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How To Play Pai Gow Poker

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Pai Gow Poker Game Overview

Pai Gow poker is a simple table game that offers the player a chance to hit a big hand that can pay as high as 8,000:1 on their bet. Players are dealt seven cards which they then break up into a five-card hand and a two-card hand using Pai Gow poker strategy (the experts at Odds Shark have put together some tips below). Both hands are played against the dealer in a head-to-head match, getting 1:1 on their bet if they win each hand. 

History of Pai Gow Poker

In the mid-1980s, an American casino owner named Sam Torosian invented Pai Gow poker. Based on a Chinese dominoes game, Torosian used cards instead of dominoes to create a double-handed version of poker. After getting bad advice from an attorney, our boy Sam did not patent his version of poker. The game became a casino staple and Torosian hasn’t made a dime from it. The moral of this story is that if you invent a cool new version of poker based on a Chinese game of dominoes, patent it and be the millionaire Sam should be.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

The goal of Pai Gow is to beat both the dealer’s hands. The five-card hand’s rank must exceed the rank of the two-card hand. The two-card hand is known as the “in front, on top, hair, small, minor or low”. The five-card hand is called the “behind, bottom, high or big”. The hands have the same value as they would in traditional poker. However, there is one exception: Ace-2-3-4-5 is the second-highest straight or straight flush and five aces is the highest hand in the game. In terms of the two-card hand, any pair will beat any two unmatched cards (no other combinations are possible). Unlike other poker games, there is no bluffing in Pai Gow poker. 

Pai Gow Poker Rules

  • Before the cards are dealt, each player puts up their bet.
  • Seven cards are dealt face down to each player.
  • Players then rearrange their cards into two hands (one of five cards, one of two cards). The five-card hand must be higher than the two-card hand.
  • Players place their hands face down and then the dealer’s cards are revealed. The dealer arranges their cards into the same two hands as the players.
  • Finally, the players’ cards are shown and a comparison is made between each player’s hand and the dealer’s.
  • Should a player be lucky enough to win both hands, the dealer will pay out the amount the player bet. 

If the dealer wins one hand but the player wins another (called a push), no money is paid out. 

If the dealer wins both hands, they win the money the player has bet.

When either hand is tied, the victory goes to the dealer. The dealer also wins when both hands are tied. 

When one hand is tied but the player wins the other, it’s also considered a push.

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Dealing Pai Gow Poker

When you’re learning how to play Pai Gow, it’s important to understand how to deal the game. Pai Gow is played with 53 cards—the regular 52-card deck plus one joker. Dealing a hand in Pai Gow is a bit different than other poker-style games. Once the cards have been shuffled, the dealer places them face-down into seven piles comprised of seven cards each. Then, four extra cards are placed in the discard—or muck—pile. The game is typically played with six players plus the dealer, but in the event that not all seats are filled, the dealer will still deal out 7 cards to each of the places. 

Arranging Your Hands in Pai Gow Poker

Once the cards are dealt, it’s up to the players to arrange their cards into two hands. The  big hand (or high hand) is the back hand, and is a standard 5-card poker hand. The small hand (or low hand) is the front hand, and is made up of only two cards. It’s important to note that the low hand can only be two high cards or a pair.

The only rule for separating your hands is that the five-card hand must be higher than the two-card hand. This is also important to understand when you’re learning how to play Pai Gow, because if you mess this up, it’s called “fouling” and you lose your bet, so be careful.

About the Joker in Pai Gow Poker

Unlike Texas Hold ‘em, in Pai Gow Poker the Joker is used. If you’re dealt this card, it can be used to substitute another card to complete a straight, a flush (any suit) or as an ace. If the joker cannot be used to complete a straight or a flush, it must be used as an ace. When it comes to the two-card hand, the joker is always an ace.

Hand Rankings in Pai Gow Poker

Hands in Pai Gow poker follow the standard hand rankings in most cases, but some casinos have an exception to this rule. The “wheel” straight (or the A-2-3-4-5 straight) is considered the second highest. It’s best to check with your casino’s rules, just in case.

Pai Gow Poker Online Bonus Payout Chart

  • 7-Card Straight Flush (no Joker) pays 8,000-1
  • Royal Flush plus two 2s pays 2,000-1
  • 7-Card Straight Flush with joker pays 1,000-1
  • Five aces pays 400-1
  • Royal flush pays 150-1
  • Straight flush pays 50-1
  • Four of a kind pays 25-1
  • Full house pays 5-1
  • Flush pays 4-1
  • Three of a kind pays 3-1
  • Straight pays 2-1

Strategies and Tips for Winning Pai Gow Poker Online

  • 1. When dealt only one pair, keep it in the five-card hand and move your two highest cards to the two-card hand.
  • 2. When dealt three pairs, put the highest-ranked pair in the two-card hand.
  • 3. When dealt three of a kind, keep it for the five-card hand and place your two highest single cards in the two-card hand.
  • 4. When dealt two three of a kinds, keep the lower-ranked three of a kind in your five-card hand and take a pair from the biggest three of a kind for the two-card hand.
  • 5. When dealt three of a kind and two pairs, put the highest-ranked pair in the two-card hand and leave the smaller-ranked full house for the five-card hand.
  • 6. When you’re dealt a full house, move the pair to the two-card hand and keep the three of a kind for the five-card hand.
  • 7. When dealt four of a kind, only split them if they are 7s or bigger. If it’s four of a kind of 7s, 8s, 9s or 10s, only split them if one of your other cards is an ace or king. Any four of a kind of jacks or higher should be split between the two hands.
  • 8. When you’re dealt a hand that has a straight or flush in it, but has only one or no pairs, keep the straight or flush and put the two highest cards in your hand that are out of the run or flush in your two-card hand.
  • 9. When you’re dealt a hand that has a straight or flush in it that also has two pairs, break up the flush or straight and put the pair in each hand (putting the lowest-ranked pair in the two-card hand).
  • 10. When you’re dealt a hand that has a straight or flush in it as well as three of a kind, put a pair from the three of a kind that doesn’t break up the flush into the two-card hand.

Where to Play Pai Gow Poker Online

We hope you enjoyed our guide on how to play Pai Gow Poker. The experts at Odds Shark have scoured the internet searching for the best places for you to play Pai Gow online. You can find all the best sites including our latest reviews here