THE BASICS OF PAI GOW POKER
by Frank Scoblete and John "Skinny"
Frank Scoblete, is the #1 best-selling gaming author in America. Frankís books and tapes have sold over a million copies. For a free brochure call: 1-800-944-0406 or write: Frank Scoblete Enterprises, Box 446, Malverne, NY 11565. Frankís website iswww.scoblete.com.
(Note: This is excerpted from Frank Scobleteís book Everything Casino Poker: Get the Edge at Video Poker, Texas Holdíem, Omaha Hi Low and Pai Gow Poker!)
Pai Gow Poker is certainly not one of the most popular casino table games. It comes in way behind blackjack, craps, roulette and those carnival games such as Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride, Three Card Poker and Four Card Poker. Indeed, some casinos will only have a few tables for the game, some just one, some will have none. That is sad because Pai Gow Poker is a fun game; it is a social game and, most important, it can be beaten.
There are three ways the player can get an edge at the game of Pai Gow Poker.
In this section, I will show you what you need to know to win money at the game of Pai Gow Poker. Those of you reading about Pai Gow for the first time should carefully go over how the game is played so you are familiar with it. Pai Gow Poker is a simple game, as are all casino games or many people would not be able to play them, and you should seriously consider switching from those carnival games mentioned above to a game that can make you some money.
There is nothing as much fun as playing a game where you have the edge. Come on, we all know playing can be fun but winning is the most fun!
If you are familiar with the rules of the game you can skip over the next section where I will describe how the game is played for those who have never played before or if you need a refresher in how it is played. Skip down to the section that begins "Start Here" if you already know how to play Pai Gow Poker.
The game is played with a standard deck of 52 playing cards plus a joker for a total of 53 cards. The joker is not a true wild card. It can only be used to make a straight, flush or straight flush. If you are not using it for that purpose, it is automatically an ace.
Each player and the dealer are dealt exactly seven cards. On each deal there are a total of seven hands dealt out with four cards left over. The basic layout has room for six players plus the dealer. Some layouts allow for a dragon hand which is an extra hand that can be played by the players. On those layouts there is only room for five players because the dragon hand uses one of the spots.
The cards are dealt out to all the positions on each deal, whether someone is playing that spot or not. The dealer puts the four cards left over and any hands that donít have a player playing them into the muck pile. At that point each player is allowed to pick up his hand and set his cards.
Each player is required to arrange his seven cards into a five-card poker hand and a two-card hand. The object is to make the two best poker hands.
Note Well: The only rule for setting the hands is the five-card hand must beat the two-card hand.
After setting his cards into two hands, each player places them face down in the area designated for the hands on the layout After all the players have set their hands, the dealer sets his hand face up in front of him. The dealer then compares his hands against those of the players one by one. As a player your five-card hand plays against the bankerís five-card hand and your two-card hand plays against the bankerís two-card hand.
The player wins if both the five-card hand and the two-card hand beat the bankerís five-card and two-card hands respectively. A playerís winning hands pay even money less a 5% commission. The banker wins if both his five-card and two-card hands beat the playerís corresponding hands. If the player loses both hands his total wager is lost. However, if one hand wins and the other hand loses it is a push and no money is exchanged.
If a player and the banker have the same two-card hand and/or the same five-card hand, it is called a copy hand, meaning each hand is "copying" the other hand. The banker wins all copy hands. Copy hands occur approximately 2.65% of the time.
Note Well: The copy hand gives the banker a natural edge over the players.
Note Well: Highest straight is 10 through Ace; however, in Pai Gow Poker the second highest straight is Ace through 5.
"Start Here" if you already know how to play Pai Gow Poker.
Let us start with a bit of history about the game. Pai Gow Poker is based on the ancient Chinese domino game of Pai Gow. Pai Gow is played with domino shaped tiles and was brought over to the United States in the 1800ís.
Pai Gow Poker was developed in the early 1980ís combining the popular tile game with elements of poker. It was first introduced at the Bell Club in Bell, California, using standard playing cards. When discussing the card game one should say Pai Gow Poker because strictly speaking Pai Gow is the name of the tile game, not the card game.
Pai Gow literally means "make nine" and refers to the tile game where tiles that can "make nine" are premium. Pai Gow is the original version of Baccarat or Chemin de Fer, again where nine is the premium hand.
