Once called the Middle Kingdom, China is an ancient country whose culture and traditions have become famous the world over. From cuisine and art to traditional medicine and games, aspects of Chinese life have penetrated or combined with today's Western world. Pai Gow poker is one example of the East and West coming together.
The roots of Pai Gow reach way back, even before the Song dynasty, which spanned several centuries from 960 to the 1200s. Played with dominoes, it is similar to poker in the sense that the goal is to create a winning hand.
Domino pairs are ranked from the best pair to the worst pair to have. The pairs in traditional Pai Gow reflect Chinese mysticism, mythology, and symbolism. The Supreme Creator, for example, is the highest pair. Civilian Pairs refer to the goose, plum flower, and Earth.
There are also Military Pairs, which take their basis from a numbered military ranking that goes from one to nine. The term Pai Gow, which means to "make nine," possibly stems from this.
Several traditional Chinese games have popped up in modern media, and Pai Gow is no exception. In writer/director David Koepp's 2012 action-thriller Premium Rush, for example, the antagonist loses his money in Pai Gow because of unsatisfactory hands and poor betting decisions. The movie shows traditional Pai Gow played in seedy Chinatown parlors in the heart of New York City, the perfect example of East meeting West.
Pai Gow has also made an appearance on the small screen. In the hit television sitcom How I Met Your Mother, there's an episode where Barney Stinson (played by Neil Patrick Harris), plays a Pai Gow-based game in a casino with several Asian men.
Similarly, an episode in the TV crime series White Collar puts the spotlight on Pai Gow. In the episode titled All In, the protagonist goes undercover to find a missing person. To do this, he impersonates a high-roller playing Pai Gow.
In 1985, California club owner Sam Torosian created a game that he called Pai Gow poker. The way he did it was to modify Chinese poker. Instead of players arranging 13 cards into three hands, Torosian's game had them arranging seven cards in two hands.
Torosian's invention was a big hit in California, Las Vegas, and eventually, abroad. Unfortunately, he did not take out a patent on the game and was thus unable to profit from Pai Gow poker's success.
Like many other poker variations, Pai Gow has successfully made the transition to the Internet gambling world. Pai Gow poker is extremely popular in online casinos in China and other Asian countries. However, there are also plenty of other gambling destinations on the Internet where players from other parts of the world can enjoy the game.
In addition, many online and mobile casinos offer a demo or trial version of the game. This is particularly helpful for beginners since it allows them to learn how to play Pai Gow poker without using—and losing—real money.