Pai-gow poker is a banking poker game played in Las Vegas and some of the California card clubs. The object of pai-gow poker is to make two poker hands that beat the banker's hands. The player is dealt 7 cards that he makes into a five card hand (high hand) and a two card hand (low hand). The hands are played and ranked as traditional poker hands (with one exception: A2345 is the second highest straight), and the 5 card hand must be higher than the 2 card hand. If both hands are better than the banker's hand, you win, if both lose, you lose, otherwise it's a push. The banker wins absolute ties (i.e. K Q vs K Q).
The game is played with a 52 cards plus one joker. The joker can be used as an Ace or to complete a flush or straight. The table layout has 7 spots one in front of the dealer and 6 for players, like this:
Dealer 7 1 6 2 5 3 4
Each player spot has spaces for a bet, low hand, high hand and sometimes the house commission. The dealer deals 7 7-card hands in front of the chip tray. The banker can be a player, but is usually the house. The banker designates which hands go to which player by shaking a dice cup with three dice; the banker's position is either 1, 8 or 15 and the hands are passed out counterclockwise. So, if the dealer is the bank and the dice total to 6, player 5 gets the first hand, player 6 gets the second, the dealer gets the third and so on. The dice mumbo-jumbo appears to be ritual stuff --- you don't need to worry about anything until you get your hand.
The player puts the two card hand face down in the box closest to the dealer, and the five card hand face down in back. Once everybody has set their hand, the dealer turns over and sets the bank's hand. The dealer goes counterclockwise around the table comparing the banks hand to the players, and taking, paying, or knocking. There is a 5% commission on winning bets that you can either put out next to your winning bet, or the dealer will subtract from your payoff. The lowest minimum bet is $5, seen at the Imperial Place and Four Queens.
In pai-gow poker, the only strategic decisions are how much to bet and how to set your hand. The simple basic strategy for setting your hand is to make the highest 2-card hand that is less than your five card hand. If you can't figure out what to do, you can show your hand to the dealer and they will tell you how the house would set it. Since pairs generally win the 2-card hands, and two-pair wins the 5-card hands, the only difficult decisions are when to split two pairs. The house rules at the Four Queens were not to split low pairs (<= 6) and not to split pairs <= 10 if there was a Ace high two card hand. So the house would set
A 10 10 6 6 5 3 => A 5 / 10 10 6 6 3 K Q 10 10 6 6 3 => 6 6 / 10 10 K Q 3
A ``Pai-gow'' is a hand with no pairs, such as Q J / K 7 8 6 2.
Things get a little weird if a player wants to be the bank. To quote from the IP house rules: ``The House Dealer or the player may be the ``BANKER.'' The Bank wagers against all players. The bank will alternate between the house and the player (the House Dealer will at least take the bank every other hand). The BANKER will be signified by a white plastic marker. A Bank Player must either cover half or all wagers against him/her. The House will co-bank at 50/50 only at the Bank Player's request. The hand will be set according to house way and the table limit will apply if the House acts as a co-banker. In order to bank, a player must have played the previous hand against the House. The House will wager a sum equal to that player's wager against the house the previous hand. The player may request that a smaller amount be wagered. A Banker must be bank at the same spot of the hand he previously played against the house.'' Got that??
In the CA card clubs, all wagering is between players, so the option to be the bank rotates among the active players. The rule differences from the IP rules are that the Joker is wild, and the house commission is a flat $1 per hand ($10 minimum bet).
Pai-gow poker is an easy game to play, and since each hand takes a while to play (dealer has to shuffle for each game) and most hands push, you can play on $20 at a $5 table for quite a while.
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