The original version of Pai
Gow used special dominos and dice. It's said to be a rather complicated game, played slow
enough to serve as a social event and is rarely seen in gaming houses outside of Asia.
The modern, Westernized version is played with a deck of 53 cards --
regular deck plus a Joker -- and uses poker-like hands for ranking. It's still a complex
game but the changes make it more approachable, as indicated by its success in casinos
throughout the world. And it's still a rather slow game with showdowns often resulting in
ties. This serves as a fine counterbalance to the faster playing casino fare, and it
allows a player with a modest stake to last longer at the table than would be possible
with other games.
Pai Gow is often a multi-player game where the deal rotates
around the table much like regular Poker. One of the traditional rules is that the dealer
also acts as banker for that hand. In online play all of this is simplified to the
Bets are placed and the player receives seven cards. From
these seven cards the player forms two hands: a two-card hand called the "low"
or "front" hand; a five-card hand called the "high" or
"back" hand. The goal is to beat the dealer on both hands. The back hand is
ranked as in Poker with the exception that A-2-3-4-5 is the second-highest straight
beating K-Q-J-10-9. The front hand is singles or a pair, with A-A being the highest.
There are a few additional rules. First, your front hand
should not beat your back. If it does, this is called a "foul" and both hands
lose. Second, the Joker can be used as a wild card to complete a Straight, a Flush, a
Straight Flush or a Royal Flush. Otherwise it is treated as an Ace.
Betting in most online games is very simple in that you
make a single opening bet and that is the end of it. In some Pai Gow games there are
separate bets for the front and back hands, but this is unusual in on-line play.
If both hands lose to the dealer, you lose your bet. If
both hands win, you win even money. If one hand wins and the other loses, it's a push. If
your hands are the same as the dealer's, called "copies", the dealer wins.
Obviously thats an attraction of playing dealer/banker in multi-player games. In
such games, you minimize your losses by betting low when you are a player and being
dealer/banker whenever possible.
If the player wins, the house takes a 5% commission: you
get $4.75 of a $5 winning bet.
There are a number of issues related to the multi-player
games when it comes to the dealer/banker question. Keep in mind that none of this applies
to typical single-player on-line play.
Dealer/Banker: In multi-player Pai Gow games the bank
rotates from person to person, where a player may pass the deal if they choose. If you
want to deal you must have enough money on the table to broker all other bets made. If you
are uncomfortable with the full risk of banking, another player may co-bank with you as
dealer and the two of you will split the wins and losses. The house will bank if no player
is willing to do it. If a player is banking, the dealer can be a player, wagering as the
banker asks. If a player is the banker then the dealer will first compare their own hands
to that of the banker and make the appropriate payments. Then the dealer will take the
banker's cards and compare them to the other players, using the banker's money.
All wins in Pai Gow are at even money, less the house's 5%
We could quote the straight
probabilities of drawing different back and front hands, but that's not particularly
meaningful. Since Pai Gow is a game of skill the odds are difficult to pin down. Suffice
it to say that if you follow an optimal playing strategy you're going to win about 3-in-10
hands, lose about the same, and push about 4-in-10.
Assuming an optimum play strategy, the largest play
advantage is to the dealer/banker because copies go to them. In fact, noted Pai Gow expert
Stanford Wong has been quoted as saying that being dealer/banker as often as possible has
the most significant impact on a winning strategy. The appeal of multi-player games is
Now the complexity of Pai Gow really shows. For the sake of
discussion, lets call any pair of 2's through 6's a "low pair", 7's through J's
a "medium pair", and Q's through A's a "high pair". To avoid confusion
we'll call the two-card hand the "front" hand and the five-card the
- Back hand: the highest card; Front hand:
the next two highest cards.
- Back: the pair; Front: next two highest
- Pair of A's and any other Pair: Back:
high pair; Front: other pair.
- Two High Pair: Back: best pair; Front:
- High Pair and Medium Pair: Back: high
pair; Front: medium pair.
- High Pair and Low Pair with A or K: Back:
both pair; Front: A or K.
- High Pair and Low pair without A or K:
Back: highest pair; Front: low pair.
- Two Medium Pair with A or K: Back: both
pair; Front: A or K.
- Two Medium Pair without A or K: Back:
best pair; Front: other pair.
- Medium Pair and Low Pair with A or K:
Back: both pair; Front: A or K.
- Medium Pair and Low Pair without A or K:
Back: medium pair; Front: low pair.
- Two Low Pair with A or K: Back: both
pair; Front: A or K.
- Two Low Pair without A or K: Back: best
pair; Front other pair.
- Back: second and third highest pair;
Front: highest pair.
Three of a Kind:
- Three A's: Back: pair of A's; Front: A
and next highest card.
- All others: Back: three of a kind; Front:
two highest remaining cards.
Three of a Kind twice:
- Back: lower three of a kind; Front:
- With second Three of a kind: play the
highest pair to Front hand.
- With second Pair: Back: full house with
low pair; Front: highest pair.
- Pair is 2's with A or K: Back: full
house; Front: A or K.
- All others: Back: three of a kind; Front:
Straights, Flushes, Straight Flushes and
- With no pair: Back: lowest full hand;
Front: two highest cards.
- With one or two Pair: Back: lowest full
hand; Front: two highest cards, pair or otherwise.
- With Three of a Kind: Back: full hand;
- With Full House: Back: three of a kind;
- With Three of a Kind twice: Back: lower
three; Front: highest two.
Four of a Kind:
- With Three of a Kind: Back: four of a
kind; Front: pair from the tree of a kind.
- With a Pair: Back: four of a kind; Front:
- Four A's: Back: pair of A's; Front: pair
- J's through K's with an A: Back: four of
a kind; Front: the A.
- J's through K's without an A: Back: one
pair from the four; Front: the other pair.
- 7's through 10's with A or K: Back: four
of a kind; Front: A or K.
- 7's through 10's without A or K: Back:
one pair from the four; front: the other pair.
- 2's through 6's: Back: four of a kind;
front: highest remaining two