Devoted Solely to the Proper Way to Play Two Pair
Edward D. Collins
|One of my
favorite casino games is Pai Gow Poker. Pai
Gow is a form of poker amongst many different variations of the game you
can find in actual casinos and online.
It is a surprisingly
enjoyable combination of the Chinese game Pai Gow, and poker. Although
the house edge is not as low as blackjack (which is probably my
favorite casino game), nor is it as low as craps or Baccarat, the house
edge in Pai Gow Poker is still a somewhat respectable 2.84%
(approximate) against you. (Several other popular casino games
and betting propositions are far worse.)
Because of the somewhat slow pace and the large number of pushes, your bankroll often lasts a long time. It is relaxing, socializing game and if you're a poker fan, I suggest giving it a try.
The following information on this page assumes you already know how Pai Gow Poker is played, as it is played in the casinos of Las Vegas. If you don't know how the game is played I suggest you first visit one of the many websites that explain the rules before proceeding any further.
Note that this page is devoted solely to the proper way to play two pair. And not just any two pair, but two pair that doesn't also include the possibility of a straight or a flush.
Since the chances of getting two pair occurs often quite often (about 22% of the time - compare this to the chances of getting three of a kind, which is 5%, or a full house, which is less than 2%) it undoubtedly is the most frequently dealt hand which requires a "non obvious" decision. The dilemma is simple... should I keep my two pair together in my five-card hand, or should I split them up, and use the lower pair as my two-card hand?
Most of the time the
answer depends upon not just on the specific pairs you have, but on the
other cards in your hand.
|The far left
column indicates the high pair in the player's hand. The
very top row indicates the low pair. The ranks given in
the cells are the minimum two cards needed for your two-card
hand, if you want to keep your two pair together in your five-card
A few examples:
|A pair of
kings and a pair of fives should always be split. (SPL is short
for split and this means to break up your two pair - use the two kings
in your five-card hand and the pair of fives in your two-card hand.)
If you want to keep a pair of queens and a pair of deuces together, you need at least an Ace-8 for your two-card hand. (A-7 or A-3, for example, are not enough but A-J or A-K would be fine.)
A pair of eights and a pair of threes should also be kept together, providing you are able to create a two-card hand of at least K-5.
|Now, how in
the world does the average player memorize that table? The task
seems rather formidable! And do you want some bad news? The
above table assumes you're the player. There is a
different table to memorize if you're the banker!
(I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. When I first started playing PaiGow Poker, a dozen or so years ago, and saw how eager the house was willing to help you set your hand, I immediately suspected the proper playing strategy for the house, which wins all copies, was not necessarily the proper playing strategy for the player. Turns out I was right.)
Fortunately, the differences between the banker table and player table are quite minor, and since most of the time when playing Pai Gow Poker you're going to be the player, for the purposes of this discussion we can direct our attention solely to the player chart.
make a few modifications to the table without changing its requirements.
The above table indicates that if you're dealt a pair of tens and a pair of fives, you need an A-3 or better in your two card hand, in order to keep you two pair together in your five-card hand. Well, if you have an ace, then by default the lowest possible ace you will use in your two-card hand will be at least A-3! For example, if you're dealt 10-10-5-5-A-2-3, if you keep your two pair together, then of course you're going to use the ace and the three (not the A-2) as your two-card hand. So A-3 in the table, in all cells, is really the same thing as saying "any ace." You can't help but put at least an A-3 there!
Likewise with A-4, K-3, and K-4, wherever they may occur in the table. For example, if you're dealt a pair of sevens and a pair of threes, the table requires a minimum of a K-4 needed as your two-card hand. Again, if your hand is 7-7-3-3-K, you have to have at least a four. How could you not? The lowest possible 7-7-3-3-K hand is 7-7-3-3-K-4-2. If you decided to keep your two pair together, you're not going to play 7-7-3-3-4, K-2. You would, of course, play 7-7-3-3-2, K-4.
What this means is, we can slightly simplify the chart by removing all of the second card requirements that are meaningless, as described above.
|So now, for
example, a pair of fives and a pair of fours require a queen in your
hand in order to keep your pair together... any queen at all, not Q-3
as the first table indicates, since by default, the lowest possible
5-5-4-4-Q hand has a three!
Let's make a few more,
If you have two pair but your three odd cards don't include at least a queen, you should split your pair.
|Not bad, but
it's still a lot more than the recreational Pai Gow Poker player is
willing to memorize!
Let's continue. Let's make a few more concessions, specifically, modifying the highlighted cells below. In doing so, you will be able to utilize a simple method that will make it extremely easy to know what your action should be for every cell!
|All of the minimum requirements for the above highlighted two pair hands will be stepped up exactly one notch. If A-K was required before, now that's an automatic split. The two K-Q requirements (the highest possible king) now becomes any ace, the one Q-J requirement now becomes a any king, etc. A few others will be stepped up too. A-Q also becomes a pair, K-J becomes an ace, Q-10 becomes a king, etc. Let's make all of these adjustments and lets color-code our table.|
we're getting somewhere! A definite pattern is starting to
emerge! In fact, you can now use the following method to
determine your action.
Add up the value of the two cards that make up your two pair.
That's it! We're done!
Thus, 10-10-5-5-K-Q-J is not
good enough to keep your two pair together, since K-Q in your two card
hand does not meet the requirement. You need at least an ace.
works very well in most all cases, and I find it extremely easy!
quickly review everything we've learned.
Two pair with aces as the top pair should always be split up. (This is actually easy to remember, especially if you play blackjack, since a pair of aces should always be split in that game too!)
All two pair with kings as the top pair should almost always be split up, especially kings & threes (a total that falls short of 17 by one). The one exception is kings & deuces, but note this two pair requires the highest possible ace, A-Q. (Most of the time when you have kings & deuces, you're not ALSO going to have an A-Q, so you'll be splitting them up anyway.)
In order to keep all other two pair hands together, it will require either an ace, a king, or a queen in your two-card hand. If you don't have at least a queen, you don't have to total your hand or go any further... simply split up your two pair.
Add up the total of your two pair, as described above. If the total is 17 or greater, split the two pair. A total of 12 thru 16 requires an ace in your two-card hand, a total of 8 thru 11 requires at least a king and the few hands that total 7 points or below require at least a queen.
Three notable exceptions involve the total of 17 when it consists of jacks & sixes, tens & sevens, and nines & eights. Don't be so fast to split these, as our rule indicates. If you have any ace at all, keep your tens & sixes and nines & eights together. And if you have at least A-10, keep your jacks & sixes together.
Another exception worth noting is queens & threes and queens & fours. Our method says all you need is an ace in your two-card hand, but in reality you need a moderately strong ace.
a color-coded table, as a GIF file, that can
be used as your Windows wallpaper (1,024 by 768 resolution). If
shows the original table, and my modified table. (The few
exceptions worth noting are marked in my table.) You are welcome
to download it and use it as a study aid.
Good luck and happy