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How To Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker or double-hand poker is an Americanised version of the classic Pai Gow game played in China for many centuries. The traditional Pai Gow, however, is not a card-based game but is played using 32 dominoes. The poker version of this game is played using a 52 card deck plus a joker. The significant difference between Pai Gow poker vs. regular poker is the playing structure. While most players compete against each other on the casino floor, this game forces players to compete against the dealer. Each table can have multiple players, but their results do not affect the winning or losing of your hand. The game can be very tricky to understand, but our guide will ensure that each step gets thoroughly explained with ease.


The main objective of each player on the Pai Gow table is to arrange their cards in two hands with the sole purpose of beating the Banker’s hands. Each player will get seven cards, of which they have to make two sets – one of 5 and a pair. The player’s five-card hand and two-card hand should consistently rank more than the Banker’s hand to win the round. If one hand ranks precisely the same as the Banker’s hand, it is considered a tie (copies). The Banker thus wins all copy hands. The winner of the winning hand gets more money while the losing hand loses all the wagered money.

Overview Of Playing Pai Gow

Let’s look at the overview of Pai Gow to grasp the concept of this game with ease. The game involves five steps as follows:

Step 1: Setting A Budget

Players can get swept up in the heat of the moment; therefore, it is essential to set up a budget to avoid any significant financial loss. Most seasoned gamblers understand the effects of going overboard. Thus setting a predetermined budget lets you enjoy the game without losing much.

Step 2: Buying Chips

Your next step before starting the game is exchanging your money for the chips. To get access to the chips, place the money on the table. The dealer will then replace the money with the chips.

Step 3: Placing Bets

Pai Gow requires players to place their bets inside a neatly marked chip circle on the table. The dealer acknowledges everyone’s bet before moving forward. Once you have decided the amount, place the chips inside the ring. After every player on the table has placed their bet, the dealer shakes the dice cup to find who receives the first card on the table.

Step 4: Arranging The Hands

The dealer distributes seven cards per player. After looking at these face-down cards, the players need to form two sets – one hand of five cards and another hand of the remaining two cards. This five-card hand is called a rear hand, while the two-card hand is called a front hand. The backhand of five cards should always have the highest poker score than the front hand.

Note: The two-card hand will either constitute a pair or no pair. If your hand makes no pair, then the score is thoroughly based on the numeric value of each card with Aces high.

Step 5: Comparing The Hands

Once the player has arranged their hand, the dealer does the same thing to compare the hands. The dealer then visits each player and compares the player’s hands with his own. The results of the comparison decide who wins.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Ranking

Now that you are clear with the basics of the game, you need to learn the poker hand ranking to win the game. Based on these hand rankings, a player can arrange their seven cards to compete against the Banker.

Five Aces

If the set has four Aces and a Joker, then the hand is called a Five Aces hand. For example- A-A-A-A-Joker, here a Joker is considered as an Ace.

Royal Flush

The hand is a Royal Flush when a player has an Ace-high five-card hand of the same suit in proper numerical sequence. For example- 10-J-Q-K-A of the same group like hearts, clubs, diamonds, or spades.

Straight Flush

A Straight Flush has five cards of an identical suit in an ascending numerical sequence. For example- 4-5-6-7-8 of diamonds are considered a Straight Flush.


A Four-of-a-kind happens when you have four cards of exactly equal rank. If the dealer and player both have a four-of-a-kind hand, the card with the highest rank wins. For example- 6-6-6-6 of diamonds, spades, clubs, and hearts can be called a four-of-a-kind hand.

Full House

If any player gets three cards of the same rank plus two different cards of the same class, it is called a Full House. For example- If you have cards K-K-K-K-6-6, then it’s a Full House.


A player with any five cards of the same suit can consider the hand a Flush. The numerical sequence does not matter in regular Flush. For example- 2-5-8-7-Q of clubs can be called a Flush hand.


A plain Straight happens when a player has five cards with ascending numerical sequence. Here, the suit of the hand is considered irrelevant. For example- 3 clubs- 4 hearts- 5 hearts – 6 clubs – 7 spades.


If one has three cards of the same rank, then it is called a Three-of-a-kind hand. For example- 7-7-7 of spades can be a good Three-of-a-kind hand.

