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Increase Your Chances of Winning with Pai Gow Poker
Although Texas Hold’em Poker is the most popular version of the game, Pai Gow Poker is a sneaky-good game that offers the player reasonable odds of winning. Played right, you can cut the house’s edge down to 1.3%.
If you’re new to playing Pai Gow, we’re still going to do a brief run through of how the game actually works, but in this article specifically, we’re going to focus on a more advanced strategy. There are always questions on what is the best way to play certain hands and we will clarify all of that here.
How to Play Pai Gow Poker:
You’ll go head-to-head with the dealer, and both you and the dealer will receive seven cards. Your goal is to make a five-card hand and a two-card hand that can beat the dealer in each category. To beat the dealer, your five-card and two-card hand have to top the dealer’s. If only one hand is better, it’s considered a push (draw). However, if the dealer has the same hand as you, they win. For a more in depth explanation of Pai Gow, click here.
Where Does the Dealer Have the Edge?
The full edge in this game is really just when you and the dealer have the same hand. In other words, if you have a queen-high in your two-card hand, and a pair of sevens in your five-card hand, and the dealer has the same thing, the dealer wins. Or if you have nothing but a high card in either hand and the dealer has the same, the dealer wins.
To translate this into mathematical terms, this copying happens roughly 2.6% of the time. That means the banker is going to win about 29.9% of the time and you’re going to win 28.6% of the time. Also keep in mind that sometimes the dealer will charge a 5% commission when you win. Some casinos don’t do that and if they don’t, then the dealer’s edge is merely 1.3%.
Winning Strategies with Various Hands
With Pai Gow Poker, you have to remember one rule: your five-card hand always has to have higher value than your two-card hand. In other words, if you have three aces, you can’t put two in your two-card hand and leave your five-card hand with just a high card of an ace. That’s where the strategy of the game comes into play as you have to figure out how to best break up your cards. Sure, if all you have is a two-pair, that’s easy. But what happens when you have three pairs or a Full House? We’re going to give you some tips on what’s the best play in the following scenarios:
- Three Pairs – One of the biggest questions is how should bettors play a hand when they have three pairs. What you’ll want to do is put the highest pair in your low hand. Remember, the first key is to beat the dealer in at least one hand. A high pair gives you a good chance to split and then having a two-pair in your five-card hand gives you a good chance to win there too.
- Three of A Kind – This one seems mostly obvious that you’ll want to keep this three of a kind together. The lone exception is if you have a trio of aces. Then you’ll split them up to put aces in the high hand and an ace with the next-highest card in the low hand.
- Full House – When you have a Full House, you might think to keep the cards all together but that’s not the best way to play it. Always split the pair to put that in the low hand and keep the other three of a kind together. The lone exception would be if you have a second pair, then you would play the highest pair in the low hand.
- Straights & Flushes – While you want to break up Full Houses, you don’t want to do that with straights and flushes. You almost always keep these in your high hand unless you have two pairs. Then break those up as per the two-pair rules. Some people will split a flush or straight if they have a pair of 10’s or better. In that case, they’d keep the pair in their five-card hand and then use the Ace-King for the two-card hand. In that case, you might consider splitting it up because it does give you two decent hands. Otherwise, keep the straight and flush together.
- Four of A Kind – This starts to get tricky because you essentially have two two-pairs. If you have sixes or lower, keep them all together. If you have four of a kind with sevens through 10’s, split them up unless you have something like an Ace to play in the low hand. And if you have four-of-a-kind with face cards, you always want to split them up unless you have another pair to play in the low hand.
- Five Aces – You’re in great shape if you get this hand. You always want to split these into a two-pair and a three-of-a-kind so that you have two strong hands. The only time you wouldn’t is if you had, say, a pair of kings on top of this, which you’d put in the low hand.
Always Avoid the Bonus Bet
One reason many people like to play Pai Gow Poker, is because they have a shot at a progressive jackpot. It’s not something that’s offered across many poker games, so this is a cool feature with Pai Gow Poker.
How it works is every hand you play; you can place a bonus bet. That gives you access to some serious paydays depending on the cards you have. For example, a Full House will payout five-to-one, or a straight flush will pay 50-to-1. It depends on the casino but typically, the biggest payday of them all is when you hit a royal flush. At that point, you collect the progressive jackpot, which can sometimes be worth millions.
As enticing as that sounds, keep in mind the house makes more money from bonus bets, than the 5% commission it makes when you win. These side bets, which are known as Fortune Bonuses, give the house about an 8% edge, which is way bigger than playing the game the regular way. The payouts are tantalizing but the math simply doesn’t add up.