Playing Pai Gow Poker Online For Real Money
Traditional pai gow is a game played with tiles that is famously difficult to learn, not because of the complexity of the strategy itself but due to all the rules that players need to memorize before being even able to play a hand.
The hand rankings alone with traditional pai gow is a very daunting affair, and while the Chinese have been gambling at pai gow for 1000 years, very few non-Asians have taken to the game due to its being so difficult to learn.
This all changed with the invention of pai gow poker, which is based upon the same poker hand rankings that so many Westerners are already familiar with. It’s not that pai gow poker is that simple of a game to master, but it can be played as long as you know poker, and this is what has opened the door to so many people loving this game. Let’s take a little tour of pai gow and cover all of the basics for you so you can be ready to enjoy the game yourself if you haven’t had the privilege already.
Traditional Pai Gow
Pai gow came on the scene during the Song Dynasty in China, around 1000 AD. Traditional pai gow is played with tiles that resemble dominos, only these are specially designed for the game, with both red and white pips and with tiles of the same number being represented several different ways.
Pai gow uses 32 tiles, with 15 matched pairs and one pair that isn’t matched but is the highest ranking pair in the game. There are also special tiles that act as semi-wild tiles. All these pairs count as 12 points but each pair is ranked separately from 1 to 16 and a higher ranked pair beats a lower ranked one.
We then have two special hands involving tiles that have differing values, a wong valued at 11 and a gong valued at 10, after which the game proceeds like baccarat, with a pip count of 9 being the best hand outside these 18 special hands, followed by a count of 8, and so on, where you drop off the left number like 15 becoming 5 as in baccarat. Ties are broken by knowing which player has the higher ranked tile, which also involves a significant amount of memorization.
Baccarat in fact has its roots in this ancient game, where the dropping off of the second digit that baccarat also uses, which makes 9 the highest possible score in baccarat. Baccarat does have a fairly complex set of rules to decide whether the dealer draws, which aren’t really that complicated, and players do not even need to know these rules.
You couldn’t even play pai gow without having full knowledge and even having guide book in your hand isn’t enough because having to rifle through it to decide what to do with your hand would be too time consuming for a live game.
Pai Gow Poker In Other Countries
Many Casino Players Don’t Want to Do a Lot of Work to Learn a New Game
This does not mean that it’s all that hard to learn to remember everything you need to in order to be able to play pai gow tiles, but there is a lot to learn and a lot to remember, and this takes us well beyond the threshold of the appetite of the great majority of all non-Asian casino players. In spite of the work involved, enough non-Asians have taken up the game of pai gow tiles in recent years to at least see some at some pai gow games, but they still stand out.
Needing to keep things simple enough is a big constraint on new casino games, and while players don’t mind learning a few simple rules and concepts, pai gow tiles used to be virtually limited to Chinese players who are already familiar the game. Some casinos in the West that catered to a large population of Asian players offered and still offer pai gow tiles, but this shut a lot of people who did not know the game and did not have an interest in spending the considerable amount of time to memorize everything they needed to know.
The State of California has always had a very strong preference for card games, and after all these years, still only allow gambling to take place with cards. Even the Indian casinos there have agreed to limit their table games to variations with cards, such as spinning a roulette wheel with cards instead of numbers on it or rolling the dice with craps with a deck of cards.
California also has a strong Asian population, but a game played with tiles just isn’t allowed in this state. Sam Torosian, owner of the Bell Card Room, had an idea to combine pai gow and poker and call it pai gow poker, taking the elements of pai gow and combining it with the known hand rankings of poker. He replaced the tiles with a standard deck of cards, and got those who wished to play pai gow in the area as close as you could get to the real thing.
Pai gow poker is accused by some purists as an inferior replica of the old game, but aside from the fact that pai gow tiles have an esthetic appeal that a deck of cards can’t compete with, the rest of the game has carried over well.
Pai Gow Poker is a Very Interesting Take on Pai Gow
In pai gow tiles, each player gets a pile of 4 tiles which they combine into two hands of two tiles each, with the weaker hand “ahead” and the better hand “behind.” Players then compare both their hands against the dealer’s ahead and behind hands, and you need to beat the dealer with both your hands to win the bet, as well as lose both to lose the bet. If you only win 1 out of the 2 hands, it’s a push.
Pai gow poker does the same thing, only players are dealt 7 cards rather than 4 tiles and they need to make up a 5 card hand and a 2 card hand, where the 5 card hand needs to be stronger. The dealer also gets 7 cards which he or she needs to arrange “the house way,” which can vary a little by casino, but also in a way that is less than optimal.
With 4 tiles, you an only arrange your hand 3 ways, but with pai gow poker, there are a lot more ways to arrange your hand, even though this is at the same time not daunting at all to casual players, but does involve a richer strategy should one desire it.
This is a perfect setup because pai gow poker both appeals to those who only know how to play poker, and can put together a couple of poker hands pretty easily and come pretty close to optimal, reducing the house edge to something similar to single zero roulette. Optimal play can shave this down though, especially in games where players take turns being the banker, and in pai gow poker, the banker wins ties where the hands are identical.
This does not come up a lot, but once in a while you might have something like a Q9 in your two card hand, and your opponent may also have Q9, and these are the hands that are given to the banker.
Pai gow tiles do have a couple of tiles that serve as bugs, meaning that they can be worth different amounts at the player’s option, such as the ace can be worth 1 or 11 in blackjack. These two particular tiles can be worth either 3 or 6. Pai gow poker uses an extra card in its deck for its bug, the joker, where the joker can be worth either an ace or used to complete a straight or flush.
Just like with pai gow tiles, you need to win both your hands to win the bet, and lose both to lose your bet, and there are a lot of pushes in both varieties of pai gow. This serves to make your money go further, where your bets stay on the table for the next deal most of the time, in a way that far surpasses the occasional push in blackjack.
Pai Gow Involves Elements of Both Offense and Defense
Making two hands out of 7 cards appears to be a pretty simple matter, where a lot of players may think that all they need to do is know the hand rankings and do things like build the best 5 card hand first and then come up with the best 2 out of the cards not needed to maintain the hand value of the main hand.
The most interesting thing by far with pai gow, and what has allowed the game to continue to be played in its original form for a millennium, is the strategic elements of offense and defense that the game contains. Pai gow tiles both allow players to play to win and to play not to lose.
Let’s say you can make either a strong hand and a weak one or two hands of greater balance. If you go with the strong hand and the weak one, you might be thinking that you are playing to win but you are actually playing to push, and are even giving up the opportunity to win even more so than seeking balance would.
To win, you need your low hand to beat the dealer’s low hand, and by choosing to ignore the small hand here, that’s less likely to happen. You aren’t really playing to win by balancing your hands either, and are playing to push as well in many cases, and a balanced approach may give you a better opportunity to achieve this objective.
Pai gow poker has many interesting situations, such as whether or not to break up two pair. It actually all depends on what the pairs are, but it turns out that it is most often correct to split the pairs, and this goes to the theme of balance that we need to be seeking in pai gow, instead of just loading up one hand and thinking that this is always correct and even may think it a shame to break up two pair. Players like this aren’t the sort to think defensively very much though.
There’s also the way that the dealer needs to arrange their hands that comes into play here, in games where the deal is playing the banker. Like blackjack, the dealer’s moves are forced, but in the pai gow tradition, this means far more than stand on a hard 17 in blackjack, as the matter is considerably more complex than this, but if you know the house way, there are opportunities to take a slight advantage from this if you wish to become this astute.
Strategic considerations play a bigger role in pai gow tiles, with two groups of 2 tiles each which lack one being dominant like the 5 card hand is over the 7 in pai gow poker, but there’s plenty left to concern yourself with the poker version if you like the ability to think a little more and be a better player on account of it.
Hands are ranked just like in standard poker, with the addition of the joker making the best possible hand 5 aces rather than a royal flush being the top hand without the joker. Having the joker in the deck makes the game more interesting, but like pai gow tiles, the power of the bugs is pretty limited which avoids the more crazy play that real wild cards bring.
