Pai Gow is played with 32 domino tiles. The tiles are shuffled facedown and are arranged into eight face-down stacks of four tiles – also called woodpiles.
Each player (including the dealer) gets one stack that they must arrange into two hands of two tiles. They examine the tiles and arrange them into two hands so that other players and the dealer can’t see them. The lower value stack is called the front hand and the higher value one is the rear hand.
Players place their bets and expose their high hand first. After they are all done, the banker exposes his high hand too. Next, players expose their low hands and so does the banker.
If both the rear and front hands beat the dealer’s front and rear hands, the player wins the bet. If the dealer’s front and rear hands are stronger than the player’s, the dealer wins the bet. If only one of the player’s hands wins, it is a “push” and the player gets his bet back.
Pai Gow is normally played with 7 players and each player only plays against the dealer and not each other. The front hands are only compared to the front hands and the rear ones only to the rear ones. Bet behind is possible in some Pai Gow games. This means betting on one of the players.
The game can also be played with four players. In this case, there would be two rounds. First, 16 tiles are dealt to the players and after the outcome has been determined the remaining 16 tiles will be dealt.
Pai Gow is played with 32 tiles – 16 pairs. Eleven of the pairs are identical in their pattern while five of them have the same score but look different. Any hand that consists of a pair is worth more than a non-pair, regardless of the pip counts. If both the dealer and the player have a pair, the higher-ranked one wins. The ranking is specific and must be memorized by the players; it doesn’t depend on the number of pips but rather the aesthetics. Gee Joon tiles, the Teens, the Days, and the red eights are the most valuable ones.
Pai Gow Scoring
Pai Gow in Chinese roughly translates to “make nine” or “card nine” because the highest score a player can have in Pai Gow is 9 unless it is according to the special scoring rules.
When a hand has two tiles that are not a pair, the pips on each tile are added and if there is a tens digit it is dropped. E.g., 2-3 & 5-6: value 6 (16 pips; drop the 10) or 1-3 & 2-3: value 9 (nine pips altogether)
Gongs and Wongs: This means a double-1 and a double-6 tiles also known as Day and Teen tiles. A combination of a Day and a Teen equal 8, however, in this case, it is a “Gong” and it is worth 10 points. If either the Day or a Teen is put together with a nine it is called a “Wong” and it is worth 11 points. When a Day or a Teen is paired with anything else, the standard scoring applies.
Gee Joon: The 1-2 and the 2-4 tiles are the wild cards of the game and they are called Gee Joon. These tiles in combination with another card can be counted as 3 or 6, whichever gives the higher result to the player. For example, a 1-2 & 5-6 is counted as seven rather than four.
Odds and House Edge in Pai Gow
Pai Gow is a slow game compared to blackjack, baccarat or even roulette. An average player only plays around 30 hands per hour which means that you can enjoy this game for a long time even on a limited bankroll.
Players can take advantage of different strategy charts that show the correct play for every possible combination. This way, in most scenarios, players have about a 30% probability of winning and around 41% probability for a push. The house edge of Pai Gow is very low – between 2.44% and -0.2%. The lowest house edge comes when players act as bankers.
Strategy in Pai Gow
Pai Gow is a game of chance, however, a limited strategy can be used. The objective of the game is to have both a front and rear hand that is better than that of the dealer and it is up to the player to decide how to pair his 4 tiles. There are three ways to arrange 4 tiles unless two of them forms a pair, in which case there are only two ways to form the pairs.
The player has to figure out which combination is most likely to beat the dealer or at least get a tie and get his bet back. It is an option to try to get a push if you have weak tiles.