Pull up a chair, grab a drink, and get in on some Pai Gow Poker

May 7, 2017 |

Pai Gow Poker has become my go to game when gambling on the Vegas Strip over the past couple of years. I was turned onto the game about 10 years ago at Mandalay Bay. Some very not sober blackjack players mentioned that they like to get the party started at the Pai Gow tables. The conversation continued and I learned that the game is easy to play, there are a lot of pushes so not too much money is lost, and cocktail service is quick. SOLD!

I didn’t learn how to play Pai Gow Poker until a bender on vacation in Las Vegas took a friend and me to the Gold Coast. The only purpose of this visit was to learn how to play Pai Gow Poker. We played low $5 limits, had quick drink service, and a very patient dealer helped us learn how to play this complicated but simple game. The lesson lasted about an hour and cost about $20 in tips for the cocktail waitress and dealer.

Drinking and gambling is always fun but today I play Pai Gow Poker because of the slow pace of play and the small 1.46% house edge. While casino operators are focused on generating more revenue from popular games like blackjack and roulette, games like Pai Gow Poker have been left alone. Unlike the other games, the small house edge and volatility keep the bankroll alive longer. That means more time to play in the casino.

When I tell people that Pai Gow Poker is one of my favorite casino games, they give one of two looks - WTF? or YEAH! This isn't the most popular game with most casino guests. That's perfect. You’ll have to walk over to the Asian gaming area to play Pai Gow Poker. Minimum wagers on the Vegas Strip are anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on where you play. Minimums are usually $5 or $10 in downtown Las Vegas and off the Vegas Strip.

There was a time where some casinos on the Vegas Strip only offered $25 Pai Gow Poker games. It took awhile, but casino operators caught on that some people just looking to push hands all night in exchange for complimentary drinks. That changed in recent years and you can find a $5 - $15 game any day of the week in most (not all) casinos. Pai Gow Poker is a fun and easy low limits game to play once you know the rules. It’s especially fun with a group of friends and can be way too much fun if you’re a drinker.

Quick Pai Gow Poker Tutorial

There are seven cards dealt to each player and the dealer and everyone will make two hands from those seven cards. The object of Pai Gow Poker is to beat the dealer in both hands. If you win both hands, you win the wager minus commission (more on that shortly). If you lose both hands then you lose the wager. The majority of games should end up with one winning hand and one losing hand. This results in a push and you get your original wager back.

Setting Hands And Playing Pai Gow Poker

You’ll make a five card “High” hand and a two card “Low” hand with the seven cards dealt. The High hand should be set to have a higher poker hand ranking than the low hand. This might take a little getting used to because it can be confusing for some at first. Unlike some table games, the dealer can look at your cards and help you set them properly. This comes in handy if you're forgetful or you’ve had a bit too much to drink.

Once all hands are set the dealer turns over their cards and sets the hand according to the house rules. The game moves slowly at this point as the dealer has to compare their two hands to every hand on the table. Action junkies will hate this part, but this helps prolong time at the table.

Hands are ranked by standard poker rules with one exception - the A, 2, 3, 4, 5 straight is the second highest straight. Pai Gow Poker is played with a 53 card deck. There are 52 cards plus a joker. The joker may be used to complete a straight, flush, straight flush or royal flush if possible. If you don’t have one of those hands it may be used as an ace.

Paying Commission

If your two hands beat the dealer’s two hands you’ll win your wager minus commission. It's a strange thought, but paying commission almost feels good. Hey, a win is a win! Losses and Pushes don’t pay the commission which is typically 5%. Depending on the wager you may see nickels, dimes, quarters and fifty cent pieces in play at the table.

Easy Peasy!

Playing Pai Gow Poker takes a little thought, but not too much. If you've played real poker the game will be easy to pick up. Consider this a primer on how to play Pai Gow Poker. The Wizard of Odds is a great resource if you’d like more information on playing Pai Gow or any casino game.

Pai Gow Poker will always hold a special place in my heart because of some amazing sessions. The tempo of the game and the low volatility usually make for long sessions. The longer my bankroll can last in the casino the more fun I'm usually having. The wins aren't big playing Pai Gow Poker but neither are the losses. Add some scotch to the mix and we have one of the most fun games in the casino!


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