Pai gow allows players to take turns banking the game, as is also offered in the older forms of baccarat, but pai gow adds the twist of having the dealer be an active player at the table when not banking the game as well. The dealer places a bet of the same size that the banker placed last hand, so their bets are proportional, but banking the whole table and actually playing several hands at once in effect can add both risk and excitement, especially if there are players that bet more than you do. This certainly spices up the game though, and players may pass on their turn as banker if they wish.
Pai gow generally charges a commission to its players of 5%, similar to the rake in poker, but even with this rake, the house edge is only a bit higher than single zero roulette. Some real money casinos offer commission-free pai gow poker, which cuts this house edge in half. Obviously, the commission free version is preferable.
There are a number of variations of pai gow poker, but all are of basically the same format, with the difference being various side bets that are added, which casinos love because the edge is always a lot higher with these but these are not bets that players should be making.
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Real Money Online Pai Gow Poker
Pai gow poker has taken what has been the most difficult casino game to learn and play of all time, pai gow tiles, and transformed it into one of the easiest casino games to learn and play there is. This has catapulted real money pai gow from being a fairly obscure casino game into the mainstream, and together with the way that online casinos have exploded the reach of real money casinos, this has increased the potential for pai gow to continue to grow in popularity.
Pai gow poker does not have anywhere near the history that other popular casino games have, but this also means that the information age has brought it a higher potential for growth than games such as roulette and blackjack which were already well known prior to the coming of the internet.
It used to be that you had to buy a physical book on something to learn about a new game, but this requires a higher threshold of curiosity than just doing an internet search about something. Newer games like pai gow poker also benefit from social media communication, which helps get the word out on newer things by having people so readily share their experiences about anything as they do today.
There is no question that being able to play online pai gow for real money anytime we want has been the biggest change in the growth of the game, as it’s one thing to want to play a game like this and quite another to have the opportunity to do it. Land based casinos have a very limited reach compared to online casinos, and while they may offer different experiences than online casinos do, their experiences are limited to the times when people actually can visit a land-based casino, which is at best a very small percentage of their overall time.
We’ve now gone from being restricted to playing real money pai gow whenever we can attend a casino that offers it to be able to play real money pai gow online anytime we want, whenever we have some free time, and just having the time to do it is enough, without having to go anywhere or do anything special other than choosing to play pai gow poker.
For pai gow poker to achieve its full potential though, more people need to become familiar enough with it to give it a try, and the fact that pai gow poker has no real prerequisites other than knowing poker hand rankings is the real secret of the potential success of pai gow poker.
Once we do become a little familiar with it, and have access to the game at our fingertips as well, we are in a position to learn why pai gow poker is so enjoyed among those who play it, and catch the bug ourselves.
One of the real challenges that casino table games face is the game itself can be fairly monotonous and lack real engagement, like betting on red or black with roulette over and over, on pass with craps, on the player or banker with baccarat, and so on. Blackjack at least has us engaged, but once you’ve memorized a few simple rules, you are done, and these games very quickly become mechanistic.
Expert pai gow players can get to this point as well, but there’s at least a lot more opportunity to think about what you are doing with pai gow poker, to consider the merits of setting your hands one way or another, and this is one game where people could even play it for the entertainment value alone, much like people play a variety of card games that include a good amount of strategy.
This additional appeal is what makes the prospects of real money online pai gow more exciting than other table games, given that its reach is still fairly small and therefore the potential for expanding it remains significant. Pai gow is seen as in itself more fun to play than other table games by many who play it, and when we add in the real money gambling aspect of it, as more and more people become familiar enough to try it together with the utter ease of access they have to it at real money online casinos, this bodes very well for the future of the game.
Pai Gow Poker FAQs
- What is the difference between pai gow tiles and pai gow poker?
Pai gow tiles is the ancient Chinese game that is still played today in casinos around the world. It is a very interesting game and has stood alone in terms of its strategic elements among all casino table games that have come along since. Pai gow poker is a recent adaptation of pai gow tiles where a deck of standard playing cards plus a joker is used instead of the special Chinese tiles that traditional pai gow uses, making the game far more easy to learn among those who are not familiar with the game and allow them to be open to trying the game.
