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Pai gow payoffs and parlay fever

3 February 2006

Dear Mark,
How do I play three pairs in pai gow poker? Should the highest go up front, or the second highest? Also, how about this for your unusual file? The dealer and I copied hand four consecutive times. Shawn R.

Pai gow (which rhymes with pie now) poker is played with up to six players and a banker, each being dealt seven cards. There are no draws. You strategically arrange your seven cards into two poker hands, one hand of two cards and the other of five. To win, both your two-card hand and your five-card hand must beat the banker's corresponding hands. Winning one hand and losing the other is a push (tie), and you neither win nor lose.

Pai gow poker also has a 53rd card, the joker, and that jester can be used as a wild card in a straight, a flush, straight flushes, or as an ace. The hierarchy of pai gow poker hands is comparable to that of typical poker hands, except that a five-ace hand (four aces plus the joker) outranks a royal flush.

Newbies at pai gow poker typically make two rookie mistakes. They fail to see a five-card flush or straight, or they incorrectly set their hands when dealt two or more pairs. Since two-pair hands appear fairly often, setting them correctly is imperative. Perfect strategy protocol for playing two pairs is this: If your hand has either an unmatched ace or king, keep the two pairs in your five-card hand. If you have neither, play the lower-ranking pair as the two-card hand.

As for three pairs, always use the highest pair in your two-card hand, and the second and third highest pairs in your five-card hand.

Your heap of consecutive copies, Shawn, was eerie because you lost, but it happens. For those needing to know, a copy is where the player and banker have identical two-card or five-card hands. For example, let's say both you and the dealer each have a king and queen as your two-card hands. Copies always go to the banker, giving him/her a built-in advantage over the player.

Dear Mark,
Do pushes on parlay bets win if you tie a game? The bookie I use won't pay if one of the games ties. Chuck D.


Being that your return mail address shows me that you don’t reside in one of the two states where sports betting is legal (Nevada and Oregon), I surmised, Chuck, that your bookie operates from the left of the law. Besides, land-based "legal" casinos usually don't penalize for pushes. Most legal bookmakers will still pay off your parlay wager even if one or more selections ties. When a push occurs, then the wager simply reverts to the next lower number of bets made. For example, if you place a six-team parlay and you have five winners and a push, your bet pays out as a five-team parlay. If you place a two-team parlay and one team wins and one pushes, the wager becomes a straight bet. Likewise, if any of your picks loses, your wager loses, regardless of the outcome of the other games.

It seems the only winner here, Chuckie, is your bookie.

Gambling Wisdom of the Week: "A casino is like a beehive. You know there is honey in it, but to get at it, you have to endure many stings." --VP Pappy

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Best of Mark Pilarski
Mark Pilarski

As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.
Mark Pilarski
As a recognized authority on casino gambling, Mark Pilarski survived 18 years in the casino trenches, working for seven different casinos. Mark now writes a nationally syndicated gambling column, is a university lecturer, author, reviewer and contributing editor for numerous gaming periodicals, and is the creator of the best-selling, award-winning audiocassette series on casino gambling, Hooked on Winning.