How to Play Pai Gow Poker | Winning Strategies | All You Need to Know

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Learn how to play Pai Gow Poker and you’ll be able to enjoy a very engaging game that is played against the banker rather than the other players at the table. That’s quite different from most other forms of poker, and that’s because this game is actually based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow, which uses dominoes. Pai Gow Poker uses playing cards, which makes things a lot more accessible for casino players. Read on and we’ll tell you all you need to know.

The ins and outs of Pai Gow Poker

What is Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow Poker is a card game. It is played with a standard deck of playing cards plus one Joker card. Seven cards are dealt to the player and seven to the banker. The aim of the game is for the player to create two hands from those seven cards. One five-card hand and one two-card hand. Both hands should aim to beat the corresponding two hands of the banker.

If both of the player's hands beat the banker, the player wins. If just one hand beats the dealer, the game is tied and a push is declared. And if neither of the player's hands beat the dealer, the player loses.

When Pai Gow Poker is played at a land-based casino, the table will be able to accommodate several players. Those players will play simultaneously against the banker in each hand. This is much the same as when several Blackjack players compete against the dealer at the same time. However, when you play the game online, it will normally just be you against the casino.

Where to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker can be played at both land-based casinos and online casinos. Unless you happen to live next door to a land-based casino, playing online will almost always be more convenient, but there is no reason why you can't enjoy the game in both environments.

For those of you who want to play Pai Gow Poker online, most online casinos offer the game. Of course, you need to be in a state that allows online casinos to operate in the first place. If you're at all unsure about that you should probably take a look at our state pages for an insight into legalities in your own state.

Assuming that they are legal in your state, you could explore our online casinos page to read more about what each operator offers. Or, if you'd rather just get started as quickly as possible, you could take a look at any of the following recommended casinos that you have access to.

Recommended Online Casinos

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

All of the usual poker hands that you would be able to make in a game such as Texas Hold'em can also be made in Pai Gow Poker. However, the game of Pai Gow Poker uses a Joker card as well as a standard deck of 52 playing cards. That Joker can be used to help you to make a straight or a flush, otherwise, it must count as an Ace. The possible hand rankings in Pai Gow Poker (from highest to lowest) are presented below. Note that A=Ace, K=King, Q=Queen, and J=Jack.

Five Aces

This is the best five-card hand that can be made in the game. It comprises A-A-A-A plus the Joker, which also counts as an Ace.

Royal Flush

This is 10-J-Q-K-A in the same suit (clubs, hearts, spades, or diamonds). While it is the best hand in Texas Hold'em, it is beaten by Five Aces in Pai Gow Poker.

Straight Flush

Five cards of consecutive rank, and all of the same suit. For example, 3-4-5-6-7 of clubs or 6-7-8-9-10 of hearts.

Four of a Kind

Four cards of the same rank, plus one unused 'kicker' card. For example, A-A-A-A-Q or 6-6-6-6-A.

Full House

A Full House is a Three-of-a-Kind and a Pair, both of which are defined in their own sections below.

Flush

This hand comprises five cards of the same suit. The highest value card in the hand determines how strong it is.

Straight

Five cards of consecutive rank, but of different suits. For example, 2-3-4-5-6 or 4-5-6-7-8. 

Three of a Kind

This hand contains three cards of the same tank plus two unused kickers. For example, A-A-A-3-8 or 5-5-5-Q-K.

Two Pair

This hand has two different Pairs and one kicker. For example, 6-6-3-3-7 or Q-Q-4-4-K.

Pair

A Pair is two cards of the same rank and (if played as a five-card Pai Gow Poker hand) three kickers. For example, K-K-2-5-8.

High Card

A hand that doesn't meet any of the requirements for the rankings described above. The highest card in the hand determines its value.

It is worth mentioning that at some casinos the Joker in Pai Gow Poker can be used as a wild card. That is not usually the case when you play the game at online casinos, but it is a good point to be aware of.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

When you launch a game of Pai Gow Poker at an online casino you will be presented with a table layout that has three distinct areas marked on it. One is marked for your bet and the other two are marked for your five-card hand and your two-card hand. 

The first thing you need to do is place your bet. This is easily achieved by selecting the casino chip of the denomination that you want to bet and placing it in the Bet area of the layout. As with other table games at online casinos, you can combine several chips to stake whatever specific amount you prefer.

You will then be dealt seven cards. The banker will also deal himself seven cards, although those will be dealt face-down so that you can't see them.

Hand Selection

It is now time for you to divide your seven cards into two hands. You need to make one hand of two cards and another hand of five cards. However, you should note that your five-card hand must be the strongest of the two. For this reason, the five-card hand is often referred to as the High hand, while the two-card hand is just as often referred to as the Low hand.

