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Pai Gow Poker

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 (more on that 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.

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House Edge

You’re probably wondering how to play Pai Gow poker. First, you’ll need to understand the game’s house edge. The Pai Gow poker house edge when playing house rules against a player who does not bank (acts as a banker for other players to play against) is 2.84 percent. Most of that edge (1.27%) comes from players losing a tie to the bank. The rest comes from the five percent commission that’s paid on winning hands.

When a player decides that they will be the bank in Pai Gow poker, their chances to win will increase. If the casino allows them to bank half of their hands, they will lower the negative expectation from 2.84 percent down to 1.42 percent. If they’re able to bank more hands, that number will continue to decrease.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

The goal of Pai Gow poker is to beat both the dealer’s hands. Because each player is given a seven-card hand that is split into five-card and two-card hands, the deck used in the game incorporates one joker instead of two like in other forms of poker. 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. 

Here’s how to Play Pai Gow Poker:
  • 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.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Learning proper Pai Gow poker strategy will increase your chances of winning. Proper hand-setting strategy should increase your chances by 0.15 percent. That doesn’t seem like it’s very much, but over a long session it can make a real difference. Gaining any edge you can find, regardless of the size, is what good gaming is all about.

Having a Pai Gow poker strategy can help improve your odds. Casinos will have the house way of sorting cards, but you can improve on those odds if you follow a few easy rules. Playing by these rules will bring the house edge down to 2.69 percent when the dealer is the banker. Most of these rules follow simple logic, so they’re easy to remember. 

Optimal Pai Gow Poker Strategy
  • 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.

Pai Gow Poker Payouts

Now that you know how to play Pai Gow poker, you’ll need to understand how the payouts work. Bonus payouts are what make this game so exciting to play. The player has an option to make a bonus wager, and if they hit a big hand they will win a bonus. The size of the bonus depends on the size of your bet and the hand that you get. 

Pai Gow 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 History

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.