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Best of Mark Pilarski

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Pai gow poker and the losing chicken

28 June 2004

Dear Mark,
In pai gow poker, do you ever recommend being the banker? Hector A.

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

Typically, the dealer banks the game, but in pai gow poker, any player can be the banker. A small plastic marker called a "chung" is placed on top of dealt cards indicating who the banker is. If you wish to be a banker, Hector, all you have to do is tell the dealer before the cards are dealt that you want to bank the game, and he will automatically place the chung in your betting circle.

The advantage to being the banker is that you win copies. A "copy" occurs when a player and the banker have the same two-card hand, or the same five-card hand. For example, both the player and the banker have an ace and a seven as their two-card hands, creating a tie or copy.

The disadvantage to being the banker is that you must have the bankroll to book the action of all the players at the table. If your hand is a loser, you have to pay all the winning bets, including the dealer's. Additionally, you can only be the banker for one hand, after which the bank reverts to the dealer for the next hand. Finally, as far as the five percent commission for each winning bet is concerned, the house still gets its take whether you're the banker or not.

So, Hector, is it smart to be the banker, even though, as just another player, BUT playing perfect basic strategy, you can lower the casino edge to 2.5%? Absolutely. Since the banker wins all ties, you might as well take advantage of being the bank and grinding away at the house edge even further. However — pay attention now — if your bankroll is limited, bank the game only when you are the lone player at the table.

The reason for playing against the dealer is that the dealer's wager will be only the amount of your last bet. Consequently, you won't be at the risk of losing any more money than you would be as a regular player. Better yet, if you request it, the dealer will bet only the table minimum.

Dear Mark,
I read your article about the chicken tic-tac-toe game and I wanted to let you know that I happened to be a winner against a chicken. My husband and I were in Florida this winter and went to the Coconut Creek Casino in Coconut Creek. I played the game and won $5,000.00. My husband wanted to take the chicken instead of the money and cook it but the manager said no. Instead, he did give me a stuffed toy chicken. I have him sitting in my den, reminding me of the good times we had in Florida. Mary S.

Whichever it is, Mary, an out-of-this-world recipe for chicken or simply that you lived through the depression (Hoover's "chicken in every pot and a car in every garage"), I'd still take the $5,000 and run.

Gambling quote of the week: "People who deny that the laws of probability exist are generally very unintelligent. So although I have some skepticism, it's on a different level than the person on the street. Their skepticism is based on ignorance. Mine is based on philosophical bewilderment." Poker Player Mike C. Poker Faces: The Life and Work of Professional Card Players (1982)

Recent Articles
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.