Pai Gow Poker is a popular game in many gambling jurisdictions, but nowhere is it more popular than in the larger California card rooms where it is often called Double Hand Poker. Under certain conditions, the game can be beat by a well bankrolled team. Most large California card rooms have teams called “syndicates” or “corporations” operating in them for exactly this purpose. Optimal Strategy for Pai Gow Poker provides the definitive information on what conditions the game can be beaten, and what strategies to employ to maximize one’s profits or minimize one’s losses.
Conceptually, Pai Gow Poker is a simple game. Each player, and someone designated as the banker (which may be the casino or another player), gets seven cards. These are arranged into two hands, one of five cards, one of two cards. The only requirement is that each player’s five card hand must beat their two card hand (for example, one cannot have AK975 in the five card hand and 22 in the two card hand). For each player, these hands are compared against the banker. If both hands of one player beat both hands of the banker, the appropriate person wins. If one hand wins and one loses, then it’s a push. If one of the hands exactly ties that of another player, it is considered a win for the banker. Finally, the casino is always required to set their hand according to a moderately complex set of rules. While it’s not known to all that many Pai Gow Poker players, what the house uses are not the optimal hand setting rules, those are far more complex.
In the beginning of the book, Wong discusses what the house edge is for Pai Gow Poker and how one can overcome it. He includes examples for both California and Nevada style casinos. He is well informed here, but I think this information could have been expanded to provide more examples, including how much one needs to bank to make up for varying California house drops. There’s enough information in the book to figure it out, but I think a chart or more examples would have been awfully handy. In most larger card rooms there are “corporations” banking the game. Wong mentions these organizations, but very little is said about how they operate. Information on who is in charge of what, how much they’re making, how they’re set up, and what their relationship is with the house would be a fine addition to this book.
The bulk of the book is devoted to Pai Gow ligaz11 Poker strategy. This is done in the sort of excruciating detail that Wong is famous for. Without a doubt, this is the definitive work in print on the optimal strategy for playing or banking (the strategies are occasionally subtly different) Pai Gow Poker. In fact, the strategy is so complex, that there are probably few people in the world who are familiar with every detail. Fortunately, Wong also provides a simplified strategy which is still better than the strategy the dealer uses and is only a little more complex. The book concludes with a quiz with some practice hands, which I think is quite valuable for the reader.
Had it been up to me, I think I would have started the strategy section of the book with the casino strategy, then presented the “simplified” strategy (highlighting differences against the casino strategy), and then presented the full-on optimal strategy. Unfortunately, the casino strategy isn’t even presented in its entirety in the book, although allusions are made to it in various places. Therefore, this book isn’t very good for the casual player who wants to at least learn how not to embarrass themselves, or for someone who wants to learn to deal the game. However, for the serious or professional Pai Gow Poker player, this book is absolutely required reading. Again, Wong has written the pinnacle of information on another gambling topic, it’s just a lot more than the casual gambler is likely to want to digest.
This is the definitive work for the serious or professional Pai Gow Poker player. However, it’s an awful lot more than the purely recreational player is going to want to tackle. While I would have liked to have seen a description of the casino strategy, more information on one’s edge against the house, and more details of the operation of Pai Gow Poker “corporations”, this book is far and away the most thorough presentation on the topic of playing Pai Gow Poker, but it is for the advanced student only.