I’m sure I’ve mentioned before about my love for pai gow poker. That is simply because there is a little bit of strategy involved in it. The basic idea is to have both your 5-card hand and your 2-card hand beat the dealer so that you make a profit on the hand. Nice and simple, but then you have to make a decision which way to split your hand up. Oh, and you have to remember that your 5-card hand has to be better than your 2-card hand.
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Is there any way to ensure you have a good chance of winning? Well, you want to make sure that both your hands are as strong as possible and since your 5-card hand has to be stronger than your 2-card hand in pai gow poker, there is only a few things to remember as a basic strategy for playing the game.
First of all, let’s say we get deal the hand A-J-9-8-6-3-2. Now, our hand has no pair and, in all honestly, it’s a shocking hand. So, what we have to do to make sure we get the most value out of our hand is make our 5-card hand A-8-6-3-2 and our 2-card hand J-9. So, our 5-card hand is still stronger, but we’ve split it up to make the two strongest hands possible.
The basic strategy involves making the two strongest pai gow poker hands as possible, so we’ll move on to being dealt one pair and our hand is now A-J-J-9-6-3-2. This time we’ll take the two highest NON-PAIRED cards and put them into our 2-card hand. So, our 5-card hand is J-J-6-3-2 and our 2-card hand is A-9. Not actually a bad pai gow poker hand, is it? So, it’s the same idea with any one pair. You have to keep the pair in your 5-card hand, but make sure you put your two highest NON-PAIRED cards into the 2-card hand to give you the best chance of winning both hands.
As we move up the hand rankings, let’s look at what we should do when we’re dealt two pairs. So, our hand now becomes A-J-J-9-3-3-2. What do we do with it? Well, using basic pai gow poker strategy, we’re going to put a pair in both our hands. Now, because we can’t have a 2-card hand stronger than our 5-card hand, as per pai gow poker rules, we’ll have the following hands: A-J-J-9-2 and 3-3. In basic pai gow poker strategy, there’s no real value in having a hand with two-pairs and then an Ace-high hand.
However, let’s say we get dealt three pairs instead of just two. So, let’s say our hand is now A-J-J-9-9-3-3. According to basic pai gow poker strategy, what is the best way to split this hand up? Well, this time you put your highest pair into your 2-card hand. So, our hands will be A-9-9-3-3 and J-J. You’d obviously get extremely happy being dealt that hand at the pai gow poker table, so make sure you play it the best way you possibly can.
Next, what to do if you’re dealt three-of-a-kind? A-J-J-J-9-3-2 is our hand. By now, you should know what to do. Take the two highest cards not involved in the three-of-a-kind, put them into the 2-card hand and it’s that simple. So, it’s J-J-J-3-2 and A-9 for our two hands. It might sound simple once you get the hang on it, but that’s why we say it’s a basic pai gow poker strategy, nothing complicated at all.
Perhaps the most complicated hand to play is a full house. What should we do if our hand is J-J-J-9-9-3-2? Well, basic pai gow strategy dictates that we split the hand into a 5-card hand with three-of-a-kind and then a 2-card hand of a pair. So, we’ve got the following hands: J-J-J-3-2 and 9-9. You might think it’s crazy to split up a hand like that, but it’s the way to get the most out of both of your hands using basic pai gow poker strategy. You’re giving yourself the best chance of winning both hands, which is the main principle of this game.
There are other variations on splitting a full house hand, but this is the best way to do it if you do not want to get bogged down in advanced strategy. Remember, this is just a basic guide to the game of pai gow poker.
What should you do if you’re dealt a straight? Well, split the hand so that you keep the straight whilst putting the two highest cards possible into your 2-card hand. So, let’s say we’re dealt K-Q-J-10-9-6-2. It’s obvious that we keep the King-high straight and put the 6-2 into our 2-card hand. Sure, we’re not going to win the 2-card hand, but it’s the best way of splitting it to make sure we don’t lose both hands.
If you are dealt K-Q-J-10-9-8-2, that’s slightly different. We need to keep the straight intact, but we’ll sacrifice the King in this case, because we want to put the highest card possible in our two-card hand. So, keep the lowest straight possible and we’re left with this: Q-J-10-9-8 and K-2. This is definitely going to give us a better chance of winning both hands.
The same idea as above also applies for a 7-card straight. Take out the two highest cards, leaving the 5-card straight intact. So, K-Q-J-10-9-8-7 becomes J-10-9-8-7 and K-Q.
The same rules for straight also apply for flushes. So, if you’re dealt a 5-card flush, keep the flush and put the other two cards in the 2-card hand. A 6-card flush, put the highest card from the flush into the 2-card hand along with non-flush card. And if you’re lucky enough to be dealt a 7-card flush, put the two highest cards into the 2-card hand.
Finally, four-of-a-kind and you’ll think I’m crazy when I tell you that you’re going to make your hand two pairs. Oh, yes. Remember, we want the best chance possible of winning both hands. So, let’s say we get the following hand: Q-J-J-J-J-9-3. To give us the best pai gow poker hand, the basic strategy says that we should play it with the following hands: Q-J-J-9-3 and J-J. Yes, it’s crazy if you’re a regular poker player, but pai gow poker is a different beast and that’s the way to play four-of-a-kind using basic strategy.
There are variations on playing four-of-a-kind which depend on whether you have an Ace or a King. If you have an Ace or a King in your hand, you can keep the four-of-a-kind and use the Ace or King as the high card in your 2-card hand. However, this is more advanced strategy than basic pai gow poker strategy, so if you want to keep it simply, just split your four-of-a-kind every time. Well, unless you get dealt four-of-a-kind and a pair!
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Additional Pai Gow Poker Strategy Questions:
The answer to the question Pai Gow Poker Basic Strategy is also applicable for the following questions: