Eventually, there comes a time when you’ve played just about everything in a casino. There’s also times when you want to play slowly, and just have some fun. You might try Pai Gow Poker, but unless you’re a newbie, it’s a totally brain-dead, boring game.
On the other hand, Pai Gow Tiles are really fun. You earn max casino “cred” points while you play the game. You earn double cred points if you’re lo-fan. You’ll find the game in a few casinos in Vegas (Aria, Mirage, Harrah’s, etc.). Before I learned the game, I would just stop by the usually empty table, stare at the tiles, and wonder what kind of game it was. Nowadays, people stop and watch me play.
The game is simple. If you know Pai Gow Poker, then you know the basic rules. Pai Gow Poker is a variant of the original tile game, with cards replacing tiles. The player and banker are each dealt the same number of cards/tiles, which they set into a low and high hand. The player wins if both his high and low hand beats the banker’s. The banker wins if both his hands beat or ties the player’s. Otherwise, the hand is a push.
You’re dealt 4 tiles, which you set into a 2-tile high hand, and a 2-tile low hand. Your high hand must beat your low hand. So, all you need to know are the 2-tile hand rankings, and the best way to balance the strength of your hand.
There are 32 tiles in the deck. Here’s a nice diagram of the deck, from Steven Denenberg’s paigow.com. The 16 pairs are arranged in descending order (#1 Gee Joon thru #16 Ng):
The tiles are similar to double-six dominoes, and pretty much look like craps rolls. The only difference is the “hard-6” may look different (Chong). There are two tiles of any given type (rank). The names are useful, because there may be two different types (rank) with the same number of dots. For example, there are two types of tiles with 8 dots: the Yun (hard-8) and the Bot (easy-8). The Yun is ranked higher than the Bot. The individual tile rankings follow the pair rankings above, except the semi-wild Gee Joon tiles become the lowest, not the highest, ranked individual tiles.
The ranking of the 2-tile hands are as follows:
- Wong (Teen or Day with any 9-point tile)
- Gong (Teen or Day with any 8-point tile)
- High-9 (Teen or Day with any 7-point tile)
- Points (last digit of dot total)
The identical pairs are easiest to spot in your hand, but you’ll learn to recognize the Gee Joon pair, and the mixed- 5,7,8,9 pairs (Ng, Chut, Bot, Gow pairs). It’ll come through practice (see my trainer below). I remember the Yun pair as a hard-8, and the Bot pair as easy-8. Then I remember the 7 pairs as Tit (Ace-Six) and Chut (the other ways). There’s no confusion on the Ng (5) and the Gow (9) pair. Note the mixed pairs are the lowest ranked.
The next highest hand following a pair is a Wong. The Wong hand consists of the Teen or Day (boxcars or snake-eyes) and any 9-dot tile (Gow).
The next highest hand following a Wong is a Gong. The Gong hand consists of the Teen or Day (boxcars or snake-eyes) and any 8-dot tile (Bot or Yun).
The High-9 is really a point total of 9 with a Teen or Day kicker.
The lowest hands are the 0 thru 9 point total of the tile’s dots. If the dot total goes over 10, then just use the last digit. The Gee Joon tiles are semi-wild (3 or 6) when used in a point total.
When comparing 2-tile hands with the same rank (e.g., Wong vs. Wong, or points vs. points), you go to the highest tile in the 2-tile hand as the tie-breaker. For example, a Wong with a Teen beats a Wong with a Day. Similarly, two Wongs are equal if they both have Teen, or both have Day. To use a poker term, when two hands are of equal rank, the comparison goes down to the kicker, the highest-ranked tile in the hand.
I use a simple strategy taken from the Wizard Of Odds. I’m copying it here for convenience, with some small fixes.
Play the first rule that applies:
If there is one play that is obviously the best, which will happen about 38% of the time, then play it. This happens when one play is superior to both alternatives in both the high and low.
Split pairs as follows.
- Gee Joon — Split only with 6-4, 6-5, 6-6
- Pair of 2’s or 12’s — Split only with 9-11, or to make 6-8 or better
- Pair of 5’s — Split to make 7/7
- Pair of 6’s — Split to make 7/8 or better
- Pair of 7’s — Split to make 7/7 or better
- Pair of 8’s — Split to make 8/8 or better, and with 9-11
- Pair of 9’s — Split to make 9/9 or better
- Pair of 4’s, 10’s, 11’s — Never split
Wong, Gong, High-9
- If you have both Teen and Day, play the best high hand
- Play the best low hand if 6 or 7 points with Yun kicker or better
- Play Wong or Gong instead of High Nine if the fourth tile is a 4 or 5
- Play High Nine, Gong, or Wong, in that order of preference
- Play the best low hand if it is worth 5 or more points
- Play the best low hand if the best high hand is worth 5 points or less
- Play the best low hand if the best high hand is a low 6 points (Chong kicker)
- Play the best high hand with all other combinations
When you first try to set a hand, you may be overwhelmed by the unfamiliar tiles in front of you. But, if you follow some simple steps, you’ll quickly get oriented. The easiest thing to see are identical pairs. Then look for your mixed pairs (5’s, 9’s, and 7’s and 8’s). If you have a pair, check if you should split it (see the table above; you’re looking for at least a 7/7 to split), else play it behind.
If you don’t have any pairs, then look for the Teen and Day tiles (boxcars and snake-eyes). If you have one, then check for 7-, 8-, and 9-spot tiles that make a High-9, Gong, and Wong, respectively. Follow the rules for setting hands with Wongs, Gongs, and High-9’s, but remember the idea is to balance the hand by playing the lowest of these hands behind.
If you only have point totals, check if you have the semi-wild (3 or 6) Gee Joon tiles. To get your bearings, find your best high hand. For example, say it’s a 5/9. Usually, you’ll have some other options, hands whose front and back add up to 5+9 = 14. Check for 7/7, since you’d play it (set highest front if 5 or more points). Also check for 6/8, else play the 5/9.
I’ve made some introductory videos that explain the game in more detail: