At approximately 1,000 years old (and possibly older than that), pai gow is almost certainly the oldest casino game in the world. On the bright side, it can be a very relaxing game to play, since there are lot of pushes and only about 30 hands played per hour. The downside? Pai Gow tiles strategy is devilishly complex, and if you’re not familiar with the game, it can be very hard to keep track of which hands are best and how to make the best plays.
With that in mind, this pai gow strategy article is going to focus on helping you understand exactly how to score your hands, along with some basic pai gow strategy that will help you figure out what the best plays are.
Scoring Pai Gow Hands
Each player gets four tiles with which they must make two hands, each made up of two tiles. The hand with the higher value is called the front hand, while the lower value hand is the rear hand. If both of the player’s hands beat the respective dealer hands, the player wins; if both lose, the dealer wins. If the player and dealer each win one hand, the bet is considered to push.
Each hand is scored by adding up all the pips on each tile, and then dropping the tens place – meaning that the maximum score is normally nine. For instance, if you have one tile with eight pips, and another with five pips, by adding the pips together you will find you have a total of 13 pips – for a score of three, since we only use the final number in the score.
However, there are exceptions. If you hold a double-one or double-six tile (known as a Day or Teen, respectively), and use that tile with an eight, they are worth ten points instead of zero. This is known as a Gong. If you use one of these tiles with a nine, they are worth 11 instead of one (this is known as a Wong).
Two tiles – the 1-2 and 2-4 tiles – are known as Gee Joon or wildcard tiles. These tiles can both be used to count as three or six points, which ever will help your hand score higher.
If you have two tiles with the same number of pips, you have made a pair. A pair always scores higher than any non-pair; an easy way to think of pairs is that they count as 12 points. However, no two pairs are worth exactly the same amount, as some pairs are ranked ahead of others. This is often the most confusing area of scoring to remember for new players, as the scoring may seem somewhat arbitrary. The pairs are ranked as follows, from highest to lowest:
– Gee Joon pairs
– Red Eights
– 3-1 tiles
– 5-5 tiles
– Matched sixes
– 2-2 tiles
– 6-5 tiles
– 6-4 tiles
– 6-1 tiles
– 5-1 tiles
– Mismatched nines
– Mismatched eights
– Mismatched sevens
– Mismatched fives
If a player hand and a dealer hand have the same score, both hands are compared based on what tile in each hand ranks highest on the above chart of pair rankings. The higher tile wins. If there is still a tie, the dealer wins.
Pai Gow Tiles Strategy: Making Hands
Now, here’s the fun part: how to take your four tiles and make two hands. In a sense, pai gow strategy is much simpler than that in pai gow poker, since you only have three possible ways to make your two hands. However, the rules to follow if you want to minimize the house edge as much as possible are very complex.
However, there are a few simple rules you can follow to begin outlining your pai gow strategy. First, the golden rule is that if there’s only one reasonable way to play a hand, don’t second guess yourself. If you have two pairs, play the two pairs as separate hands.
Next, here is a pai gow tiles strategy for what to do when you have a single pair and two other tiles. This strategy is based on the “J.B. Easy Strategy” presented by Michael Shackleford.
- With a pair of 4’s, 10’s or 11’s, you should never split the pair.
- With a Gee Joon pair, only split with tiles of 6-4, 6-5 or 6-6.
- With a pair of 2’s or 12’s, only split with tiles of 9-11.
- With a pair of 5’s, only split with 2-12.
- With a pair of 6’s, only split wit 2-11, 2-12, or 11-12.
- With a pair of 7’s, split only if you can make two hands of seven points of better.
- With a pair of 8’s, split if you can make two hands of eight points or better, or with tiles of 9-11.
- With a pair of 9s, split only to make two hands worth nine points or better.
Without pairs, strategy becomes yet more complex. While outlining an entire pai gow strategy for unpaired hands is difficult, there are some important concepts to keep in mind. The key one is that playing a mediocre high hand and a low hand of, for instance, one point, is rarely correct. This is because while this might be the hand that gives you the best chance of winning both hands, it is much more likely to allow the dealer to beat you on both hands, thus losing your bet!
In these cases, it’s typically better to try your best to win one hand, playing for a push against the dealer. With most hands, this means playing the best possible high hand. However, with very poor tiles, such as those where you’ll only be able to score 3-5 points in total between your two hands, it’s usually better to make your low hand as good as possible. More complex strategy charts are available that detail when to go for a strong low hand vs. a strong high hand, though these can be very difficult to memorize and should be utilized by experienced players who are already comfortable with more basic pai gow strategy.