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Pai Gow anyone?

1543 Views 9 Replies 3 Participants Last post by  Ace-in-Space
Have you ever walked into a casino and watched a bunch of Asians with seem like towers of $100 chips going against each other playing a game with dominos? The game is Pai Gow which loosely translates to "Tiles Nine" (pai gow poker, however, is not pai gow. I think pai gow poker got the name is because the 7 cards you receive is divided into 2 hands. I have a set of these and I would be happy to show you how it is played next time I am in BYOC event although I have never played it for money either in or out of the casinos (I just like to play and learn games, especially gambling ones.) I will also give you my word that I will not play any of you for money unless you unless you twist my arm. BTW, most Chinese people don't know how to people. They prefer Mah Jongg.

An excellent source of information can be found at, although they do not discuss the symbolism of the tile, which I am only vaguely familiar. However, I will tell you as much as I know.

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I would be very interested in learning Pai Gow (with the dominoes). I know a little about the card version (pretty boring if you ask me), but I'm always open to learning new games. I'm a game junky in general. You name it. I love the challenge of gaming (not necessarily gambling) if skill plays a big enough role in winning that it matters.

Is it a 2 player game or is it played best with more? (the link doesn't work)
Interesting Tom, I'd like to give it a try. Hagar here's the working link in his post it included the comma
Okay, Hagar, you are kinda like me. I am a game junkie also.

BTW, I think the toughest game to learn is Go. Unlike chess, the positions get more complicated as the game progresses. That is why, as far as I know, they have not been able to write a high level computer program to play against human champions.

Thanks, Jon. Everyone please use Jon's link (without the comma).

Wow. What a complicated game. Who in the world ever came up with that? I can understand that 12 dots beats 5 dots (in the real world) but when 3 dots is a pair with 6 dots and that's the best hand - it seems as if the creator is counting on his opponent to be very confused as an edge.

The game itself isn't too complicated but trying to remember the tile values and the non-matching pairs must be a pain.

And then the tie-breaker scenarios? Count the dots, use the right hand part of your number (9 beats 23), and then look at the highest ranking tile that is not one of the best tiles to break the tie :? . Holy moly.

Are you allowed to use a cheat-sheet while you play?

I'd be interested in playing around with it, but I doubt I'd be interested in getting any money involved for some time (like 20 years!) until the tile thing became very second nature.
It is a little complicated at first. You just have to play with it a little to get familiarize (I taught my son who is 6.5 how to play and he can handle the game pretty well.) Of course, it is easier to visualize when you have the tiles in your hands. Actually it is less complicated that Omaha even though each game you get 4 cards/tiles in your hand since Omaha you can make 6 different 2-card combination, but in Pai Gow you can only 3 different combo of 2 (there is only 3 different ways to set the hand.

As far as the pair rankings you just have to memorize it, but I could give you some short cuts if you are interested in learning the game (the ranking is really NOT random because each tile symbolizes something). Actually after you learn it you may think the guy who invented this was a genius. Or you may have to be Chinese to appreciate it.

Yes, don't run to the casino and start betting $25 a hand. If you don't know the game it is like playing BJ without knowing the basic strategy. However, the house or casino dealer usually has the "house way" to set your hands no matter which 4 tiles you hold. The house is not involved in the bets they just take collection from each player (up to eight) and one player is banking the game.

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The following section will be reposted on Anything Goes under "Pai Gow Anyone?" (see for more details, including basic strategy):

Hagar, regarding the pai gow tiles there is a "system" to remember the ranking of the pairs, even if you don't know the symbolisms. There are 32 tiles total and some tiles have exact doubles and some don't. The gambling game you see in the casino is one way to play this game in which each player gets 4 tiles and the players need to make 2 hands of 2 tiles each. With 4 tiles you have a choice of 3 different permutations (i.e., call the 4 tiles A, B, C, and D so you could play AB, CD; or AC, BD; or AD, BC). With 4 tiles per player you can accommodate a maximum of 8 players which one player is the bank and all other players bet against him/her.

