As you walk along the casino floor, the excitement is infectious: people jump up and down when they win big, squeal with glee, and hug fellow players. The cards gleam and friendly dealers congratulate players. If you're wondering where to begin to get in on the action, try Pai Gow Poker. Known for a slower rate of play and frequent “pushes,” Pai Gow Poker is ideal for beginners and those looking for a lower-risk game. With players playing individually against the dealer, the table often wins and loses together, which means you and your neighbor will be rooting for each other.
Based on the chinese game of dominoes called Pai Gow, the game is relatively simple and you don’t have to be a world poker tour champion to learn how to play. If you’re familiar with scoring in poker, then you’re already halfway to becoming a Pai Gow expert. In fact, the hand-ranking is almost identical to Poker with two exceptions, but we’ll get to that later. First, a step-by-step introduction to the game:
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Pai gow begins when seven cards are dealt to each of the players and the dealer. Players then look at their hands and arrange them into two hands, one consisting of five cards, and the other of two cards. One joker may also be in play, but it can only be used as an ace or to complete a straight, a flush, or a straight flush. The value of the five-card hand will be determined identically to poker, except: A-2-3-4-5 is the second highest straight combination after A-K-Q-J-10 and five Aces is the highest possible hand, beating a straight flush. The only combination possible for the two-card hand is a pair, which always beat unmatched cards.
When arranging their seven cards into the two hands, players must be mindful of the best possible combinations for each of their hands. The five-card hand must also have a higher value than the two-card hand. For example, if the player would like to use two Aces for the two-card hand, they must have at least two pair or better in the five-card hand. If they cannot create a five-card hand with a higher value than the two-card hand, they must rearrange. In the case of the two Aces, the player would need to choose another combination to make up the two-card hand. Once all players have arranged their cards and placed them face-down, the dealer reveals his or her cards and arranges them into 5-card hands and 2-card hands. Players may not touch their cards after they have been placed face-down on the table.
Players then reveal their cards and their five-card hands are compared to the dealer’s five-card hand, and the two-card hands are likewise compared. Players play against the dealer, not against one another. If the player wins both hands, the dealer pays out the amount that the player had bet. If the dealer wins one hand and the player wins one hand, the result is a “push” and no money is exchanged. If the dealer wins both hands, the player’s bet will be collected. In the event of tie between either of the dealer’s hands and the player’s hand, the corresponding dealer hand wins. However, the dealer must also win the other hand in order to collect the player’s money.