Pai Gow Poker Variations

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Wagering at Pai Gow Poker often seems like betting on a coin flip. Ignore the hands that result in pushes with no winner or loser, and the remaining hands spilt rather evenly between the Banker hand and the player’s hand. Excluding side bets, the payout for successful wagers is even money, 1-to-1, with the House taking its commission from the winnings.

Not much decision-making is required in playing the hands. Although the game is referred to as “poker,” it has no betting intervals and no bluffing. Both of the Banker’s hands have to be set according to strict rules known as the “House Way,” and the 5-card High Hand must always outrank the 2-card Low Hand.

Although it is necessary to understand the rules of Pai Gow Poker if one truly seeks to win, there are many variations of the game played in casinos around the world, which complicates the learning process. For example, side bets have been introduced with payouts significantly higher than even money. This may add spice to the game, but it also adds risk.

A few casinos have made modified the basic structure of the game as well. This almost always results in a greater advantage for the House, such as the version known as “Emperor’s Challenge,” which features a House edge of 4.17%. Common variations that may be encountered are as follows.

Commission-free Pai Gow Poker – This game first appeared at a casino in Washington, and it eliminates the 5% commission on winnings completely. Instead, the House earns its profits from side bets, which (as one might guess) have very high margins for the House and are not good bets at all.

Dragon Hand – Quite common at Pai Gow Poker tables worldwide, this game has an extra hand dealt to an empty seat. Participants are invited to wager on this “Dragon Hand” as well as their own hands. Just like the Banker hand, the cards in the Dragon Hand must be set according to the House Way.

Fortune Pai Gow Poker – Popular in Macau and online, this game pays an “Envy Bonus” based upon the value of the player’s seven cards, regardless of how the two Pai Gow Poker hands are arranged. To play it, a separate ante must be made. To qualify for the bonus, the seven cards must contain at least four of a kind or better. One variation of this known as “Jackpot Pai Gow Poker” has bonuses up to 100,000X. In the version called “Progressive Pai Gow Poker” played in Canada, a $5 side bet can earn $100,000 minimum up to the progressive value.

Jokolor – Devised in the United Kingdom, this variation was rather recently approved by the Gambling Commission. It offers a side bet that pays out whenever the player’s hand contains a Joker. Another modification is a bonus payout for a hand in which all seven cards are of the same colour, hence the name: Joker + Colour = Jokolor.

Mini Pai Gow Poker – This popular version employs all the rules of the traditional game, but the Dealer always holds the Banker hand. This makes Mini Pai Gow Poker an easy game for beginners to play, with no need to learn the House Way. On the other hand, the greatest advantage comes from holding the Banker hand, so this game should be played mainly as an educational first step on the way to the original version.

No Push Pai Gow Poker – Found in a few Las Vegas casinos, this game is played by the same rules as traditional Pai Gow Poker, but the Banker hand is always held by the Dealer and no 5% commission is charged. There is, of course, a twist. Whenever a push occurs, unused cards from the deck are drawn to settle the tie. The player wins by drawing a card greater than the Dealer’s, but loses if it is the same or of lesser value.

Pai Gow Insurance – Available at some casinos in Las Vegas, this game features an optional side bet. It wins if the player’s hand contains no pairs, straights or flushes. Also, more insurance is paid according to the rank of the highest card in the hand—the lower, the better.

Pai Gow Mania – This game offers two side bets. Players may place additional wagers on their first three cards and on all seven cards. A bonus is won for pairs and triplets appearing among the first three cards and for certain minimum hands within the full seven cards dealt. Because payout rates are much less than true odds, these are not good bets. Traditional Pai Gow Poker rules apply to the main game.

Revolving Bank – In this form of the game, the option to play the Banker hand moves back and forth between the Dealer and the players in a zigzag fashion. When players hold the Banker hand, they must set it according to the House Way.

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