A Round of Pai-Gow

Posted on: January 15, 2019

Some gamblers say that Pai Gow has had its roots in China, and there are those who claim they have played a form of this variation of poker in underground gambling parlors in New York City’s Chinatown.

Pai Gow is more of a casino tabletop game than a competitive poker variation against other players, with minimal house advantage (depending on the Casino that’s hosting). 

Pai Gow may be steeped in Asian superstition, but gaming experts can agree that the man who popularized Pai Gow poker (and perhaps even created it) is Sam Torosian, owner of the Bell Card Club.

What is the History of Pai Gow?

Not to be confused with the game that uses traditional Chinese dominoes, Pai Gow came about in 1985 when Sam Torosian got the idea for a new kind of poker from a Filipino customer.

This game was called puy soy— a sort of Chinese poker– which turned out to be the inspiration for Pai Gow. However, Torosian thought that the 13-card game with players arranging 3 hands would be too slow, so he came up with a simplified 2-hand version which uses only 7 cards– which would be faster and easier for players to learn. 

As fate would have it, after being given bad advice, Torosian was unable to patent this game he invented– a patent which could have netted him millions! Soon, the game gained quite a bit of traction on the Las Vegas strip and quickly became popular worldwide

Pai gow poker

Why is Pai Gow Popular?

For a lot of people who do love Pai Gow, here are a few reasons why the game is so popular among poker enthusiasts:

1. It’s pretty low key and relaxed.

Everyone’s playing their own game in Pai Gow. It’s a game that doesn’t require too much thinking, and you can even talk to the other players at the table. Players don’t tend to get too ambitious or aggressive with their bets. So generally, there’s a friendlier vibe overall.

2. Shared fortune

With Pai Gow, it is not uncommon to see players winning together (and losing together) at the table. Compared to other card games, the camaraderie among players in a Pai Gow table is great, as you even cheer each other on in celebration of your victories. 

3. You can play for a while (without losing too much)

Great for more casual card players, Pai Gow is a push game– meaning there are lots of opportunities for ties. So while there are limits to how much you can win, it also limits how much you might potentially lose.

Playing Pai Gow

Pai Gow is also known as double-hand poker by enthusiasts, and it is a battle between suits. The game is played using the regular 52-card deck, including one of the two jokers. 

Pai Gow is played on a table set for six players, plus the dealer. Players prepare two hands, a suit of five cards and a set made of two cards. That is why all players are dealt seven cards at the beginning of the game. Each player attempts to defeat the banker (who may be the casino dealer, one of the other players at the table, or a player acting in tandem with the dealer as co-bankers)

The five-card hand’s rank must be superior to the two-card hand’s. The two-card hand is often called “in front”, “on top”, “hair”, the “small”, “minor”, or “low” hand. Meanwhile, the five-card hand is called the “behind”, “bottom”, “high”, or “big”, as they are placed that way when players reveal their cards to the table.

Hand Rankings at Pai Gow

There are more than 10 types of hands that you can use in this game. Here are their rankings, from highest to lowest:

  1. The highest is the Royal Flush. This is made up of five cards of the same suit composed of the King, Queen, Jack, 10, and Ace. In terms of suit ranking, this varies depending on where you are playing. Some casino houses would rank diamonds as the highest when playing Pai Gow but others give the clubs the highest rank when playing another game. 
  2. The Straight Flush. This hand is made up of five consecutive cards of the same suit; for example, five cards consisting of 2-3-4-5-6 carrying the sign of a Club. 
  3. Four of a Kind. This is composed of four cards of the same rank; like four pieces of Queens and one additional card, any card, to complete the five-card hand. 
  4. Full House. This is composed of three cards of the same rank and a pair of cards. The highest-ranked Full House is composed of three cards of Aces or Kings accompanied by any pair of cards. 
  5. The Flush. This is made up of five cards of the same suit but not necessarily in sequence. If you have a 5-8-3-4-7 carrying the sign of a spade, then it makes a Flush. 
  6. The Straight. This hand is composed of any suit but the values of the card are in sequence. For example, if you have 9-8-7-6-5 of various suits, then it makes a straight. 
  7. Three of a Kind. It is like your Full House but the accompanying two cards are not a pair. So this can be three cards of the same ranking like three pieces of 7s and two more different cards. 
  8. Two Pair. This means in a hand of five, four of the cards make two pairs which means two sets that have the same ranking. For example, A-10-10-8-8, the two 10s make a pair; the two 8s make a pair and an accompanying card. 
  9. The Pair. Out of the five cards on the hand, two are of the same rank making a pair. For example, if you are dealt with 2-3-3-8-5, then this hand makes a pair. 
  10. High Card. The lowest in hand in the game is the High Card. This is composed of any five cards that rely on the highest-ranking card in the hand. If a player is dealt a 7-3-4-2-K, then the whole hand can win if the Ace beats another High Card hand with a lower rank. If your opponents’ highest card is only a Jack, then the King wins.

Special Considerations in Pai Gow

Before the cards are dealt, a bet must be placed that is equal to or higher than the table minimum bet.

The object of the game is to get both of your hands to beat the dealer’s. 

Jokers can be used to complete straights and flushes for the five card hands. For the two hand cards, a Joker and can only be used as an Ace.

Your five card hand must be stronger than the two card hand. Otherwise, you would be called out for a foul move. If you fouled, it is up to the Casino whether they will call your hand dead or they will rearrange it in accordance with their house rules.

Winning at Pai Gow

If both of your hand are superior to the dealer’s, you win the pot.

However, if neither hand beats the dealer, you lose your bet. If one of your hands win while the other falls short, you tie and push your bet, meaning you neither win nor lose.

Note: The dealer does have a slight advantage in Pai Gow: any ties in hand ranking go in favor of the dealer (or house). So if you have an 88 in your two card hand, and the dealer also has an 88, then the dealer wins.

Most casinos will have a set dealer that deals every hand. Other casinos will arrange it that each player takes turns being the dealer (also known as the banker). 

Where Can People Play Pai Gow?

From its origins in California, Pai Gow soon made its way to Las Vegas and Atlantic City. Folks loved this poker variant mostly because it was simple and fun.

Today, Pai Gow continues to be well-received by players at land-based betting houses all over the world. In fact, most casinos (and casino sites) have made sure that online Pai Gow Poker was also included in their selection of games. 

A lot of casino websites offer players the opportunity to understand and learn the game through free games, which also eliminates the risk of losing money.

In popular card rooms like Capitol Casino, Pai Gow remains a steady favorite among players as the game has different betting limits, and the house edge is comparatively lower than other card games.