how to play pai gow poker cards arranged

How to Play Pai Gow Poker: Rules, Side Bets, Poker Hands

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. The table game is a cool new version of poker based on a Chinese game of dominoes. 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. 

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker offers unconventional strategy challenges for poker, because it requires players to build two hands. The game pits players against the house, but is a game of chance with strategy elements.

  • Build Two Hands: The goal of Pai Gow is to beat both the dealer’s hands.
  • 5-Card Hand: The five-card hand’s rank must exceed the rank of the two-card hand. The five-card hand is called the “behind, bottom, high or big”.
  • 2-Card Hand: The two-card hand is known as the “in front, on top, hair, small, minor or low”.
  • Same Hand Ranks as Poker: The hands have the same value as they would in traditional poker.
  • Special Rules: However, there is one exception: Ace-2-3-4-5 is the second-highest straight or straight flush, while a hand with 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).
  • No Bluffing Required: Unlike other poker games, there is no bluffing in Pai Gow poker. 

Pai Gow Poker Rules

Pai Gow Poker rules aren't complicated, but they're different enough from most forms of poker that new players must learn their nuances. Here's all you need to know about Pai Gow Poker's 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.


Dealing Pai Gow Poker

It’s important to understand how to the Pai Gow Poker deal works. 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.

  • 7 Piles of 7 Cards: Once the cards have been shuffled, the dealer places them face-down into seven piles comprised of seven cards each.
  • 4-Card Discard Pile: Then, four extra cards are placed in the discard—or muck—pile.
  • 6 Players, 1 Dealer: 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 Pai Gow Poker Hands

Arranging Pai Gow Poker hands becomes intuitive with a little practice. Still, you'll need to keep a few idiosyncratic rules in mind while playing at first.

  • Arrange Cards into 2 Hands: Once the cards are dealt, it’s up to the players to arrange their cards into two hands. The Back Hand: The  big hand (or high hand) is the back hand, and is a standard 5-card poker hand.
  • The Front 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.
  • How Pai Gow Poker Hands Work: The only rule for separating your hands is that the five-card hand must be higher than the two-card hand.
  • Fouling in Pai Gow Poker: 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 Side Bets

Pai Gow Poker is a game with a lot of potential side bets. These have much higher payouts than the main bet, though they tend to have a higher house edge. In land-based casinos, the standard cost of a side bet is $5. Online Pai Gow poker players might find a side bet for $1 a hand. 

The G3 Bonus bet and the G3 Progressive bet are side bets you'll find in EZ Pai Gow. Many side bets are similar, because different land-based casinos borrow ideas from one another. 

Side Bet TypeExplanation of Pai Gow Poker Side BetsPayouts
Dealer BonusBased on the value of the dealer's 7 cards.5:1 to 500:1
Fortune Side BetPays based on the value of the player's 7 cards.Envy Bonus: 1:1 to 8000:1
Jackpot Pai Gow PokerPays huge bonus for a natural royal plus a pair of aces.Payout: $25k, $50k, or $100k
Emperor's ChallengeNatural 7-card straight flush plus other hands over jack-high.2:1 to 5000:1
Progressive Pai Gow PokerNatural Royal Flush or 5 Aces plus Any Pair.Break-even point is a 20356:1 payout.
Pai Gow InsuranceA hand with seven singletons and no straight or flush with a 9-high pai gow. 3:1 to 100:1
Lucky 8's Side BetA natural seven-card straight flush plus an entire payout chart.1:1 to 8888:1
Pai Gow'dA 9-high pai gow along with lesser pai gows.3:1 to 100:1
Jokolor Side BetPlayer holds joker and the other cards are all the same color.  5:1 to 30:1
G3 Bonus BetNatural 7-card straight flush and a full paytable of payouts.2:1 to 8000:1
G3 Progressive 7-card straight flush hits the progressive.Pays the progressive jackpot.

    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

    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

    Pai Gow Poker FAQ

    How do you use the Joker in Pai Gow Poker?

    The Joker in Pai Gow can be substituted for a card in a straight, a flush (any suit), or as an ace. In the 2-card hand, the Joker must always be an ace.

    How many cards are dealt in Pai Gow Poker?

    In Pai Gow, seven cards are dealt to each player in the game in a face-down pile. The game is typically played with six players plus the dealer. It’s important to note that even if there are fewer than six players at a table, seven card piles are dealt anyway, and any unused piles are collected by the dealer before the game starts. 

    How do you bet in Pai Gow Poker?

    In Pai Gow poker online you place your bet before receiving any cards. It must be within the minimum and maximum betting limits of your table. In some cases, you may also be able to make a “bonus” bet on whether or not you’ll be able to make a premium hand. Many online casinos offer other bonuses on Pai Gow poker, so be sure to see what yours offers.

    How do you arrange your hands in Pai Gow Poker?

    Once your cards are dealt, you must arrange your hands into a big hand of 5 cards, and a small hand of 2 cards. The small hand must always rank lower than the big hand, otherwise you foul and lose your bet.

    How does Pai Gow Poker work?

    In Pai Gow Poker, you build a traditional 5-card poker hand, then also build a competitive 2-card poker hand. The catch is half of the bet is on one hand and the other half of the bet is on the other hand.

    Also, a joker is in the deck, but it is only partially wild. The joker can help form a 5-card flush or straight, but otherwise must be used as an ace. 

    How do you play Pai Gow Poker for beginners?

    Beginners in Pai Gow Poker should focus on the main goal: build two hands with 7 cards. Novice players likely have some experience with poker games that require the best 5-card hand.

    Therefore, they should focus most of their studies on how to build the best 2-card hands, including the limitations on building such hands (flushes, straights). Also, they should focus on the value and prevalence of the joker card, which is wild but has its own limitations.

    Can you make money playing Pai Gow Poker?

    Yes, but it's not a good bet for players. Pai Gow Poker has a house edge of 2.84%. Under certain rules, the houes edge lowers to 1.42%. In either case, players expect to lose more money than they gain.

    Playing Pai Gow Poker is a form of entertainment, so you pay the cost for the entertainment. The great thing is you'll have many winning sessions, so you don't always have to pay to play Pai Gow Poker. 

    Is Pai Gow Poker a good game?

    Absolutely. It's a great poker-based table game. It's a good preparation for any hand-building poker hand, because it forces you to build two different hands with equal value in the same hand.

    Remember: if you neglect the 2-card hand and concentrate only on the 5-card hand, you're certain to lose half the bet. 

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