If we do not go into the details, the rules for Pai Gow poker can be explained with a few words: you have to beat the dealer's five-card (big or high) and two-card (small or low) hands dividing your cards (the high hand should be higher in rank.) However the strategy for forming hands requires the detailed examination.
Let's discuss step by step how to play Pai Gow poker correctly.
Pai Gow Poker Optimal Strategy
You can find a very detailed basic strategy table on the specialized websites devoted to Pai Gow poker and forums where fans of this game communicate with each other. Even tiny details of possible actions are described there. We want to provide our readers with the simplified rules. Following them, gamblers will be able to significantly reduce the house edge.
Let's start with the fact that the whole strategy for Pai Gow poker can be reduced to one rule: you have to collect the highest-ranking two-card hand that is possible if you have a higher five-card hand.
It will look like in the following way very frequently: a quite high pair in the five-card hand and one or two high cards in the two-card hand. It may seem that such hands are not very favorable. However you will often win two hands in this case.
You get over with the fact that the high-ranking hands (four of a kind, royal flush, straight flush) do not bring additional payouts, so that they should be split.
Let's analyze various typical situations.
You should select the second-ranking and third-ranking cards to the small hand, and hold the highest-ranking card in the big hand. There are exceptions to this rule, but they are rarely observed and don't affect the house edge.
A pair can be left in the big hand, and the two left highest-ranking cards should form the low hand. There are no exceptions.
Two examples mentioned above will be observed in over sixty percent of hands while playing Pai Gow poker. So, these rules should be memorized.
Perhaps this is the most complicated case in which it is necessary to make decisions depending on the circumstances. After all, the player can keep two pairs in the five-card hand or split pairs between two hands. The higher is the rank of one of the pairs, the more often you have to form a small hand from it.
Here are two basic recommendations for two pairs.
Everything is clear and uncontestedly: a higher pair should form the small hand.
One or two threes of a kind
Three of a kind is played in different ways:
Straight and/or flush (straight flush and royal flush)
Straights, flushes, and straight flushes should be used in different ways:
In case of a full house, three of a kind should be present the big hand, and a pair should form the small hand. However if the pair is very low, and other cards are high (an ace with any face card), a full house can be held.
Four of a kind
Four of a kind almost always should be split into two pairs if the other cards do not have a pair or high cards (e.g., an ace). We will not pay attention to rare cases of fours of a kind.
As you can see, even the simplified strategy for Pai Gow poker does not seem to be easy. You can find the recommendations that may differ from our tips. The differences can be usually observed concerning advices on two pairs or straights with flushes.
This means that numerous attempts to simplify the complicated Pai Gow poker optimal strategy have been undertaken. The rules may take into account unusual nuances (side bets, and so on). Discussions of some details are still common. Anyway, the differences in efficiency of various versions are insignificant.
If you follow the basic paragraphs, the house edge will be reduced to approximately 2.7%.
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