A pious look at pai gow

Jul 15, 2003 2:58 AM

If a Las Vegas tourist stumbled into a Pai Gow Poker table, indications are strong that he feels like he was lost in space.

The first thing that has to be gotten out of the way about Pai Gow Poker is this: the game is a descendent of the ancient Chinese domino game of Pai Gow, which, if you care, is still being played round town.

Most experts agree that it was the Chinese who started playing dominoes, the equipment used in the original game of Pai Gow, but nobody knows exactly when. Legends trace their origins to stone tables put together anywhere between the 4th century BC and the 12th century AD.

A number of games are played with Chinese dominoes, Pai Gow is merely one of them. If translated literally, it means "To make nine." Because of this, it is felt that baccarat and chemin de fer, and probably our modern game of blackjack trace back to Pai Gow.

Just like the dragon, enter a game called Pai Gow Poker. As our purpose here is to instruct you in its rules, we will now bring on a ranking expert, Dr. George R. Allen, who, for reasons known only to himself, worked up a book on the subject.

"Pai Gow Poker (Dr. Allen’s narration began) is played with a single deck of 52 playing cards, plus a joker. The joker can only be used as an ace, or for making straights and flushes. To begin play, seven cards are dealt to each player position and to the dealer. Two hands are formed from these seven cards. One is called the "low hand," and it consists of two cards. The other is called the "high hand" consisting of the remaining five cards that were dealt."

The object of the game, our instructor tells us, is to form a high hand and a low hand which are both higher than the respective hands of the dealer.

"With only two cards," writes Dr. Allen, "the best ”˜low hand’ you could form would be a pair of aces. It can only lose to the dealer if he or she also has a pair of aces in the low hand. This is because the dealer wins when both hands are of the same value."

As I interpret the rules, the only requirement in forming the two hands is that the low hand (two cards) must be a lower ranking hand than the high hand (five cards). All hands are ranked according to traditional poker rankings — five aces, royal flush, straight, flush, four of a kind, two pair, one pair, high card.

Continued Dr. Allen:

"The dealer/banker deals seven hands of seven cards each, placing them face down in front of him. Bets are made out in front of your position on the table. This is similar to lacing the bet on the blackjack table. You may place your bet at any time prior to the dice being uncovered."

The dice being uncovered?

"The dice determine who gets which of the seven hands," he says.

"When the hands are passed around the table, the object, once again, is to form two hands — one of two cards, one of five cards — that are higher than the dealer’s two hands. To win, your low hand must beat the low hand of the dealer, and your high hand must beat the high hand of the dealer. If you win you will be paid approximately 95% of the amount you bet. A five percent commission is charged on winning beets, similar to baccarat."

What, you are now asking, if you beat only one of the dealer’s hands?

"Then," the doctor writes, "you have a tie, and no money changes hands.

Probably by now you have already figured out that if the dealer beat both of your hands you lose.

Such readers who have been unable to get out the door now have all the answers on Pai Gow Poker.

The only thing I know for sure is that I don’t.