How to Play Pai Gow Poker: A Comprehensive Beginner's Guide

Begin your Pai Gow Poker journey with expert tips and guidance

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Key Takeaways

  • Pai Gow Poker combines Chinese Pai Gow and American Poker for an exciting game against the dealer.
  • Players must create two better poker hands than the banker’s while taking into consideration any ties that may lead to a forfeit.
  • With practice and knowledge of strategies like splitting pairs, using ‘House Way’, and asking for help from dealers, you can master Pai Gow Poker & increase your winning odds with variations and side bets available online.

Understanding Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker, also called double hand poker, is a fascinating table game that fuses the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow with the thrill of American Poker. Invented by Sam Torosian in 1985, the game allows up to six players and a dealer to participate, making it an exciting and interactive experience where each player aims to create the best pai gow hand.

To play Pai Gow Poker:

  1. A 53-card deck is used, including one Joker.
  2. The aim of the game is to form two separate hands: a five-card hand and a two-card hand.
  3. The five-card hand – or the “high” hand – must outrank the two-card hand, or the “low” hand.
  4. Players compete against the dealer, and the one with the better hand wins.

The Objective of Pai Gow Poker

In Pai Gow Poker, your primary aim is to form two poker hands superior to the banker’s hands. You must carefully arrange your five-card hand to be stronger than your two-card hand; otherwise, a foul might occur leading to a round forfeit.

Ties play a significant role in Pai Gow Poker. If one of your hands ties with the banker’s hand, the dealer wins. This unique feature adds an additional layer of challenge and excitement to the game, as players need to carefully strategize to maximize their chances of winning.

Pai Gow Poker Table Layout

A Pai Gow Poker table is designed to accommodate up to six players plus the dealer, making it an engaging and interactive experience. The layout includes designated areas for placing bets, card placements, and dealer positions.

Getting familiar with the table layout can affect the smoothness and enjoyment of your fun game experience.

Betting in Pai Gow Poker

To place bets in Pai Gow Poker, simply put the appropriate amount of chips in the designated circle. The initial wager, called the main bet, must be within the table’s minimum and maximum betting limits. In addition to the main bet, players can also place side bets and bonus bets, which are optional wagers with unique payouts.

One popular side bet is the Bonus bet, where players wager on making a ‘premium’ hand, such as three of a kind or better. These side bets and bonus wagers make the game more exciting,  but be aware that they often come with a higher house edge, which can increase your risk of losing money.

The Deal

In Pai Gow Poker, the dealer begins by placing the shuffled cards into seven face-down piles, one for each player and one for the dealer, with four extra cards placed in the discard pile. The cards are then dealt one at a time, face-down, in a counter-clockwise direction. This method of dealing ensures fairness and adds an element of suspense to the game as players eagerly await their cards.

Once all the cards have been distributed, players are free to examine their hands and strategize on how to create their two poker hands. Keep in mind that to prevent a foul and maintain a valid round, your five-card hand must always be superior to the two-card hand.

Setting Your Pai Gow Hands

After the cards have been dealt, players must set their two Pai Gow hands according to specific rules, ensuring that their five-card hand outranks their two-card hand. The Joker, a wildcard in this game, can be strategically used to create the best possible hand combinations.

The Five-Card Hand

The five-card pai gow poker hand – or the “high” hand – follows traditional poker rankings with a few exceptions in certain casinos. The highest-ranking hand is Five Aces, which consists of four Aces and the Joker. When setting up this hand, you must evaluate the strength of your two-card hand to prevent it from outranking your five-card hand, as it may lead to a foul.

As you analyze your cards, consider the various poker hand combinations that can be formed, such as straights, flushes, and full houses. Keep in mind that the goal is to create the strongest possible five-card hand while also maintaining a valid two-card hand.

The Two-Card Hand

When forming the two-card hand, or “low” hand, in Pai Gow Poker, the objective is to create the strongest possible hand without exceeding the rank of the five-card hand. The highest possible two-card hand is a pair of Aces. Remember, the Joker acts as an Ace in the two-card hand, giving you additional flexibility when setting your hands.

As you examine your cards and strategize, consider the various combinations and hand rankings that can be achieved with a particular hand. Carefully setting your two-card hand can significantly impact your odds of winning and avoiding a foul, making it a crucial aspect of the game.

Comparing Hands and Determining Winners

In Pai Gow Poker, once the hands have been set, the dealer flips over their cards and compares them to each gambler’s hands to determine the winner. It’s essential to understand the concept of pushes and the consequences of ties, fouls, and winning hands to maximize your chances of success in the game.

Understanding Pushes

A push in Pai Gow Poker occurs when one of your hands wins while the other loses, resulting in a standoff where no money is exchanged. Pushes are a unique feature of the game that allows for longer play and lower-risk gambling, as your money wagered is not lost during a push.

Comprehending the concept of pushes and its effect on your winning odds is important when arranging your hands and planning your strategy. By forming strong hand combinations and minimizing the risk of fouls, you can increase your odds of winning and reduce the likelihood of losing money at online casinos for real money.

