.
Example: Two, Five, Ten, Jack, King
One Pair: Obtained when two of your five cards feature the same number.
Example: Two, Four, Ten, King, King
Two Pair: Obtained in the same fashion as one pair, except that two sets of matching cards are present.
Example: Two, Ten, Ten, King, King
Three of a Kind: Obtained when three of your cards are the same value, but not necessarily the same suite.
Example: Eight, Eight, Eight, King, Ace
Straight: Obtained when you have five cards of different suits all in perfect, sequential ranking.
Example: Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten
Flush: Obtained when all five of your cards feature the same suit, but are not of the same value.
Example: Two of Hearts, Five of Hearts, Ten of Hearts, Jack of Hearts, and King of Hearts
Full House: Obtained when three of your cards are the same value, while the other two are of a matching value; suites are not the same.
Example: Eight, Eight, Eight, Queen, Queen
Four of a Kind: Obtained when four of your cards feature the same value.
Example: Ten, Ten, Ten, Ten, Ace
Straight Flush: Obtained when all of your cards are sequential and of the same suit.
Example: Seven of Diamonds, Eight of Diamonds, Nine of Diamonds, Ten of Diamonds, Jack of Diamonds
Five of a Kind: Obtained when you have five identical value cards of different suits.
Example: King, King, King, King, King
As was stated, you’ll have to study these values further if you’re not familiar with them, but the provided information is a useful and solid outline to build upon. Moreover, these hand types can also be applied to all poker games.
Back to determining winners in Pai Gow Poker, the value of your five-card hand is compared to the dealer’s. If your hand is of a higher value, you win. The same goes for the two-card hand.
If one of your hands—that of the two or five cards—beats one of the dealer’s hands, but the other hand loses, you “push”, and don’t win or lose any money (sometimes minus a 5% House fee). As you’ll find, this outcome is statistically common. If both of your hands beat the dealer’s, you’ll win even money on your bet. And if both of your hands lose to the dealer’s, you’ll lose your entire bet.
Now that you understand Pai Gow Poker’s playing style, isn’t it easy to see how it’s regarded by many as the fastest and most exhilarating form of poker?!
Rules to Remember
Although you’ve probably gathered that Pai Gow Poker is a straightforward and fairly simple game, there are a couple of rules that you should remember.
The first—and most significant—rule is that your two-card hand CANNOT outrank your five-card hand. In other words, you wouldn’t be able to place two kings in your two-hand card and leave an Eight, Ten, Jack, and Ace in your five-card hand (this would leave a pair in the two-card hand and a high card in the five-card hand).
This fair rule is designed to avoid players’ natural—and intelligent—tendency to stack their two-card hand so that it ranks higher than their five-card hand, essentially guaranteeing at least a push (and leaving a reasonable chance of winning the bet). The rule also establishes a precedent wherein there is a reasonable amount of risk on your end as the player, as well as on the banker’s end.
Believe it or not, this is basically the only rule you’ll need to abide by while playing Pai Gow Poker; everything else is rather logical and self-explanatory. Nevertheless, there are a couple more byproducts of the game that you should consider before getting started:
- Pai Gow Poker is a fast-paced game, and most players will expect it to “keep moving”. Thus, you should try and understand the game’s basic formula and inputs (as you probably already do after reading the provided text) beforehand, so as to not hold up the table.
- As with every table game, make sure you know the minimum bet before playing (so you don’t end up like Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau did all those years ago in Swingers).
- Pai Gow Poker has become increasingly popular, once again, and this point has led to a number of game variations—with modified rulesets—emerging. Make sure you understand the rules of a Pai Gow Poker (or each casino game in general) table before playing, and be on the lookout for tables with special rule sets.
In conclusion, Pai Gow Poker is a fast-paced style of poker created in 1985 by Sam Torosian; the game derives from the Chinese domino game Pai Gow. After enjoying relatively steady, but not incredible, growth early on, Pai Gow Poker exploded in popularity, and is now a fixture of countless casinos and betting establishments around the globe.
It’s fairly easy to play Pai Gow Poker, but having knowledge of poker is a must. The fifty-three-card game is typically played by seven players, including a banker, simultaneously; each individual receives even cards.
Then, it’s up to players to break their seven cards up into two hands: one consisting of two cards and another consisting of five cards. The goal here is for one or both of your hands to boast a higher value than those crafted by the banker. After everyone’s bets are placed and their hands are made, it’s time to compare them with those of the banker.
If one of your two hands is better than the banker’s counterpart, but the other one isn’t, you push, or draw. If both of your two hands beat the banker’s, you win—typically even money. And if neither of your two hands is better than the banker’s, you lose your bet.
The most important—and essentially the only—rule to remember while playing Pai Gow Poker is that your two-card hand CANNOT outrank your five-card hand. This means that placing two aces in your two-card hand and leaving your five-card hand with a high card wouldn’t be acceptable. This rule assures that players won’t take advantage of the statistical likelihood of winning produced by stacking two-card hands and leaving five-card hands rather weak.
Additionally, the game is rather fast-paced, so you’ll want to know the basics before playing.
Lucky for you, you’re already one step closer to having mastered the basics, as you’ve read this article. Thanks for taking the time to do so, and remember to enjoy yourself while playing Pai Gow Poker!