Overview of Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker Overview

Pai Gow Poker uses cards, but it takes much of its name from a classic Chinese game that uses dominos. It was created in 1985 by Sam Torosian, although he was misinformed about patent laws regarding card games and never made any money off his invention.

While the game is relatively new, it has enjoyed a great deal of success thanks to the opportunity for side wagers and big hands, as well as the presence of the semi-wild joker card. With the rise of online gambling, it has continued to grow in popularity thanks to its presence in most virtual casinos.

If you’ve ever wanted to know how to play the game, this article has you covered. In addition to detailing the basic rules, we’ll also discuss side bets and some basic strategy. Even if you’ve never played before, it’s our hope that you’ll leave this article with enough knowledge to jump right into a game.

How to Play Keno

Getting Started

The game is played with a standard set of 52 cards, as well as a single joker. While the joker isn’t always wild, it can serve as an ace and also be used to complete any of the following: royal flush, straight flush, flush, or straight.

Up to seven players can take part in a game of Pai Gow Poker. Each of these individuals is playing against the banker (or dealer). At online casinos, the house almost always acts as the banker.

In land-based casinos, players sometimes alternate in the role of the banker, although the house dealer continues to distribute the cards. In such instances, the dealer also plays a hand. In order to be the banker, a player has to have enough chips in front of them to cover all bets made by the other players.

The Basics

Each player begins by making a bet that’s at least the amount of the table minimum. Once this happens, the players and the dealer each receive seven cards.

The player must now arrange his cards into a five-card hand (“high hand”) and a two-card hand (“low hand”). The high hand must have a superior poker value to the low hand.

The standard poker rankings are used throughout the game. The only exception is a straight comprised of A2345, which is considered the second best straight in the game. This rule isn’t always in place in casinos, so be sure to check before play begins.

The best ranking possible for the low hand is a pair. Otherwise, the value of each card is used to determine its strength.

Once all players have set their hands, the banker reveals his cards and begins to do the same. Casino employees must arrange their cards according to a pre-determine set of rules known as the “house way.” A player acting as banker, however, may arrange the cards in any manner that they choose.

Next, the dealer compares their hand against each player, starting with the high hand. If the player wins both hands, they receive an even money payout with a 5% commission taken out for the banker. If the player loses or ties on both hands, then the house collects their entire bet. If the player wins one and ties one, then their wager is considered a push.

In games where a player acts as banker, this role is supposed to rotate or zig-zag around the table. If a player does not wish to be the banker, they may decline. In this case, the right moves on to the next player in line (who may also pass on it).

Pai Gow Strategy Made Simple

You’ll find a number of strategies for Pai Gow Poker scattered across the Internet, and some are more complex than others. In this section, it’s my intention to present some basic tips that should improve your game without giving you a headache at the same time.

  • If you have a poor hand with no pairs, straights, or flushes, make sure the high hand contains your best card. The next best two cards should be allotted to your low hand.
  • If you have two pair, and the highest pair is jacks through aces, split the pairs by putting the best one in the high hand and the other in the low hand. The exception to this rule occurs when the second pair is deuces. When this happens, play the two pair together in the high hand and move the two highest remaining cards to the low hand.
  • If you have two pair of tens through deuces, split them unless you have an ace. If this happens, play the two pair in the high hand along with the ace and move the next highest card to the low hand.
  • If you have three pair, move the highest pair into the low hand.
  • If you have a three-of-a-kind, play them together unless they’re aces. In that case, leave a pair of aces in the high hand and move the other ace—along with the next highest card—into the low hand.
  • If you have four-of-a-kind comprised of aces or face cards, then always split them. The only exception is when you also have another pair. In this case, use it in the low hand instead.
  • If you have four-of-a-kind comprised of sevens through tens, split them. The exception is when you also have an ace or better. If this is the case, keep the four cards in the high hand and move the others to the low hand.
  • If you have four-of-a-kind comprised of sixes or lower, then always keep the cards together.
  • If you have a full house, move the pair into the low hand. The exception comes when you have an extra pair. In this case, use the highest pair in the low hand.
  • If you have a straight or flush, you should keep it in the high hand.
  • If you have five-of-a-kind, split them. An exception is when you also have a pair of kings. Under these circumstances, move the pair of kings to the low hand.

