What is Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow poker is a seven-card American version of the popular Chinese domino game, Pai Gow (which translates to ‘make nine’). While Pai Gow can trace its roots back many centuries to ancient China, Pai Gow poker is very much a child of the eighties. This means that you can class the game as a “millennial.” The game is reminiscent of 7 card stud and is also commonly referred to as “Double Hand Poker.”

Pai Gow poker is widely believed to have been invented in 1985 by Bell Card Club owner, Sam Torosian. Unfortunately for Torosian, he was assured by an adviser that there was no way to patent his card game. This bad advice cost the son of Armenian immigrants millions in potential revenue. Ouch.


Unlike many other variants of poker, Pai Gow poker uses a 52 card deck to play in addition to a joker. The game is generally played at a slower pace, with frequent pushes making it a favorite among patient and conservative players. All in all, Pai Gow poker is a very low-risk game. As such, you might find that you get a lot of game time from a small stake.

The aim of the game in Pai Gow is to put together two hands: a 2-card hand and a 5-card hand. Your hands must beat the dealer’s hands in order to win. If one of your hands win, this results in a push. However, if you lose both hands, you will also lose your bet. Pai Gow poker may appear a little strange to begin with. It does not take long at all for players to pick things up, however, so strap up and will break things down for you.

Pai Gow Poker: The Basics

In Pai Gow poker, a single 53-card deck is used. As mentioned above, the standard 52 cards are used with the addition of a joker. This joker is important in the game, as it acts as a semi-wild card. As such, you can potentially use the joker to complete a flush, a straight, a straight flush, or even as an ace.

Once you have made a bet, the dealer will deal you seven cards and take seven for themselves.  The joker is semi-wild. It may be used as an ace, or to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush, or royal flush. After the player makes a bet, the dealer will deal the player and himself seven cards each.

You will then be required to make a 5-card high hand (known as “upfront”) and a 2-card low hand (known as “behind”) from the deal. In Pai Gow poker, it is always required for the 5-card hand to be of higher value than the 2-card hand. In terms of rankings, general poker rules apply, but some casinos will rank the wheel (ace to 5) as the highest hand over the ace-high straight.

Please Note:

This game is also a little different from other types of poker. One of the standout points is that you can ask the dealer to arrange your hands for you!

Once you have arranged your hands (or had the dealer do this on your behalf), you must ensure that the two-card hand is either a pair or no pair. Once your hand has been set, the dealer will turn over their cards and arrange them in the “house way,” which is essentially the same as the players’. Both of your hands and both of the dealer’s hands are then compared. The higher poker value of both hands wins the game. If there is a tie between you and the dealer, this will be referred to the banker.

If you win both hands, you will receive even money on your bet. So, if your bet is $10, you will receive $10, in addition to your $10 stake but after a 5% commission has been taken by the house. The commission isn’t always charged by the casino you are playing at, however, and is not payable in certain variants. For example, EZ Pai Gow poker is a game where no commission is typically payable.

As mentioned above, if you win one hand and lose the other, this is a push. If you lose both hands, then you will lose your bet. It is important to know that you cannot act as the banker in online Pai Gow poker. However, in landbased casinos, players can take turns in performing this role.

Pai Gow Strategy

In a casino in Las Vegas, a smug looking gentleman flashing one hundred dollar bills once announced to a table that “Bill Clinton once said that ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail.’

Actually, there is no substantial evidence to suggest that the former president used this adage at all. Ironically, if only this gentleman had prepared for this moment adequately, he would not have made such a glaring faux pas. It was Franklin – the man adorning the notes – and not Bill Clinton, who was credited with this phrase. However, he was holding bills, so we can see how he mixed himself up…

Clever, right? Yes, but according to historians, there was no evidence of the American founding father coining this quote either. So, what is the point? The point is that failing to do your homework can often make you look a little silly. When you are playing a game where real money stakes are involved, it pays to be smart. In Pai Gow poker, the game is pretty low-risk, but in order to win handsomely, you need to understand how everything works. Starting from the bottom, it is a good idea to develop a strategy which you can take to the tables.

