Pai Gow Poker

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.

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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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