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Rules and Strategies for
Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow is a Chinese game of dominoes. Pai Gow Poker is the marriage between Pai Gow and a 7-card Stud Poker.

The goal of Pai Gow Poker is to make two poker hands that beat the banker's hands. The player is dealt 7 cards that he/she sets into a 5-card hand (high hand) and a 2-card hand (low hand). Skill is involved in setting the two hands, which will help reduce the casino edge to about 3%. The hands are played and ranked as traditional poker hands except A2345, which is the second highest straight, and the 5-card hand must be higher than the 2-card hand. One wins, if both hands are better than the banker's hand. One loses, if both lose. Otherwise it's a push. The banker wins absolute ties (i.e. K Q vs K Q). The game is played with 52 cards and a Joker. The Joker can be used as an Ace or to complete a flush or straight. The table layout has 7 spots - one in front of the dealer and 6 for players.

Each player spot has spaces for a bet, low hand, high hand and sometimes the house commission. The dealer deals 7 7-card hands in front of the chip tray. The banker can be a player, but is usually the house. The banker designates which hands go to which player by shaking a dice cup with three dice. The banker's position is either 1, 8 or 15 and the hands are passed out counter-clockwise. So, if the dealer is the bank and the dice total to 6, player 5 gets the first hand, player 6 gets the second, the dealer gets the third and so on. The dice rules are only ritual - you don't need to worry about anything until you get your hand.

The player puts the 2-card hand face down in the box closest to the dealer, and the five card hand face down in back. Once everybody has set their hand, the dealer turns over and sets the bank's hand. The dealer goes counter-clockwise around the table comparing the banks hand to the players, and taking, paying, or knocking. There is a 5% commission on winning bets that you can either put out next to your winning bet, or the dealer will
subtract from your payoff.

In Pai Gow Poker, the only strategic decisions are how much to bet and how to set your hand. The simple basic strategy for setting your hand is to make the highest 2-card hand that is less than your 5-card hand. If you can't figure out what to do, you can show your hand to the dealer and they will tell you how the house would set it. Since pairs generally win the 2-card hands, and two-pair wins the 5-card hands, the only difficult decisions are when to split two pairs.

The player may want to play as the bank. The House Dealer or the player may be the banker. The Bank wagers against all players. The bank will alternate between the house and the player (the House Dealer will at least take the bank every other hand). The BANKER will be designated by a white plastic marker. A Bank Player must either cover half or all wagers against him/her. The House will co-bank at 50/50 only at the Bank Player's request. The hand will be set according to house way and the table limit will apply if the House acts as a co-banker. In order to bank, a player must have played the previous hand against the House. The House will wager a sum equal to that player's wager against the house the previous hand. The player may request that a smaller amount be wagered. A Banker must be bank at the same spot of the hand he previously played against the house.

Pai Gow poker is an easy game to play, and since each hand takes a while to play (dealer has to shuffle for each game) and most hands push, you can play on $20 at a $5 table for quite a while.

You need to know how the casino is going to play the dealer's cards.

The dealer has to play by what is called the house way. Since the house is playing this way, you should assume that it is the best way to play. There are some situations where you have a little leeway with this, but this mostly involves having two pairs.

The House Way varies slightly from casino to casino, but here is the general rules that most casinos will follow:

The House Way: The following rules apply: cards valued 2 to 6 are considered low, 7 through 10 are considered medium, and all others are high cards.

In regards to Two Pairs:  If the dealer is dealt two medium/low pairs, they will split the pairs up and put the lower of the two pairs in the low hand. The only exception is if they are also holding a King or better.

If the dealer is dealt a high pair and a low pair, the lower pair will be put into the 2 card hand unless the dealer is also holding an Ace. This also applies if the dealer receives two medium ranked pairs.

If the dealer has a medium and high pair, two high pairs or a pair of Aces and any other pair, the dealer will always split.

Straights and Flushes:  The dealer will only break up straights or flushes if they have one of the following two pair scenarios:

If the dealer has aces and any other pair, he uses the lower pair for his low hand.

If the dealer has two pairs that are both 10's or over, the pairs get split up.

If the dealer has two pairs and an Ace, the Ace and next highest singleton are used in the low hand.

Four of a Kind: If the four of a kind is low, than it is always kept intact in the high hand.

If it is a medium four of a kind, the dealer will split unless they have an Ace and a face card.

A high four of a kind is split unless the hand also contains a medium/high pair.

High Card - the dealer will take the second and third highest cards from the seven to make the low hand.

One Pair - the dealer will take the highest two singletons from the remaining five cards for the low hand.

Three Pairs - the dealer will put the highest pair into his low hand.

Three of a Kind - the dealer will play only break up the three of a kind if they have three Aces and need one for the low hand.

Full House - the dealer will always split up a full house unless it contains a pair of two's and an Ace/King can be played.

Straight Flush - this is played in the high hand unless one of the conditions for two pairs with a straight or flush is met.

Royal Flush - the dealer plays the Royal Flush unless also has two high pairs or Aces and any other pair, in which case the cards are split.

Five Aces - the dealer will split Five Aces unless he also has a pair of Kings to play in the low hand.

Other Pai Gow Poker Tips:

If you are playing at the casino, elect to be the banker as often as you can.

This means you will be playing against multiple other hands, but you will have two advantages:

You will win on a copy hand.

The 5% commission will be taken after your loses and winnings on the hand are combined.
You will definitely do better in the long run if you stick to the house way when it comes to separating two pairs in your hand.

Here are the main reasons why:

The dealer is using the same strategy. It's impossible to predict what he will have in his hand. If he just happens to have two higher pairs, then you're probably out of luck on that hand.

If you can see the future coming or get some kind of vibe, then keeping two pairs in your hand could make you push with the banker. But remember the object is to win both hands, so you will be much more successful playing the house way.

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