Understanding how pai gow tiles work

The Chinese, being a very ancient civilization, has given great contributions to the modern world. They have imparted on us, among others, paper, the sundial, teas, herbal medicines and even developments in the processing of iron and steel. The importance of their contributions to the present day world cannot be denied.

There is another area that the Chinese have given to, and that is in entertainment and recreation. They are responsible for the kite, mah jong and pai gow. This last item is the topic of this article.

Pai gow is a tile game played by a maximum of eight players, one of whom is designated as dealer and thus plays against all the rest. The dealer position is rotated after two turns, and may be declined by any player.

Pai gow tiles are very similar to the modern day dominoes, and are in fact its precursor. The dots are painted either red or white, although the colors do not bear any relevance. A games requires a full set of pai gow tiles numbering 32, composed of 11 matching and five non-matching pairs, and three dice.

Each player is given four tiles which he must then pair up into two sets, one a high hand and another a low hand. The hands are then compared against the dealer hands to determine the winner. Both hands of one party must win against the other (i.e., both player hands must beat the dealer, or both dealer hands must beat the player) for a victor to be declared. Otherwise, it is termed a push or tie.

The winning hand is based on a very definite set of rankings, but may be separated into six groups. The first is the Gee Joon or the Supreme Pair, composed of a six and a three. As a pair, they rank highest. When played separately, they act as wild tiles, with each playing either a six or a three. The next rank is for matching pairs of pai gow tiles, or Bo, of which there are 11 in the set. Third is the unmatched pairs, of which there are four. Next is the Wong, then the Gong, then Combinations.

This game has some interesting features, one of which is that the order in which the hands are played against the dealer is very important because not all hands may be played. This can happen when the bank cannot cover, i.e., the dealer's bankroll runs out even before all the players have competed. Also, one player may bet on another player's hand, on top of his own. This is known as backline betting.

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