Two Pair

You can pair two different sets of two cards that have an equal rank. For example- 7-7 and 4-4 can be called a Two Pair of hands.

One Pair

One Pair is the most straightforward hand containing two cards of the same rank. For example- 4-4 of any suit can be considered One Pair of hands.

High Card

A hand that does not contain a Flush, Straight, and Pair is called a High Card. The highest card then ranks the hand. For example- A-10-5-4-3 can easily beat Q-10-8-4-2 during the game of Pai Gow.

How To Play Pai Gow

As mentioned earlier, Pai Gow is played using a standard 52 cards deck plus a joker. Six players can sit at one table to play at the same time. The Banker will deal the cards, and the remaining players need to make a five-card “high” hand and a two-card “low” hand. Your high hand should always beat your lower hand. For instance, if your little hand is a shining pair of sixes, your high hand should be better than the Pair of sixes. The three possible outcomes from the dealt hands are:

● The player has bigger hands than the Banker’s hands and wins their bet. A player can only win the bet if both their hands beat the Banker’s hands.

● The Banker wins if both his hands are more significant than the player. The Banker collects the coins from the player once the cards show a lesser denomination.

● The hand is a ‘push’ when a player wins one hand, and the dealer wins another. During a tie, no coin exchange takes place.

Dealing The Game

A Pai Gow Poker table has an exciting dealing method. The table dealer shuffles the cards and places seven cards face down in front of each player. The dealer also puts a set of seven cards for himself and discards the rest of the four unused cards. All the cards get handed out in a counterclockwise direction. Once the dealer places the new cards into the muck, the players can open their cards for the next step.

Arranging Your Pai Gow Hand

The player can create any standard poker hand ranking for the five-card hand, but remember that the two-card hand can only make a high hand or a pair hand. One must not assume that the five-hand card should always outrank the two-card hand. Players can use Joker to complete a Flush or Straight hand. If your set doesn’t make these hands, you can use Joker as an Ace.

Pai Gow Showdown

Once the players have spent time arranging their cards in two sets, they need to place these two sets at their proper place on the table. The two-card hand gets placed at the top while the five-card hand is placed in the back. If a hand is set inaccurately, then that particular hand is considered foul. The turn gets reset or fortified depending on the casino and house rules. If the casino is the Banker for the game, they must set the cards expertly according to the house rule. But if a player is the Banker, they have the freedom to select the hand according to their will.

Where And How To Use The Joker

Most Pai Gow games played in the casinos have one Joker in their card deck. This Joker is not considered a wild card, but it can be an excellent substitute in three ways:

● It can be regarded as any card to complete a Straight hand.

● It can be considered as any card to complete a Flush hand.

● If the set doesn’t allow making a Straight of Flush hand, it can be used as an Ace.


Pai Gow is considered a relatively fair game compared to other risk-taking and highly challenging games on the casino floor. All the casinos take a tiny commission out of each player’s winnings. So when a player wins a bet of $200, they will receive $190 profit while the remaining goes to the casino. In most Pai Gow games, the casinos charge a 5% commission behind each win. Players should pay attention to this 5% commission before betting on the hands during Pai Gow Poker.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

The chances to win in a Pai Gow Poker match are highly dependent on how the cards are dealt since the game doesn’t allow full-fledged betting rounds. However, you have a unique chance of winning the game if you learn to arrange the hands with precision. A few good Pai Gow Poker strategies include:

● Consider playing the highest card with your high hand if you have no Straight, Flush, or Pair in your set. Then place the following two highest cards in your two-card hand.

● Consider splitting the Aces during a top Two-Pair.

● It would help if you tried splitting a Two Pair King when your other Pair is a deuce. You can merge both the strategies and then play the two highest remaining cards in the low hand.

Sometimes, players can face a dilemma after getting a set that can have multiple outcomes. It boils down to personal preference, gut feeling, or deep calculation of your chances during such a time.