The highest pair is 1-2 and 2-4 which is called Supreme (since the game "Pai Gow" means "Tiles Nine" or "To make nine" it is logical that supreme "pair" consists of 3 pips and 6 pips because it adds up to nine pips. The next highest pairs in descending order are all doublets with some dots painted red: 6s, 1s, 4s, then followed immediately by the pair with 1-3. Then the next ones are doublets again 5s, 3s, and 2s (this sequence of 3 is a little easier because pairs with more dots beat the ones with less dots). The next 4 are pairs with 5-6, 4-6, 1-6 and 1-5. Then the last four "pairs" are the ones which do not have mates but the pips are the same, and they go by descending order where tiles with more pips beat the ones with less.

To summarize the pair ranking

1-2 2-4 Supreme

6-6 6-6 Heaven (each tile symbolizes the Chinese zodiac of 12 animals, like the Year of the Rat,etc. Also there are 12 divisions a Chinese day instead of 24 hours in a Western system)

1-1 1-1 Earth (the 2 dots symbolizes the 2 elements of earth, namely land and water)

4-4 4-4 Man (the idea man supposes to have 8 virtues: loyalty, filial piety, kindness, compassion, trustworthiness, righteousness, peacefulness, and even temperament)

1-3 1-3 Plant or Harmony (the one red dot means "from the earth" and the 3 white dots symbolize the stalk of the rice grain. The Chinese character harmony is a homonym of the character for rice grain)

5-5 5-5 Plum Flower (the national flower of China, which consists of five petals. This flow is chosen because the plum blossoms in the winter, which symbolizes toughness of character)

3-3 3-3 Mountain (important to the survival of mankind since man gets valuable resources from the mountain such as wood for cooking fuel, game, and fruits)

2-2 2-2 Bench or House (the 4 dots look like 4 legs of a bench. They also symbolize the 4 pillars of a house)

The rest of the tiles I am not too familiar with the symbolisms so I will just list the ranking in descending order:

5-6 5-6

4-6 4-6

1-6 1-6

1-5 1-5

3-6 4-5 Mixed Nine

2-6 3-5 Mixed Eight

3-4 2-5 Mixed Seven

1-4 2-3 Mixed Five

The above are the 16 "pairs" which are the highest hands you can make.

The next rank below pairs (17th) is made out of one Heaven tile with a nine-pip tile called “Wong� which means King, such as 6-6 4-5 or 6-6 3-6

18th rank is also Wong and consists of one Earth tile with a nine-pipe tile either 1-1 4-5 or 1-1 3-6

19th and 20th ranks are called “Gong� which means Steel and consist of one Heaven tile with any eight-pip tile or one Earth tile with any eight-pip tile. Notice you have 1.5 time more chance of making Gong than Wong because there are 3 eight-pip tiles versus only 2 nine-pip ones.

If you cannot play pairs, Wong or Gong then you will try to make your hand closes to nine with your 2 two-tile hands. Any time the sum goes over 10 or 20 you eliminate the 10 column (like Baccarat) e.g. 4-6 6-3 would be a 9 and 5-5 5-6 would be a 1. 9 being the highest and zero being the lowest.

Lastly, the tiles that make the supreme pair (i.e., 1-2 and 2-4) are “wild� when you play them individually. You can play either one as a 3 or a 6, whichever number that will make your hand higher (e.g. 3-4 1-2 would be a 3 instead of a zero and 1-3 2-4 would be a 7 instead of a zero).

When you wager against the bank you match your low hand against bank’s low hand and your high hand versus the bank’s high hand. If you manage to beat both hands you win. If you are beaten on both hands then you lose. If you win one and lose one it is a tie.

