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Strategies for Pai-Gow Poker and Carribean Draw

30 May 2002

New table games in the last decade have been dominated by poker-based games that are easy to learn and have a familiar feel to anyone who knows the ranking of poker hands.

Easy as they may be, it takes a little skill and knowledge to get the most out of these games. Recently, we checked out basic strategies for Caribbean Stud, Let It Ride and Three Card Poker. This week, we'll stick with poker-based games for strategies in pai-gow poker and Caribbean Draw.

In pai-gow poker, the highest possible hand is five Aces, including the joker that may be used either as an Ace or to complete flushes or straights. But if you're dealt five Aces in your seven cards, the best play is to break them up, using three Aces in the five-card "high" hand and two in the two-card "second-high" hand. Keeping the five Aces together risks losing a weak two-card hand.

With flushes, straights or straight flushes, we gladly take a strong five-card hand while making the remaining two cards our second-high hand.

On lesser hands, if we have no pairs, we put the highest-ranking card in our five-card hand and the second- and third-ranking cards in the two-card hand.

With one pair, we keep the pair in the five-card hand, and make the two highest remaining cards our two-card hand. We split up two pair, with the higher pair in the five-card hand and the lower in the two-card hand. With three pair, we make the highest the two-card hand, with the other two pair making a strong five-card hand.

We keep three of a kind together, while making a two-card hand of our two highest remaining cards. But we split up full houses, with the three of a kind in the five-card hand and the pair in the two-card hand.

We keep together four of a kind if the cards are 2s through 6s. But with four 7s or higher, we're more aggressive, keeping a pair in the high hand and moving a pair over to the second-high hand.

I get frequent e-mail on Caribbean Draw, and published a strategy not too long ago in response to a letter from a reader. But the questions keep coming, so let's go over this once more.

The start of basic strategy is to make the bet of twice the ante in every hand. Never fold.

You then may discard up to two cards and draw replacements. Use this basic strategy for drawing cards:

  • Royal flushes, straight flushes, fours of a kind, full houses, flushes: These are no-brainers-hold all five cards.
  • Straights: Hold all five cards unless they include King-Queen-Jack-10 of the same suit.
  • Three of a kind: Hold the triplets and discard the other two cards.
  • Two pairs: Hold both pairs and draw one card.
  • Pair of Aces or Kings: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card royal flush or straight flush. Otherwise, hold the pair and the highest odd card and discard the other two.
  • Pair of Queens: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card royal or straight flush. Also break up the pair to draw one card to Ace-King-Queen-9 or Ace-King-Queen-8. Otherwise, hold the Queens plus the highest odd card.
  • Pair of Jacks: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card royal or straight flush, or four-card flushes with the two highest cards being Jack-10 or better. Otherwise, hold the Jacks plus the highest odd card.
  • Pair of 10s or 9s: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card royal or straight flush or any four-card flush. Otherwise, hold the pair plus the highest odd card.
  • Pair of 8s: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card straight flush, any four-card flush or a four-card straight, 9 high or better, that is open on both ends. Also, discard the pair to draw to a three-card royal. Otherwise, hold the pair and the highest odd card.
  • Pair of 7s or lower: Break up the pair to draw to a four-card straight flush, four-card flush, any four-card open-ended straight, three-card royal, Jack-10-9 or 10-9-8 of the same suit. Also break up the pair to hold 9-8-7 of the same suit if neither a Jack nor a 5 is being discarded. Otherwise, hold the pair and the highest odd card.
  • Non-winning hands with no pairs: Hold any of the following, listed in order of preference: four-card royal flush, four-card straight flush, four-card straight, four-card open-ended straight, three-card royal, three-card straight flush-including inside and double-inside draws-three-card flush or four-card inside straight. Otherwise, hold your three highest cards.
Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

Winning Tips for Casino Games

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski