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THE BASICS OF PAI GOW POKER-Part 2

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 is www.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! Part 1 of this two part article, which explained the basic playing rules, appeared in May issue of BJI).

HA = House Advantage

The key to reducing the overall HA and to getting an edge is the fact that each player is allowed to be the banker when it is his turn to do so. Some casinos do not allow banking and I would not recommend playing at those casinos. California also has different rules regarding banking but I will not be discussing those here. The vast majority of the casinos that allow banking use one of two methods.

    • Around-the-table method
    • The zigzag method

With the "around-the-table"method the casino rotates the option to bank to each of the players around the table counterclockwise. If a player passes his option, the next player in order may choose to bank. With the "zigzag method" the casino must bank every other hand in between the player opportunities to bank.

As banker you are allowed to wager against the dealer up to the amount of the last bet you made when the dealer was the banker. In addition if there are other players in the deal, they would be playing against you as the banker and you need enough money on the table to cover their bets plus your wager against the dealer. As banker you are only required to cover the basic wager of the other players. Any side bets, such as the Fortune Bonus or Envy Bonus, which I describe later, are between the other players and the casino and paid by the casino.

Note Well: Banking gives you the advantage because the banker wins all copy hands.

Therefore you want to play for as much as your bankroll can afford. You also want to be the banker as often as the rules allow you to bank.

How to Reduce the House Advantage

One: If you are able to find an empty table where you can play head-to-head against the dealer, you can bank every other hand. This will essentially eliminate the HA for copy hands since you will alternate being banker. The only HA will be for the commission component.

The overall HA reduces to 1.46% on average when you play head-to-head against the dealer, alternating being banker. If you get comps for your play, that will reduce the HA even further and might even bring in more money in comps than your expected loss at the game. This type of advantage is called the "monetary edge" as more money is coming back to you than is actually going to the casino.

It is also fun to turn your cards over face up, one at a time, to add to the suspense of seeing the hand and it allows the dealer to be involved in rooting for you. Since you are playing by yourself, most dealers will not object to turning your cards this way and it makes the game more interesting for them to deal as well.

Two: The second way to reduce the HA is a lot of fun, we call it a "table takeover." If you have five other friends who like to play Pai Gow Poker, the six of you can sit at an empty table and take up all the playing spots. You will all play against the dealer who banks on the first deal. After that, each player will take the bank when it is his turn to be the banker and the other friends will sit out because they do not want to bet against their friend when he is the banker.

It is a lot of fun because you can root for each other as you play. Plus when you are the banker playing one-on-one against the dealer you can usually turn your cards over one-by-one so that all your friends as well as the dealer can root for you. It makes for a very social game when played this way. It also reduces the hit of the house edge! Relax and have fun playing this way. The suspense of slowly turning over card after card increases the thrill of the game. Itís a great method!

With a table takeover you are effectively playing head-to-head against the dealer since you are sitting out when your friends are banking. Thus the table takeover reduces the HA to 1.46%, the same as that for playing head-to-head.

You may even be able to do a table takeover with as few as three to five players. Most casinos will allow you to play two hands as long as they are adjacent to each other on the layout. When it is your turn to bank the casino will only allow you to bank one hand but you can normally bank up to the total combined amount you played on the two hands against the dealer.

Note Well: If you played two hands against the dealer each of $100, you can bank for $200 even if you are not allowed to bank twice. The casinos do not want you to bank twice in a row.

With three players each of you should play two hands against the dealer as the banker taking up all six spots. Then bank one hand for the amount you played on the two hands combined. With four or five players, take up all the spots with some players playing two hands and some playing only one hand.

It is a good idea to play two hands whenever you can even when playing head-to-head because you will reduce the variance since you are spreading the risk for one-half the amount on each of two hands when the house has the advantage as the banker. Then when you have the advantage as the banker you play for the combined amount. Some casinos do not allow you to combine amounts as banker when you play two hands. In that case you should not play two hands, only play one.

Note Well: Remember if you are playing two hands, each hand is half your total bet. So if your normal bet were one hand of $50, you would bet two hands of $25 each.

Three: So how can you get a real mathematical edge at the game? The third and most effective way to reduce the HA is when you get to play with strangers at a table who are willing to play against you when you bank. Of course you need the bankroll to cover the bets of all the players. But if you can afford it, you may actually be able to eliminate the HA entirely and/or play with a positive HA for yourself. That advantage can get pretty high for you depending on how much money is bet by the other players against you.