For example, if you are dealt with a 4D- 5C-6S-7H-8H-2S-2C, it is relatively easy to form two winning hands by keeping a Straight for the bottom hand and combining the pair deuces for the low hand. But if you are dealt with an 8D-8C-9D-9S-10S-JC-QH, then a player needs to choose between two options:

1. Top Hand: QH-JC-10S-9S-8D; Low Hand: 9D-8C

2. Top Hand: 9D-9S-10S-JC-QH; Low Hand: 8D-8C

The first option has a possible, solid top hand, while the second has a solid low hand. The first hand will surely guarantee a push, but it won’t be the best option if you consider winning. Thus, players might have to mentally plan such moves and combinations before fixing both hands for winning.

Pai Gow Poker Side Bets

Pai Gow is extremely popular amongst many casinos and players alike because of its exciting side bets. These side bets are a sure way of winning more money while adding extra fun to the original game. Players are always betting on various outcomes against each other or the Banker. Many players bet on whether they will get a Full House, Three-of-a-Kind, Four-of-a-Kind, Royal Flush, or a Straight Flush. The higher the hand, the better the bonus payout. These little side bets add a layer of profit and excitement for all the players on the table. Side bets highly vary from one casino to another, so ensure that you check their rules and guidelines before betting on such bets. A few popular side bets include:

● Fortune Pai Gow

● Pai Gow Insurance

● Emperor’s Challenge

● Jokolor

● Progressive Pai Gow

● Lucky 8’s

● Dealer Bonus

Pai Gow Payouts

The payout in this casino game is very simple as compared to other poker games. Players get paid 1:1 on their bet after beating the dealer’s hand. These players also have the option to earn a bonus wager while playing. Usually, the payouts are posted on the table of your Pai Gow game, but most tables show the following rates:

● A 7-card Straight Flush without a Joker pays 8,000:1

● A Royal Flush plus two deuces usually pay 2,000:1

● A 7-card Straight Flush with Joker pays 1,000:1

● Five Aces in a hand pay 400:1

● A plain Royal Flush pays 150:1

● A Straight Flush can pay 50:1

● Four-of-a-kind hand pays 25:1

● A Full House usually pays 5:1

● A basic Flush pays 4:1

● A Three-of-a-kind hand delivers 3:1

● Straight hand pays the lowest of 2:1

Pai Gow Poker – House Edge

Just like all casino games, even Pai Gow has a house edge, but the percentage is comparatively low than other top-rated casino games. Generally, you will find the house edge to be somewhere around 2.84%. On top of that, when a player wins, they have to shed a 5% commission to the casinos.

Pai Gow Poker Tips

Here are a few handy Pai Gow poker tips that might come in handy while increasing your chances of winning:

Bank As Much As You Can

Banking is a crucial and profitable part of any Pai Gow Poker game. You shouldn’t take it lightly when playing against other players. Try to find good tables and bet against other players as much as you can. Banking is a good way of earning money from the players apart from the money from the house.

Dispose Of Your Joker Wisely

Since the game requires you to make two hands, you have two potential sets where a Joker can fit nicely. Most players use it to complete a Flush or Straight, but pay attention as it isn’t always profitable in every scenario.

Consider Making An Envy Bet

Gai Pow Envy bets are side-bets where you are betting that another player will hit a specific hand. For example, you might bet that another player from your table will hit a Flush or Straight during the round. And when any other gambler gets a hand of that same score, you automatically receive an envy bonus. These bets usually have smaller payouts, but a little is always better than nothing.


We hope our Gai Pow guide helped newbie players to understand this game with great detail. Fret not if you are still a little foggy on certain aspects. With practice and some time, you will automatically grasp all the fundamentals of Pai Gow. This is genuinely a slow-paced game that is equally entertaining, but the additional side bets make the game even more enjoyable. Lastly, after absorbing the fundamentals, you can learn and devise great strategies of your own to win.

Most casino gamblers consider poker to be a separate component of the gambling economy, with tournaments and cash games held in a reserved room far from the table game pits. 

But every major casino, land-based or online, makes sure to spread the exciting and challenging table game known as Pai Gow Poker. Since making its debut in the 1980s – head down to the History section for the full story on Pai Gow Poker’s development – this Asian-inspired game based on “setting” poker hands has become all the rage.

