Pai gow poker is a popular game for those who want a gambling experience where they’re unlikely to lose all of their money in a short period of time. Because the game is played at a very slow pace, and there are a lot of ties that result in a push on the player’s bet, pai gow poker rarely results in dramatic swings or heavy losses, and you can play for a long time without spending a lot of money.
Pai gow poker strategy is relatively complex, and there are several ways that a smart player can cut down on the house edge or attempt to gain the advantage.
Arranging Your Hands
Of course, how you arrange your hands is an important part of any pai gow poker strategy. While it is theoretically possible to use charts to find the optimal play given any seven card hand, it would be impossible to use or memorize in any practical context.
However, the casino’s way of arranging their hands – known as the house way – is a very good plan that comes extremely close to the optimal pai gow poker strategy. The house way can vary slightly from casino to casino, but the differences are mostly cosmetic and do not change the house edge much. The following is a simplified version of the house way used at some casinos. The “front” refers to the smaller two card hand, while the “back” is the full five card hand.
- With no pair, the highest card goes in the back, and the next two highest cards make up the front hand.
- With one pair, the pair goes in the back, with the next two highest cards making up the front.
- With two pair, the pairs will usually be split between the two hands. When holding a single king or ace, however, the two pair will play in the back, with the next two highest cards making up the front. If one pair is of aces, the pairs are always split.
- With three pair, the highest pair is played as the front.
- With three of a kind, the trips are always played in the back, unless they are aces. In that case, a pair of aces is played in the back, and the other ace is in the front.
- With two different three of a kinds, the highest pair is played in the front.
- With a straight, flush, or straight flush, strategy depends on how many pairs are available to the player. With no pair, the two highest cards that can be used without breaking up the straight or flush should go in the front. With one pair, the pair should be played in the front only if it can be done without breaking up the straight or flush. With three of a kind, a pair should always play in front. With two pair, three pair, or a full house, the rules for those hands should be followed instead.
- With a full house, it is virtually always correct to put the pair in the front.
- With a full house and two pairs, the highest pair should go in the front.
- With four of a kind, the correct play depends on the rank. If they are of a six or less, keep the quads together. If they are higher, they should be split unless an ace can be played in the front instead. With aces, always split them into a pair for each hand.
- With four of a kind and a pair, the pair should be played in the front.
- With four of a kind and three of a kind, a pair should be removed from the three of a kind to play in the front.
- With five aces (including the joker), a pair of aces should be played in the front.
Other Pai Gow Poker Strategies
Pai gow poker strategy isn’t just about how you make up your hands. There are also a couple of other ways to cut into the house edge.
For instance, you should choose to be the banker as often as possible if you have the option and can afford to cover the other players’ bets. Because the banker wins on identical hands (known as copies), the other players will often not arrange their hands optimally, and the commission is only charge on your net winnings after you pay winning players, the banker is playing with an edge.
Another good pai gow poker strategy is to try to pay the commission up front. For instance, on a $20 bet, some casinos will allow the player to pay $21 up front to win $20, rather than the normal $20 to win $19. By “pre-paying,” the player reduces the commission from 5% to a slightly lower 4.76%.