Pyramid Poker begins with the life story “Captain” Tom Franklin. He has visited countless casinos, crisscrossing the country as a professional poker player a full two decades before Chris Moneymaker ever took a seat at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event.
In fact, Franklin has amassed 203 reported live tournament cashes during a career which dates back to 1983. Even at the age of 65, Franklin hasn’t lost his edge, and he nearly added a second WSOP gold bracelet to his trophy case this summer, placing 3rd at the 2016 edition of the $1,500 2 7 Draw Lowball event.
Origins of the Game
All of this time spent in casinos over the years must have motivated Tom Franklin to take a crack at designing his own game. When an offshoot of Pai Gow Poker known as Pyramid Poker appeared at the Bellagio in 2004, Franklin was listed on official correspondence as the man marketing the product to state gaming regulators.
In 2008, the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) issued a conditional approval to Franklin and his Redgreen Gaming company for Pyramid Poker. It is not clear if Franklin eventually satisfied the state’s conditions to secure final approval.
While the fate of Franklin’s game – which presents Pai Gow Poker in a streamlined, simplified format using only three cards rather than seven – appears murky at best within the world of brick and mortar casinos. Lacking fan favorites like an escalating pay table or optional bonus side bets, perhaps Pyramid Poker was just too simple to garner widespread appeal among traditional casino gamblers.
Franklin was, however, able to convert the Pyramid Poker game for play via online casino.
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Online Version of the Game
Today, Pyramid Poker is officially licensed for use by the PlayPearls gaming software development firm, which powers a small stable of client casinos serving players worldwide.
Additionally, the global slot machine and casino game manufacturing titan International Game Technology (IGT) also produces a video poker variant known as Pyramid Poker. Other than the name, and the use of a pyramidal shape for setting the cards, IGT’s version has nothing whatsoever to do with Franklin’s creative take on Pai Gow Poker.
This page was written to provide a comprehensive guide to the Pyramid Poker game devised by Franklin more than a decade ago. Here you’ll find a detailed description of the rules and gameplay procedures, along with a useful guide to locating Pyramid Poker tables in both live and online casinos. We’ll wrap things up with a section devoted to proper strategy, helping you to understand the game’s odds and probabilities while offering a guide to playing your cards correctly.
Rules and How to Play
Because Pyramid Poker is a direct offshoot of Pai Gow Poker – using most of the same rules while slimming down the starting hands from seven cards to three – readers who aren’t all that experienced with the classic hybrid table game should head to our main page for Pai Gow Poker first.
You’ll need to know about concepts like hand setting and the “House Way” to fully understand what Pyramid Poker is all about, and Pai Gow Poker is the best place for beginners to learn.
Overview of the Game
The first difference you’ll notice between the two games is that the joker card which is traditionally used in Pai Gow Poker and its related variants have been removed.
Thus, you’ll be using a standard 52 card deck of playing cards at the Pyramid Poker tables. A six deck shoe is in play to make the dealing process more efficient.
As for the card values, basic poker rankings apply, so 2s are the lowest value, followed by 3s, 4s, and so on through 10s. The face cards are ordered Jack, Queen, King, and Aces are the deck’s highest card, and in this game, aces are always high.
How to Play Pyramid Poker
Step #1: The Player Places an Ante Bet
To begin a hand, players must put up a mandatory ante bet. You can bet whatever you like on the ante, so long as it meets or exceeds the posted table minimum.
Going forward, we’ll use a running example hand to help make certain gameplay concepts clearer. So for the ante bet, we’ll go ahead and place a $5 chip at risk, which is the standard increment used by most casual table game players.
Step #2: The Dealer delivers the Cards
When all players have anted up, the dealer will proceed to deliver three cards face down to each player, along with three cards face down to themselves. Peeking at your cards is allowed of course, but don’t attempt to share information about your hand with fellow players.
For the running example hand, we’ve been dealt the Ad Kc 9h to begin.
Step #3: The Player Chooses his Hands
Just like in Pai Gow Poker, the objective of the game is to divide your starting cards into two separate hands, which must then rank higher than the dealer’s hands. However, unlike Pai Gow Poker, which takes seven starting cards and turns them into five cards and two card hands, Pyramid Poker only gives you three cards to work with.
This means you’ll be arranging your cards into the best possible two card “high” hand and one card “low” hand. The only caveat on this hand setting process is that your two cards high hand must outrank your one card low hand.
For two card high hands, obviously any pair will outrank a single one card low hand, so even a lowly pair of 2s is “higher” than a single Ace. You can’t make straights or flushes in this game, so strings of consecutive or suited cards don’t matter in the slightest.
Let’s fall back to the running example hand to see how this all shakes out. Using our three cards, we could put the A and the K together to form a strong two cards high hand – the best unpaired two card hand possible in fact. This would leave us with a 9 as our one card low hand, which probably won’t be enough to counter the dealer’s equivalent.
Instead, we might try using the A and the 9 as our two cards high hand, which is still quite strong at ace nine high, while leaving the K as the second best possible one card low hand.
Pyramid Poker is premised on players having to make these close calls, and that’s where the fun lies. For our sake, we’ll go for balance and use the A 9 and K alignment.
Step #4: The Dealer Reveals the Cards
Once all players have set their hands, the dealer will then reveal their three cards and do the same. But rather than use their own decision-making ability, dealers in Pyramid Poker are bound by another Pai Gow Poker tradition: the House Way.
