An element of luck may be necessary in all casino games, but some have the added appeal of skill to go alongside any required good fortune.
Whereas roulette is almost entirely reliant on luck, the likes of poker and blackjack call on players to get some big decisions correct if they are to taste success.
Typically with poker, and somewhat unusually for a casino game, players take on each other rather than the house.
However, this is one of the main differences with Pai Gow Poker, which is a game that adheres to regular Texas Hold’em rules, but is more akin to blackjack in terms of its format.
Pai Gow Poker is played with a single deck, with everyone in the hand dealt seven cards.
The intention for players is to make two strong poker hands – one a high hand consisting of five cards and a low hand of two cards.
These hands then face the banker, with both hands needing to be won to gain a profit. Should the player and banker win one hand each, this causes a push and stakes are returned.
The fact that pushes are fairly common and that hands can take a while to complete while players arrange their cards make Pai Gow Poker fairly low risk.
When it comes to the banker arranging their seven cards, this is done by following pre-determined rules. The method the banker must follow when separating their cards is called ‘The House Way’.
One such example is if a banker receives a Pai Gow hand (a hand where they have nothing more than a high card in their seven cards), they must play the most valuable and four lowest in their high hand.
Basic strategy advice
It is not always straightforward as to how the seven cards should be arranged. Be dealt seven cards of different pip values, with five of these being of the same suit, and it is obvious that these are put forward as a flush in the high hand.
But, if a player is dealt two pairs, should these be played together to ensure a much stronger hand or divided across the two hands to potentially enhance the prospect of winning both?
Here are a few possible hands and how they are most commonly played.
One pair – These are typically played in the high hand with the three lowest-valued cards of the remaining five. This leaves the two higher-valued singletons as the low hand.
Three pairs – A regular strategy is to play the highest pair in the low hand, leaving the other two pairs and the odd singleton as the high one.
Two pairs – This is widely regarded as the trickiest hand in Pai Gow Poker and much ultimately hinges on the strength of the pairs, plus the other cards in play.
Full House – In almost every instance these are separated, so the three of a kind are used in the high hand and pair in the low hand.
This may seem strange as the full house holds the added power of beating any flushes and straights, but it’s important to remember that a player must win both hands to make a profit. If the two cards with the full house are both awful, the best that can really be hoped for is a push.
When a player does win both hands, they have to pay a 5% commission to the house. This is one way the house edge comes into force in Pai Gow Poker.
Some hand examples
Arguably the most important thing to consider in hands when players have multiple options is the strength of the lowest hand. See the hand below:
Two, six, seven, eight, ace (all diamonds), five and nine of spades
If playing this hand in the obvious way based on the order of the cards above, it is unlikely that a nine-high low hand will be enough to secure a victory alongside the flush.
There is alternatively a straight, which would leave an ace and a two to be put forward in the low hand. Playing a straight-and-ace-high hand would seem a better bet than a flush-and-nine high for a player attempting to beat the banker in both hands.
Three, three, six, nine, nine, queen, ace
The big question here is ultimately how many more hands in the low hand can a pair of threes beat over an ace and queen? The only answers are an ace and king or a pair of twos.
Separate the pairs and although the pair of threes is reasonable in the low hand, a pair of nines is not especially strong in the high.
Play the pairs together and this would represent a solid high hand. This would leave the ace and queen in the low hand.
In this instance, because the ace and queen are barely inferior to the pair of threes in the low hand, it makes sense to put the pairs together.
Pai Gow Poker is actually played using 53 cards, with one joker thrown in for good measure. This is a flexible card as it predominantly counts as an ace, except when a player is one card shy of a straight, flush or straight flush.
In these circumstances, the joker can be played as a special card to complete these hands.
Copy hands and the banker
On the occasions that both the player and banker hands are exactly identical to each other, it is the hand banking the game that is declared the winner.
Interestingly, it does not have to be the dealer that is banking a game of Pai Gow Poker. Players also have the opportunity to take on this duty and receive the benefits that come with it.
The key factor for a player opting to bank is to ensure that they are comfortable with the amounts being staked around the table and whether they can cover how much they could end up paying out.
Should a player bank and be dealt the worst hand imaginable, they would have to pay out to everyone else.
As for the casino hand, when a player banks, this just becomes an ordinary hand with the size of the bet being the same as when the player last bet against them.