Bullet Bob's Best Shot! Casino Game Strategies

Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker (sometimes called Asian Poker or Double Hand Poker) is a game that combines the Chinese game of Pai Gow ("makes nine") and the American game of poker. The rules are similar to Pai Gow except cards are used instead of dominoes or tiles. Each player receives seven cards that must be divided into the best two and five-card hands. Poker hand rankings are used to determine the value of a hand and the player wins if both hands beat the banker.

There is no consensus on who invented Pai Gow Poker or when the first game was played but according to Bill Zender in his book Pai Gow Poker Understanding Procedures and Strategies, the Bicycle Casino in Bell Gardens, California was the first licensed establishment to offer the game. Mr. Zender states that "in September of 1986, the Bicycle Club added several Pai Gow Poker tables to their six existing Pai Gow (dominos) games."

Since state laws in California prohibit casinos from banking games or having any interest in the outcome of play, the very first Pai Gow Poker games were all banked by the player. In a player banked game each player takes turns acting as the player/dealer who is responsible for all wagers on the table. All players compete against the designated player/dealer, not the casino.

According to Mr. Zender the first casino banked Pai Gow Poker game was in February, 1987, at the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino. For the first time a casino was banking the game if players didn't want to and it wasn't just the players setting hands anymore, the casino needed to come up with its own strategy or "house way". Also a 5% house commission on winning hands was added to give the casino an edge over the players.

In 1990 the Sahara Hotel and Casino offered an "early surrender" version of Pai Gow Poker (very similar to early surrender in Blackjack). Players were allowed to keep half their wager by surrendering their hand if they didn't think it could beat the banker. Early surrender was a great player option but the Sahara ended the promotion within a couple of years. I am not aware of any casinos that currently offer early surrender.

The "dragon" hand is another variation of Pai Gow Poker that is still offered at some casinos. The dragon is a separate hand that comes from any open spot on the table and is offered to each player in turn. Some casinos require that the dragon hand is set the house way while others let the player choose how to set the hand. Wagering requirements also vary by casino. If a table is full and there are no player bankers the dragon hand is not available.

Side bets are offered at some casinos although most of them are considered "sucker bets" and should be avoided. One popular side bet is Shuffle Master's Fortune Pai Gow Poker which pays out according to the player's best seven card hand. Shuffle Master acquired Fortune Pai Gow Poker from BET Technology, Inc. ("BTI") on February 24, 2004, and the side bet was installed on more than 600 tables by the end of the year.

To be successful at Pai Gow Poker, players should focus on hand setting strategy and bank as often as possible. An adequate bankroll is also important to compensate for the large win/loss swings that are inevitable while banking.

Pai Gow Poker Pages