Advanced Pai Gow Poker Hand Examples
Pai Gow Poker is a different type of casino table game that has a particularly atypical style of play and rule set. As a result, learning strategy is difficult in terms of actually being able to put ideas into practice when the cards are in front of you, so we are going to look at some concrete examples of advanced strategic ideas here.
The Difficulty of Pai Gow Poker Strategy
In most poker-based casino games, you’re trying to maximize the value of a single hand based on either a card draw or deciding whether you should fold your hand at a fraction of the cost as it would take to continue playing.
Pai Gow Poker blows this whole dynamic out of the water by putting players in a position where they have to learn a completely different style of play.
The source of the difficulties that players have in putting strategic ideas into practice in this game come down to its atypical style of play and approach. As a result, we find that practical work of trying to decide how to play with hands that are instructive examples is a much more effective way to get proficient at the game compared to simply reading about strategic ideas in the general sense.
Based on this idea, we’re going to work through a number of advanced ideas in Pai Gow Poker strategy by looking at specific, concrete scenarios that are much like what you would find anywhere. We’re going to give you a thought process to follow that will make sure that you don’t miss anything as well, which is easy to do when playing this game with seven cards instead of the norm of five or fewer in most casino poker games.
The Thought Process for Pai Gow Poker
There’s a simple checklist that we’re going to follow with every one of our example hands, and it’s the thought process that you should follow when you are actually playing at the tables, virtual or land-based.
We’ll show you the checklist here and briefly explain why this checklist works the way it does:
- Look for flushes or straights.
- Look for pairs/three of a kind/four of a kind.
- Look for high cards identified both inside and outside of the hands spotted in steps 1 and 2.
- Apply the relevant strategic principles to form the high and low hands.
The idea here is that we need some structure to our thinking that will help us to avoid simple mistakes like overlooking big hands or misreading the nature of the cards in our hand.
If you do not organize your thinking in a strategic way in this game, then you will simply under perform and make many mistakes that will lose value in the long run.
With that thought process explained, let’s jump right into some instructive hands, starting with a simple example to illustrate how this thought process works in the middle of actual play.
Hand 1: AsAhAdJs9h5h4d
The knee-jerk reaction that most players will have here is to notice the three of a kind in aces and to play based on that. While there are no flushes or straights in this particular example hand, it’s critical to realize how easy it would be to miss out on them if you did have them.
So from here, we’ll look at our checklist:
- Flushes or straights? No.
- Pair-based hands? Three of a kind in aces.
- Relevant high cards? Jack-high kicker and ace-high in the trips.
Now we’ll apply the relevant strategic principles. In scenarios with three of a kind in aces, the strategic principle is to break things up so that you have a pair of aces in the high and an ace in the low along with the best available kicker (which we’ve already identified as the jack).
With this in mind, let’s look at the two main ways to play this hand and their average payout return:
- AA in the high, AJ in the low – 0.381x
- AAA in the high, J9 in the low – 0.044
While this is a straightforward example, it shows how we can use this thought process we have illustrated to really break down the necessary components of the hand so that it’s perfectly clear what we need to have happen and so that it’s perfectly clear that we aren’t making mistakes based around misreading our cards.
In the next hand, we’re going to follow the same thought process but add in more strategic complications.
Hand 2: AhThTs6h6s3h2h
Following the same thought process as we have set up above, we’ll look at three key points and then decide what should be done about the hand strategically:
- Flushes or straights? Yes (flush).
- Pair-based hands? Two pair, tens and sixes.
- Relevant high cards? Ace of hearts, ten of spades.
From a strategic standpoint, we have three ways that we can try to approach this hand. We can go with two pair in the high, a pair of tens in the high or a flush in the high. We’ll look at the average payout for each way of playing this hand and then look at what we can learn from those payouts:
- Two Pair in the High (A3 in the Low) – 0.303x
- Pair of Tens in the High (66 in the Low) – 0.298x
- Flush in the High (T6 in the low) – 0.038x
If you know the standard system for playing two pairs, you’ll know that this is a borderline case between whether you split the pairs or don’t. Along these lines, there’s only five thousandths of a difference in the average payouts of these hands, and that’s not worth bothering over.
For an understanding of how minor of a point this is to worry about, note that if the 3h was instead a 5h for the kicker in the low, then splitting the pairs would rank at 0.306x and be the better option over two pair in the high.
