Pai Gow is a unique casino game in that is played with dominos. Pai Gow, which means “Dominoes Nine,” originated in China thousands of years ago. Although the tiles have both red and black dots and the combinations have unusual names, the game’s rules are fairly easy to understand and learn.
The Basic Setup
Pai Gow includes a dealer, players and a banker. All of the players are competing against the banker. The banker collects all winnings and must pay all winners. The dealer at the casino is usually the banker, however a player may choose to be the banker.
In order to be the banker, the player must be able to cover all bets. If the player becomes the banker, the dealer plays his/her hand as if they were a player and all participants play against the new banker.
The Tiles, Betting and Hands
Pai Gow is played with a 32 tiles of Chinese dominoes. The tiles may be arranged into 16 pairs. Of the 32 tiles, 22 are composed of 11 identical pairs and 10 are composed of five mixed pair.
Tiles are placed on the table and mixed so they are randomly arranged. Bets are then made and dice are thrown to see which player will receive the first four tiles. After the first player receives their tiles each of the other seven playing areas receives its dominoes.
The dealer removes all tiles that will not be used and then places his/her tiles in the middle of the table. Players are told they may look at their tiles; once this is done, there is no communication between anyone at the table.
The players and banker then arrange their tiles into two hands. There is a high and low hand with each having two tiles. The hands of each player are compared to the banker’s.
As in Blackjack, players do not compete against one another; they are playing against the banker.
Winning and Losing at Pai Gow
Once players have put their tiles in order and the banker arranges his/her hand in the prescribed “house way” the two hands are compared. In order for the player to win their bet, they must win both the high and low hand. If they lose both, they lose their bet and if they win one and lose one, then the hand is a standoff and the player neither wins nor loses.
When you win, you are paid even money minus a 5% commission that goes to the banker. Scoring in Pai Gow is similar to Baccarat in that tile totals like card totals in that game are used with the second number representing your score. Thus, initial scores are determined by adding up the dots or pips on the dominoes.
If one tile has 2 and 3 pips and the other 4 and 6, then the hand would total 15 and be worth 5. Or if one tile has 5 and 6 pips and the other 2 and 3, the hand would add up to 16 and be worth 6.
If a pair is scored, then it is always worth more than a non-pair. As an example, one player may hold two tiles with each having 8 pips and each evenly divided on the domino. That pair would beat another player who had a tile of 2 and 6 and 3 and 5. Even though both players’ tiles total 16 pips for a score of 6, the pair wins. Think of pairs as being worth 12.
The highest pairs are the Gee Joon tiles, the Teens, the Days, and the red eights. The lowest scoring pairs are the mismatched nines, eights, sevens, and fives. But even the lowest-scoring pair will beat any non-pair.
Gongs and Wongs
Nine is considered to be the high score in Pai Gow, but there are ways that a hand may score more than nine points. There are double-one and double six tiles, which are called Day and Teen, respectively.
Joining a Day or Teen tile with an eight scores 10, a Gong, rather than zero. Use the same tiles with a nine and you score a Wong, which is an 11. Only eights or nines combined with a Day or Teen give you these special scores.
Gee Joon Tiles
The wildcard tiles are those that are 1 and 2 and 2 and 4. These are known as Gee Joon tiles and may count as either 3 or 6, whichever is most beneficial to the player. As an example, combining a 3 and 5 with a 1 and 2 gives you four rather than one.
The High Pair Wins
Pairs beat all and when two or more pair exist then the highest pair wins. When it comes to highest pairs, the Gee Joon tiles, the Teens, the Days, and the red eights are tops. The lowest pairs are mismatched nines, eights, sevens, and fives. However even the lowest-scoring pair beats any non-pair.
If You Like Blackjack
Chances are if you enjoy playing Blackjack, you’re going to like Pai Gow. Baccarat players also enjoy this game. Although the rules may seem a bit daunting, they are really fairly simple overall.