About Pai Gow Poker: Its History & Rules

Pai gow poker has an interesting history. Some would even say sad.

Like most card games the origin of pai gow poker is unknown, and often debated. What we do know is that it’s a variation of pai gow tiles, a game made popular in China.

The person that takes credit for creating pai gow poker is Sam Torosian. Not everyone agrees with that, but what is agreed upon is that Torosian is responsible for how popular the game is today.


More About Sam and The Creation of Pai Gow Poker

Sam Torosian was a business man. He bought his casino in 1984-54 for $750,000. The purchase came with dozens of gaming tables, and more than 750 employees. But most nights he had only enough customers to keep a few tables running.

So his challenge during that time, like many other California casinos, was to bring in enough customers to save his casino.

Part of the problem, though, was that the laws at the time only permitted 3 games; draw poker, low ball and panguingue.

One day Torosian chatted with a Filipino poker player. The player told him about a game called puy soy. The idea behind puy soy is that players are dealt 13 cards with the objective of creating 3 poker hands. Those hands play against the dealer’s.

The game sounded too slow to Torosian. But it sparked an idea; what if players made 2 hands instead, one with 5 cards and the second with 2?

He ran the game against several people, including now deceased Chief Frank Fording, a local police offer. The chief liked the game, which encouraged Torosian to try it out in his casino, despite the current laws.

Torosian decided to gamble, and launched a pai gow poker game the following Friday night on 2 tables. It was packed. The following Friday 30 days were running.

The game took off, and it wasn’t long before it made it’s way onto the Las Vegas strip, and then the rest of the world.

The Sad Part…

What makes this story sad is that Sam Torosian had the opportunity to patent the game. However, he received advice from poker player and author, Mike ‘Mad Genius’ Caro, that anything done with a deck of cards was public domain. He received similar advice from a lawyer.

Both were wrong.

Unfortunately, there is a 1-year window for new games to be patented before being entering public domain territory, which is what happened with pai gow poker.

It’s estimated that this poor advice / choice cost Sam regular monthly royalty checks from all casinos that offer it, in the range of $70,000, or more, per month.


How to Play Pai Gow Poker (Rules)

Pai gow poker is a simple game. Here are the rules:

  • Pai gow poker is played with 53 cards. One card is a joker, which serves as a semi-wild card. It can be used as an ace, or to complete straights or flushes. In some variations and casinos, the joker is completely wild.
  • Once bets have been placed, each player is dealt 7 cards. When it is your turn to act, you need to separate the 7 cards into two poker hands. One will contain 5 cards, and the other 2 cards.
  • The 2 card hand (referred to as the hand in front) must not be better than the 5 card hand.For example, you cannot have a k high 5 card hand in back, while having a pair of aces up front. You want to be careful, because if you make this mistake in a live game, you may automatically lose your bet.
  • The 5 card hand will follow standard poker hand rankings. In some casinos, the best hand is an ace high straight, while at others it’s a wheel (ace through 5). You’ll want to double check before playing.
  • Once you make your hand (or have the dealer do it for you), the dealer will flip over his cards and set them according to ‘the house way,’ which are specific rules that the banker needs to follow. The house rules varies from one casino to the next.
  • Now the player’s hand is compared to the dealer’s. In order for you to win outright, both of your hands must beat the dealers. If one hand is better, and the other hand loses, your overall hand is a push (you get your bet back). If both of the dealer’s hands beat yours, then they win.
  • The house will only take a cut when the player wins outright. The commission is 5 percent, although this will vary from casino to casino. For this reason pai gow poker is a low risk/odds game.
  • Players may also choose to bank in live games, although they often decline. Banking is not an option for players online.