The game of poker has been around for a long time and has evolved in many ways. One of the more recent incarnations of poker is Pai Gow Poker, a game that was invented in the 1980s in California.
The name of the game comes from the Chinese game of Pai Gow, which is traditionally played with dominoes. The poker element comes from the way hands are ranked in the game.
If you are on the lookout for some new ways to gamble, I am going to teach you how to play Pai Gow Poker in this guide, starting with Pai Gow Poker history, table layout, strategy, and more.
The game is available in many live casinos worldwide, but the easiest way to play it is probably in an online casino of your choosing.
Before we move on to the rules of the Pai Gow Poker card game, let’s briefly touch on where it came from and how it was first invented.
The History of Pai Gow Poker
While many games have a long and somewhat mysterious history, there is nothing mystical about Pai Gow Poker.
In fact, the game was invented quite recently, in 1985, by Sam Torosian. Torosian owned a Los Angeles card club and was told about a similar game called Pusoy by a Filipino visitor.
After some deliberation, Torosian came up with a simplified version of Pusoy and dubbed it Pai Gow Poker. The game was simple enough to be played quickly in a casino and be profitable for the owner.
The game quickly exploded in popularity, and before 1990 you could find a Pai Gow table in many casinos on the Las Vegas strip, as well as most California card rooms.
Unfortunately for Torosian, he did not patent the game. His attorney and famous poker player Mike Caro told him that it could not be patented, which apparently was the wrong advice.
Today, Pai Gow Poker is found in countless casinos around the world, and online poker rooms and casino sites also offer it as several prominent software developers have created digital versions of the game.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker
Now that you know where it came from, it is time to learn some basic Pai Gow Poker rules. Fortunately, the rules of the game are not too difficult to understand, especially if you are already a poker player.
A hand of Pai Gow Poker starts with all players at the table, as well as the dealer, receiving seven cards each.
Each player will now have the opportunity to select two cards to put into their two-card hand while using the remaining five cards for their five-card hand.
The two-card hand is placed in the front of the player’s part of the felt, and the five-card goes in the back. This is why the hands are also referred to as the front and the back hand.
The main condition of Pai Gow Poker is that your back hand has to be stronger than your front hand, and all hands are ranked in accordance with the standardized poker hand rankings.
This means that if you have a pair in your front hand, you will need to have at least a higher pair in the back hand. If your back hand is one pair, your front hand cannot be stronger than ace high.
After you are done arranging your cards, the dealer will set their cards in accordance with the “house way,” which is a preset way of arranging cards that does not allow for any creativity.
Both the front and the back hands of each player are then compared with the dealer’s, and payouts are made to all winning hands.
If you win both hands, you will double your money, while winning one of the hands will give you back your stake.
To play a hand of Pai Gow Poker, you will need to place a bet on the betting circle in front of where the cards are lined up. The bet sizes will vary from casino to casino, so make sure you check for the table limits before you sit down.
When playing at online Pai Gow tables, the game will usually give you suggestions as to your best play, and you should listen to it almost every time. These are mathematically the best plays you can make.
Playing the House Way or as Banker
While Pai Gow Poker is quite a simple game with very few special rules, there are a few things you should be aware of before you start playing it.
The first is the meaning of the term “the house way.” This refers to the way the casino’s dealer arranges the front and the back hand in each hand. The house way never changes!
Traditionally, the dealer will take on the role of the banker in a game of Pai Gow, and they are the one responsible for paying out any winnings and the one who collects players’ losses.
However, in many places, the dealer will ask players if they want to join them and be a co-banker. By playing as a co-banker, you will increase your exposure, as you will have to pay out half of the other players’ winnings.
The advantage of playing as a banker, however, is that you also get to win on all ties, just as the dealer does.
Winning on ties may not seem like a big deal, but it is, in fact, quite valuable. By playing as a banker, you can diminish the house edge from 2.84% to 1.42%, and that is a very significant advantage.
If you are playing as the banker, you will have to arrange cards the house way. If you are not, you may still ask the dealer to help you and arrange your cards the house way, which is the best and least risky way to do it.
I highly recommend playing the house way always. If you want to up the ante and gamble it up, that’s fine. However, remember that you are increasing the house edge every time you play a hand differently than the optimal way.
Commission and Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker
When playing Pai Gow Poker, you will usually be asked to pay a commission on every hand you play. The commission is usually 5% of your bet, and it is taken because the house edge in this game is very low.
Commissions are also frequent in some other table games, so it comes as no surprise that Pai Gow Poker also includes them.
Some casinos will only take a percentage of your winnings instead of a percentage of your overall bets.
