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Pai Gow Poker by aka Wizard of Odds

Pai Gow poker is a good choice of the game if you're looking for a"dribbler", meaning a game that offers a long time at the table with comparatively little risk. The rules are fairly simple and it’s easy to jump in and play, but mastering the strategy is quite difficult.

Rules

1. A single 53-card deck is used, consisting of the usual 52 cards, plus one joker.

2. The joker is semi-wild. It may be used as an ace, or to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush, or royal flush. After the player makes a bet, the dealer will deal the player and himself seven cards each.

3. Standard poker ranking rules are followed with one strange exception — the A2345 straight (known as "the wheel") is sometimes considered the second-highest straight. 

4. The player will separate his seven cards into a five-card high hand, and two-card low hand. The high hand must be of higher poker value than the low hand.

5. The five-card hand is ranked according to conventional poker rules. The only poker hand in the two-card hand is a pair or no pair, after which the individual cards determine the value.

6. After the player has set his hand, the dealer will turn over his cards and divide his hand in the same manner, according to specified rules known as the "house way".

7. The two high hands will be compared, and the two low hands, the hand with the higher poker value winnings. If the event of a tie, for example both two-card hands are ace/king, then the tie has gone to the "banker".

8. If the player wins both comparisons, then the player will win even money on his bet, less a 5% commission. If the player wins one and loses one, then the bet shall push. If the player loses or ties both, then the player shall lose his wager.

Wizard's Strategy

Much of the time, the right play is obvious in pai gow poker. If you’re faced with an obscure situation and don't know what to do, asking how the dealer would set the hand, known as the house way, is always a safe choice.  At online casinos, there is often a "house way" button. Although the house way isn't always right, it usually is, and when it isn't the degree of error is generally small. However, for aficionados of the game, I present my Wizard Simple Strategy. It’s divided first by whether or not a straight or flush can be played, then by the highest hand made, other than a straight or flush. Finally, by other specifics about that high hand and the other cards not part of it. 

No Straight or Flush Possible

  • Five aces -- Play AA in low.
  • Four of a kind:
  • With a three of a kind -- Play best low.
  • With a pair -- Play pair in low.
  • Four 2's to 4's -- Play highest two singletons in low.
  • Four 5's -- Play 10 high or better in low, otherwise split apart. 
  • Four 6's -- Play Q high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • Four 7's or 8's -- Play K high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • Four 9's to J's -- Play A high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • Four Q's - A's -- Split apart.
  • Three of a kind:
  • Two three of a kind -- Play the best low.
  • With a two pair -- Play higher pair in low.
  • With one pair -- Play pair in low.
  • Three A's -- Play ace and highest singleton in low.
  • All other -- Play two highest singletons in low.
  • Three Pair -- Play highest pair in low.
  • Two Pair* -- Play according to the sum of the points of each pair, as follows:
  • 6 or less -- Keep together with Q high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • 7 to 11 -- Keep together with K high or better in low, otherwise split apart. 
  • 12 to 16 -- Keep together with A high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • 17 or more -- Always split apart.
  • One pair -- Play best low hand.
  • No pair -- Play best low hand.

Straight or Flush Possible

  • Four of a kind -- Play AA in low.
  • Three of a kind:
  • With a pair -- Retain the straight or flush if you can play 77 or better in low, otherwise play the pair in the low.
  • All other -- Play best low while maintaining straight or flush in the high.
  • Three pair -- Play AA in low.
  • Two Pair* -- Play according to the sum of the points of each pair, as follows:
  • 6 or less -- Keep together with Q high or better in low, otherwise split apart. 
  • 7 to 11 -- Keep together with K high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • 12 to 17 -- Keep together with A high or better in low, otherwise split apart.
  • 18 or more -- Always split apart.
  • One Pair -- Play according to the rank of the pair, as follows:
  • 9's to Q's -- Play AK if possible, in low and pair in high, if possible, otherwise play best low while maintaining straight or flush in high.
  • All other -- Play best low while maintaining straight or flush in high.
  • All other -- Play best low while maintaining straight or flush in high.

* Assign the following point values to the rank of each pair in the two pair: 2-10 = pip value, J =11, Q = 12, K = 13, A = 14.

House Edge

The house edge depends on the player's strategy.  Here is the house edge under various strategies:

  • House way:  2.72%
  • Wizard Strategy:  2.67%
  • Optimal strategy:  2.51%

In land casinos, the player may opt to "bank" against the other players in turn.  The benefit of banking is mostly due to winning on copies. In a one on one game, the house edge is lowered by 2.5% when banking.

Side Bets

Pia Gow has a host of side bets.  I list many of them at Wizard of Odds.  However, as with any game, I recommend you avoid them -- in every game.

Variants

Few variants are commission-free. However, to pay for that, the game makers quietly change other rules that cut the dealer's way. One rule common to all is no player banking.  Here are some of the commission-free games and other
rules changes, to allow for removal of the commission.

  • EZ -- This variant, invented by the late Dan Lubin, automatically pushes all hands if the dealer's best hand is a queen-high. The house edge is 2.47%. A host of side bets may be tacked on, which I won't get into. 
  • Commission-Free -- This variant automatically pushes if the dealer plays a 9-high in the low hand. The house edge is 2.51%. The Tiger 9 bet pays 30 to 1 if the dealer plays a 9-high in the low at a house edge of 22.48%. 
  • Face Up -- This variant not only gets rid of the 5% commission, but the dealer's cards are dealt face up. To pay for that, all dealer ace-high hands are an automatic push. The house edge is 1.81%. The Push Ace High side bet, with a 5-15-40 pay table, has a house edge of 9.29%.

External Links

  • Pai Gow Poker  -- A much more in-depth analysis of pai gow poker at Wizard of Odds.
  • Trainer  -- Test your skill at pai gow poker with our trainer at Wizard of Odds.
Pai Gow Poker by Michael Shackleford aka Wizard of Odds Pai Gow poker is a good choice of the game if you're looking for a"dribbler", meaning a game that offers a long time at the table with comparatively little risk. The rules are fairly simple and it’s easy to jump in and play, but mastering the strategy is quite difficult . Rules 1. A single 53-card deck is used, consisting of the usual 52 cards, plus one joker. 2. The joker is semi-wild. It may be used as an ace, or to complete a...
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