Pai-Gow Poker Guide
Pai Gow Poker is simply an Americanized version of Pai Gow and is many times referred to as Double-hand poker. It is played with playing cards bearing poker hand values, instead of Pai Gow's Chinese dominoes. The games of Pai Gow poker and Super Pan-9 were created by Sam Torosian and Fred Wolf.
The game is played with a standard 52-card deck, plus a single joker. It is played on a table set for six players, plus the dealer. Each player attempts to defeat the casino dealer, or one of the other players at the table.
Object of the Game
You beat the dealer by creating two poker hands out of the seven cards that you are actually dealt. You have to create a five card poker hand and a two card poker hand in order to win. The two card poker hand must not be equal to, nor exceed the value of the five card poker hand. The two card hand is called the "in front" or "on top", or the "small" or "minor" or "low" hand and the five card hand "behind", or the "bottom" or "high" or "big"
When playing the cards are shuffled and then seven face down piles of seven cards each are dealt, no matter how many people are playing. There can only be four cards remaining in the dealer’s hands. The betting positions run from 1 to 7 in a counter clockwise manner around the table. Usually the dice is rolled and the deal begins with the corresponding position. If a player is not sitting in the spot, the cards are still dealt but then they go on the unused cards pile.
If both of the player’s hands beat the banker’s hands then they are the inner. However, if only one of his hands beats the banker’s hand then it is a push. If both hands lose to the banker, it is game over. Ties go to the banker and their hand is always set in a preset manner called the “house way.” However, if the player chooses to co-bank with the house they have to set their cards in the same manner
Generally speaking, a player should try to set the highest two-card hand that he can legally set: the best two-card hand that still leaves a higher five-card hand behind. More specifically, a player should expect an average hand to be something like a medium-to-high pair behind in the five-card hand and an ace-high in front.
If a player has no pairs, straights or flushes, he should set the second- and third-highest cards in his two-card hand. For example, with K-Q-J-9-7-4-3 he can play Q-J and K-9-7-4-3. There are a few minor exceptions to this, for example, with A-Q-10-9-5-4-2 it is slightly better to play Q-9 and A-10-5-4-2, but these situations are rare and do not affect a player's win rate much.
If a player has nothing but a single pair, he can set it in his five-card hand and put the two highest remaining cards in his two-card hand. For example, with A-Q-Q-9-6-5-3 he can play A-9 and Q-Q-6-5-3. There are no exceptions to this rule. This and the above rule will cover approximately 65% of played hands.
Two pair is the most common case where strategy isn't obvious. A player can either play high pair behind and small pair in front, or else two pair behind and high cards in front. The smaller the high pair and higher the remaining cards, the more inclined he should be to play two pair behind. If a player's side cards are small or his larger pair is large, he should split the pairs. He should always split the pairs if his high pair is of aces, and should almost always split if the high pair is of kings or queens: they are high enough by themselves. With cards like J-J-4-4-A-Q-5 a player can consider playing A-Q and J-J-4-4-5- since A-Q in front is not much worse than 4-4; however, two pair behind is much better than a single pair of jacks. A player with jacks and tens might be more inclined to split, because tens in front is much better than A-Q. With pairs as small as 7s and 8s, a player might consider playing two pair behind if he can play a king-high or better in front. With 2s and 3s he may even play as little as a queen-high in front. If a player has no side cards higher than a jack, he should always split pairs, even 2s and 3s (most house ways split if there's a pair of 6s or higher, and split small pairs if there's no ace for the low hand).
Three pair is a very good hand. A player should always play the highest pair in front with no exceptions. For example, with K-K-7-7-4-4-A he should play K-K and 7-7-4-4-A.
If a player has three of a kind and nothing else, he should play three of a kind behind and the remaining high cards in front unless they are aces. He should always split three aces, playing a pair of aces behind and ace-high in front. Occasionally, he can even split three kings if their remaining side cards are not queen-high; for example, with K-K-K-J-9-7-6 it is slightly better to play K-J and K-K-9-7-6 than to play J-9 and K-K-K-7-6. Most house ways only split three aces.
If a player can play a straight or a flush or both, he should play whichever straight-or-better five-card hand makes the best two-card hand. For example, with K?-9?-8?-7?-6?-5?-4? playing the flush would put 8-6 in front, playing the 9-high straight would put K-4 up front, but the correct play is K-9 and 8-7-6-5-4. Occasionally the player will have a straight or flush with two pair; in that case, he should play as if it were two pair and ignore the straight or flush. This rule applies even if a player can play a straight flush; if a straight or flush makes a better hand in front, play it that way.
With a full house, a player should generally play the three of a kind behind and the pair in front. The exception is if the pair is very small and the side cards are very high; for example, with 5-5-5-3-3-A-Q it might be better to play A-Q with the full house behind. However, these cases are rare, and a player will never be making a big mistake if he never play a full house behind. House ways usually split the full house.
With two three of a kinds, a player should play the higher as a pair in front and the smaller three of a kind behind. For example, with Q-Q-Q-7-7-7-A he should play Q-Q and 7-7-7-A-Q — no exceptions.
With four of a kind, a player should play as if it were two pair, but should be slightly less inclined to split. For example, with 10-10-10-10-J-5-4 he should play 10-10 and 10-10-J-5-4, and with 3-3-3-3-K-Q-7, K-Q and 3-3-3-3-7. Most house ways always split the four of a kind.
With three pair and a straight or flush (only possible with the joker), a player should play his hand as three pair (with aces in front).
The options go on from there, and are seemingly endless. It even depends what cards you have as to how you play them and with millions of possibilities you can only play your best.