Pai Gow is a gambling game that has been played in China for over a thousand years. Traditional Pai Gow is played with Chinese dominos, which are definitely different from the dominos that Westerners are accustomed to, and in any case Pai Gow hasn’t been a game that has had any great degree of popularity outside China, even though it is played in some Western casinos.
Westerners though are much more familiar with card games using a standard deck, and are especially fond of the game of poker. The game of Pai Gow does have some interesting elements in it though, especially the idea of making two hands, which results in some very interesting decisions being made, ones that are far more rich than you see at any other casino game really.
Strategy in playing casino games tends to be either non existent, like for instance with games like roulette, craps, or baccarat, or pretty minimal, like with blackjack for instance. Sure, there are some decisions to be made at the blackjack table, and ones that clearly affect outcomes, but they are very easily mastered.
Pai Gow is a completely different animal though, and the basic concept is to form two hands so to speak, the hand ahead and the hand behind, with the hand behind needing to be stronger. The dealer also has two hands, and the object of the game is for the player to combine their cards such that they have the best chance to win one or both hands. This is not a straightforward task by any means and will challenge players to think strategically in a way that you just don’t see in other casino games.
If players were just looking to build one or the other hand as strongly as they can, then this would be a pretty simple matter, but since the strength of both hands need to be accounted for, and adding in the fact that in some cases you may want to make one or the other stronger to ensure you win at least one of the two, this does make the game of Pai Gow very interesting.
Pai Gow Meets Poker
The marriage between Pai Gow and poker has the unique gambling laws of the State of California to thank, as well as the ingenuity of casino manager and gambling inventor Fred Wolf. California law only allows for card games to be offered legally, for whatever reason, and if Pai Gow was to be offered here, it would have to be played with cards and not dominos.
So Fred Wolf, who is known for several other gambling innovations, came up with the idea to play Pai Gow with a deck of 52 cards plus a joker, using standard poker hand rankings.
So he teamed up with Bell Club owner Sam Torosian and together they rolled out Pai Gow Poker. The Bell Club is long gone now but Pai Gow Poker became a big hit, and quickly spread to other card rooms in the Los Angeles area and then to the rest of the world.
Being based upon poker and poker hand rankings has made Pai Gow much more understandable to the gambling public, and the game is enjoyed by many these days. It is a very easy game to learn but not to easy to completely master, further adding to its appeal.
How To Play Pai Gow Poker
Players are dealt seven cards which they then make two hands with, one with two cards, the hand ahead, and one with five cards, the hand behind. The dealer also gets dealt seven cards and does the same.
The manner in which players put together their hands is what is most interesting about Pai Gow Poker. The dealer is required to put together his or her hand according to the “house way,” which differs by casino, but involves a set strategy of combining them together.
Hand rankings follow standard poker rules, other than the fact that some Las Vegas casinos rank a lowball straight, ace to five, as the second highest straight, after ace to ten. The five card hand must be of a higher ranking than the two card hand, adding an additional interesting twist.
If the player beats the dealer with both hands, the player wins. If only one of the two hands are won, then the bet is a push. If one hand is lost and the other ties, the player also loses.
So there are a lot of pushes in Pai Gow Poker and while it is not anywhere near as fast paced as some other casino games, many players see this as an advantage and find the game both relaxing and stimulating. It definitely is stimulating with all of the strategy involved and does get players thinking a fair bit, although even less experienced players won’t find any trouble putting together hands.
Pai Gow Poker has a fairly player friendly house edge, not quite as friendly as a game like blackjack but comparable to other casino games such as craps, baccarat, and single zero roulette. Players can really get plenty of bang for their buck with this one with all the pushes that occur.
Pai Gow Poker is a fairly new game, but it’s one that has really caught on and is poised to grow in popularity as more and more casino players become familiar with it. It is definitely a unique game and one that has many fans already.