Arranging  Your Hands

One of the most effective strategies in Pai Gow is worked out on the basis that you cannot lose, providing one of your hands is better than either of the dealer’s. Seasoned players will, therefore, commonly play it safe and make the strongest 2-hand card they can without outranking their 5-card hand.

Of course, the one big exception to this strategy is in the case where you can put together an exceptional 5-card hand. In other words, of you have a 5-card hand which would take some beating, you concentrate on putting all of your hopes into it.

When Playing with No Pairs

Not everyone will be so lucky, however. In many games, you will play with hands with no pairs. When this happens, you can follow these instructions:

  • Place the highest ranked card in the 5-card hand
  • Place the next two high-ranking cards in the 2-card hand

By doing so, you will make the small hand as strong as it can be without breaking the rules of outranking the 5-card hand.

When Playing with One Pair

In cases where you are dealt one pair in your hand, you can switch things up a little:

  • Place the pair in your 5-card hand
  • Place the next two highest cards in 2-card hand


When Playing with Two Pairs

Perhaps you have been dealt two pairs. If this happens, you should split them when they correspond to the values below:

  • Two aces
  • Two high pairs, such as K-K and A-A
  • One high and one medium pair, such as A-A and 8-8

In cases where you don’t have an ace in your hand, you should also split:

  • Any two medium pairs, such as 8-8 and 9-9
  • Any two low pairs, such as a 3-3 and 5-5

In cases where you do not have either an ace or a king in your hand, it is always best to split:

  • Any medium pair and any low pair, such as 8-8 and 2-2
  • Any two low pairs, such as 3-3 and 6-6


When Playing with 3-of-a-Kind

Always place 3-of-a-kind in your 5-card hand in the event where you don’t have 3 aces. Where you do have 3 aces, you should place two in your 5-card hand and one in your 2-card hand.

When Playing with Straights or Flushes

Straights and flushes should always be played. These are typically the strongest hands you can get. The only case where you might not play either of these hands is when you also have two pair.

In cases such as these, you should follow the instructions below:

  • Split any quads – which are 4-of-a-kind cards – into two pairs when they are jacks or better
  • Place quads of 6 or lower in your 5-card hand
  • Place quads of 6 or lower in your 5-card hand when you also have an ace


When Playing with a Full House

If you have a full house:

  • Place the pair in your 2-card hand and 3-of-a-kind in your 5-card hand, unless you have a second pair
  • If you have a second pair, the stronger of the two should be placed in your 2-card hand


When Playing with 5 Aces (Including the Joker)

Now this would be a beautiful sight to behold. One which would surely have every player and spectator reaching for their cameras, that’s for sure!

If this magical hand does occur, you should split them unless you have a pair of kings. Otherwise, you are pretty much guaranteed to win (unless you are the unluckiest person on Earth).


With deep roots in ancient China, Pai Gow – the ever-popular dice game – was Americanized in the form of poker. It is the perfect blend of East meets West and shows how games hybrids are not always doomed to fail. Since its birth in 1985, many players have gravitated to the game. Besides its exotic name and intriguing gameplay, this version of poker is mild and very conservative when compared to other types of card games.

In Pai Gow poker, there are two hands which you must put together. Knowing how to set your cards is crucial for playing the game the right way. One of the positives for novice players, however, is that the dealer will help you to do this. Pretty cool, eh?

Pai Gow poker has a much more sociable and uplifting feel to it. When we consider games such as Texas hold’em – which is as cut-throat and Machiavellian-esque a game you can find – Pai Gow poker is much sweeter and arguably a lot more fun for the average player.

It is certainly more conservative, given the slower pace and frequent pushes. If you are simply looking for a game to pass the time without losing your bankroll in the matter of a single hand, there are fewer poker games out there that can rival the Pai Gow version. Once a player grasps some basic rules and puts them into practice, they should be up and away in no time!

Related Articles
Leave Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *