Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Pai Gow Poker offers one of the slowest games in the casino. Once you learn how to play, it offers a fun way to pass time gambling.

Pai Gow Poker resembles craps. Players tend to win or lose together.

Why?

It’s because the players all play against one dealer hand.

When players win or lose together it can lead to a feeling of camaraderie at the table.

Advantages of Playing Pai Gow Poker

The two biggest advantages offered by Pai Gow Poker?

  1. The low house edge.
  2. The slow pace of play.

Many hands end up in pushes. The actual number of winning or losing hands per hour is small. Your bankroll lasts long. You see more winning sessions.

Some casino games that offer a lower house edge, but most of them play many more hands or spins per hour, so you can end up losing more per hour at a lower house edge game than at a slow game like Pai Gow Poker.

Here’s an example:

You’re playing a video poker game with a house edge of .5% (one half percent). You’re betting $5 per hand and playing 400 hands per hour.

Your expected loss rate is $10 per hour.

The normal house edge for Pai Gow Poker is around 2.5% and roughly 40% of the hands end up in a push. If 30 hands are dealt per hour, only 18 of them end up with a win or a loss.

If you’re betting $10 per hand, your expected loss rate is only $4.50 per hour – even though you’re wagering twice as much per hand as you are per spin.

It’s also easy to learn a fairly solid basic strategy.

Pai Gow Poker Basic Strategy

Your goal is to create the best two card hand that you can legally use. The exception is when you can build a high five card hand that is unlikely to lose like a straight or flush.

But with a full house, use the three of a kind in the five card hand and the other pair in the two card hand.

A lone ace or king is a valuable card to be able to place in the two card hand as it will often win. So a strong hand can be kept in the five card hand if you can also play an ace of king in the two card hand.

Here are some example hands and the right strategy for each:

Seven Card HandFive Card HandTwo Card Hand
Ah Ad Kc Ks 7h 6d 3cAh Ad 7h 6d 3cKc Ks
Ah Ad Ac Ks 4d 3s 2hAh Ad 4d 3s 2hAc Ks
Ad 9s 8c 7h 6d 5d 2h9s 8c 7h 6d 5dAd 2h
7d 7s 7c 6h 6c 3d 2s7d 7s 7c 3d 2s6h 6c
Ac Qs 8d 7c 5h 2s 2d2s 2d 8d 7c 5hAc Qs

 

Since you have to win both hands to win or lose both hands to lose, your goal is to create as close to a sure thing in at least one hand and take my chances with the other hand.

Of course the five card hand has to be higher than the two card hand by the rules of the game. The more you play, the more instinctive your play will become.

You can take the time to memorize a more advanced strategy, but the extra percentage you pick up will be minimal. It might not be worth your effort.

All of this may sound complicated, but once you start playing, it won’t take you long to figure out the best way to play almost every hand. Within an hour, you should be able to play solid Pai Gow Poker without worrying about making many mistakes.

If you’re convinced you need to learn an advanced strategy, I’ve included a sample house way in the next section. Learn it and you will play your hand just like most casinos have their dealers play their hands.

The House Way

Each casino plays or sets their Pai Gow Poker hands a certain way. This way can vary, but it’s very close with only minor changes. If you don’t care for either of the basic strategies listed above you can play your hands the house way listed below.

Simply read down the instructions until you find your hand.

When you have five aces, always play two of the aces in the two card hand unless you have a pair of kings to go with the five aces. In that case play the two kings in the two card hand.

If you have four of a kind and a pair or three of a kind you will play the four of a kind in the five card hand and the pair or two of the three of a kind in the two card hand unless you have four aces. When you have four aces you play two of them in the two card hand unless you also have a pair of kings. Then you play the pair of kings in the two card hand.

When you have four of a kind of aces or face cards you always play a pair of the cards in the two card hand. If your four of a kind is sevens, eights, nines or tens you play a pair of them in the two card hand unless you can play an ace in the two card hand. Then play the ace with the next highest non paired card in the two card hand. If the four of a kind is twos, threes, fours, fives or sixes you always leave all four cards in the five card hand.

If you have a full house with two three of a kinds you play a pair from the highest three of a kind in the two card hand. If you have three of a kind and two pair you play the highest pair in the two card hand. When you have three of a kind and a pair you play the pair in the two card hand except when the pair is a pair of twos and you have an ace and king. In that case play the ace and king in the two card hand.

When you have any straight or flush with three of a kind you play a pair in the two card hand.

If you have any straight or flush with three pair always play the highest pair in the two card hand.

When you have a straight or flush with two pair use the two pair rule listed below.

If you have a straight or flush with one pair play the pair in the two card hand if the straight or flush can still be played in the five card hand. When you have an ace and a pair of tens or higher play the ace in the two card hand and the pair in the five card hand unless the flush or straight can still be played in the five card hand with the ace in the two card hand.

When you have any straight or flush with no pair play the arrangement that allows you to play the highest two cards in the two card hand while still playing the flush or straight in the five card hand.

If you hold two three of a kinds play the highest possible pair in the two card hand.

When you have three of a kind keep the three of a kind in the five card hand and play your other two highest cards in the two card hand unless the three of a kind is aces. Then play one of the aces in the two card hand.

If you have three pairs always play the highest pair in the two card hand.

When you have two pair of jacks, queens, kings or aces you always place the second highest pair in the two card hand. If you have a pair of aces and any other pair you place the second highest pair in the two card hand. When you have two pair with one pair being jacks or higher and one pair being from sevens to tens you always place the lower of the two pairs in the two card hand. When you have two pair that are each from sevens to tens you place the second highest pair in the two card hand unless you also hold an ace. Then you play the ace in the two card hand. If you have a pair of jacks or higher and a pair of sixes or lower play the lower pair in the two card hand unless you have an ace. Then play the ace in the two card hand. When you have a pair between sevens and tens and a pair of sixes or lower play the lower pair in the two card hand unless you have an ace. Then play the ace in the two card hand. When you have two pairs of sixes or lower play both of them in the five card hand.

If you have one pair play it in the five card hand and use your other two highest cards in the two card hand.

When you have no pairs use the highest card in the five card hand and the second and third highest cards in the two card hand.

Conclusion

Using either of the two strategies listed above for Pa Gow Poker play will offer you one of the lowest house edges that you can get. If you look at both strategies, you can see the simple strategy is very close to the house way. My suggestion is use whichever one is easiest for you to learn and spend the rest of your time enjoying the game.