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Pai Gow Poker

Introduction

Pai Gow Poker is a casino poker game that resulted from a combination of game elements from classic player vs player poker and traditional Chinese Pai Gow dominos. All players playing at a Pai Gow poker table play against the house.

Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52 card deck and an additional Joker card. The Joker card is counted as an Ace, but can count as any card for the purposes of completing a Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush.

We are aware of Pai Gow Poker being offered at casinos using the following online softwares; Playtech, Microgaming, RealTime Gaming, BetSoft, SkillOnNet*, Amaya, Boss Media**, Rival, PlayNGo and Dragonfish (888 group)***, DGS, GamesOS, OpenBet

*We do not recommend playing with any SkillOnNet casino due to fairness issues found in their Video Poker games.

**Boss Media are part of the GTech group of companies. This group was found to be running unfair card games in 2012 and as such we would not recommend playing with any casino using this software.

*** We do not recommend playing with any casino using Dragonfish software due to higher than average levels of player issues and a blanket refusal to discuss complaints.

Play Structure

The player places a bet then the dealer deal 7 cards to the player and 7 cards to the dealer. The dealer’s cards are dealt face down.  The player then has to split their 7 cards into a 5 card hand (sometimes referred to as the ‘Back’) and a 2 card hand (also referred to as the ‘Front’). When splitting the cards, the poker rank of the 5 card hand must be higher than that of the 2 card hand (i.e. if you were dealt Ac Ad Kc 7h 7s 4h 3d you could not split the pair of Aces into the two card hand as this would outrank the pair of 7s in the 5 card hand).

After the player has split their hand as desired, the dealer’s cards are then revealed and separated into 2 hands using the ‘House Way’. A general version of House Way rules appears below;

·         If the hand has no pair or better rank – the 2nd and 3rd highest ranked cards are placed in the 2 card hand

·         If the best combination is a Pair – The pair is held in the 5 card hand and the next two highest ranked cards are placed in the 2 card hand

·         If the best combination is Two Pairs – The two pairs will be held in the 5 card hand except in the following situations where the lower pair will be moved to the 2 card hand;

o    One pair is 7’s or better with no single card with a rank of Ace

o    A pair of Jacks or better alongside a pair of 6’s or better with an Ace kicker

o    A pair of Aces with any other pair

·         If the 7 cards contain 3 Pair – the highest ranked Pair will be placed in the 2 card hand

·         If the 7 cards contain a 3 of a Kind – the 3 of a Kind will be placed in the 5 card hand except where there is 3 Aces. In this case a Pair of Aces will be held in the 5 card hand while the 2 card hand will comprise of an Ace and the next highest card.

·         If the 7 cards contain two 3 of a Kinds – the 2 card hand will be a pair taken from the highest rank 3 of a Kind

·         If the 7 cards contain a Full House – The Pair will be moved to the 2 card hand unless it is a pair of 2’s and there is an Ace/King. In which case the Full House will remain in the 5 card hand and the Ace/King will be moved to the 2 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 3 of a Kind and 2 Pair – the higher pair will be moved to the 2 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 5 card Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush with no pairs – The 2 highest cards that allow the Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush to remain intact will be moved to the 2 card hand.

·         If the 7 card hand contains a 5 card Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush with 2 Pairs, 3 Pairs, 3 of a Kind or a Full House – Use the 2 Pairs, 3 Pairs, 3 of a Kind or Full House rules

·         If the 7 card hand contains a 5 card Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush with a  Pair – The Pair will be moved to the 2 card hand only if the Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush will remain intact in the 5 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 6 or 7 card Straight, Flush, Straight Flush or Royal Flush – the highest 2 cards are placed in the 2 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 4 of a Kind with rank 2 through 6 – The 4 of a Kind will be placed in the 5 card hand with then next two highest cards placed in the 2 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 4 of a Kind with rank 7 through 10 – One pair will be placed in the 2 card hand unless an Ace or better is also present in the hand, in which case the 4 of a Kind will be played in the 5 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain a 4 of a Kind with rank Jack through King – One pair will be placed in the 2 card hand unless there is also a pair of 10’s or better, in which case the 4 of a Kind will be played in the 5 card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain 4 Aces – One pair will be placed in the 2 card hand unless there is also a pair of 7’s or better, in which case the 4 of a Kind will be played in the five card hand.

