From Dominoes to Cards: What is Pai Gow Poker?

Sat, 25 Feb 2017 18:24

Source: Pai gow poker on Vegas.

Pai Gow is a Chinese game played with 32 dominoes; Pai Gow poker is simply an American version of the pastime, but it's played with cards. The existence of the variant is testament to casino’s ability to turn obscure and long-forgotten games into crowd-pleasers. Pai Gow follows Japanese pachinko and fellow Chinese invention Sic Bo (a more straightforward version of Craps) as a game with rather more exotic roots than the staple slot machines.

Created in 1985 by unlucky casino boss Sam Torosian, Pai Gow melds the allure of ancient tradition with the high-stakes environment of the poker table. Playable by up to seven players, each tackling the dealer’s hand in turn, Pai Gow is a slower, simpler game than Texas hold ‘em, and includes frequent ties or “pushes” like in blackjack. As a fun, low-risk, and highly social experience, it’s also perfect for newcomers to casino.

Wild Card

According to Casino Shark, a page that reviews gaming sites and collates bonus and jackpot details for easy browsing, Pai Gow Poker is the almost exclusive domain of a handful of new NetEnt casinos online like 888casino, Leo Vegas, and Royal Panda. The website provides a rundown of Pai Gow strategy for interested players, covering the odds of beating the dealer and the value of the different hands in the game.

In brief though, Pai Gow is slightly unusual in requiring 53 cards, the standard 52-card deck and a joker, which acts as a “wild” card. The joker either doubles as an ace or is used to complete hands (e.g. a royal flush or a straight) in lieu of other cards. To begin with, each player (and the dealer) is dealt seven cards, from which a low-value and high-value hand must be created, with two cards in the former and five in the latter.


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Royal Flush

As far as values are concerned, the standard poker rules apply in Pai Gow but the presence of two different, uneven hands means that only certain outcomes are possible. For example, with just two cards in the low-value hand, a pair (two cards of the same value such as two 8s) is the best result a player can hope for. The high-value side has five cards though so a royal flush (ace, king, queen, jack, and 10) is the ideal hand, just like in regular poker.

Ultimately, Pai Gow is a game of comparison; the player wins if both of their hands are stronger than the dealer’s, loses if they aren’t, and pushes if they’re even. In the event that the player only wins one comparison, their bet pushes. The high number of ties may be a bit of a turn-off for sharks but the unorthodox options for betting in Pai Gow, including against the dealer and other players, offer a rare twist among table games.

Finally, much like blackjack, Pai Gow has a basic strategy that all players are recommended to adhere to, outlining the type of hands that give the player the best chance of winning. Similarly, the dealer is only allowed to create hands in particular ways – the “house way” – with rules varying between casinos.

The game is a great choice for seasoned poker and casino players looking for new challenges as well as newbies interested in getting into more exotic casino offerings.