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    Pai-Gow Poker is a very interesting game from several perspectives. It's almost like a combination of craps, baccarat, blackjack and poker. The game is played with a single deck of cards which includes a Joker. The Joker is used either as an Ace, or to make a straight or a flush. Seven hands are dealt, each containing seven cards. This is the same as in 7-card stud. A cup containing three dice is then used to shake the dice, and the resulting roll of the dice determines the position of the hands, starting from the banker's hand. Each player on the table then receives a hand. In front of each player are two boxes, one marked High Hand, and the other Second Highest. The object is to take the seven cards and divide them into a High Hand of five cards and a Low Hand of two cards. Stud Poker rules are used, the only variation being that in Pai-Gow Poker you need to beat the dealer with both hands, High and Low, in order to win. For instance: Your hand has: A-Joker-10-10-7-8-3-6 [forget the suits for the sake of this example]. If this was Stud Poker then this hand would be played as a 10-high straight [allowing the wild-Joker as the missing 9 ]. In Pai-Gow Poker this is a strong hand allowing the following variations - [ remember - the Joker can be used as an Ace, or to make a straight]: HIGH HAND - 5 CARDS LOW HAND - 2 CARDS A-JOKER-7-8-6 10-10 6-7-8-JOKER A- 10 Any two pair in Pai-Gow Poker, particularly with Aces in the back, is a strong hand. However, as most house rules testify, the idea is to make two strong hands. Caesar’s Palace in Los Vegas uses the Ace-up rule variation. This means that whenever the house has an Ace option with a strong High Hand, they will use the Ace for the Low Hand and take the stronger High Hand.

    In the above example the 10-10 low hand and the Ace-Ace High Hand are two strong hands, but by applying the Ace-up rule, it is better to take the straight with the Ace-10 as the Low Hand.

    With an Ace-up, the only way the dealer can beat your hand is if he has an Ace-10 or better, including a pair as Low Hand, which is rare in Pai-Gow Poker. But your straight as the High Hand is even stronger, and as play will testify, at most times any hand with two-pair or better as the High Hand is a winner most of the time.

    Playing Ace-up and taking the straight, as in this example, is playing it safe. That's why the House Rules use it. In Pal Cow Poker you push, or "tie", a lot of hands. If you beat the dealer with one hand, either High or Low, but he beats you with the other, it's a push - a stand-off.. .. a tie. You don't lose and you don't win. The House Rules therefore employ the Ace-up rule in order to minimize house losses, since this way they will push the table more often than lose.

    As a player, however, the above example offers you the choice of the two ways of playing the hand. In this case the 10-10 Low Hand with the Ace-Joker High Hand is the better way to play . The Ace-up Low Hand and the Straight High Hand are safer, but then you aren't playing for a tie, you are playing to win.

    Pai-Gow Poker is similar to 7-card Stud only in respect that it uses standard Poker rules to determine value of hands. But that's where the similarity ends. As we saw with the above example, 7-card Stud rules do not apply. Merely the method for selecting values of hands, i.e.: straight, flush, pair, two-pair, etc. How you play the hands however is determined by Pai-Gow Poker rules, and these are many with many more variances. Basically though the idea is simple enough: take the Highest hand possible out of seven cards and place it as the High Hand. Then take the next highest hand and place it as the Low Hand. Then see if you beat the dealer both hands, and you win.

    Pai-Gow Poker is similar to blackjack in respect to "pushes" or "ties". In Blackjack when you have, say, 18, and the dealer has 18, it's a stand-off. Neither wins. Same in Pai-Gow Poker: if you beat the dealer with one hand, and he beats you with the other, it's a tie.

    Baccarat also makes a presence in that the Bank is offered to each player in turn, and in that the wins are all even money, and the house takes a 5% commission. But in Pai-Gow Poker when you bank, you bank not only against the House, but also against all the players at the tables. So, if you are going to Bank, make sure you can carry the bankroll necessary to pay off all the bets should you loose. If you bank, you become the Casino.

    Craps also makes an appearance in Pai-Gow Poker, but only marginally. The use of the dice often seems puzzling to people not familiar with the game, but it's not difficult to understand. The three dice in the cup are "tossed" simply to determine positions of the hands being dealt to the players and the dealer. Counting from the Banker, a roll of 8 will count: Banker 1, then around the table until 8 which becomes the first hand out and so on.

    Pai-Gow Poker can be a slow game. It is not unusual to push several hands in a row. This is because the variations of hands are so many that often the selections make for a one-hand winner and a one-hand looser, in which case it becomes a tie. But it's a very interesting and stimulating game and you can play a long time without loosing your whole bankroll in a few minutes, which can be the case in, say, craps or blackjack if you have a bad run. Like with all other Casino Games, money management, selection of hands and opportunities to maximize your bets and bank when opportune are important if you're a serious player out to win.

    These sections were written by Victor Royer

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