- Why is pai gow tiles so difficult to learn?
The game play itself of pai gow is pretty straightforward even though the decisions on how to arrange your tiles in an optimal way does benefit from significant consideration. People can still play it pretty well just by doing just a little thinking about their selections if they wish. The tough part about doing this is that players have to memorize a maddeningly difficult scheme of hand rankings that is not at all intuitive to Westerners. Few of them have the desire or patience to spend all the time involved and unless you can grasp all the complexities of the hand rankings you won’t even be able to play.
- What advantages do pai gow poker offer?
Instead of remembering a great many rules as is the case with pai gow tiles, anyone familiar with the hand rankings in poker can just skip this part of it and jump right in. It’s not that you just lay down your bets and hope for the right cards, as pai gow is much richer in strategy than your normal real money casino game, where players are faced with many interesting decisions about how to build their two hands. Pai gow poker takes a very fun but very complicated game and tones down the complexities without losing any of the strategic elements.
- How do you win a bet in pai gow?
Pai gow poker works the same way as traditional pai gow, where two separate player hands go up against two separate hands the banker holds. In order for the player to win the bet, both their 2 card hand and their 5 card hand must beat the dealer’s 2 card hand and 5 card hand. The player must lose both hands to the banker to lose their bet, although if hands are identical, ties go to the banker. Players take their turn being the banker along with the dealer, so this advantage is spread around the table should players choose to take their turns at it.
- What role does strategy play in pai gow?
The only strategic decision in pai gow is how to arrange your two hands, where with the tiles you get 4 and need 2 hands of 2. Pai gow poker has players dealt 7 cards and then split them up into a group of 5 and 2, with the requirement that the 5 card hand be stronger. The fact that you need to win both or lose both is where the real strategy comes from, and you can’t just make the best 5 card hand and expect to do well, because you also need to account for the other hand as well.
- How does all the pushes with pai gow affect the desirability of the game?
For those who think that baccarat has a lot of pushes, this is nothing compared to the amount of pushes in pai gow. Those who are looking to get the most mileage out of their bets will get the most by far from playing either form of pai gow, which both push at the same high rate. There is a psychological benefit to this as well, as you can double the size of the bet you would normally make at a table game that does not push, and it just feels better to win twice as much even though you see wins only half as often.
- How does the house edge with pai gow compare to other games?
Even if you never choose to take your turn as banker, and you play in a game that is raked, the house edge isn’t much higher than it is with single zero roulette, with double zero roulette having a much higher house edge. This is still on the high side compared to many other casino games, but those who choose to play in non-raked real money pai gow poker games can cut this house edge in half, and if you take your turn as dealer, you can get this edge down pretty close to a game like blackjack, baccarat, or craps.
- How does the banking option in pai gow work?
A normal table casino game has the dealer bank the game, where banking here means covering the bets made by players. In punto banco baccarat, you can bet on the banker but you don’t get to be banker. Pai gow actually lets you do that, where if there are 5 other people playing, they are all betting against you, and you can lose to every one of them if you get a bad hand. The benefit of this, aside from getting in more hands per revolution, is that you win when a hand ties and this is enough to virtually eliminate the house advantage when playing as banker.
- Should pai gow players take the opportunity to be the banker?
Actually banking a casino game like pai gow allows adds excitement to the game, although it may cause some players to take on more risk than they are comfortable with. If you are betting small and even one of your opponents bets much bigger, you might not even be able to cover the action and even if you can, you may not want to if you plan on staying at the table for long. Players may even use this strategically to scare opponents from banking, where they get to bank more often and enjoy even lower house odds. Money therefore has something to say.
- Do real money online casinos offer pai gow poker?
No gambling experience is quite the same playing online, but pai gow may give up the least as far as casino games go in this regard. Many casino games are more about the face to face social interaction and less about the game, like with craps for instance where people basically bet on coin flips but bet together, which makes playing more fun. The fun with pai gow is much more about the playing. You can play pai gow poker to your heart’s content any time you want at trusted real money online casino, and this may be the most fun you can pack into an online session.