Pai Gow – A Thousand Year Old Asian Game Has an Americanized Version – Pai Gow Poker

How to Play the American Poker Version

Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52 card deck plus one joker. Players must first place a bet on the table. The order of play is determined by the dealer’s roll of the dice or a random number generator selection. Seven cards are then dealt counter-clockwise, face down, to each player and the dealer.

The object of the game is for the player to create two poker hands from his or her seven cards. The five card hand must rank higher than the two card hand. When setting the hands, the five card hand must be placed in front of the two card hand. In order for the player to win even money, both hands must beat the dealer/banker hands. If one wins and one loses, the decision is a push. If both the banker and player hands are of equal value, the banker wins.

The house takes a 5% commission on all winning hands. Any player may elect to be the bank in turn or s/he may pass. It can be advantageous to bank because the banker wins all ties, but the banker must also hold sufficient funds to cover all bets. Winning hands are determined by standard poker hand rankings with the following exceptions:

  • A joker can be used to complete a flush or a straight, otherwise it’s counted as an ace.
  • An A-2-3-4-5 is the 2nd highest straight or straight flush, under 10-J-Q-K-A. Therefore, a 9-10-J-Q-K ranks 3rd.

The house edge is about 1.46%.

How to Play the Asian Way

Pai Gow, translated as “make nine” has its roots in ancient Chinese gambling and is believed to be thousands of years old. Because it’s played with Chinese domino tiles it is found mainly in casinos that cater to Asian players. This game is not as popular with Americans. Also, it’s more complex and requires more study to learn.

The game is played with a set of 32 dominos known as The Woodpile. After all the players place their bets on the table, the dealer shuffles the woodpile face down and stacks them in 8 rows, 4 high. The dealer then rolls three dice to determine the order of play. The dealer starts as banker and gives each player and his or herself 4 tiles face down.

Each player must make two hands of two tiles each. The hand with the lower value is called The Front. The higher value hand is The Rear. If the totals from the players’ hands beat the dealer/banker’s hand the players’ win even money, minus a 5% commission to the house. If both player hands are of lower value, s/he loses. If one hand wins and the other loses, it is a push. In case of a tie, the tile with the highest singleton wins. When a player and banker equal zero, the banker wins. Players may act as banker in turn or pass. Sufficient player funds are required for a player to bank the game.

With few exceptions, the best a hand can score is 9. For example, a 1-3 tile and a 2-3 tile totals 9. If two tiles total above 9, such as a 3-2 and 6-5 totaling 16 requires that the tens place (1) be dropped and would therefore total 6. 5-5 and 6-4 would equal 0 as 10 + 10 = 20. Drop 2 to equal 0.

There are certain exceptions where a hand can score more than 9. These are called “Gongs” and “Wongs”. The double one and double six tiles are known as the “Day” and “Teen” tiles. A Day or Teen combined with an eight results in a Gong, worth 10, while putting either of them with a nine creates a Wong, worth 11. When paired with any other tile, standard scoring rules apply.

Also, there are tiles that can be used like a “wildcard” called “Gee Joon” with The 1-2 and 2-4. When used as part of a hand, these tiles may be scored as either 3 or 6, which ever results in a higher hand value. For example, a hand of 1-2 and 5-6 scores as seven rather than four.

The house edge is about 1.5%. Good Luck!