·         If the 7 cards contain 5 Aces – One pair will be placed in the 2 card hand unless there is also a pair of Kings that can be placed in the 2 card hand.

Please note that the House Way can vary slightly from casino to casino.

 

Hand Comparison

Pai Gow poker uses standard poker hand rankings with a few exceptions detailed below (hands listed strongest at top to weakest at bottom);

[When considering the 2 card hand the strongest ranking hand that will be considered is a Pair. 2 card Straights, Flushes, Straight Flushes and Royal Flushes are simply considered High Card hands]

* Five of a Kind – Four Aces plus the Joker.

* Royal Flush – The Ace, King, Queen, Jack and Ten cards all of the same suit.

* Straight Flush* – five numerically adjacent cards of the same suit (Example – 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of Diamonds). Where both the player and dealer hold a Straight Flush the hand with the highest card is considered the winner.

* 4 of a Kind – four cards of matching rank (Example – 7 of Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades). Where both the player and the dealer hold 4 of a Kind the hand with the higher rank is considered the winner.

* Full House – three cards of the same rank and two cards of a different but matching rank (Example – 8 of Hearts, Clubs and Diamonds and Jack of Spades and Hearts). Where both the player and dealer hold a Full House, the hand with the higher rank 3 of a Kind is considered the winner.

* Flush* – five cards of the same suit (Example – Ace, 8, 5, 2 and Queen of Spades). Where both the player and dealer hold a Flush the hand with the highest card is considered the winner. Where the highest card is matched the second highest is consider and so on.

* Straight* – five numerically adjacent cards ignoring suit (Example – 7 of Spades, 8 of Spades, 9 of Clubs, 10 of Diamonds and Jack of Diamonds). Where both the player and dealer hold a Straight the hand with the highest card is considered the winner.

* 3 of a Kind – three cards of the same rank with 2 unmatched cards (Example – 9 of Spades, Clubs and Hearts with any two other cards that are not the 9 of Diamonds or a matching pair). Where both the player and dealer hold a 3 of a Kind, the hand with the higher ranked 3 of a Kind is considered the winner.

* Two Pairs – two sets of two cards of matching rank with one unmatched card (Example – 4 of Clubs and Hearts, 8 Clubs and Spades and a fifth unmatched card). Where the player and dealer both have two pairs, the hand with the highest pair is considered the winner. If both hands have matching top pair, the higher of the two lower pairs is considered the winner. Where both pairs are matched, the hand with the higher ‘Kicker’ (final unmatched card) is considered the winner.

* Pair – two cards of matching rank with three unmatched card (Example – 6 of Clubs and Hearts and any three other cards that are not the six of Spades or Diamonds and are not of matching rank). Where the player and the dealer hold a matching pair, the hand with the highest Kicker card wins. If the Kicker also matches, the hand is decided by the second Kicker then the third if the second Kickers also match.

*High Card – any five unmatched cards ranked as the highest card (Example – 5 of Spades, 9 of Clubs, 7 of Clubs, 2 of Hearts and Ace of Diamonds would be considered ‘Ace High’).

* A, 2, 3, 4, 5 is considered the second highest Straight and Straight Flush hand after T, J, Q, K, A when playing Pai Gow Poker.

Payouts

Once both the player and dealer have rearranged their hands the player’s 5 card hand is compared to the dealer’s 5 card hand while the player’s 2 card hand is compared to the dealers 2 card hand using the poker rankings above. Matching hands are considered a win for the dealer. There are 3 possible results;
·         If the player wins both hands their bet is paid at 1 to 1 minus 5% commission.

·         If the player wins one hand and the dealer wins the other hands the round is considered a push and all bets are returned.

·         If the player loses both hands they are considered to have lost and lose their bet.

It should be noted that RealTime Gaming software round the commission on winning hands up to the nearest $0.25. This will increase the House Edge for any bet that is not a multiple of $5, with a more substantial increase being seen at smaller bet sizes.

