A curious form of poker is pai gow poker – an Americanized version of an old Chinese dominoes game.
During the 1980s a new type of poker based on Chinese pai gow dominoes gained popularity at casinos in the U.S. By substituting playing cards for dominoes, pai gow poker is a game that requires skill and a sharp eye to spot the winning hand. The object of the game is to form two poker hands out of a total of seven cards, a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The five-card hand must rank higher than the two-card hand. Play is against the ‘Banker’ who may either be the casino dealer or one of the six players.
In a typical round players first place their bets on the table and then seven cards are dealt face down to each player. The order that the players receive their cards is randomly decided by distributing the cards based on the values of three dice rolled by the dealer. If there is not a player seated at any position then a hand is still dealt to that seat but then discarded with the other unused cards. Players then try to form their best hands with their dealt cards.
The only two-card hands are a pair or a high card. Five-card hands follow the standard poker rankings although Nevada casinos rank A-2-3-4-5 above a king-high straight but below an Ace-high straight. The joker can be used in the five-card hand to complete a straight or a flush, but otherwise it is an ace. In the two-card hand it is always a straight.
Each player’s hands are compared to the Banker’s. To win a player must beat both of the Banker’s hands. If a player beats only one of the Banker’s hands then the bet is a push, and if a player loses both hands then the Banker wins the bet.
The basic strategy of pai gow poker is to make the highest possible two-card hand that can still be beaten by the five-card hand, the idea being to guarantee against a loss by beating the Banker’s two-card hand.