Playing Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker, a union of American-style poker and Chinese pai gow game of dominos, is a game not far from the typical poker everyone grew up with. Perhaps the notable, though not lone difference between the two is that pai gow poker is played with a standard 52-card deck plus a joker. This additional card only makes the game all the more exciting and challenging.

The Opponent

Unlike in poker where each player is battling with all the other players, pai gow requires a player to beat only the banker. The banker, most commonly the house or the casino itself, has to bet enough money to cover all the bets of the six other players. Any player may opt to be the banker. Similarly, a player may also decline this opportunity in case he was assigned by rotation to be the banker. However, each player should keep in mind the advantages tied up with being the banker before begging off.

The Game

Pai gow poker is usually played around a customized table that has room for a dealer and six players. Initially, the house/casino assumes the role of the banker through the dealer. The 53-card deck is shuffled and the dealer then makes seven stacks of seven cards and discards the four remaining cards. Each player is required to make bets before the dealer determines who gets the first hand through a roll of three dices. From the player who got the first hand, the remaining hands are dealt out to the other players in a counterclockwise motion.

As soon as each player receives their cards, he sets them into two hands of five cards and two cards. As a rule, the five-card hand should have a higher ranking than the two-card hand; otherwise, it is considered a foul. The two hands are then placed face down on the table, with the two-hand card positioned nearest to the dealer and the five-hand card at the bottom. Once all players have set their hands, the dealer turns the banker's cards face up and allows the latter to set his own hands. Starting with the player who got the first hand, the banker's hands are then compared one by one to each player's hands; his five-card hand and his two-card hand versus the player's respective hands.

How to Win, What to Win

In order to be declared the winner, a player's two hands should beat both of the banker's. If only one hand outdid the banker's hand, it's a push and no money is paid. However, if the two-card hand or the five-card hand of a player has equal value with that of the banker's hands, it is considered a copy. By default, the banker wins all copies.

Pai gow makes use of the standard hierarchy of poker combinations in determining which the better hand is but with two exceptions. Ace-2-3-4-5 straight is the second highest straight and five aces, meaning the four Aces and the joker which acts as a wild card in straights, flushes and straight flushes and can function as an Ace in any hand, beats out a royal flush.

A player who beats the banker gets paid an amount equal to the bet he placed minus the 5% commission charged by the casino. If he loses, his bet goes to the banker.

Pai gow poker is a game for those who desire to play all night but shell off less cash. Because it is a series of betting, setting hands and comparing and the results are usually pushes, more fun but little money are involved.