Not only do you get the edge on the copy hands against the dealer when you are banking but also against all the other players as well. Furthermore, the commission you pay is only on your own net win.

For example, you are banking against the dealer and against four other players all playing for the same amount. If you win three hands and lose two hands you would have a net win of one hand and only have to pay the commission on the one hand.

The 13-to-1 Advantage

Since you have the edge in your favor when you bank against the dealer and other players, it is to your advantage to play for the minimum against the dealer when the dealer is banking.

Note Well: If you are playing on a full table with six opponents (five players and the dealer) and can get to bank for 13 times the amount you wagered against the dealer, you can completely eliminate the HA.

Let me repeat. You will have the HA as the banker on the copy hands and with 13 times the amount you wagered as a player, you will offset the HA on the commission. To eliminate the mathematical edge of the house, you need to have the six players at the table betting 13 times more than your single bet against the dealer when the dealer banked.

This is not that difficult. To demonstrate this, say you are playing for $10 as the player when the dealer is the banker. When you take the bank on the next hand you are allowed to play against the dealer for $10. If there are five other players at the table playing against you for $25 each, you will be playing for a total of $135 as the banker. That would be enough to give you a 0.11% positive advantage.

Hereís the truly great part: If you are able to get players who will play for more than 13 times the amount you played against the dealer you can now get the edge. Thatís right. If the other players are betting $140 against your $10 wager, you now have the mathematical edge over the house!

Just remember, your bet against the dealer when he is the banker must be $10 in our scenario. If you are betting $100, then the other players must bet $1,300+ for you to get the edge!

Each additional unit wagered as banker against six players will gain you 0.21%. For example, at 18 times you would have a 1.05% positive mathematical advantage. It just keeps going up from there.

The more money the players bet against you, the higher your edge. Just keep this in mind; you must have enough to be able to pay the other playersí winning bets. Donít bank if you canít afford it. Even with an edge, you can still lose.

An interesting fact to notice: Pai Gow Poker players often bet higher than average table game players so getting that 13-to1, 14-to-1 and higher bets is not really that difficult.

How To Play Your Hands

The final thing you need to know about Pai Gow Poker is how to set your cards. There is one optimal strategy for setting your hands. But it is fairly complicated and varies slightly depending on whether you are the banker or player. It is far too complex to discuss in a single chapter and the difference between several ways of setting certain hands is quite small and really, as my friends say, "No big deal."

However the good news is that each casino has a standard "house way" that the dealer is required to follow in setting the cards with no exceptions. Furthermore, you are allowed to ask the dealer what the house way is for setting your cards after everyone has set their cards and placed them face down in front of them.

The dealer will then tell you the house way and it is up to you whether you want to set your cards that way or not. As Frank Scoblete likes to say, "Take a look at the money the casino has and the money you have. Would you rather play the house way or your way?"

In general the house way is an excellent way to set your cards. When it comes to the house way you are liable to hear a lot of stories by players. You probably do not want to pay attention to any of them.

Note Well: House ways for different casinos are not so different that you have to agonize over them. Casinos certainly donít worry about it!

Following is the house way for some casinos in Atlantic City:

High card: The second and third highest cards go in the two-card hand. The highest card goes in the five-card hand.

One Pair: The two highest cards go in the two-card hand. The pair and the three lowest cards go in the five-card hand.

Two Pair: Rank the pairs according to the following groupings:

  1. 2 through 6: Low pair = L
  2. 7 through 10: Medium pair = M
  3. Jack through King: High pair = H
  • L-L or L-M: Split pairs, highest in five-card-hand, lowest in two-card hand; unless you can put a King or Ace in the two-card hand and then play two pairs in the five-card hand.
  • L-H or M-M: Split with high pair in the five-card hand; low pair in the two-card hand; unless you can put an Ace in the two-card hand and then play two pairs in the five-card hand.
  • M-H or H-H: Always split with high pair in the five-card hand and low pair in the two-card hand.
  • Pair of aces and any other pair: Always split.

Three pair: Highest pair in the two-card hand; the other two pairs in the five-card hand.

Three of a kind: Three of a kind in the five-card hand. Exception: With three aces, one ace should be put in the two-card hand and the pair of aces remaining in the five-card hand.