Step #5: The Dealer Plays His Cards
This term simply describes a preset system of rules which govern how dealers must set their hands. Think of the House Way like the stand/hit rules in blackjack – depending on the house, the dealer must always hit until their total reaches either a hard or soft 17, at which point they must stand. Dealers in that game can’t really decide how to play the cards, and the same holds true for Pyramid Poker.
The standard rules for the House Way can be reviewed below to see exactly how dealers will be setting their hands against you:
Pyramid Poker House Way Rules
- When holding three unpaired cards, the dealer will play the middle ranked card as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of 2s through 8s, the dealer will always play the pair as their two card hand
- When holding a pair of 9s, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is a 6 or better, otherwise, they’ll play a 9 as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of 10s, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is a 7 or better, otherwise, they’ll play a 10 as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of Jacks, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is an 8 or better, otherwise, they’ll play a Jack as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of Queens, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is a 9 or better, otherwise, they’ll play a Queen as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of Kings, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is a 10 or better, otherwise, they’ll play a King as their one card hand
- When holding a pair of Aces, the dealer will play the pair as their two card hand only when the remaining card is a Jack or better, otherwise they’ll play an Ace as their one card hand
Step #6: The Hands are Compared
After the dealer runs through the House Way to set their hands, each one will be compared to its equivalent player hand.
For the running example hand, the dealer shows Kd 10h 3c. The House Way advises them to play three unpaired cards by using the middle card as their one card hand, so the dealer plays the K 3 and 10 alignment against our A 9 and K.
Step #7: Decide the Winner and Payout
In comparing hands, the highest ranked hand wins, and all ties go to the dealer.
You’ll have to win both the high and low hands to collect on your wager in Pyramid Poker, and when you do, the payout is even money on your ante bet.
When you win only one of the hands, while losing the other, your ante bet will be returned as a push.
And when you lose both the high and the low hands to the dealer, you’ll lose your ante bet to the house as well.
In the running example hand, our A 9 beats the dealer’s K 3 for the high hand, and our K beats their 10 for the low hand. We win even money on our $5 wager, collecting a $5 profit in return.
Pyramid Poker lacks the complexity of Pai Gow Poker, but as you can see, the basic gameplay structure remains relatively intact.
Best Casinos to Play Pyramid Poker
Following the game’s 2004 debut placement at the Bellagio casino resort in Las Vegas, it doesn’t appear that Pyramid Poker ever appeared in another Nevada property. It may have landed a few temporary placements, but today, Pyramid Poker is no longer available in the Silver State.
In 2008 the state of Washington received a request from Franklin for approval by the WSGC, which was granted on a conditional basis.
Currently, the World Casino Directory lists Pyramid Poker as being available in the casinos of Renton, Washington – including Freddie’s Casino and Silver Dollar Casino.
Players living in or near Washington, and specifically Renton, have the best chance of finding Pyramid Poker tables which are still operational.
When it comes to online play, you can find Pyramid Video Poker when playing an online casino platform powered by PlayPearls software.
A relatively new entry to the online gambling industry, having been founded in 2012, PlayPearls is an unknown quantity for players at this point, mostly serving small client casinos in European markets.
Players should exercise caution when considering whether or not to put real money at risk on a PlayPearls powered online casino. You can learn about safety and reputation on our online casinos review page. With that said, the sites below currently offer Pyramid Video Poker:
- 1 Live Casino
- Bet Realm Casino
- Casino Royal Dragon
- Global Live Casino
- Lucky Live Casino
- Magic Star Casino
- Norse Bet Casino
Strategic Considerations for Pyramid Poker
For the most detailed breakdown on the odds and probabilities associated with the game, we suggest checking out Michael Shackleford’s page for Pyramid Poker on his Wizard of Odds website.
Shackleford is known as one of the casino gambling industry’s most trusted advisors, a talented game theorist, and mathematician who computes optimal strategies for every table game, video poker variant, and gambling game under the sun.
According to Shackleford’s calculations, Pyramid Poker can be played optimally using the basic hand setting strategy advice shown below:
Pyramid Poker Hand Setting Strategy
- When you hold three unpaired cards, you should generally play the middle ranked card as your one card hand
- When you hold three unpaired cards, you should play the lowest ranked card as your one card hand only when your three cards starting hand is formed by the following cards:
- 2 / 3 / 5 or higher
- 2 / 4 / Q or higher
- When you hold a pair plus a singleton, you should generally play the pair as your two card hand. The following starting hands are exceptions to this rule
- 2, 3, or 4 plus one pair of Js or better
- 5, 6, or 7 plus one pair of Qs or better
- 8 or 9 plus one pair of Ks or better
- 10 or J singleton and one pair of As
By using this simple strategy for setting your one and two card hands, you’ll create game conditions which offer a house edge of 3.53 percent.
Considering that the house edge rate on traditional Pai Gow Poker stands at just 1.46 percent, the sound strategy would seem to dictate skipping over Pyramid Poker altogether. After all, you’ll still be playing the same basic game, starting with random cards and trying to set them properly, but you’ll lose far less over the long run.
The Pyramid Poker game was designed to appeal to recreational gamblers who prefer easy decisions and low volatility. If you prefer to approach casino games from a strategic standpoint alone, chances are high that you’ll quickly grow tired of the straightforward hand setting process, flat payout scheme, and pushing on your bets one-third of the time.