In either case, you should be prepared to pay some extra money to have a seat at the Pai Gow table, and that’s just the cost of doing business.
If you want to give yourself an extra chance to win some more money at Pai Gow, you should look at playing a version of the game that offers side bets.
A good example of this is the Emperor’s Challenge, a version that allows you to receive a special bonus if you don’t make any poker hand at all on both the low and the high hand.
Shuffle Master’s Fortune Pai Gow, available in many online casinos, offers a side bet that multiplies your bet when you make big poker hands such as straights, flushes, quads, and more.
The Progressive Fortune Pai Gow includes a progressive jackpot as well, won by collecting a seven-card royal flush.
This very rare poker hand will pay you a bundle if you do play the progressive variation of the game. That said, just like in Texas Hold’em, royal flushes don’t come along very often.
Tips & Tricks for Pai Gow Poker
Now that the Pai Gow Poker rules are perfectly clear and you know what to do at the Pai Gow table, let’s discuss some small tips and tricks you can use to give yourself a better chance of walking away a winner.
I have prepared a list of five useful tips that I use when playing casino games myself, and I can guarantee that these will give you a better shot at winning and make you a better casino player overall.
Take All Advantage You Can Get
In Pai Gow Poker, there are a few ways you can give yourself an advantage. For one, you can play as the banker on some hands, and I highly recommend you do so.
There are a few reasons for this. First of all, you will win any tie, which is a good advantage in itself. Furthermore, some players will make big mistakes in arranging their hands, and this can actually make you profitable on that particular hand.
By playing as the banker whenever you can, you will increase your own chances and diminish the house edge to the bare minimum.
Play Without Commissions When Possible
One of the biggest problems with Pai Gow Poker and many other table games is that you have to pay a commission to play a hand.
This commission will significantly cut into your winnings for the night, regardless of how well you do.
Some casinos don’t charge commissions at certain times of the day or charge a lower commission than others. I highly recommend looking for the lowest commission around to maximize your winnings.
Playing Pai Gow Poker online is the best thing to do in this sense, but those who want to experience the thrill of playing on the casino floor should do some scouting and find a game without commissions to play in.
Be Mindful of Side Bets
Side bets in Pai Gow Poker seem like a great idea, and many players rush to the tables with side bets to have a chance at winning some jackpots.
However, as is usually the case, all Pai Gow Poker side bets come with significantly worse odds and a higher house edge than the original game itself.
Playing any side bets other than the progressive jackpot is usually not a great idea, while the progressive jackpot bet is a big gamble to take but one that might be worth a shot if you are playing to try and win really big.
In Pai Gow Poker, you will often be dealt hands where you can go different ways about arranging your low and high hands.
However, there is an optimal way to play your cards, and that is the house way. If you play differently, you are simply increasing the house edge over you.
I highly recommend being smart and always playing the house way without much experimenting at all. If you do want to gamble it up, you are taking unnecessary risks and not giving yourself the best chance to win.
Mind Your Bankroll Management
Like most casino card games, Pai Gow Poker is quite a volatile game with a lot of variance. You will go on hot and cold streaks, and it is important to have a bankroll to survive the bad runs.
You should figure out how long you want to play for and what your goal is on the night.
Make sure to build a bankroll based on this goal and bring enough money to sustain losses if you do go on a bad downswing. Things usually do turn around in Pai Gow at some point.
If the bankroll you decide you want to use for the night is lost, you should call it a day and go home. Don’t try to chase your losses and make things even worse for yourself.
When was Pai Gow Poker invented?
Pai Gow Poker was invented quite recently, in 1985. The game was made up by a Los Angeles casino owner by the name of Sam Torosian, who heard of a similar game from a visitor and adjusted it to create a perfect card game for his card room.
How to play Pai Gow Poker?
Playing Pai Gow Poker is quite simple. You get seven cards and are tasked with creating one five-card poker hand and one two-card poker hand. Your five-card hand has to be stronger than your two-card hand. Beat the dealer with both hands to double your stake.
What is the house way?
The house way is the optimal way of arranging the cards in Pai Gow Poker and is the system used by the dealers in the casinos. You can ask the dealer to arrange your hand the house way, and they will happily do it for you.
What does playing as a dealer mean in Pai Gow?
One of the Pai Gow Poker rules allows you to become the dealer for a hand. When you accept, you will be liable for half the other players’ winnings but will also get to win against other players and beat them anytime your hand ties with theirs.
What is the best strategy for Pai Gow Poker?
There isn’t really too much you can do in terms of strategy in Pai Gow Poker. Playing the house way is the best way to arrange your cards, and a sound bankroll strategy will go a long way towards not making you bust out too fast.