In Pai Gow Poker you will often hear people describe a poor hand as a Pai Gow or they will root for the banker to have a Pai Gow. Since the worst possible hand in Pai Gow Poker is a nine high hand (9,8,7,5,4,3,2) that does not contain a flush. I suppose rooting for a Pai Gow for the banker would be hoping the banker makes a nine high hand.
However, in Chinese the word "lop" means nothing. So it is better to wish for a "lop-lop" or to describe a bad hand as a "lop-lop."
Note Well: A Pai Gow Poker hand with nothing in the two-card hand and nothing in the five-card hand is a "lop-lop" or virtually a nothing-nothing hand.
The first thing you want to know about Pai Gow Poker is the best way to arrange your cards so that it is easy to set them into two hands. You should get in the habit of sorting your seven cards in your hand from low to high or high to low and doing it the same way every time.
After sorting the cards look to see if you can make a straight or flush with them. After that it should be relatively easy to determine which two cards you want to put in the two-card hand and which cards go into the five-card hand. For example, suppose you are dealt the following after you spread them out in your hand.
Determine how you would set these cards into a two-card hand and five-card hand before reading any further.
9♦, 7♣, K♦, 2♥, 7♠, 6♦, 5♥
It is certainly possible to look at them and figure out how you want to set them. But if you are distracted or a bit tired after playing for a while, it is a lot easier to make a mistake if you do not sort your cards. If you sort them as I have described you are much less likely to make an error which could potentially cost you money.
I learned this technique through discussions with dealers in different venues. Several have told me it is best to sort your cards as I described above. Since then I have been more observant of the procedures followed by dealers in different casinos and noticed that most sort the cards first.
Note Well: If casinos require dealers to sort their cards to avoid mistakes, donít you think it makes sense for you as a casual or even frequent player to do it that way?
By now you should have figured out how to set the above cards. Next I will show you the same cards sorted. Look at the sorted cards and decide whether it is easier to determine how to set the cards with them sorted or unsorted.
2♥, 5♥, 6♦, 7♣, 7♠, 9♦, K♦
Once the cards are sorted, and you determine there is no straight or flush in the cards, it is easy to see that these cards have a single pair of sevens.
Therefore you would put your next two highest cards (9♦, K♦) in the two-card hand, the pair and remaining three low cards (2♥, 5♥, 6♦, 7♣, 7♠) go in the five-card hand.
The next thing you should know about Pai Gow Poker is the probability of a win, loss or push as a player.
Note Well: When you are playing against the banker you can expect to win approximately 28.61% of the deals, lose 29.91% of the deals and push 41.48% of the deals. The large number of pushes puts this game in a recommended category even thought the house edge is over two percent.
Some of the figures depend on the strategy you use and what "House Way" the casino is using for setting the dealerís hands. But it will roughly equate to winning 30%, losing 30% and pushing 40% of the deals with the banker having an approximate 1.3% edge over the player due to the copy hands that the banker wins. You should be able to see from this that Pai Gow Poker is a slow game since approximately 40% of the hands result in a push. Even without having an edge, the low number of hands played is a bankroll saver for the players.
This brings us to the two components that make up the total House Advantage (Iíll use HA for house advantage from now on). One component is the copy hands which give the banker a 1.3% HA over the player. The other component is the 5% commission one pays on oneís net win.
Note Well: Since you only pay a commission on a winning hand and you win slightly less than 30% as a player, the HA for the commission comes to approximately 1.4%.
You are therefore working against an overall 2.7% HA as a player. With the small number of hands such a HA is not a killer as it would be in a fast paced game such as blackjack or mini-baccarat.
As an aside, some casinos allow you to prepay the commission and then they do not collect the full commission on a winning hand. For example, if you were to bet $105 you would be paid $100 on a winning hand rather than $99.75. It is a good idea to do this if allowed because it reduces the effective rate of the commission from 5% down to 4.76% Ė yes, every little bit helps!
By now you are probably saying to yourself that I told you I was going to tell you how you could play this game with an advantage. Up to now all I have done is tell you how much of a HA the casino has against you as a player.
So here goes:
To be continued in the next issue of BJI.
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