You can organize your hands as you want. It might sound as if the hands will decide themselves, but that isn't the case. Remember, the aim of the game is for both of your hands to beat both hands of the banker, so you need to try and play in a way that maximizes your chances of doing that.

For example, if you are dealt 2-2-8-8-8-J-J, using 8-8-8-J-J as your high hand might not be the best decision, as your Low hand would just be 2-2. A High hand of 8-8-8-2-2 would still give you a Full House, but now you'd have a pair of Jacks as your Low hand, which could make all the difference.

When you have decided on your hands, the High hand goes in the High area on the table layout and the Low hand goes in the Low area.

Showdown

The banker will now reveal his cards. When playing at an online casino, the banker will follow precise rules when organizing his hands. As soon as his hands have been made, they are compared with yours, and one of three things will happen:

  • Both of your hands will beat the dealer's corresponding hands, in which case your bet will win at odds of 1:1.
  • One of your hands will beat the dealer's corresponding hand, and the other will lose. This results in a Tie, and your bet will be refunded to you.
  • Both of your hands will lose against the dealer's corresponding hands, in which case your bet will lose.

And that, in essence, is how to play Pai Gow Poker!

Pai Gow Tips and Strategies

Pai Gow Poker is a game that can keep you entertained - and challenged - for a lifetime. While there are never any guaranteed ways to win the game, there are certain strategies that can be adopted to help you improve your chances. Here are some tips that you might want to consider using in the early days, if not beyond.

  • When you do not have a Pair, Straight, or Flush, play your highest card with your High hand (your five-card hand) and your next two highest cards in the Low hand (your two-card hand).
  • When you have two pairs and one of them is A-A, split the Aces. 
  • If you have two pairs where your top pair is K-K, split them. However, when the other pair is 2-2, you should play them together and play your two highest remaining cards in the Low hand.
  • When you have two pairs, you should split 6s and below unless you hold an Ace. Then play them together with the Ace and your next highest card in the Low hand.
  • When you have two pairs of any 7s through 10s you should split unless you have an Ace. Then you should play them together with the Ace and your next highest card in the Low hand.
  • If you have two pairs of any Jack through Ace, you should split and obviously move with the highest pair in the High hand.

Additional Tips

  • When you have three pairs, play your highest pair in the Low hand.
  • If you have a Three of a Kind among your seven cards, always play them together, except when the cards are Aces, in which case you should play a pair of Aces in the High hand and use the single Ace with the next highest card in the Low hand.
  • When you have a Full House, you should always split with the pair in the Low hand, unless you have a second pair also, then play your highest of the two pairs in the Low hand.
  • With Straights and Flushes, keep your Straight or Flush in the High hand, and choose whichever gives you the highest card for the Low hand. The exception to this is when you also have two pairs, in which case split according to the two pair rules. 
  • When you have a Four of a Kind with 6s or lower, keep them together. In the case of 7s through 10s, split them unless you have an Ace or better to play in the Low hand.
  • If you have Four of a Kind with your face cards (Aces, Kings, Queens, or Jacks) you always need to, unless you have another pair to play in the low hand.
  • With five Aces, you should split them. Unless you also have a pair of Kings, win which case you should play that Pair for the Low hand.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker FAQ

What is Pai Gow Poker?
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Pai Gow Poker is a card game between player and banker. The aim is to make two poker hands from seven cards, one of five cards and one of two cards. Beat both of the banker’s corresponding hands and you win.

Where did Pai Gow Poker come from?
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Pai Gow Poker is based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow that is played with dominoes. It was invented by Sam Torosian in 1985.

How to play Pai Gow Poker?
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Place a bet and make two poker hands from the seven cards dealt to you. Your five-card hand must be higher than your two-card hand.

What does Pai Gow mean in English?
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The Chinese phrase ‘pai gow’ is usually translated as ‘make nine’ or ‘card nine’.

How to win at Pai Gow Poker?
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Pai Gow Poker is a game of skill, and so the best way to improve your chances of winning is to study the game and play it strategically.

What are Pai Gow Poker side bets?
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A bonus bet on a poker game, sometimes called a side bet, is a wager on a set of cards that you have either split or are using to beat the dealer. You see this often in blackjack.

Even though the payouts are nice, the odds are typically not in your favor, and if you want long-term success in Pai Gow, you should avoid the bonus bets.

What is Pai Gow banking?
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If you are given the chance to bank in Pai Gow, it could be profitable for you. If you have the bankroll, take the option to bank, which means you will be putting your money against every player on the table.

The best part of banking strategy is that you are winning when the other players make mistakes setting their hands, which in turn gives you a powerful edge.

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