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Laid-Back Poker

Pai Gow poker (or double-hand poker) is a 1980s Americanised version of Pai Gow played with cards using poker hand rankings instead of Chinese dominoes. It’s played with up to six players plus the dealer and a standard 52-card deck plus one joker, or bug, which can be used only as an ace, or to complete a straight, a flush or a straight flush. Each player plays against the banker, who may be the casino dealer or one of the other players at the table.

Pai Gow Poker is a relaxed game perfect for players looking for a bit of fun without high-stake stress. Each hand can last a long time and it’s common to win your money back even though every casino imposes a fee on playing Pai Gow Poker. There can be an actual fee to play a hand, or a 5-percent rake on each win. These fees allow the casino to make money on each hand, as the house doesn’t collect a rake as often as it would on other games.

The object of the game is to create two poker hands out of the seven cards dealt: a five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand, and the five-card hand must rank higher than the two-card hand. Cards are dealt in seven face-down piles of seven cards. Four cards are unused regardless of the number of people playing.

The players place their two hands face down, and when all are ready, the dealer’s seven cards are exposed into a five and a two in the same way as the players. Then all the players’ cards are exposed. Five-card hands use standard poker hand rankings with one exception: in most cases, the hand A-2-3-4-5 ranks above a king-high straight, but below the ace-high straight A-K-Q-J-10; the A-2-3-4-5 is the lowest possible straight. For the two-card hand, A-A is the best and 2-3 is the worst, and any pair beats any two unmatched cards, but no other combinations are possible.

The result between the dealer and each player is determined by comparing hands. If either hand is tied, the dealer wins that particular hand. So if the dealer wins one hand while the other is tied, or if both hands are tied, the dealer wins. If one hand is tied and the player wins the other it’s a ‘push’ (no money changes hands). If you fail to set your cards so that the five-card hand outscores the two-card hand, you foul—an egregious offence—and the dealer wins by default. The dealer obviously has an advantage, so for the game to be fair, everyone has to deal an equal number of times during the session.

Pai Gow Poker is an easy game to learn, and can provide hours of fun on a modest bankroll, making it a perfect game for laid-back and frugal gamblers.


• Players should try to set the highest two-card hand they can legally set: the best two-card hand that still leaves a higher five-card hand behind.

• If a player has no pairs, straights or flushes, he can set the second- and third-highest cards in his two-card hand.

• If a player has just a single pair, he must set it in his five-card hand and put the two highest remaining cards in his two-card hand.

• Two pair is the most common case where strategy isn’t obvious. A player can either play a high pair behind and a small pair in front, or else two pair behind and high cards in front. The smaller the high pair and higher the remaining cards, the more inclined he should be to play two pair behind.

• Three pair is a very good hand. Play the highest pair in front.

• If a player has three of a kind and nothing else, he should play three of a kind behind and the remaining high cards in front unless they’re aces.

• If a player can play a straight or a flush or both, he should play whichever straight-or-better five-card hand makes the best two-card hand.

• With a full house, a player should generally play the three of a kind behind and the pair in front.

• With two three of a kinds, a player should play the higher as a pair in front and the smaller three of a kind behind.

• With four of a kind, a player should play as if it were two pair, but should be slightly less inclined to split.

• With three pair and a straight or flush (only possible with the joker), a player should play his hand as three pair (with aces in front).
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