House Edge and Commissions

In Pai Gow Poker:

  • The house edge is approximately 2.84%, making it a relatively low-risk gambling option compared to other casino games.
  • However, most casinos charge a commission on winning hands, which is usually 5% of your winnings.
  • This commission is the primary source of the house edge in the game.

Being aware of the house edge and the commissions that casinos charge is key in reducing losses and enhancing your winning probability. Knowing this information can help you make informed decisions when placing bets, setting your hands, and managing your bankroll effectively.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy and Tips

While the rules of Pai Gow Poker may seem complex, the game becomes more accessible and enjoyable with practice and a solid understanding of basic strategy. With effective techniques like splitting pairs, employing the ‘House Way,’ and soliciting dealer assistance, you can boost your winning odds and optimize your Pai Gow Poker experience.

Basic Strategy

The fundamental game plan for Pai Gow Poker involves setting your hands optimally to maximize your odds of winning. By following some simple rules, such as not splitting low pairs, keeping high pairs together, and avoiding side bets, you can improve your gameplay and increase your chances of success.

Additionally, consider co-banking with the dealer whenever possible, as this gives you the advantage of going last and potentially gaining the upper hand over other players. Recognizing the right moment to leave the game is also vital, as persisting in play despite poor decision-making can result in considerable losses.

Advanced Strategies

For those looking to take their Pai Gow Poker skills to the next level, advanced strategies can help maximize wins and minimize losses. Key aspects of advanced strategy include bankroll management, understanding the house edge and commissions, and familiarity with the myriad of variations offered at the best Pai Gow Poker online casinos.

By gaining proficiency in these advanced techniques and integrating them with a solid basic strategy, you can notably enhance your prospects of success in Pai Gow Poker. With practice and dedication, you can become a formidable player at the table and enjoy the thrilling challenge this game has to offer.

Pai Gow Poker Variations and Side Bets

Pai Gow Poker offers several exciting variations and side bets that can enhance your gaming experience. Some popular variations include Fortune Pai Gow Poker and Progressive Pai Gow Poker, which introduce unique side bets and bonus wager options that can provide additional opportunities for winning.

Fortune Pai Gow Poker

Fortune Pai Gow Poker adds an extra layer of excitement with the optional Bonus Wager side bet. If your seven cards form a five-card poker hand of a straight or better, you win the bonus wager, providing an additional opportunity for winnings.

Envy Bonuses are another feature in Fortune Pai Gow Poker, allowing players to bet that another player at the table will get a premium hand.

Understanding the distinct features and payouts of Fortune Pai Gow Poker can help you determine if this variant suits your preference. The additional betting options can add excitement to your gameplay and provide new ways to win.

Progressive Pai Gow Poker

Progressive Pai Gow Poker is another popular variation that includes an optional side bet with a progressive jackpot. Players who make the progressive wager are betting that their seven cards will form a qualifying five-card poker hand, such as:

  • a straight flush
  • a royal flush
  • four of a kind
  • a full house
  • a flush

or higher.

The progressive jackpot provides an additional incentive to play this variation, as the potential for large payouts can be quite enticing. However, it’s essential to weigh the risks and rewards associated with the progressive wager and determine if it aligns with your overall Pai Gow Poker strategy.

Online Pai Gow Poker Options

For those who prefer the convenience of online gaming, almost all US online casinos offer Pai Gow Poker with various features and return-to-player (RTP) rates. Some popular online casinos provide more exciting bonuses, promotions, and tournaments than others to enhance your gaming experience.

With an average return-to-player (RTP) rate of around 97%, Pai Gow Poker has become an appealing choice for online gamblers.


Pai Gow Poker is a unique and engaging fusion of ancient Chinese Pai Gow and American Poker, offering players an exciting challenge with its two-hand gameplay and wildcard Joker. By mastering basic and advanced strategies, understanding the various variations and side bets, and exploring online options, you can greatly enhance your Pai Gow Poker experience.

Now that you’re equipped with the definitive guide to Pai Gow Poker, it’s time to put your skills to the test and explore an exhilarating experience at the table. Our online casino reviews guide will help you land at the best gambling sites that offer Pai Gow Poker. LetsGambleUSA promotes responsible gambling and recommends only the safest online casinos that keep players’ information secure while actually paying out their Pai Gow Poker winnings.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the rules for Pai Gow?

Pai Gow Poker is a game where players must create two sets of hands from seven cards – one two-card hand and one five-card hand. The player must then beat the dealer’s corresponding hands to win the main bet. The five-card hand must outrank the two-card hand, and both of the player’s hands must exceed the rank of the dealer’s.

Is Pai Gow Poker easy?

Pai Gow Poker is relatively easy to learn, as it involves no bluffing and uses a 53-card deck with the standard 52 cards and one joker.

What is an example of a Pai Gow in poker?

Pai Gow is a hand in poker where the player cannot make a pair or better, like Q-9-7-6-5-3-2.

What is the difference between Pai Gow and Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow is an ancient Chinese game played with a set of 32 dominoes, whereas Pai Gow Poker is a more modern version that uses a deck of 52 cards (plus one Joker). Pai Gow rules are easier to learn and play for Western players used to card-based games, as it was created in the US in 1985 by Sam Torosian.

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