Pai gow poker is aptly named, because it is a cross between pai gow (the Chinese tile game) and poker. Due to the slow rate of play, and the many pushes, pai gow poker is a good game for bankroll preservation. In other words, it has a low volatility, and is a low-risk form of gambling.
A single 53-card deck is used, consisting of the usual 52 cards, plus one joker.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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 go to the "banker."
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.
Unlike most casino games, the player may bet against the dealer, and other players in pai gow poker. This is known as "banking."
The turn to act as banker is supposed to rotate around the table, but at some casinos it zig-zags between the dealer and each player in turn.
The player may always decline to bank (which usually happens), in which case the option will revert to the next player, or dealer.
Most of the time, the correct play will be obvious. The most common difficult hand is the two pair. High pairs tend to favor splitting it apart, but a high singleton tends to favor keeping it together. I have developed a rule for splitting two pair hands that is slightly more powerful than the house way, and easier to remember. Here it is:
Give each pair a point value according to kind of pair, as follows:
- 2-10 = Pip value
- J = 11
- Q = 12
- K = 13
- A = 14
Add the point value of the two pairs. For example 77QQ would be 7+12=19 points.
If you have an ace singleton, then split the two pair if your point value is 16 or more.
If your highest singleton is a king, then split the two pair if your point value is 10 or more.
If your highest singleton is a queen or less, then always split the two pair.
For any other hand, if you aren't sure what to do, just ask the dealer to set your hand by the "house way."
You should bank whenever it is your turn to do so. The dealer will usually assume you don't want to, so you have to be assertive in invoking your right to bank. Of course, don't bank if the other players are betting more than you are comfortable losing.
When not banking, the house edge is 2.66%, assuming you play by the house way. When banking, the house edge depends on the mix of the other bets. If playing only against the dealer, then the house edge is 0.12%.
Side bets are sucker bets. This advice goes for every game. However, if you must go for the big win, my companion site WizardOfOdds.com indicates the odds of several pai gow poker side bets.
My companion site WizardOfOdds.com has lots more information about pai gow poker.