You’ll find many versions of Pai Gow Poker nowadays, all of which use slightly different rules and gameplay setups, but the basic premise goes like this. After putting up your Ante bet, you and the dealer will both take seven cards at random from a 53-card deck. The deck includes the standard 52-card arrangement, along with a wild Joker card that can be used to help form premium hands.

Once you have seven cards to work with, the goal of Pai Gow Poker is deceptively simple – set them into two different hands, one with five cards and another with two cards. The five-card poker hand goes on the bottom, and it must always rank higher than the two-card hand on top.

That means a seven-card deal like Q-Q-K-K-2-3-4 would put the pair of Queens up top in a two-card hand, while the pair of Kings (plus 2-3-4) would go on the bottom. Once you’ve set your hands, the dealer will do the same – using a proscribed method known as the “House Way” – and the showdown commences.

You’ll need to beat both halves of the dealer’s hand to win even money (less a 5 percent commission) on your Ante bet. If you can only beat one half, however, while dealer has a winning half of their own, you’ll simply get your Ante bet returned in a push.

That’s the CliffsNotes version of Pai Gow Poker rules and gameplay, but there’s a ton more to it, so new players should pull up a full description to learn about all of the little wrinkles involved. Jokers can only be used to make certain hands, the A-2-3-4-5 “wheel” straight is actually the second-best straight, and so on – so taking the time to study up on Pai Gow Poker’s intricacies is essential to success.

Playing Online Pai Gow Poker vs. Live

The live Pai Gow Poker tables are action-packed affairs, with up to six players taking on the dealer in seven-card duels.

New players can often be intimidated by the rituals borrowed from the Chinese game Pai Gow, including a dice tumbler used to determine who will “bank” the hand. Players can bet with the dealer or against them, or against one another, creating a confusing experience for newcomers.

Fortunately, the online Pai Gow Tables simplify things immensely be removing the banker role altogether. Instead, you’ll be playing a standard house-banked table game pitting you against the dealer.

Other than that fundamental shift, however, the transition from live Pai Gow Poker to the online arena is relatively smooth. No complicated pay tables to worry about, nor crazy side bets that add a different dimension – just the five- and two-card hand setting process and nearly even money payouts on winning deals.

Pros & Cons of Playing Pai Gow Poker Online

If you’re a fan of the back and forth player banking process, online Pai Gow Poker might not be for you.

Conversely, if that element of the game is what keeps you from the live tables, firing up a Pai Gow Poker game online is much more appealing. Many of the online casinos out there even include a “House Way” button that takes care of the hand-setting for you.

Instead of parsing through the various strategic choices given your seven cards – Pai Gow Poker is one of the only casino games that hasn’t had its optimal strategy “cracked” by the computers yet – using the automatic House Way option ensures you’re always setting your hands sensibly.

Another pro in favor of online Pai Gow Poker is how the rules are spelled out clearly in print form, usually right there alongside the game layout. When you’re playing one of the more complex casino table games ever invented, having the full rules handy at all times is definitely a huge help.

Characteristics of the Best Online Pai Gow Poker

The best online Pai Gow Poker operators make sure to lift the proverbial veil, making everything as easy to learn as they possibly can.

So if you find a site that doesn’t have the rules readily available, or charges more than the standard 5 percent commission on winners, just shop around until you find an online casino that plays things straight.

Because the rules and gameplay follow the same script for the most part, players tend to look for online Pai Gow Poker tables that look and feel the way they like. Clickable chip graphics are a big hit, as are colorful card animations that help you distinguish between the four suits (clubs, diamonds, spades, and hearts).

Types of Online Pai Gow Poker Bonuses 

Set yourself up with a new online casino account and the best operators in the industry will gladly treat you to a generous Welcome Bonus.

Just check the Promotions page to find the latest bonus code, enter it in before you place your first deposit, and you’ll score a sizable sum in free bonus funds. Welcome Bonus offers typically award a percentage match based on your deposit amount, so something like 200 percent on a $100 transaction would put $300 in your starting bankroll.

If lady luck doesn’t look your way in the early going, and you need subsequent deposits later on, look for a similarly structured Reload Bonus offer. These usually use a lower percentage match, but you can easily turn another $100 into $150 using a 50 percent match rate.

