Pai Gow Poker is an Asian card game. It is dealt with a 53-card deck. The extra card is a joker, which does not play like a standard wild card.
What is a Pai Gow Joker?
A Pai Gow Poker joker may only be used to complete a straight or flush, otherwise it is just an ace. If a player has a joker and an ace, he has a pair of aces. If he cannot match it with any other ace and it does not complete a flush or straight, it is played by itself as an ace kicker.
How Pai Gow Poker is Dealt
Players start out by placing a wager. Traditionally, three dice are shaken to determine the order where the cards are dealt. In modern casinos, a digital display randomly selects the seat to receive the first set of cards.
Seven cards are dealt to each seat, as well as to the dealer. Unlike other games, cards are dealt to unoccupied seats when playing Pai Gow in a casino. This makes it so that an absent player does not affect the outcome of the game. This dates back to ancient superstitions.
Once all cards are dealt, players look at their hands. The cards must be set so that there is a five card hand and a two card hand. The five card hand must beat the two card hand. Another way to think about it is the five card hand is the best hand, while the two card hand is second best.
Most hands are easy to set. A player with a pair will play the pair in the five card hand and the top two kickers in the two card hand. In most situations, a player that receives two pair should put the large pair in the five card hand and the smaller one in the two card hand. An exception would be if one of the pairs is small and an ace can be played in the front two card hand.
Once the players have acted, the dealer shows his hand. The dealer must set his hand according to the house way. This is published and must be disclosed to players upon request. That way there are no accusations about the house setting a hand with knowledge of a player’s holdings.
Pai Gow Showdown
Once the dealer’s hand is set, it is time to compare hands. Players are only up against the dealer, not each other. A player must win both the front two card hand and back five card hand against the dealer to win his bet. If the player wins one and loses one, it is considered a push. If the player loses both the front and back hands, his bet will lose.
If a front or back hand ties, called a copy in Pai Gow Poker, the banker wins it. This means that if a player wins one hand and copies the other, it is as if he lost the copy hand so the hand pushes. If the player copies one and loses the other, he loses the hand. If the dealer and player have the exact same seven cards, the banker wins due to a double copy.
All winning Pai Gow Poker bets pay a 5% commission to the house.
Pai Gow Poker Banking
In Pai Gow Poker home games, each player takes turns playing the banker. The banker deals each hand and covers all wins and losses that would normally be handled by the house. The deck is passed to the right each hand. In casinos, the banker option is passed around, however, most players decline. Online casinos do not allow the option to bank.
A player that chooses to bank takes all action from the table as if he was the casino. He also wins all copies, just as the house would if it were the bank. The house matches the player’s last bet when he chooses to bank. This makes the house essentially another player in the game. Players that are not the banker set their hands first. The banking player then sets his hand, followed by the house.
Once all hands are set, the dealer shows his hand first and compares it to the player’s hand that is banking. The dealer then settles with the banking player. The dealer’s hand is placed in the muck and the banking player’s hand is placed in the middle and compared to each player’s hand. The banking player wins any bets from players that he beats and must cover any player wins there the bank hand loses. A player that banks must still pay the 5% commission to the house on the net win. Players that beat the player banker must still pay a 5% commission to the house as if the casino banked the hand, even if the dealer was a net winner.
EZ Pai Gow Poker
EZ Pai Gow Poker is a new game that eliminates the need to pay a 5% commission on wins. This commission can slow games down and creates a need for quarters and half dollar coins at the table. EZ Pai Gow makes these coins unnecessary.
In exchange for not paying the 5% commission that is standard in the traditional game, the house automatically pushes on any queen-high pai gow, which means the dealer has seven cards where the highest card is a queen and there is no pair, straight, or flush. This occurs every 57 hands.
One drawback of EZ Pai Gow Poker is that players may not bank it in most casinos. If they do, the queen-high pai gow rule does not apply to the player that banks the hand. He must also pay 5% commission on all wins.