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Best of Alan Krigman

Gaming Guru

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Why would anyone “take the bank” at Pai Gow Poker, rather than just bet more?

27 May 2013

Question: At Pai Gow Poker, you can "take the bank" – facing off against everyone else at the table. This means you're in a position to win a lot on a single hand. But you could also lose a lot. Why would you do this, rather than just bet more money?

Answer: Bankers, you or the house, have a slight edge at Pai Gow Poker. Here's why. "Copies" – opposing hands of equal poker rank – go to the Banker. That is, the rank of a Player's hand must exceed that of the Banker to win; a Banker's hand may copy or exceed that of the player to win. Accordingly, there are more situations in which Bankers than Players can win.

The actual edge enjoyed by the Banker depends on the skill with which participants set their respective two- and five-card hands. With competent parties, copies can be expected about 2.5 percent of the time. However, bets are decided only when both the five- and two-card hands win or lose; if there's one of each, the bet is a push. Therefore, half the copies win money for the Banker and half push – so the natural edge is half the copy advantage, or 1.25 percent. Against weak players, this natural edge would be augmented by an advantage resulting from opponents' poor tactics.

There's another piece to the puzzle. The house takes a commission or "rake" – usually 5 percent – from the Banker's net win on a round. This effectively reduces the Banker's edge by an amount dependent on the details of the game. Typical final edge is about 0.3 percent – roughly the same as the house gets in a six-deck blackjack game from a bettor who follows perfect basic strategy.
Alan Krigman

Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.
Alan Krigman
Alan Krigman was a weekly syndicated newspaper gaming columnist and Editor & Publisher of Winning Ways, a monthly newsletter for casino aficionados. His columns focused on gambling probability and statistics. He passed away in October, 2013.