However, what a lot of people will be surprised about is that putting a flush in the high performs so incredibly bad. The reason for this is that it completely throws the low hand in the trash so to speak, and you essentially lose the low almost every single time.
This isn’t a scenario that you want to create where one hand is dominant while the other is super weak. Instead, it’s better to balance the two hands with a two pair/ace-high combination or a pair of tens/pair of sixes split.
Understanding this concept is critical for really getting to the heart of advanced Pai Gow Poker strategy: It’s much better to have solid chances in both hands than to have a hand that almost always wins in one with a hand that almost always loses in the other.
Hand 3: AcKhQhJhTh8s8h
You’ll sometimes get hands that have multiple ways to play that seem reasonable, and you have to try to figure out which combinations of high and low hands give you the best payouts on average. These are some of the hardest hands to play, and some of the most advanced strategies are designed around teaching you how to evaluate these spots the best you can.
This third example hand is a good example of this idea. It’s also a good example of why you absolutely must always remember to follow the thought process that we have laid out when initially evaluating your hand.
Here’s what you get if you follow this procedure:
- Flushes or straights? Yes (flush and AKQJT straight).
- Pair-based hands? One pair, eights.
- Relevant high cards? Ace.
It’s easy to miss that you have both the straight and the flush available. While hands like this aren’t super common, it’s possible to miss out on a ton of value the few times they do happen, and they are the primary indicators of how you should play the hand.
So in this case, we have two ways to go with either a flush or a straight in the high. Playing with the pair of eights in the high and AK in the low would normally be fine if the straight and flush possibilities weren’t there.
Here we’ll look at the average payouts for these two ways of playing and then explain why they happen the way they do:
- Straight in the High (88 in the Low) – 0.846x
- Flush in the High (A8 in the Low) – 0.497x
The first thing that most players will notice here is that the straight is actually ranked lower than the flush, but it performs much better in the high than the low. The difference comes down to the win percentage gap between the two high options and the two low options.
Consider this: A straight or flush in the high will win pretty close to the same percentage of the time against a dealer hand. However, the low hand of 88 will win a lot more often than A8. By sacrificing a very small amount of your win percentage in the high, you get a large increase in your win percentage in the low.
This type of sacrificial exchange is thematic in hands where you have two high-ranking high hands that you have options between. Most of the time, the best option is to simply go with the one that gives you the best low hand.
We are going to explore this concept further in the fourth instructive hand.
Hand 4: XAcAd8d5d2c2d
Note that the X here refers to the joker. Something critical to remember is that the joker is actually limited in what it can substitute for, and it can only count as an ace if it’s not being used to complete a flush or straight.
If we quickly look at the thought process we’ve laid out before, we get the following:
- Flushes or straights? Yes (flush).
- Pair-based hands? Pair of twos, three aces (with joker).
- Relevant high cards? Aces, otherwise none.
You have three main options for putting together your hands, and this hand combines the strategic lessons from the previous three. We’ll look at the payouts for each and then look at why they are what they are.
- Three of a Kind (22 in the Low) – 0.630x
- Flush (A2 in the Low) – 0.548x
- Full House (85 in the Low) – 0.015x
The first thing to note is that the full house in the high sounds great until you see that you’re going to lose the low almost every single time. That’s a big problem, and you need to sacrifice the power of that full house to split things up to give the low some winning chances.
When you look at the remaining two options, you see that it’s a similar scenario as the previous option. While a flush with A2 in the low is obviously a strong hand, dropping the high down to three of a kind in aces still results in the high winning a very high percentage of the time. That small increase in loss rate for the high is drastically compensated for by how much stronger your low becomes by becoming a paired hand.
The principles of playing Pai Gow Poker strategies from an advanced perspective require you to first understand how to play the basics. From there, you start tackling the overall thought process that you should have in each hand, and then you start looking at certain types of tricky situations where you can make big mistakes if you aren’t careful.
Learning these spots takes a while, but that’s the price that we pay for wanting to become particularly skilled at these games. By learning the lessons that we have looked above from organizing your thought process to how to approach certain difficult situations, you can increase your average payout rate from Pai Gow Poker quite a bit and put yourself in a position to have the maximum chances to win.