Take a walk through the Asian games room at a large casino sometime and you’ll see a different mix than on the main casino floor. Baccarat is a must, and operators mix and match from a list that includes pai-gow tiles, Pai-Gow Poker and sic bo — along with a little blackjack or craps.
A newer game that sometimes claims a spot in these rooms is called Asia Poker, which recently added Atlantic City’s Tropicana to its outlets. Asia Poker has similarities to Pai-Gow Poker, but you must divide seven cards into three hands instead of two.
Here’s how it works:
As in pai-gow poker, a 53-card deck is used. The extra card is a joker that may be used to complete a straight, flush, straight flush, royal flush or as an Ace.
There is no multistage betting here, as in Three Card Poker or other relatively new poker-based games. You make one bet, then receive seven cards face down.
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You then must arrange the cards into a one-card low hand, a two-card medium hand and a four-card high hand. The low card may not outrank the medium or high hand, and the medium hand may not outrank the high hand.
The high hand uses the usual poker hand rankings. Pairs outrank high-card hands, two pairs outrank pairs, and so on. However, there are no full houses.
Medium hands are ranked only as pairs or high-card hands, with no flushes or straights.
Low hands are decided on a high card wins basis.
The dealer sets his hand according to a house way.
You win and collect an even-money payoff on your bet if you beat the dealer in at least two of the three hands. Otherwise you lose. If you win one hand, lose one and tie one, the dealer wins — that’s how the house gets its 4.82-percent edge.
As in Pai-Gow poker, you usually want to make the hands with fewer cards as strong as possible. However, you must be careful not to use a hand with fewer cards stronger than a hand with more cards.
For example, if you’re dealt a hand with an Ace, a pair of Kings, and Queen-10-7-5 of mixed suits, you might be tempted to make the low hand an unbeatable Ace and the medium hand a nearly unbeatable pair of Kings.
However, that would make the high hand Queen-10-7-5, a Queen-high hand that would be outranked by both the medium and low hands.
So in that hand, you would have no choice but to put the pair of Kings in the high hand. You’d want to put the Ace in the middle hand to give yourself the best chance of winning there and to be certain of outranking the low hand. And the Queen itself would give you a strong low hand.
Most decisions won’t be that difficult. If you’d like a guide, look over the house way of setting the hands at Michael Shackelford’s Wizard of Odds, WizardOfOdds.com.
In a pinch, you can always ask the dealer to set your hand the house way.
BONUS BET: Casinos that offer Asia Poker usually include an optional bonus bet.
There are several different pay tables available, but all top out at 5,000-1 for four 8s plus three of a kind. The lowest payoff is 2-1 for a straight, and all straights or better are paid.
There is one lower-ranked hand that is a special case. You’ll get a nice 10-1 payoff on a 9-high hand — no pairs, no straight. Depending on the rest of the pay table, house edges range from 5.8 to 8.4 percent.
Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter (@GrochowskiJ).