And if you become a regular player on that particular platform, top-quality online casinos will top your current account balance off with a little extra via the No Deposit Bonus. You might get an email notification letting you know you’ve earned a No Deposit Bonus, while many online casinos use Player Points which can be piled up and redeemed for cash.

Online casino bonuses vary by type, but they all have one thing in common – playthrough / rollover requirements. Depending on the site, you might see the term playthrough or rollover used, but both mean the same thing. Because the operator would bleed money if bonus funds were immediately available for withdrawal, they require players to place a certain number of wagers before the bonus money becomes “unlocked” for cash out purposes.

You’ll see figures like 20x, 30x, or 50x for these playthrough / rollover requirements, and those are simply multiples of your total deposit + bonus amount. Thus, the $100 deposit + $200 bonus example mentioned earlier creates a $300 bankroll, and at a 20x playthrough / rollover rate, you’d need to place $6,000 in total wagers before the bonus (and any associated winnings) can be withdrawn.

That can often feel like a bait and switch tactic at first glance, especially when you’re talking about thousands of dollars in bets, but clearing your playthrough / rollover requirements is actually quite easy to accomplish. If you bet $10 per hand playing Pai Gow Poker online, for example, and you grind out 100 hands in an hour, you’ll already hit $1,000 in total wagers.

Pai Gow Poker is one of the best table games around for playthrough / rollover purposes, because the 40 percent push rate ensures that many of your bets won’t dent your bankroll whatsoever. You can simply put the bet up, push the hand, and repeat the process to rack up a high volume of wagers.

Pay attention to the Terms and Conditions page though, which is where you’ll find “wagering contribution” tables listing the exact percentage of a wager devoted to playthrough / rollover. The slots send 100 percent of every bet to playthrough / rollover, because they’re a high house edge game that can be played quickly.

More skilled games with a lower house edge, like blackjack and video poker, typically tend to use a lower wagering contribution of 10 percent.

Pai Gow Poker, on the other hand, straddles the middle ground perfectly with a healthy wagering contribution rate of 50 percent on average.

History of Pai Gow Poker

Long before there was Pai Gow Poker, gamblers in China and all over Asia enjoyed the highly strategic domino-setting game known as Pai Gow.

The original version uses 32 numbered tiles that resemble dominoes, and players try to set two “hands” in such a way that both beat the dealer’s arrangement. The tiles are dealt at random, but players must use common sense and cleverness to come up with the optimal formation given their holding.

You can find traditional Pai Gow games running in any major casino, but while Asian-Americans flock to these tables, they remain a niche offering for the most part.

One casino that specialized in old-school Pai Gow was the Bell Card Club in California, where owner Sam Torosian found his operation hemorrhaging cash back in 1985. Pai Gow itself was quite popular with the local Asian-American community, but Torosian needed a new game that would appeal to non-Asians.

According to Torosian’s recollection, a regular player at Bell Card Club who hailed from the Philippines made passing mention of an obscure Chinese card game called puy soy. In that game, playing cards replaced tiles and gamblers tried to set their random 13-card allotment into three distinct hands.

Torosian put his thinking cap on and envisioned ways to turn puy soy into a poker-based table game that American players could appreciate. He eventually settled on a seven-card deal, after which players tried to set their cards into one five-card poker hand alongside a two-card hand.

He dubbed his new creation Pai Gow Poker, obviously hoping to garner interest from Asians and non-Asians alike. The game proved to be an immediate hit with both crowds, and after starting out with a two-table trial run, it only took a week before Torosian had more than two dozen Pai Gow Poker tables running around the clock.

Torosian’s pal George Hardie asked for permission to spread Pai Gow Poker in his Bicycle Club casino, and the game soon became a bona fide hit all over California.

Unfortunately for Torosian, an acquaintance who worked as an attorney informed him that playing card games couldn’t be covered by patent protection. That advice was obviously dead wrong, but Torosian took the man at his word and never explored a patent application.

After a one-year window passed without a patent in place, Pai Gow Poker officially entered the public domain, meaning any casino operator in America could spread the game without infringing on Torosian’s intellectual property.

In 2002, the Los Angeles Times published a profile on Torosian and the invention of Pai Gow Poker titled “Casino Boss Can’t Cash In on Game He Developed.”

The article quotes Moe Mostashari – who worked for Torosian as the Bell Card Club’s casino manager before inventing (and patenting) No Bust Blackjack – in a particularly heart-wrenching passage:

“Sam got the wrong advice. Talk about a lost opportunity…. Nobody has ever lost more money by not patenting a game than Sam.”

Peter Ruchman, a casino gambling analyst based in Las Vegas at the time, also told the newspaper that Torosian could’ve easily cleared $70,000 per month for the rest of his life if only he had secured a patent on Pai Gow Poker:

“He should, by all rights, be receiving a royalty check from every casino that uses his game around the world, and he doesn’t.

But that’s gambling. Life in the casinos takes very strange twists.”

Pai Gow Poker eventually arrived in Las Vegas casinos, along with card rooms and gambling halls from coast to coast and worldwide. The game also went on to become a staple offering of the best online casinos, where players enjoy the leisurely pace and challenging strategy to this day.

Real Money Pai Gow Poker FAQ 

“When I bet $5 and beat the dealer on both hands, why is the payout light at only $4.75?”

The house charges a 5 percent commission on winning bets in Pai Gow Poker, similar the setup used on winning Banker bets in baccarat. This is because the probability of winning both hands is 30.38 percent, which is slightly better than the 29.11 percent chance that you’ll lose both hands. By charging the 5 percent commission, Pai Gow Poker operators ensure themselves a house edge of 2.84 percent.

If the commission fee bothers you, just look for “Commission Free Pai Gow Poker” or “EZ Pai Gow Poker” within your online casino’s table games menu.

“I played a hand the other day where I tabled a 5-6-7-8-9 straight on the bottom, and A-K up top, but when the dealer turned over the exact same hands on their side I still lost my bet… did I get scammed?”

Nope, not at all, you simply got unlucky to tie the dealer. Pai Gow Poker rules state that any exact tie between the bottom and/or top hands result in a dealer win. So while the game is famous for its 40.49 percent push rate – on hands when you win one side and the dealer wins the other – actual ties like your 9-high straight vs. 9-high straight aren’t pushes at all.

This “tie goes to the dealer” caveat actually provides 1.27 percent of Pai Gow Poker’s total 2.84 percent house edge, so casinos put this rule in place for a good reason (good for them anyway).

“OK, so I didn’t get scammed there, but what about when I played the 9-10-J-Q-K straight on the bottom and still lost to the dealer’s A-2-3-4-5 ‘wheel’ straight? That can’t be correct, can it?”

Welcome to the wacky world of Pai Gow Poker rules, where the best straight on the board is “Broadway” (10-J-Q-K-A) like usual, but the “wheel” (A-2-3-4-5) takes runner-up honors.

Nobody really knows why that oddball rule made its way into the game, but most online casinos spreading Pai Gow Poker still use it to honor tradition. If it’s any consolation (and that’s definitely doubtful), you did have the third-highest possible straight on that losing hand.

To help you sort out the straight situation in Pai Gow Poker, just consult the following list:

  • 10-J-Q-K-A
  • A-2-3-4-5
  • 9-10-J-Q-K
  • 8-9-10-J-Q
  • 7-8-9-10-J
  • 6-7-8-9-10
  • 5-6-7-8-9
  • 4-5-6-7-8
  • 3-4-5-6-7
  • 2-3-4-5-6

Pai Gow Poker is a popular card game featured in casinos across the world. It is particularly popular among the Asian population due to the fact that it’s based on a Chinese domino game known as Pai Gow Tiles in the United States.

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Like most other card games, Pai Gow Poker utilizes a traditional 52-card deck with one exception. There is one single joker left in the deck. The joker, however is not a standard wild card. It may only be used to complete a royal flush, straight flush, straight, or flush. If the card cannot be used in one of these hands, it is simply counted as an ace. Read on to learn how to play using proper strategy as well as payouts and other important information before playing at a casino.

Pai Gow Articles

Playing Pai Gow Online

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

When you sit down to play Pai Gow, the hand starts with a mandatory bet. This requires you to place your chips in the ante box. Some games have additional side bets which are optional. This will depend on the rules at each individual table/casino.

