Pai Gow Poker is increasing in popularity, but far from eclipsing its tile-based predecessor, it's encouraging more and more players to give it a try: and London is a great place to sample this ancient Chinese game.
If you're not already familiar with the format, Pai Gow tiles is played with a set of 32 dominoes. After putting down a stake, players are dealt two pairs of tiles. These must then be arranged into two hands, both of which add up to as close to nine as possible, with the aim of getting closer than the dealer. If both pairs do so, the player wins at even money, if one pair wins and the other loses it's a push, if both lose, the player loses.
At the moment, London Clubs International is the only casino group offering Pai Gow tiles to its punters, meaning you'll only find it in two venues:
Passers-by may know this casino primarily for its connecting cinema, which often plays host to the glamorous film premieres that spill into Leicester square. However, the side entrance opens straight into the heart of London's bustling Chinatown and, as anyone familiar with Chinese customs will know, you only ever enter a casino through the side or back entrances if you want to leave with the shirt on your back.
Often frequented by Chinatown locals, the casino puts the ancient game of Pai Gow tiles in pride of place among its games. Entry is free, players don't have to become members in order to indulge, and the helpful staff are ready to explain the finer points of the game.
Located on the opposite corner of Leicester Square, the Hippodrome Casino has been regularly re-purposed for use as a theatre, a jazz club and a nightclub during its 114 year history, before finally being restored to its original 1900 design for the princely sum of £40m in 2012.
Again, there are no membership requirements and the dress code is relaxed (though patrons tend to be on the smart side of casual). Patrons can also partake in a range of entertainment that includes cabaret theatre and cocktail bars alongside three floors of gaming.
LCI's third venue, the Golden Nugget, closed in February 2014, denying gamblers a third space to play Pai Gow, but with the company reporting successful take-up following the game's introduction, expect other casino operators to follow their lead soon.
In the meantime, you can practise your Pai Gow Poker skills online, or sample something more familiar in the form of Pai Gow Poker over at Winner Casino.