Pai gow poker, also known by the name of double-hand poker is a version of a Chinese domino game, Americanized by being played with poker cards.
A simple, slow-paced game that offers a chance at the big hand that can pay up to 8000:1 on a bet, which makes it a great alternative to other casino games.
The table set consists of six player and the dealer. Each player is attempting to defeat the banker, a role carried by the dealer, one of the other players or dealer-player duo as a tandem of co-bankers.
The player loses when the dealer wins both playing hands. There could be a large number of ties, increasing the time in which the money is likely to last. If each side wins one of the two hands, the result is a push.
Pai Gow poker comes from an ancient Chinese game called Pai Gow, which means make-nine in Chinese. It was a game which was played hundreds of years ago with tiles (dominoes) and a dice. The ranking of the domino pieces was very complicated and the main goal of each player was to create and collect more combinations which are close to nine than the opponents gather pieces of dominos.
In Pai Gow poker, the participating players can be up to 6 and they are playing against the dealer, just like in blackjack. The ancient Chinese pai gow game was brought to North America in the middle of 19th century by Chinese emigrants who were going to the United States in a search and hope for a better life.
Over the time, this domino game integrated with a card game and became what it is nowadays popular as Pai Gow poker. This type of poker made a very interesting evolving process from domino game to card game which makes it unique and many casino players like it very much.
The owner of the Bell Card Club in Los Angeles, Sam Torosian, invented the game of Pai Gow Poker in 1985. An elderly Filipino customer told him about the game Pusoy which was the birth of the idea for Pai Gow poker. He figured that the 13 card game with players arranging 3 hands would be too slow, but a simplified 2 hand version with only 7 cards would be faster and easier for players to learn.
The game quickly became popular and by the late 1980s was being played on the Las Vegas strip, and eventually worldwide. Torosian famously failed to patent the game he invented. Being given a bad advice by an attorney he consulted, and also conferring the noted poker author Mike Caro, Torosian was shown that the game was not patentable.
Using a standard 52-card deck, plus a single joker is the main source for playing the game. It is played on a table set for six players, plus the dealer. Each player strives to defeat the banker who may be the casino dealer, one of the other players at the table, or a player acting in tandem with the dealer as co-bankers.
The object of pai gow poker is for a player to create two poker hands out of the seven-card hand he/she is dealt (a five-card hand and a two-card poker hand) that beats both the dealer's equate hands.
The five-card hand's rank must outshine that of the two-card hand, and it is for this reason that the two-card hand is often called the hand "in front" or "on top" or "hair", or the "small" or "minor" or "low" hand. The five-card hand is called the hand "behind", or the "bottom" or "high" or "big" regarding the way they are placed in front of the player when the player is done setting them.
- The deck is single, consisting of the usual 52 cards plus one joker which might be used as an ace. After the initial bet, the dealer will deal himself and the player 7 cards each
- The ranking rules are the standard ones as in poker with one exception, the wheel straight (A2345) is the second highest straight. This rule is generally used but some casinos chose to drop it, like most casinos in California and Michigan were the A2345 is the lowest possible straight.
- The player separates his 7 cards into a 5 card high hand (of higher poker value) and 2 cards low hand.
- The 5 card hand is ranked by the standard, the cards in the low hand are individually valued either by pair or no pair
- After the player sets hand, the dealer turns over his cards and divides his hand by specific house way rules
- The high and low hands are compared and the hand with the higher poker value wins
- In the case of a tie, the cards are going to the banker
- If the player wins in both comparisons, there is a larger winning sum. If the player wins one comparison, the bet shall push. If the player loses or ties both, he loses the wager.
- The player may bet against the dealer and other players. This is known as banking in pai gow poker and is something that is different than most casino games.
- The role of the banker rotates around the table or goes zig-zag between the dealer and each player in turn.
- Usually happens for the player to decline to bank, in which case the option reverts to the next player
- The Joker acts as a “bug”, it can be used to complete a straight or flush in the five card hand. Otherwise is an ace. In the two card game is always an ace except in several casinos where the joker is “wild”.
House Edge & Variations
The house advantage partially depends on the skills but mostly on the action. There are some strategies that can show the probability of possible outcomes based on certain optimizations of strategy and banking
The dealer’s arrangement of their own hand is called the House Way and is something that varies from place to place. The differences are small and infrequent but still noted by the casinos. In today’s casinos, there are a number of Pai Gow variations that were formulated and grow in popularity after 2004.
- Pai Gow Mania was the first variation. Created to allow two-side bets instead of one side per hand.
- Fortune Pai Gow allows the players to make a side bet and is one of the most popular variations
- Emperors Challenge also allows a side bet but without hand.
- Shuffle Master was introduced in 2006, adding progressive jackpot side bet by the name of Progressive Fortune. Similar to Fortune, it allows side bet offering the chance to win a portion of the jackpot and landing one of the specified hands. The jackpot-winning hand must be combined with a seven-card straight flush.
- Fortune Pai Gow is exactly the same game as regular Pai Gow poker with the addition of an optional bonus as a side bet. It usually carries a high house edge and it should be taken into consideration when proposed. The bonus plays on the value of the seven cards and the way the player sets their hand. Typically there is a 5 dollar deposit for a player to qualify for what is called envy bonus, paid when another player makes pay hand, like four of a kind or better.
On a typical table, the wager will have a house edge of 8% before considering the bonus. It can subtract 1% for each player. It is recommended for players to stay out of Fortune Pai Gow as the game already has some of the best money return compared to other casino games. The only exceptions are Craps and Blackjack.
On a random Friday with just one table the new Pai Gow Poker was first time introduced to the gamblers in Sam Torosian’s casino the Bell Card Club in Los Angeles. Torosian was more likely prepared for the game to fail or gain a small following and interest. Except that didn’t happen at all. Just one week later, Bell Card Club had thirty Pai Gow poker tables.
And soon, all tables were dedicated to Pai Gow. The game became so popular that the club had to introduce new tables, so many that they ended up almost blocking the front entrance doors and the entrance to the restroom. In fact, they ended up putting a few tables in the hallway to accommodate for overflow. Bottom line? People loved it.
It wasn’t long before Pai Gow Poker would take the world by storm. George Hardie, the owner of the Bicycle Club, took notice. He introduced the game to his customers and they flocked to it in droves. From then, it made it was to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, the two main gambling hubs in the United States in the 1980s. It wasn’t’ long before Pai Gow Poker made its way to Asia, providing players with a new game that immediately felt familiar.