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HOME > Gaming > The Joy of Pai Gow Poker

The Joy of Pai Gow Poker

22 December 2013

By John Grochowski

QUESTION: I’ve been playing pai-gow poker a lot lately, and find that I can play for pretty long. It’s not the most exciting game in the world, since there are a lot of pushes where I win one hand and the dealer wins the other. But I can make my money last while my wife is at the slots, and I’ve had some nice streaks.

My question is about royal flushes. I saw another player get one last week, in spades. It seems like in a seven-card game like Pai-Gow, you should see them more often than in five-card games. I’ve played some Caribbean Stud, and never saw a royal there, though I’ve had several in video poker. Can you explain the odds?

ANSWER: For those not familiar with Pai-Gow poker, it’s played with a 53-card deck. The extra card is a Joker than can be used as an Ace, or to complete a straight, flush, straight flush or royal flush.

Players and dealer each receive seven cards, which must be arranged into a five-card “high hand” and a two-card “second high hand.” The five-card hand must outrank the two-card hand. If you misarrange the hands, you lose.

If you win both hands, you win. If the dealer wins both hands, you lose. If you split, it’s a push and you get your money back.

Making a five-card royal out of seven dealt cards in a deck that includes a joker happens fairly often, about once per 5,899 hands. In seven-card stud games with no wild cards, the royals come a lot less often at once per 30,940 hands.

Receiving only five-cards makes royals truly rare in Caribbean Stud and other five-card stud games, at once per 649,740 hands. Nearly all video poker machines are five-card games, but they’re draw poker rather than stud. The draw possibilities bring the royal frequency to about once per 40,000 hands, with some variation depending on game and drawing strategy.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Frank Scoblete's new book "Everything Casino Poker" has a section on Pai Gow Poker that explains how to play the hands and how to actually get an edge over the casino.]

QUESTION: I ran into this situation at the closest casino to my house. On the main casino floor, all the games were six decks, dealer hits soft 17, double on any first two cards, double after split, split pairs up to three times, but split Aces only once. There were $10, $25 and $100 tables.

In the high-limit room, there were two difference. The dealer stood on all 17s, and you could resplit Aces. Minimums were $25, $50, $100, and $500.

On the main floor, tables were busy, so I’d have been playing at a full-table. In the high-limit room, the $25 tables were busy, but I could get a seat. Forget the others. Out of my price range.

What I’m really most comfortable with is the $10 table, averaging about $15 a hand. I’m wondering if I would have been better off in the high-limit room for the better game at $25.

ANSWER: Let’s look at this a couple of different ways. Assuming basic strategy, you were looking at a 0.22 percent house edge in the high-limit room vs. 0.62 percent on the main floor.

If you bet $15 per hand on the main floor, your risk per 100 hands would be $1,500, and your average losses $9.30. Bet $25 in the high-limit room instead, and per 100 hands the risk jumps to $2,500, with average losses of $5.50.

So yes, average losses would be lower in the high-limit room, even though you’d be betting $10 hand more.

However, betting outside your comfort zone is always a bad idea. Even if you’re getting better odds with bigger bets, never bet money you can’t afford to lose.

This article is provided by the Frank Scoblete Network. Melissa A. Kaplan is the network's managing editor. If you would like to use this article on your website, please contact Casino City Press, the exclusive web syndication outlet for the Frank Scoblete Network. To contact Frank, please e-mail him at fscobe@optonline.net.

John Grochowski
John  Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field. Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago.

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