This is a popular Chinese gambling game played with one set of dominoes; do not confuse it with Pai Gow poker. Pai Gow Poker is a game created in California to get around gambling laws played with a deck of regular cards and very elaborate rules.
Pai Gow means “make nine” and it is the original version of Baccarat or Chemin de Fer.
The woodpile is four tiles high and eight tiles long. The first hand is determined by throwing three dice. Each player is dealt a stack of four tiles from the woodpile. The house starts the game as the bank, but then can pass the bank to other players, as in Baccarat.
Goal of the Game
The goal of the game is to divide the four tiles into two pairs or hands. If both your pairs outrank those held by the bank then you win your bet. If both the bank’s pairs outrank yours then you lose your bet. If one of your pairs outranks those held by the bank and the other does not then the hand is a draw and you get your money back.
Ranking Your Hand
Ranking your hand is a bit complicated, so let’s start with the easy stuff first. There are 992 possible hands if you just do the straight math, but because of the duplicate tiles and the fact that order does not matter, there are actually fewer possible hands. Numeric order has little to do with the ranking of hands; it is symbolism and not substance. The hands are scored on Ingatbola88 as follows:
The highest possible pair is the Gee Joon (“supreme pair”), which is made up of the two tiles:
4-2 and 2-1
The 4-2 and 2-1 are the two “wild cards” in the woodpile, and can be used as either a 3 or a 6 when making pairs (i.e. they substitute for each other). This is not the same rule that Western card games use, where a wild card substitutes for any card.
Under the Gee Joon are the pairs (Bo), which can be made up of matched or unmatched tiles that have the same totals. In order of rank from high to low, they are:
6-6 & 6-6 Heaven
1-1 & 1-1 Earth
4-4 & 4-4 Man
3-1 & 3-1 Goose
5-5 & 5-5 Flower
3-3 & 3-3 Long
2-2 & 2-2 Board
6-5 & 6-5 Hatchet
6-4 & 6-4 Partition
6-1 & 6-1 Long Leg Seven
5-1 & 5-1 Big Head Six
6-3 & 5-4 Jaap Gow – mixed nine
6-2 & 5-3 Jaap Bart – mixed eight
5-2 & 4-3 Jaap Chut – mixed seven
4-1 & 3-2 Jaap Ng – mixed five
There is no numeric order to this ranking, so you just have to learn them.
The next level of hands beneath the Bo are called Wongs. They are a nine paired with a double six or double one. The double six combinations outrank the double one combinations.
The third level of hands are called Gongs. They are a eight paired with a double six or double one. The double six combinations outrank the double one combinations.
If you do not have any of these hands, then add up all the pips on the two tiles and take the total, modulus ten (i.e. keep the last digit of the total as your score). This is the part that is like Baccarat.
After all of this, in the event of a tie, the ranking is settled based on individual tile values. From high to low the tiles are ranked and named:
6-3 & 5-4 Gow
6-2 & 5-3 Bot
6-1 & 5-2 Chu
4-2 Luk (part of Gee Joon)
2-1 Saam (part of Gee Joon)
The 4-2 and 2-1 tiles are scored by how they are played, but they are the lowest ranking single tiles.
Tips for Playing
About 80% of the time, you should play your hand by using the following strategy:
- Look for pairs and look for unmatched pairs which are harder to see.
- Play the 6-6 or 1-1 with any tile totaling 7, 8 or 9.
- Play the two smallest tiles that total to 7, 8 or 9.
Every hand can be played three different ways, so be careful. Getting a very good high hand can lead to a very weak low hand and result in a tie. However, a more balanced high and low hand can result in a win.
For example, assume are dealt 5-6, 3-2, 6-4, and 4-3. This can be played as:
- 5-6 & 6-4 = one; 4-3 & 3-2 = two
- 5-6 & 3-2 = six; 6-4 & 4-3 = seven
- 5-6 & 4-3 = eight; 6-4 & 3-2 = five
Clearly, option (1) is the worst hand. But (2) is better balanced than (3) even though it has a weaker low hand.