Try a slice of
mini Pai Gow poker

Jan 22, 2007 4:34 AM

We Americans have been brainwashed to think bigger is better. Bigger cars must be better cars. A bigger steak must taste better than a smaller steak. A three-scoop sundae is better than a two-scoop sundae. Okay, so I agree with that last one!

In the casino, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, less can be better. This would seem to be the case for Ya Awada’s (Gaming Entertainment Inc.) new game — Mini Pai Gow Poker.

Regular Pai Gow Poker can be a rather intimidating game. For those not familiar with the game, you’re playing head to head against the Dealer. The game uses a 53-card deck, which includes one Joker, which can be used as an ace or to complete ANY straight or flush. You each get seven cards and have to make a 5-card poker hand a 2-card poker hand.

The 5-card hand MUST outrank the 2-card hand or your hand is ”˜foul’ and you automatically lose. If both of your hands outrank the dealer’s two hands, you win. If the dealer outranks both of your hands, you lose. If you win one and you lose one, it is a push.

If one of your two hands is identical to the dealer’s, this is called a copy and it is as if the dealer’s hand beat yours. These copies are relatively rare, so it is not where the house gets its advantage. The house gets its advantage from the fact that you pay a 5% commission to the house when you win.

Mini Pai Gow Poker has simplified things a bit. The dealer and the player each only get six cards. The player and the dealer each have to make a 5-card hand and a 1-card hand.

Again, the 5-card hand must outrank the 1-card hand. Of course, with one card, the likelihood of messing this up is rare.

As in regular Pai Gow Poker, you have to win both hands to win or lose both hands to lose. Winning one hand and losing one hand results in a push. If you ”˜copy’ the dealer on the 5-card hand, this is considered losing this hand — but these are VERY rare.

Copies on the 1-card hand are fairly common. So, for this hand, the dealer is considered to have won all copies of a 2 through a King. If the player and the dealer each have an ace (or the dealer has the joker and the player has an ace), it is considered a push and the results of the hand will depend solely on the outcome of the 5-card hand. If the player has the Joker and the dealer has an ace, it is considered as if the player won the 1-card hand.

So, in Mini Pai Gow Poker, the house gets a bit of an advantage from these 1-card copies. On the other side of things, the Player gets two big advantages.

The first is that the 5% commission has been eliminated. The second is that in Mini Pai Gow Poker, the rules for setting cards by the dealer have created so that the dealer does NOT necessarily set his cards in an optimal way. He is not allowed to break up any two pairs, three of a kinds, full houses or even quads.

So, if the dealer is dealt four aces and a 3 and a 2, he MUST play the four aces as part of the 5-card hand and the 3 on the 1-card hand (he is allowed to use the better kicker on the 1-card hand).

In regular Pai Gow Poker, the dealer would be allowed to take one of the Aces and use it to strengthen the 2-card hand. The player on the other hand, is allowed to set his cards any way he would like as long as the 5-Card hand outranks the 1-Card hand. The only time this is really an issue is when the player is dealt 6 cards of different rank and no Straight or Flush (i.e. a garbage hand!). Then he MUST use his highest card in the 5-card hand and his second highest card for the 1-card hand.

The end result is a game with a payback of 96.85%. This is a tad lower than some of the new games, but the average wager is a constant 1 unit, which means that it can be far less costly in the long run. For most hands, the strategy is fairly intuitive. There are, however, certain hands that get a bit more complex. Unfortunately, it does not lend itself to simple rules for these hands, but rather a quick calculation must be done to sum up the expected value of the 2 hands. Whichever results in the higher overall expected value is the proper way to set your cards. As a result, we find there are actually times the Player should split a Pair of Aces in order to play an Ace as the 1-card hand. The decision is based on what the alternative card the Player would play as the 1-card hand. If it were a King, then he would keep the Aces together. If it were an 8, then he would split them apart. Also, if at all possible, you generally want to play the Joker in the 1-card hand. It guarantees the Player at least a Push.

From what I’m told, the game has been well received as the Flamingo Hilton where it is currently playing. It should also be noted that as in regular Pai Gow Poker, the casino may offer the Player the opportunity to act as the Banker on every other hand (this option rotates around the table). When a Player chooses to do this, he will pay the 5% of his net winnings to the casino. Players should definitely opt to do this (although, make sure you have enough of a bankroll) as you are actually playing the game at an advantage during these hands. The casino doesn’t mind, because the advantage is over the other Players. The casino will happily except the 5% commission as a rake on these hands.

Lastly, there is also a sidebet that pays the player based on the best 5-card poker hand from amongst his 6 cards. The way that you set your cards does not affect this wager. You need a Two Pair or better to win this wager. Mini Pai Gow Poker, like its bigger predecessor is a relatively low volatility game. 43% of all hands wind up in a tie. The sidebet is a way to make a quick profit if you’re lucky enough to be dealt the right hand.