In recent years we have seen an explosion of poker-based casino games. In the industry, we call these games poker derivative games, as they all derive from classic 5-card poker.
These games started popping up on casino floors in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, and now you are likely to see as many poker derivative games on the floor, as you are blackjack tables, as everyone wants to get in on the action!
The first derivative games to gain a large following were Let It Ride and Caribbean Stud, and today the king of casino poker games are 3 Card Poker and Ultimate Texas Hold ‘Em. But for my money, there is one poker game that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and that is Pai Gow Poker.
What Is Pai Gow Poker?
Pai Gow poker was one of the very first house-banked poker games to make its way into a casino. The game first appeared all of the way back in the mid-‘80s, after being invented by the owner of the Bell Card Club as a way to attract new gamblers to his casino.
Pai Gow Poker used some of those same Pai Gow concepts, but combined them with poker, and the game was an instant hit. Unlike Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud, or other early poker derivative games that are very hard to find these days, Pai Gow Poker has established itself as a must-have game in casinos all over the world, both brick and mortar and online.
How To Play Pai Gow Poker
The reason that Pai Gow poker has been able to stand the test of time, is because it is one of those unique games that is easy enough to learn.
It offers players the ability to play their hands in any fashion that they choose, which gives a skilled Pai Gow Poker player a much better chance of winning than a player that is brand new to the game.
Pai Gow Poker gives the knowledgeable player an edge but is still simple enough that new players are going to be at least decent after playing just a couple of hands.
Unlike traditional poker, where players play against each other, and the better players are going to win more often than not, at a Pai Gow Poker table, a new player is able to catch on to the game quickly, and once the general concepts have been learned, play the game fairly well.
Pai Gow Poker Game Play
Unlike many other casino games, that play quickly, Pai Gow Poker has a bit of a slower pace. If 3 Card Poker is the checkers of casino poker games, then Pai Gow Poker is chess. This is a thinking game where you are dealt 7 cards and must make 2 separate poker hands, a 5-card hand, and a 2-card hand.
The only actual rule on how you set your Pai Gow Poker hand is that the bottom hand has to be better than the top hand. That’s it. If you have a pair of queens on the top, you must be able to beat that with your bottom hand, or your hand is fouled, and you automatically lose.
Outside of the stipulation of the bottom hand being better than the top hand, you can set your hand any way that you choose. This is where that strategy component comes into play, as there are lots of situations that come up where you are going to have to balance the strength of both hands.
Pai Gow Poker Tips For Beginners
Now that you know what Pai Gow Poker is, and how the game is played, we are going to provide some tips for beginners. That way when you sit down at the table, you will be comfortable and ready to play!
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Ask The Dealer For Help
This first tip might seem simple enough, but at a Pai Gow poker table, you can always ask the dealer for help setting your hand. Unlike a blackjack game where the dealer is going to give you their opinion on how a hand should be played, or a roulette wheel where the dealer may give you their favorite numbers to play, at Pai Gow Poker, the dealer can actually set your hand for you.
This is great if there is a tough situation where you aren’t quite sure on the best way to set your hand. Now, setting your hand the house way doesn’t always mean you are going to win, but if you find yourself in a tough spot and you aren’t sure what to do, just ask the dealer!
Spilt Big Pairs, Not Small Ones
Getting multiple pairs in your hand is a fairly common occurrence when playing Pai Gow Poker. You are dealt 7 cards, so getting a couple of pairs is going to happen a lot, and you must know how to play these correctly if you want to win consistently.
As a general rule, if the pairs are both under 8, I would keep them together on the bottom hand and play just a high card on the top. If one, or both, of your pairs are above 8, then I would play the big pair on the bottom and the small pair on the top. When you are playing Pai Gow Poker you have to balance your hand where you give yourself your best chance of winning, but also protect it from losing.
Keeping your small pairs together and splitting your bigger pairs is a great way to play aggressively for a shot to win, while also making sure that you aren’t just playing recklessly with too much risk of losing.
Play The Bonus
Basically, every Pai Gow Poker table is going to offer a bonus bet option. In most casino games, the bonus is a sucker bet, but that just isn’t the case with Pai Gow Poker, as the bonus is actually a pretty good bet.
We already talked about how Pai Gow Poker is a slower-paced game, as there are lots of pushes, and on the main bet, you are only going to get paid out at even money when you win, making it hard to go on a big run and stack a bunch of cash quickly.
The bonus payouts start at 3 of a kind, with the max payout coming on a 7-card straight flush. These payouts are going to vary from casino to casino, but you will regularly find top payouts of in excess of $100K for the biggest hands. Play a buck and try your luck!
How To Play The Joker
Pai Gow Poker plays with a standard 52-card deck, with one exception, they add in a joker. But this isn’t your typical wild for anything joker, as in Pai Gow Poker, the joker can only be used for aces, straights, and flushes.
This one might sound a little complicated at first, but you will catch on quickly, as it is actually fairly straightforward. If you don’t have any combinations of straights or flushes, the joker can play as ace high in either your top or bottom hand.
Take Your Time
This final tip isn’t going to be one that will actually help you win any money, but it will go a long way into making you more comfortable at the table. Pai Gow is a slow game, it isn’t designed to be a ram and jam game that moves quickly.
Pai Gow Poker tends to be a very social game and you can always set and reset your hand until it is just the way that you want it, without being in fear of slowing the game down and upsetting other players.
You can even go as far as to ask the other players which cards they have, or ask for their advice on how they think you should set your hand. Remember, Pai Gow Poker is much more chess than checkers, and you don’t see chess players feeling like they need to make snap decisions. Take your time and enjoy the game!
If you have never tried your hand at a Pai Gow Poker table, you are missing out! Now that you know how to play Pai Gow Poker, the timing is perfect to give the game a shot. A great way to get an introduction to the game is to play it online, as the limits are much lower, and you can get a crash course in Pai Gow Poker without going broke trying to learn!
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