Once all bets are placed, the next step is to determine which player will receive the first set of cards. Traditional tables will use three dice while more modern ones use a random number generator that chooses a number between one and seven. To give you a frame of reference if you are unfamiliar; the banker’s spot is considered seat one. The numbers then go in order, counterclockwise around the table.

Once all of this has been determined, the game begins. It starts off by the dealer handing seven cards (in a row) off to the first player who was chosen by the dice or number generator from the top of the deck. One unique facet of Pai Gow when compared to other poker games is that the cards are dealt to all seats, even if they are unoccupied.

Playing Your Hand

Once all bets are placed, and each player has been dealt their cards, they then pick them up. The cards are separated by the player into one five card hand and one two card hand. The main rule being that the five card hand must be higher than the two card hand. This means that a pair cannot be placed in the two card hand unless there is a pair of that value or higher in the back hand or any hand that beats a pair.

Once all players have set their hands, the banker exposes his cards. There is a unique house way for every scenario. This is used when the casino is banker and varies from one house to another. These rules are made available upon request at any casino, so if you play often it may be worth checking before sitting down at a table if it suits you.

Pai Gow Rules

In Pai Gow Poker, the rules are determined by the house and referred to as the House Way. The House Way changes from casino to casino (offline) and from software to software (online), but here are the most typical rules.

– While the additional Joker is counted as an Ace, you can also count it as any card when you are filling out a Flush, Straight Flush, Straight, or Royal Flush. The card is often called a bug.

– The best five-card hand you can possibly have in Pai Gow Poker is a set of five aces.

– In addition to the five-card hand, there is also a two-card hand. The former is often called the Bottom, Back, Behind, or the Big (or High) hand. The latter is called the Front, In Front, On Top, the Minor hand, the Small hand, or the Low hand.

– In Pai Gow Poker, the dealer deals seven cards to himself and seven cards to each player after making the bets. From the seven cards, each player makes two hands: one with five cards, the other with two cards.

– The five-card hand must be higher than the two-card hand. This rule must be taken seriously as fouling your hand (the phrase used when your two-card hand is higher than your five-card hand) makes you lose your bet.

– Often times (but depending on the House Way), the rule is to arrange a pair or two high cards as your two-card hand.

– The standard poker hand ranking rules apply to the five-card hand. There is one exception, however, in a number of casinos. A wheel (the A-2-3-4-5 straight) is deemed as the second-highest straight ranking.

– The best possible two-card hand is a pair of aces while the worst is 2-3. Flushes and Straights are not applicable in the two-card hand because the Joker is always an Ace.

– Each player is betting both hands against the banker, who can be the dealer or any one of the players (similar to Baccarat).

– To determine who wins, each player compares his hands to the banker’s according to the House Way.

a) You win if both hands are higher than the banker’s and get paid even money (sometimes with a commission).

b) You lose if neither hands is higher than the banker’s.

c) The game is a draw or push if only one hand is higher than the banker’s.

d) However, the banker wins in the event that the banker’s hands and the player’s hands are the same. This is a plus for the casino when the banker is the dealer. If the banker is one of the players, this rule does not hold but the house deducts a certain percentage from the winning hands. The percentage is usually 4-5%; however, some casinos do not deduct it. Do note that most – if not all – online casinos round off each value to the nearest $0.25, so you should always wager in the rise of $5.

– There is also a bonus bet, in which you bet on three or more of a kind as the “premium hand”. It is independent of your main bet and pays as high as the numbers of a kind you have.

– In addition, Microgaming’s Pai Gow Poker features a side bet, which has a house edge of 5.79%.


Published in April 1990, Optimal Strategy for Pai Gow Poker by Sanford Wong is one book to read if you are truly interested in this game. Even though I have not read it myself, the book has been praised for years to offer the best strategies, point out the conditions in which you can beat the game, and how to minimize losses and maximize wins. Below are some strategies and advises that would deliver a better Pai Gow Poker experience (but using them could be tricky if a player is the banker).