Straights, flushes, straight flushes and royal flushes:

  • With no pair: When choosing whether to play a straight, flush, or straight flush, play the category which will allow the highest two cards in two-card hand.
  • With sixth or seventh card: Play the lower straight or flush in the five-card hand in order to place the highest cards in the two-card hand.
  • With one pair: Play pair in the two-card hand only if a straight, flush, or straight flush can be played in the five-card hand.
  • With two pair: Use two pair rule.
  • With three pair: Use three pair rule.
  • With three of a kind: Play pair in two-card hand.
  • With full house: Use full house rule.

Full house: Always split; unless the pair is 2ís and you have an ace and a king to play in the two-card hand.

Full house with three of a kind and two pairs: Play the highest pair in two-card hand.

Full house with three of a kind twice: Always play the highest pair in two-card hand.

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

  • 2 through 6: Always keep together.
  • 7 through 10: Split unless a king or better can be played in two-card hand.
  • Jack through king: Split unless an ace can be played in two-card hand.
  • Aces: Always split.

Four of a kind and a pair: Play pair in two-card hand.

Four of a kind and three of a kind: Play pair in two-card hand from the three of a kind.

Five aces: Split aces and play three aces in five-card hand and two aces in two-card hand unless you have a pair of kings, then play five aces in five-card hand and kings in two-card hand.

You do not have to memorize the table above. I am only showing it as an example of the house way that is used by some casinos.

Money Management at Pai Gow Poker

Even though Pai Gow Poker is a slow game with many fewer decisions than blackjack or the horrendously fast mini-baccarat, you need to make some crucial decisions concerning how much money you need to play it.

If you play banker on every other hand, you have to realize that the variance or volatility of the game can be immense. Just think of playing $10 versus the dealer and having the combined table deciding to bet $500 against you. Can you handle that or would you have to back down? Even with an edge, losing streaks are not only possible but more than likely.

You have to ask yourself the question, "How much can I afford to lose if I have a miserable losing streak?"

*********************************************************************

Frank Scobleteís two new books:

I AM A CARD COUNTER: Inside the World of Advantage-Play Blackjack

They lived the life! Frank Scoblete and his wife the Beautiful A.P. were a devastating card counting team consistently beating the casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, the Midwest and Mississippi. 
 
Now Frank will share with you everything he knows about beating the casinos at blackjack, including techniques that only he and a few true pros know such as End Play, the Fat Finger Method, Card Counting, Celebrity Play and Card Grouping.
 
The heart of this book focuses on what it means to be an expert player. Enjoy Frank and A.P.'s amazing true story; a story of phenomenal skill, teamwork, casino intrigue, and fascinating characters and, yes, how the casino bosses angrily reacted to a couple who knew more about winning money than almost anyone who ever challenged a casino. You'll see what happens when the casino bosses go after Frank and the Beautiful A.P.
 
You'll also meet such greats as Ken Uston, Henry Tamburin, the Stickman, Fred Renzey, Howard Schwartz, Edna Luckman, the Dominator, John Gollehon, Marvin Karlins, Walter Thomason, Stanford Wong, the real Rain Man, Joanna W., Silas the Miser, the Wheat Germ Man, and first and foremost, you will meet the man Frank considers the World's Greatest Blackjack Player ever!

Available at a discount price in the BJI store.

****************************************

CONFESSIONS OF A WAYWARD CATHOLIC

Confessions of a Wayward Catholic is a hilarious yet insightful account of Frank Scoblete's years from kindergarten through grandparenthood as a confused, wayward, seemingly ever-sinning Catholic.  Join Frank for a possibly hell-bound ride as he attempts to understand what God and religion are all about. Will Frank reach the pearly gates or be banished to eternal damnation? 

"I love my husband but there is stuff in this book that is disgraceful and should never have been written!" - Alene Scoblete, wife

"Francis Scoblete has been a major sinner ever since he came to elementary school. I watched him closely at the dances." - Sister Jerome Blake, in charge of making sure girls and boys slow danced a foot apart.

"I don't know why Jewish kids went to a Catholic school but I'm proud they did well in religion."  - Chief Rabbi Sol Bernstein 

"I believe that you should love your neighbor as yourself. Luckily, Frank lives in another town and is not my neighbor."  - Jesus Christ

"Scoblete says I have no sense of humor. I will afflict him with boils and sores over his whole body, just like I did Job." - God

"Frank Scoblete has been wayward for over six decades. He's my main man!"  - Satan

$16.95 + $6 SHIPPING = $22.95 --- Available on Amazon.com, in bookstores or by mail order by calling 1-800-944-0406

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