Casino and Game Tips > Pai Gow 101

       Pai Gow Poker is one of the best kept secrets in the casino. The odds of the player winning any given hand are just about 50-50, however because it has a foreign-sounding name and is a favorite of Asian gamblers, most people shy away from it -- which is a shame because it is actually quite fun to play.

        Each player makes a single wager, and is given a seven-card hand. (There is what to the outsider appears to be an elaborate ritual involved with the handing out of the cards, but it is irrelevant to the game itself.) Each player then creates a five-card poker hand and a two-card mini-hand and places them on the table in the assigned spots. The two-card or "low" hand must not be of greater value than the five-card or "high" hand, so what that boils down to is that if you have only one-pair in the seven cards you are dealt, it must go in the "high".

        After all the players have set their hands, the dealer reveals his/her cards and sets the two hands according to a pre-determined system of rules known as "House Ways." These house ways may differ a tiny bit from casino to casino, but must be followed to the letter. Because there is one and only one for a dealer to play each and every hand that may occur, if a player at the table in unsure of how to play, or simply wants a second opinion on how to set their own hand, the dealer is usually more than happy to help out.

       So, how do you win? It's a two-part process. Each player goes head-to-head against the dealer. The high-hands are compared, with the better poker hand winning. Then the low-hands are similarly compared. Win BOTH "rounds" and you win the hand. If the dealer wins both, the house wins. Split the two (a very common occurrence) and it's a push. Winning hands are paid even money, less a small (usually five percent) commission to make up for the lack of a house edge.

       The pace at a Pai Gow table is very leisurely and therefore it is unlikely that you will go through your bankroll quickly if you stick to the table minimum. There are a few other quirks that sometimes come up during a Pai Gow game, but if you understand the basics of poker, there's nothing here that should keep you from taking a seat and giving it a try.


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