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Optimal Strategy

The first and most basic strategy is to split your hands in a strategic way, which is also termed “splitting hands”. It has been verified to lower the house edge from 2.9% to 2.5%. This works because you only need one hand to be higher than the banker’s to avoid losing. So, you need to arrange your two-card hand to be the highest possible hand and still lower than the five-card hand. These are also included in the House Way and vary at times.

General: A common method is to arrange the second (and third) highest ranked cards in the two-card hand while the highest card is in the five-card hand.

A Pair: Another one is to arrange a pair in the five-card hand and the two other highest cards in the two-card hand.

Two Pairs: If you have two pairs, the rules here are quite extensive but we will try to cover them.

a) Always split a pair of Aces, two high pairs, and one high pair and one medium pair between the hands.

b) If you do not have an Ace, always split two medium pairs and one high pair and one low pair.

c) If you do not have an Ace or a King, always split one medium pair and one low pair and two low pairs.

Three-of-a-Kinds: If you happen to have a three-of-a-kind, arrange in the five-card hand except it is of Aces. In this case, arrange two Aces in the five-card hand while the remaining Ace and one high card are in the other hand.

Four-of-a-Kinds: If you have four cards of the same rank (four-of-a-kinds or quads), split them into two pairs with the higher going in the two-card hand only if the quad is JJJJ or better. If the quad is a 7777 or TTTT, do not split only if you have an Ace. If the quad is of 6s or below, do not split. If the quad is of Aces, split equally.

Straights and Flushes: As they are not allowed in the two-card hand, always play them in the five-card hand. But if you also have two extra pairs, split them according to the two-pair rules some paragraphs above.

Others: If you come across five Aces and two Kings (which is extremely rare), play three Aces and the Kings in the five-card hand. If you have five Aces without a pair of Kings, always play them in the five-card hand. If you have a Full Hand (three cards of one rank and two of another), play the two cards of the same rank in your two-card hand. In the event that you have another pair (which could either mean four cards with the same rank and the other three with the same rank or three cards with the same rank, two with the same, and another two with the same), play the higher pair in the two-card hand.

Exception: If you are able to make a very high five-card hand (such as a straight), this strategy is best ignored since the five-card hand is almost guaranteed to beat the banker’s.

Hand Probabilities

There are even more rules or tips on splitting hands but these are the most common ones. Furthermore, let’s look at the probability of having the 154,143,080 possible card combinations with classification.

a) Five Aces: 0.00000732

b) Straight and Royal Flush: 0.00136862

c) Four-of-a-Kind: 0.00199472

d) Full House: 0.02717299

e) Flush: 0.04004129

f) Straight: 0.07289250

g) Three-of-a-Kind: 0.04846585

h) Two Pairs: 0.23065464

i) One Pair: 0.41663862

j) All Other Possibilities: 0.16076246

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Betting Systems

No matter what your stand on betting systems is, you cannot deny their everlasting popularity, especially amongst novice players. Most experts do not endorse them but whether they are beneficial or not is a story for another day. And yes, you can apply betting systems to Pai Gow Poker, which would arguably help you spread your wagers and keep your bankroll in check.

Say No to the Bonus Bet

This is actually an expert tip – it is highly recommended to never bet the bonus because it has the highest house edge and is guaranteed to result in an eventual loss.

Player’s Can Play as the Banker

Pai Gow Poker is an unusual game in that players may be banker on occasion. This is optional. The rules on banking a Pai Gow Poker hand are different from one casino to another. Most casinos will allow a player to bank once every other hand when playing heads up. At a table with multiple players, the dealer option will rotate each hand among the dealer and all occupied seats. A player banker will still have to pay a 5% commission on their net winnings. Any winning player also pays 5% to the house when facing a hand banked by another player.

Fortune Pai Gow Progressive Jackpot

Most Pai Gow Poker tables offer multiple jackpots. The most common is the Fortune Pai Gow Poker Progressive. This jackpot is sometimes linked among multiple casinos in a market. The bet for the progressive is just $1. All hands qualify with or without the joker.


– Seven-card straight flush: Jackpot

– Five aces: 10% of jackpot

– Royal flush: $500

– Straight flush: $100

– Four of a kind: $75

– Full house: $4

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