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Since there has been some discussion about Pai Gow poker on our craps site, I thought it might be interesting to write a short history of the game to those who are not familiar with the game.

Pai Gow has its roots in ancient China where it was played with dominoes. No one knows exactly how old the game is, but it has goes hundreds of years back in time. The domino tiles were separated into different groups, which symbolized military and civilian units, and was a very complicated game to play.

In the late 1980's, Fred Wolf owned the Commerce Casino in California, and believed the game had great potential as a card game. He introduced it as Pai Gow poker, and the game took off immediately. It is now played all over the world as well as on line.

In 1987 Pai Gow poker started in Las Vegas casinos, and in 1988 in Atlantic City, where it has been a popular game ever since. Pai Gow played with dominoes is also popular in the larger casinos.

In Pai Gow, the dealer rolls the dice that decides which tiles are going to which player, or in many casinos, a computerized machine makes that decision. Pai Gow is Chinese for "make nine," and is still played with dominoes, whereas Pai Gow poker is a game of cards. In both games, players create a front hand and a back hand, trying to beat the dealer's two hands. Pai Gow hands are won by making high point totals (nine is a high point total), and is difficult to learn.

Pai Gow poker is rather straight forward and based on standard poker hands. Pai Gow poker is played using a standard 53 card deck, which includes the joker designated as a wild card. Players are dealt 7 cards, which are split into two hands consisting of a five card and two card hand. Both players' hands must make better hands than the dealer in order to win. If one hand wins and the other loses, then it's a tie. If the hands are equal to the dealer's then it's called a "copy" hand, and the dealer wins all "copy hands." Bets are paid 1:1, and the casinos charge a 5% commission on wins.

Pai Gow poker hands frequently end in ties, and there are many options when it comes to strategy, unlike blackjack and other poker games. One nice strategy is that players have the option to be the "banker," or dealer, and because the banker wins all "copies", the house edge drops to almost zero. The game can be played at a slow or fast pace, depending on the dealer and the players.

The dealers will also tell you the "house" way to set the hands if you are new to the game. In fact, after I taught the basics of the game to a friend of mine, I overheard him explain it to a friend of his: "It's a very easy game. The dealer deals you the cards. You show the dealer your cards. He tells you how to play them. You turn them face down. The dealer shows his cards, and then yours. That's it. You don't have to know a thing."

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