When both of you and your opponent have the same number the tile breaker is the highest tile in your hand. For example if your low hand is 6-6 1-3 (6 points) and your opponent has 1-1 1-3 (also 6 points) you will win because you have a Heaven but your opponent has a Earth. The supreme pair, although wild, rank the lowest when played individual. Otherwise the ranking order for pairs is exactly the same as individual ranking.

If both players have the same point count and the same higher ranking tile then whoever is the bank wins the push. Similarly, if both players have Gong with Heaven the banker wins the push. The tie breaker does not extend to the second ranking tile. Also, the banker wins all pushes when both have zero regardless of the rank.

There you go. May be it is more than you ever want to know about the game.
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Ace - I read most of the way through the Pai Gow tutorial on-line. I understand the game - I just don't know how long it would take to remember the rankings of the tiles. It's like playing a game like Pinnocle where the 10 has more value than a K, except that it's not just one "abnormal" change.

It would be similar to saying that "I'm going to unvent a new game called 'Holdem Schmoldem'. For this game the rank of the cards is 4K7823AJQ56T. 4K is a pair and can't be beaten. 77 is the next best pair. Q5 is a pair, but ranks very low. 6T is the worst pair unless you have a snail in your pocket." Yes, a game could be constructed around these new parameters, but it would take some time to be comfortable with this new standard. It's just not intuitive.

I know much of this lack of intuitiveness comes from trying to wrap my western mind around an eastern game and not knowing and understanding the meanings of the tiles. I'd like to mess around with it, but I would need some sort of cheat sheet to keep track of the tile rankings. And I'd be v e r y slow.
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I guess you have to just go out and spend a few bucks to buy a set of tiles and visualize to get familiarize with them. A little cheat sheet in the beginning helps. Let me offer again some short cuts.

1. With the exception of the Supreme 1-2 2-4 pair. All tiles that have mates rank higher than the ones that don't.

2. Then, those ones that have mates with the exception of 1-3 1-3, the tiles that have doublets rank higher than the ones without doublets. With the doublets just remember the ones that have red dots rank higher then 1-3 1-3 and ones without red dots rank lower. Doublets with red dots 6-6 is the highest, then comes 1-1 then 4-4. Doublets with white dots only go 5-5 then 3-3 and 2-2 (i.e. the more dots the higher).

3. Then we have four more pairs (non-doublets) with mates remaining. On these just count the dots: the ones with more dots are more valuable the ones with less (i.e., in descending order 5-6, 4-6, 1-6, 1-5).

4. Lastly, only tiles without mates that can make "mixed" pairs remain. Again, the ones with more dots are ranked higher (i.e. 9 beats 8 beats 7 beats 5).

5. The ranking for single tiles (to break ties when the numbers are the same) is exactly the same as the pair ranking except the individual tiles of Supreme pair rank the lowest (exception of exception: 2-4 beats 1-4 or 2-3). The easiest way to do this is to again remember the pair ranking and this time just remember that without exception ALL the tiles that have mates rank higher than one without. And the ones without mates are ranked by the number of dots 9-8-7-6(2-4 tile)-5-3(1-2 tile)

6. Otherwise with the special hands of Wongs and Gongs, which rank below pairs and above everything else you just add up the dots. On Wongs and Kongs you just have to remember Heaven 6-6 is the tile with the most dots and Earth 1-1 is the tile with the least and you can mate each one to 9 or 8 (think naturals like in Baccarat) to make Wongs and Gongs, respectively.

7. All other hands, just add up the dots. My 6.5-year-old learn the game in less than an hour (although he needed to consult the ranking charts in the beginning and I don't think he knows it by heart just yet). Granted, he had a good teacher and he is half-Chinese.

If you really wants to learn a difficult game, try Go. Now that is a game a supercomputer can't yet beat the best human player because unlike chess the positions get more complicated as the games progress. This game was invented in China more than 1000 years ago.
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Sorry, make the origin of Go more about 2000 years than 1000 years old.

For an introduction, try:
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