Call Danny Tanner! Full House, baby!

Quick word of caution: this post involves a very intriguing hand of Pai Gow Poker that took place on a table I was banking earlier tonight. Unless you know how PGP is played, you’re probably not going to have any idea what the hell I’m talking about. But still – it’s such an unusual hand that I had to share it with you guys.


So I’m giving someone a break towards the end of my shift. The bank is on seat 3 (we always sit in seat 1), and he invites me to go partners with him. (This is known as going “kum-kum”. Are we done giggling? Good. Let’s continue.) Between the two of us, there’s $185 in the bank, and there’s about $220 worth of action on the table.

So the hands are dealt out, and once all the players have set their hands, the bank opens the following:

2 2 Q Q Q A K

A Queens-over-Deuces full house, with an Ace-King kicker. House way is to play the pair of deuces in front, trip Queens in back. But the player has his heart set on playing AK in front, full house in back. Unfortunately for him, the bank doesn’t cover the table, and since we cover about $45 behind him, it defaults to house way – which a woman betting $175 on seat 7 is intent on making sure is the case. Sure enough, she’s got Tens in front, Trip Aces in back, which takes a nice chomp out of the bank.

After the person I’m breaking returns, I talk to a fellow co-worker who’s familiar with Optimal Way (a more aggressive way to set hands that’s used on the VIP tables and private games), if the hand would be played any different. He says it wouldn’t. Apparently, with a full house and an AK, you add the ranks of the pair together to half the rank of the trips, and if they equal less than 10, then you play the AK in front. In this case, 2 + 2 + (12 / 2) = 10, so it stays as a pair-trips combo.

Honestly, I don’t see the logic. The advantage the house has in Pai Gow is the “Copy Lose” rule – meaning that any tie, in either the front or back, goes to the bank hand. This is an enormous advantage if you have an AK in front; it essentially freezes out any player who doesn’t have at least Pair-Pair. The difference between setting AK in front and Deuces in front is pretty small, because the latter already makes it so that 90% of the hands you usually see in the game can do no better than push. Meanwhile, fortifying trips with a pair to make it a full house makes the hand all but bulletproof, especially with AK in front. The only hand that could possibly beat AK-Full House is Pair-Bigger Full House or Pair-Quads. And since both of those are jackpot hands, we’d know someone would have it because they’d be fishing out their drivers’ licenses to give to the floorman.

It’s made even more puzzling because of another example that the co-worker posed to me. He gave an example of AK, a pair of 3s, and the Joker (the last two cards are immaterial,) and asked me how I’d set it. After thinking about it for a couple seconds, I went with AK-Trip Threes, and I was right. 33-AA, while still a strong hand, leaves an opening for Two Pair in the back to fight us off. AK-333, however, is a lot harder to push away, while not sacrificing much in the front. It confounds me, then, why they wouldn’t play it in the same fashion when the pair is even smaller and the resulting back hand is stronger.

I’m guessing that the reason it’s played Pair-Trips is because both House Way and Optimal Way are used both in cases of playing as the banker or as a player (in the case of color buys). In that case, having Deuces in front would probably be a decent sacrifice, because it’s quite a bit less likely that the bank is going to have a pair in front than AK. But still – if the point of Optimal Way is to play aggressively, I just can’t see how you’d play that hand the way it ended up.

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3 thoughts on “Call Danny Tanner! Full House, baby!

  1. usasatsui

    Even playing the way the guy wanted to play it, the bank still would have pushed.

    Anyways, yeah, given those cards, there’s no way I would have played it house-way, but that’s a rather unusual full house, since the pair was low and the kickers were high. But usually, house-way is a better way to play a full house…for a good example, look at the lady who won. I’m guessing her two kicker cards weren’t face cards.

    Remember the house-way chart (and probably the optimal-way one, I’m not too sure about that one, it’s new to me) is supposed to take any sort of thought out of it for the dealer, to keep the game fair. The skill of the dealer has no bearing on the game. Kind of like how blackjack dealers hit on 16, stay on 17. It usually gives the house the edge, but sometimes the rules force the house into a sub-par hand. That’s life.

    …and I thought in Pai Gao, a joker only played as an Ace, unless it filled a flush or straight.

    Reply
  2. jiggery_pokery

    take any sort of thought out of it for the dealer, to keep the game fair. The skill of the dealer has no bearing on the game

    Which, while the only reasonable way to organise the game in practice, does raise an interesting question. Tim suggests that there are circumstances where players getting their ID out to claim a jackpot hand would, effectively, offer a considerable tell on the players’ hands. How different a game would Evil Pai Gow, in which dealers are permitted to use their initiative in setting their hands differently, be? (Admittedly, it would take all of two or three dealer extra victories before the players would start mis-signalling good hands when they think that aggressive play from the dealer would actually work in the players’ favour, but it would put a bit more thought into things.)

    Reply
  3. loogaroo

    Even playing the way the guy wanted to play it, the bank still would have pushed.

    I’m sure the other player would’ve been quite happy pushing as opposed to losing about 70% of his bank, which is what happened.

    Remember the house-way chart (and probably the optimal-way one, I’m not too sure about that one, it’s new to me) is supposed to take any sort of thought out of it for the dealer, to keep the game fair. The skill of the dealer has no bearing on the game. Kind of like how blackjack dealers hit on 16, stay on 17. It usually gives the house the edge, but sometimes the rules force the house into a sub-par hand. That’s life.

    It should be noted that had his bank covered the table, he would be allowed to set the bank hand however he saw fit. You see it a lot when the hand is something like a choice between Q3-Straight or KJ-QQ; a lot of player-bankers will go with the latter to try and win hands that the former would push.

    Also, the rule isn’t necessarily that if the player-banker doesn’t cover the table, it automatically defaults to House Way: whoever has the most action makes decision; in a kum-kum bank, the player with the bank plaque decides. Since he didn’t cover, we had more action, hence we have the decision, which in the lower limit tables is House Way. If this were on a VIP table, we would be playing it Optimal Way.

    and I thought in Pai Gao, a joker only played as an Ace, unless it filled a flush or straight.

    Depends on the casino. In Vegas, it’s a bug (what you described). In SoCal card rooms, it’s totally wild. Hence, if we open something like K Q J 9 5 4 ?, House Way is KJ-QQ.

    Reply

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