Bonus Bet

We are only aware of one online software offering any side bet for Pai Gow Poker – Microgaming. The details of this side bet are included below;

HandMicrogaming
7 Card Straight Flush8000
Royal Flush plus Pair of 2’s2000
7 Card Straight Flush with Joker1000
5 Aces400
Royal Flush150
Straight Flush50
Four of a Kind25
Full House5
Flush4
Three of a Kind3
Striaght2
House Edge5.79%

House Edge

The House Edge of Pai Gow Poker varies depending on both the player strategy and the House Way rules applied by the particular casino. The House Way rules generally do not vary dramatically which allows for the application of an optimal player strategy (discussed below). This strategy generally allows for a House Edge of between 2.5-2.6%.

It should be noted that many softwares allow an option for the player to deal with their hand the House Way. In general this returns a House Edge a little higher than optimum at around 2.7%.

For further information regarding the House Edge of Pai Gow see Beating Bonuses (http://www.beatingbonuses.com/draw.htm).

Optimal Strategy

The rules below summarize strategy for Pai Gow Poker. “Sum of ranks” refers to the card values. The sum of ranks of a pair of 4s and a pair of 8s is 4+8=12.
A. No Pair: Place the highest card in the 5-card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2-card hand.

B. One pair: Place the pair in 5-card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2-card hand.

C. Two pairs: Split the pairs into two hands unless:

1. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 9 or less, and the 2-card hand contains king or better
2. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 16 or less, and the 2-card hand contains ace

D. Three pairs: Place the highest pair in the 2-card hand. Place the remaining two pairs in the 5-card hand.

E. Three of a kind: For 2-K, place the three of a kind in the 5-card hand. For three aces, place a pair of aces in the 5-card hand and the remaining ace in the 2-card hand.

F. Full house: Place 3 of a kind in the five-card hand and a pair in the 2-card hand.

G. Straights, flushes, straight flushes, and royal flush:

— With no pair: Select the straight/flush combination which will allow the highest two cards in the two-card hand

— With one pair: Play the straight/flush

— With two pairs: Play the two pairs over the straight/flush unless:

1. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 9 or less, and the 2-card hand with the straight/flush contains king or better
2. The sum of the ranks of the pairs is 16 or less, and the 2-card hand with the straight/flush contains an ace

— With three of a kind: Play Straight/Flush + Pair

H. Four of a kind: Play according to the rank of the four of a kind:

2 through 5: Play the four of a kind
6 through 9: Split into two pairs unless 2-card hand contains a king or better
10 through King: Split into two pairs unless 2-card hand contains an ace or better
Ace: Split into two pairs contains unless 2-card hand contains a pair or better

I. Five aces: Split into 3 of a kind + Pair

While the above strategy will result in a reasonably low House Edge, to reach the optimal House Edge figure you will need to use the Strategy Calculator provided below;

Fairness Calculator

Below you can find a calculator to allow you to check the fairness of your wins/losses when playing Pai Gow Poker.

*This fairness calculator will assume that you’ve been playing with the optimal strategy detailed above. If you have not then the calculator will NOT return accurate results.

Winning Strategies

Offline

Hole Carding, Steering or Sorting

Unlike Blackjack the techniques used to gain an advantage over the game of Pai Gow Poker in the offline environment are not nearly so widely discussed. Gaining information on dealer’s hole cards – be that via edge sorting, steering or hold carding – may produce a player advantage as long as the information is used to alter the player’s strategy.

Much of the opportunity to gain an edge over the game of Pai Gow Poker with any of the above techniques will come down to dealer skill and casino procedure rather than the operation of the game itself. This means that while it is technically possible to gain an edge over the offline games, only the most skilled of practitioners is every likely to do so.

Online

There are several methods of legitimately gaining an advantage playing online Pai Gow Poker games. By and large these involve the use of promotions, bonuses and comp point systems as the games by themselves – assuming the game is functioning in a correct fashion and there are no errors in the paytable – will not provide any additional information about the cards and shuffles after every hand.

It should be noted that online advantage play is not specific to Pai Gow Poker and in recent years the wagering requirements for player’s choosing to play any table game has inflated to the point that Pai Gow Poker is now often a sub-optimal choice for the player. For more information on beating online casinos see BeatingBonuses.com