The above title is a little bit confusing as we can definitely talk about Pai Gow Poker rules, but Pai Gow poker strategy is a different matter. Pai Gow is not like Texas Holdem, Omaha or Stud. Players get a set hand here and they won’t be able to improve what they have by picking up new cards, discarding some and drawing new ones (draw poker) or by using the community ones. What you’re dealt is pretty much what you’ll take to showdown.
Pai Gow poker is actually based on a Chinese domino game, and up to seven players can play it in the casino. A standard 52-card deck is used for it, plus a joker. The joker is a wild-card which means it can be used to complete hands like straights and flushes and it can be used as an A when it doesn’t complete a hand.
Being a casino game, Pai Gow poker is played between a dealer and one or more players. All players are dealt 7 cards, which they cannot exchange. They have to make two hands out of these cards, a 5-card one and a 2-card one which cannot be improved in any way following the deal. The 5-card hand needs to be higher than the two card one, and since the best two card hand you can make is a pair, you need to make sure your 5-card hand contains a higher pair or a two pair. The hand ranking of the 5-card hand is the same as in Texas Holdem, with one exception. The wheel (A,2,3,4,5) is the second highest straight in Pai Gow, after the 10,J,Q,K,A.
After the players are done arranging their hands, they have to place both of them face down. Players are forbidden to discuss their hands among themselves. The dealer then reveals his 7 cards, and from that point on none of the players can touch their hands anymore.
The dealer arranges his 7 cards the same way the players arranged theirs and then the players’ hands are overturned. Each of the hands is compared to the dealer’s hands, the 5-card one to the dealer’s 5-card hand and the 2-card one to the dealer’s 2-card hand.
Depending on how the corresponding hands match up, there can be several outcomes.
If the player’s hands both outrank the dealer’s, he gets even payout (as much as he wagered). If one of the player’s hands beats the dealer’s but the other one is weaker, it’s a push and the player gets his staked amount back. If both the dealer’s hands are better than the player’s hands, the house wins. If there happens to be a tie, the dealer wins. Suppose your 5-card hand is better than the dealer’s 5-card hand and your 2-card hand ties. In this case, a push is called and you get your wager back. This rule is the source of the house edge in Pai Gow poker. Because of the dealer’s advantage, when played amongst friends, everyone gets their turn at dealing. Also, in such cases a rather elaborate dealing ritual is used, which employs dice to determine the player who gets the first 7-card stack.
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