Pai Gow variations a nice change at G2E

October 24, 2018 3:00 AM


I think I saw more innovation at the Global Gaming Expo this year than I have seen in the past several years. While the number of companies with offerings seems to have shrunk, I liked that I saw a variety of new games.  Of course, ‘new’ means different things to different people. When I say it, I mean it was nice to see games that weren’t just carbon copies of existing games (I saw plenty of those too!). Yes, many games no longer have patent protection, so you can just copy it, give it a new name and try and market it. 

You just won’t win any innovation awards for this. For others, ‘new’ means a game based on something other than some proven formulas – poker, blackjack, Pai Gow or Baccarat. There’s a reason the proven inventors tend to stick in this arena – they work. 

I’ve seen spinning top games, dominoes, backgammon, horse racing and all sorts of other games tried. You won’t find any in the casino because they haven’t succeeded. 

The game of Pai Gow Poker has an interesting history. The way the story goes, the inventor brought the game to an attorney to have it patented. The attorney told him there was nothing to patent. By the time the game hit the casinos, a year had passed making it unpatentable. 

As a result, the game is in the public domain like blackjack or craps. Some might think that it is some sort of Asian game with the ‘Pai Gow’ in its name, but this was just taken from the game of Pai Gow tiles, where the Player gets four tiles and must split them to two hands of two tiles.

That’s where the similarities end. Pai Gow Poker is more of an American Poker game than anything Asian. The Player gets dealt seven cards. He must split them into a traditional 5-card Poker hand and a 2-card Poker hand. The 5-card hand must outrank the 2-card hand. There is also a semi-wild Joker that can be used to complete a Straight, a Flush or be used as an Ace. 

If the Player wins both hands, he wins. If he loses both hands, he loses. If the hands split, the wager pushes. The house gets its advantage from two places. If the Dealer and Player tie on one of the hands, this counts as a Dealer win for that hand. Also, the Player is only payed 19 to 20 for a win, which amounts to a 5% commission on his wins. 

This commission has been a problem for casinos since the day the game was first introduced. It slows down the game. Over the past few years, a variety of commission free games were invented where a relatively poor Dealer hand was turned into a Push instead of a likely win for the Player. This sped up the game while keeping the payback pretty close to the original. The evolution of Pai Gow has continued as its popularity has grown. 

Last week, I discussed Face Up Pai Gow from Scientific Games. This version speeds the game up further by having the Dealer’s hand play face up. The Player doesn’t have to think as much about how to set his hand. He sees the Dealer’s hand and only needs to set in any way that will win the hand for him. If this is not possible, then he tries for a tie. If this can’t happen, then he doesn’t even need to set his hand, he can just fold. 

This speeds up the game even further. The ‘cost’ for the Player is that an Ace High Pai Gow hand for the Dealer is now a push. This compares to a Queen High Pai Gow which is often the push hand in a non-commission version of Pai Gow. 

All of these Pai Gow games are relatively slow moving games from a wager perspective. You make one wager to begin the game. You play your hand and you win, lose or push. When you win, you win even money. You push more than 40 percent of the time. With $100, you might be able to play for a week on a $5 table. 

Masque Publishing’s new Pai Gow game – I believe the name was Wild Monkey Pai Gow Poker has added some juice to the game. The player makes an initial wager and gets his seven cards. After reviewing his hand, he can now surrender half his wager and end the game, he can play his hand traditionally or he can Double Down on his wager and set his hands traditionally. 

Of course, there must be a catch to this. There is. The Dealer gets 8 cards to set his two hands. BUT, if one of those cards is the Joker, the Dealer must discard it. So, the Dealer hand can never have the Joker in it. 

It will be interesting to see over the coming years what additional innovations will come to the game of Pai Gow.