Pai Gow Poker Side Bets

In addition to the standard ways of making a profit, Pai Gow Poker also has some side bets that are available to players. These vary from one casino to the next, so always check before you begin play.

  • Fortune
  • This side bet pays based on the strength of the player’s seven cards, with a natural 7-card straight flush delivering the highest return. If another player at the table has a four-of-a-kind hand or higher, the bettor also receives an additional amount known as an “Envy Bonus.”

  • Pai Gow Insurance
  • In order to achieve a “pai gow,” a player needs seven cards that are of different ranks (also known as “singletons”). The overall house edge on this bet is 7.35%, and a lower high card—such as a 9—pays more than a Q or K high card.

  • Emperor’s Challenge
  • Offered at some land-based casinos, this option wager pays the most for a natural 7-card straight flush. The overall house edge is 4.171%.

  • Jokolor
  • This side wager pays under two conditions: (1) the player has a joker in their hand, or (2) the player has a joker and six cards of the same color (3) the player has seven cards of the same color.

  • Progressive Pai Gow
  • In addition to the basic rules, the player can make an optional $5 side bet and take a chance at winning a percentage of the progressive jackpot. The hand with the biggest payout is a natural royal flush or five aces plus a pair.

In most casinos, the house makes more off the bonus wagers than they do from collecting a commission. This is due to the fact that side bets often carry a sizable house edge, so my advice for the smart player is to avoid these appealing options whenever they’re presented.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Probabilities

The following probabilities are meant to illustrate how often you can expect to achieve a specific hand while playing Pai Gow Poker:


Five Aces

Royal Flush

Straight Flush

Four of a Kind

Full House



Three of a Kind

Two Pair

One Pair

Anything Else

Tips for Playing Pai Gow Poker

If you’d like to improve your overall skill at the game, try incorporating some of these tips and strategies the next time you play:

While the 5-card hand is certainly important, a lot of beginning players tend to forget about the 2-card hand. That’s a big mistake, as you need to win both hands in order to receive a payout. Always strive for balance with your two hands, even if it means making a 5-card hand that isn’t as strong.
Play as Banker
The banker gets to build their hand after all other players have finished, which means they can see the completed hands of the competition. This serves as a major advantage, although it’s offset by the fact that the banker may have to defeat up to six other hands. Even if they lose, though, they still receive a 5% commission from each player who defeats them.
Bring Lots of Money
If you’re planning on taking my advice from the previous entry, make sure that you bring a respectable bankroll to the table. That’s because the banker is pitting his money against all others players at the table, which means he could be forced to cover five or six bets during the same hand.
Banker Bets
If you’re acting as the banker, this is the best time to consider making a large wager.
Player Bets
Since the banker holds an advantage, it’s best to avoid making large bets whenever possible.
Know the Rules
This should be a no-brainer, but I’ve seen a lot of players sit down at a Pai Gow Poker table without having the slightest notion of how the game works. Don’t be one of these people, especially since the banker has a built-in advantage over everyone else.
Use the House Way
If you have difficulty assembling your hand, you can always choose to do it the house way. This is a pre-determined system that’s put together by the casino to prevent their dealer from having to make decisions on the fly. If the casino employs a method, you can be confident that it gives you a strong chance of winning. The house way varies from one establishment to the next, however, so you’ll need to do some research and memorization before playing.
Stay Fresh
Players need to pay attention in order to build the best hands possible, and this can be tough to do if you’re tired. Always get enough sleep the night before engaging in this game, and try to take a break from the table every hour to clear your head and renew your energy. Otherwise, you run the risk of a foggy brain.

Online Pai Gow Poker

The differences between the land-based and online versions of the game are few in number, which works to the advantage of the player who likes to jump from one format to the other. The biggest adjustment may be that the house always acts as the banker, and the fact that games are one-on-one. Other than that, you shouldn’t expect a great deal of variation.

Since Pai Gow Poker is a proprietary game that requires the patent holder to get paid before someone can use it, not all online casinos are going to include it. This often comes down to the software designer, so make sure a specific online site offers the game before opening an account.

Pai Gow Poker isn’t as old as craps or blackjack, but it’s managed to attract a sizable fan base within a short period of time. While it features a slower pace than some casino options due to hand adjustments and house commission, it makes up for this by offering respectable payouts and excitement that’s on par with traditional poker.