For a change, try these games

Oct 14, 2003 3:25 AM

Blackjack, craps and roulette are the "Big Three" of casino table games. But for a change of pace, players might want to try something different.

The hottest new game to hit the casinos in recent years is Three Card Poker. That game is contrasted with the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow, which uses dominoes tiles instead of cards. Here’s a look at both games.

Three Card Poker combines the head-to-head excitement of blackjack, in which the player goes against the dealer, and Caribbean Stud, in which players are paid for attaining a minimum hand.

Here’s how it works:

The game is played with a standard deck of 52 cards on a blackjack-style table. Both the player and dealer get three cards face down.

There are actually two "objects" to the game. The first is to hope your poker hand beats the dealer’s poker hand. The other object, which is also a separate bet, is that your three-card hand will be a least a pair or higher.

Prior to the deal, you must determine which bet or bets you want to make.

If you want to compete against the dealer’s hand you make a bet on the Ante spot. If instead you want to bet that your three-card hand will be at least a pair or higher, then you would wager on the Pair Plus box. The betting spots for making these wagers are located directly in front of each player. 

If you decide to play against the dealer and bet the ante, the play begins with the dealer giving you and himself three cards face down. You pick up your cards, look at them, and decide whether you want to stay in the game or fold. If you want to stay, you must make another equal bet in the "Play" betting spot. If you decide instead to fold, you would place your cards face down on the layout toward the dealer, and you forfeit your ante bet.

After all the players have decided to play or fold, the dealer will look at his cards. If the dealer has a queen or higher, then his hand "qualifies" and play will continue against the remaining players.

If the dealer doesn’t have a queen or higher, he will automatically pay each player who stayed in the game (i.e. wagered on the Play) even money on the Ante wager and return the Play wager to the player (it’s a push).

When the dealer’s hand qualifies but your hand has a higher poker rank than his, you win your Ante and Play wagers at even money. If instead the dealer’s hand beats your hand, you lose both your Ante and Play wagers.

If you don’t want to compete against the dealer’s hand, your other betting option is to bet on the Pair Plus. You win if your three-card hand contains at least a pair or higher. The higher the poker rank, the greater the payout. You lose the Pair Plus bet if you end up with less than a pair. These are paid regardless of the dealer’s hand.

Straight Flush 40 to 1 
Three-of-a-Kind 30 to 1 
Straight 6 to 1 
Flush 4 to 1 
Pair 1 to 1 

Stanley Ko in his excellent booklet Mastering the Game of Three Card Poker mathematically computed an optimum playing strategy. He recommends making the Play wager only if you hold a Queen-6-4 hand or better.

The casinos’ edge for the Pair Plus is 2.3 percent and for the Ante wager it’s 3.4 percent based on the initial bet, or 2.0 and 2.3 percent respectively based on the total money bet.

Compared to the similar Caribbean Stud Poker and Let it Ride poker games, Three Card Poker is actually a better deal for the player. Of course, it always helps to be lucky, regardless of the house advantage!

Unlocking the mysteries of Pai Gow

Pai Gow Poker has always had a following in Las Vegas, especially with Asian players, even though it is actually an Americanized version of Pai Gow, an ancient and mystical game played with tiles.

But Palace Station recently expanded its Asian games area with the introduction of Pai Gow Tiles or Chinese dominoes. The casino on West Sahara Avenue is now one of about two dozen Las Vegas casinos to offer Pai Gow Tiles and one of only two off-Strip properties to offer the game.

"We’ve added the new game because it is one of the best examples of an Asian game that can be played here. Dominoes has been played in China since at least the 12th century and it is believed that Chinese dominoes were designed to represent possible throws of the dice because there are no blank faces on the tiles," said Jim Dickstein, Palace Station Director of Casino Operations.

Palace Station’s dealers prepared for the new game with training sessions held nightly for about two weeks.

Pai Gow Tiles is an intricate game that is played with a set of 32 tiles or dominoes. After the tiles are shuffled, stacked and cut, then a set of three dice is rolled to determine the order of the deal. The tiles are then dealt four at a time to each hand.

Gee Joon, (tiles 1/2 & 2/4) is the highest hand followed by 11 matched pairs ranked from highest to lowest. After pairs, the next best hand is a nine count, followed by eight and so on.

To play the games, hands are set to have a high and low hand. To win, both hands must win. Once each player has set his hand, the house exposes its tiles and compares the hand to each player.