Pai-gow poker is a banking poker game played in some of the California card clubs and casinos. The object of pai-gow poker is to make two poker hands that beat the banker’s hands. The player is dealt 7 cards that he makes into a five card hand (high hand) and a two card hand (low hand). The hands are played and ranked as traditional poker hands (with one exception: A2345 is the second highest straight), and the 5 card hand must be higher than the 2 card hand. If both hands are better than the banker’s hand, you win, if both lose, you lose, otherwise it’s a push. The banker wins absolute ties (i.e. K Q vs K Q). The game is played with a 52 cards plus one joker. The joker can be used as an Ace or to complete a flush or straight.
Each player spot has spaces for a bet, low hand, high hand and sometimes the house commission. The dealer deals 7 7-card hands in front of the chip tray. The banker can be a player, but is usually the house. The banker designates which hands go to which player by shaking a dice cup with three dice; the banker’s position is either 1, 8 or 15 and the hands are passed out counterclockwise. So, if the dealer is the bank and the dice total to 6, player 5 gets the first hand, player 6 gets the second, the dealer gets the third and so on. The dice mumbo-jumbo appears to be ritual stuff — you don’t need to worry about anything until you get your hand.
In pai-gow poker, the only strategic decisions are how much to bet and how to set your hand. The simple basic strategy for setting your hand is to make the highest 2-card hand that is less than your five card hand. If you can’t figure out what to do, you can show your hand to the dealer and they will tell you how the house would set it.
In the California card clubs, all wagering is between players, so the option to be the bank rotates among the active players. The rule differences from the IP rules are that the Joker is wild, and the house commission is a flat $1 per hand ($10 minimum bet).
Pai-gow poker is an easy game to play, and since each hand takes a while to play (dealer has to shuffle for each game) and most hands push, you can play on $20 at a $5 table for quite a while.