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Pai gow poker

Pai Gow Poker, or double-hand poker, is an Americanized version of Pai Gow, in that Pai Gow Poker is played with playing cards using poker hand rankings while Pai Gow is played with chinese dominoes.

The game is played with a standard 52-card deck of cards, plus a single joker. It is played on a table marked with seven betting locations if one of the players serves as "bank"; in a casino where players play against the house, there are only six betting spots.

The cards are shuffled, and then dealt to the table in seven face-down piles of seven cards, with four cards unused, regardless of the number of people playing. Each round's deal begins on a randomly-selected position on the table, with the hands after the first being dealt to the player's left around the table. One common way of doing this is to roll three six-sided dice, then count betting spots clockwise from the first until the number on the dice is reached; then give that spot the first hand, the next spot the next hand, and so on until all seven hands have been allotted (this is an adaptation of the similar procedure used in Pai Gow). Otherwise, the position is derived from a random-number generator as shown on a display above the dealing apparatus. If there is no bet placed on a particular spot, the hand is still assigned but then placed in the discards with the four unused cards.

Each player is playing against the banker, who may be the casino dealer or one of the other players.

The object of the game is to create two poker hands out of the seven cards in your hand: A five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand. The five-card hand must rank higher than your two-card hand. The two-card hand is often called the hand "in front", and the five-card hand is called the hand "behind", as they are placed that way in front of the player when he is done setting them. The only two-card hands are one pair and high cards; no straights, flushes, and so on. The joker plays as a bug: that is, in the five-card hand it can be used to complete a straight or flush, if possible; otherwise it is an ace. In the two-card hand, it always plays as an ace. Five-card hands use standard poker hand rankings, with one exception: in most Nevada casinos, the hand A-2-3-4-5 ranks above a king-high straight, but below the ace-high straight A-K-Q-J-10. In California, this rule doesn't apply.

If each of your now-separated hands beats the banker's corresponding hand, then you win your bet. If only one of your hands beats the banker, then you push. If both of your hands lose to the banker, then you lose. On each individual hand, ties go to the banker (for example, if your five-card hand loses to the banker and your two-card hand ties him, you lose). This gives the banker a small advantage. If you foul your hand, meaning that your low hand outranks your high hand or that there are an incorrect number of cards in each hand, there will be a penalty, either re-arrangement of the hand according to house rules or forfeiture of the hand.

In casino-banked games, the banker is generally required to set their hand in a pre-specified manner called "house way", so the dealer does not have to implement any strategy in order to beat the players. When a player is banking, he is free to set the hand however he chooses. However, the player has the option of "co-banking" with the house, and if this option is chosen, the player's hand must also be set the house way.

California casinos typically charge a flat fee per hand, such as 50 cents or one dollar, to play, win or lose. Other casinos take out of winnings a 5% commission. While this seems high, it should be noted that a hand of Pai Gow poker takes a long time to play compared to, say, blackjack, and there are many pushes, so the house doesn't collect that 5% as often as it would collect the house percentage on other games.

Basic Strategy

Generally speaking, one should try to set the highest two-card hand that you can legally set (that is, the best two-card hand that still leaves a higher five-card hand behind). More specifically, one should expect and "average" hand to be something like a medium-to-high pair behind in the five-card hand and an ace-high in front. Detailed computer analysis has been done to determine ideal strategy, but this requires memorizing large tables. A close approximation can be done with only a few rules of thumb. If you are playing in a casino, you can always ask that your hand be set "house way" if you are in doubt; most house strategies are quite reasonable and can be quite close to optimal strategy.

The cases below will probably never happen to you, but just in case: