Pai Gow Poker is one of the most fun casino games to play, but it can be difficult to learn when you’re starting out.

If you would like to play Pai Gow Poker online or live in a casino, it is important to learn the basic rules and hands.

You are ahead of the curve by knowing the rules of Texas Hold’em, especially the hand rankings.

But don’t let the amount of previous poker knowledge put you down. By the time you’ve finished this beginner’s guide to Pai Gow Poker, you will know:

  1. What is Pai Gow Poker?
  2. Pai Gow Poker Rules
  3. Pai Gow Poker hands
  4. Pai Gow Poker Strategy
  5. How to Play Pai Gow Poker for Free

1. What is Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow Poker may not have the long and famous tradition of popular casino table games such as blackjack or roulette, or the most popular variant of poker in Texas Hold’em, as invented by casino owner Sam Torosian in 1985.

“Pai Gow roughly means ‘Make Nine’ in Chinese”

However, the game has deep historical roots as it comes from the domino-based Pai Gow Tiles (also known as Pai Gow) that have been played in China for more than a millennium.

Pai Gow roughly means “Make Nine” in Chinese, as this represents the maximum number of points in the game outside of some special circumstances.

Most poker games are played against players with the dealer who is not involved in the hand other than swapping cards and enforcing the rules.

Pai Gow Poker is a little different in that it is a casino game that you can play against the dealer or even choose the dealer yourself on occasion.

Although it is a casino game, it can be just as social as other forms of poker and is considered one of the lowest risk casino games due to the slow pace of the game and many hands that end in a tie or push.

In addition, Pai Gow odds vary by venue but are typically some of the lowest among casino table games.

If you are planning to play Pai Gow for the first time, it is important to start with the basic rules of the game.

The good news is that with a little practice, the rules of Pai Gow Poker are easy to learn and anyone – including you – can learn the optimal Pai Gow Poker strategy in no time.

2. Pai Gow Poker Rules

How do you play Pai Gow Poker?

Pai Gow Poker uses a 53 card deck that contains the standard 52 cards used in most poker games along with a wild card.

The game is easier to master than most forms of poker as it does not require bluffing as betting takes place before cards are dealt. In other words, you can master the best approach to the game just by learning the rules.

So, let’s dive right in …

A Pai Gow Poker hand begins after bets are placed when the dealer deals all the players in a hand and the banker has seven cards face down. The banker is often the dealer, but it can also be a player or, in some locations, a player / dealer team.

Each player then divides their hole cards into a high hand of five cards and a low hand of two cards. The high hand must always be better than the low hand.

The banker also puts their hand in high and low hands on house rules, which may differ between venue and online. Players can also seek advice from the house on how to direct their hand home if at most, if not all, of the casinos choose to do so.

A player can then win, lose, or check (tie) a hand based on the following scenarios:

  1. The player wins his bet if both of the player’s hands are better than both of the banker’s hands. The amount won is the amount of a bet minus a commission (usually 5%).
  2. The player presses (tie) and their stake is refunded if only one hand of the player beats one of the banker’s hand. This is true regardless of whether the banker won or tied one hand while losing the other hand.
  3. The player loses his bet if the player loses or ties both hands to the banker.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Ranking

Pai Gow Poker uses the same hand rankings as most poker games, including Texas Hold’em. A big difference between Pai Gow and other forms of poker is the joker in the deck.

In Pai Gow Poker, the wild is treated as an ace unless it can be used to complete a flush or straight.

The hand rankings are identical to Texas Hold’em except for the following two rules.

  1. Five aces that can be scored with the joker beat a royal flush and are the best hand in Pai Gow Poker.
  2. One wheel straight, e.g. {2-}{3-}{4-}{5-}is the second best street in most casinos, just past one Broadway street, e.g. {k-}{q-}{j-}{10-}.

Here is a look at all of Pai Gow Poker’s hand rankings. Please note that in the low two-card hand, the best hand that can be hit is a pair.

Even if both the player and the banker have the same hand, the rank of that hand will be used to potentially break a tie. For example if a player {9-}{8th-}{7-}{6-}{5-} Straight would be stronger than the dealer {8th-}{7-}{6-}{5-}{4-}{3-} and a player {7-}{7-} A pair would be better than a dealer’s {5-}{5-} a few.

  • Five aces – five aces including the joker
  • Royal Flush – five cards of the same suit, ace to ten; e.g., {a-clubs}{k clubs}{q clubs}{j clubs}{10 clubs}
  • Straight Flush – five cards of the same suit placed one after the other; e.g., {9 diamonds}{8 diamonds}{7 diamonds}{6 diamonds}{5 diamonds}
  • Four of a Kind – four cards of the same rank; e.g., {j clubs}{j-Hearts}{j-Diamonds}{j-Spades}{6-hearts}
  • Full House – three cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank; e.g., {6 diamonds}{6-spades}{6 clubs}{3 hearts}{3 diamonds}
  • Flush – any five cards of the same suit; e.g., {a-clubs}{10 clubs}{8 clubs}{6 clubs}{5 clubs}
  • Straight – any five cards in a row; e.g., {j clubs}{10-spades}{9-hearts}{8-hearts}{7 diamonds}
  • Three of a Kind – three cards of the same rank; e.g., {7-spades}{7 diamonds}{7 clubs}{q-Spades}{2-hearts}
  • Two pairs – two cards of the same rank and two other cards of the same rank; e.g., {k clubs}{k-Diamonds}{10-spades}{10 clubs}{6-hearts}
  • A pair – two cards of the same rank; e.g., {9-hearts}{9 clubs}{j-Hearts}{4 clubs}{3-of-spades}
  • High Card – five unmatched cards; e.g., {a-Spades}{q-Hearts}{9-hearts}{6 clubs}{4 diamonds} would be called “ace-high”

Pai Gow Poker Side Betting

Both online and live casinos often offer special Pai Gow Poker side bets.

These bets can often be lucrative in the short term, especially those with progressive jackpots, but should generally be avoided as they have a higher house edge than the base game.

The Fortune Pai Gow Poker side bet is one of the most popular that you will see. This side bet looks at all seven of the player’s cards regardless of how they were ultimately placed.

A natural straight flush with seven cards with no placeholders can pay off on this side bet, especially if a progressive jackpot is involved instead of fixed odds. The paytables can vary, but very often players can win with trips or better, while other payout structures start with a full house.

Other side bets are Dealer Bonus, Jackpot, Emperor’s Challenge, Progressive, Insurance, Lucky 8 and many more.

Since these side bets vary from casino to casino, it is best to ask the dealer, who is usually happy to explain how all of the side bets work if they are interesting for an extra game of chance, before sitting down to go to a live casino to play. Likewise, you can find out about all the side bet rules that your favorite online casino may have in their Pai Gow offer.

Pai Gow strategy

Betting a Pai Gow Poker hand can be difficult, although it is easy most of the time.

For example, a {4 diamonds}{5 clubs}{6-spades}{7-hearts}{8-hearts}{2-of-spades}{2 clubs} The hand plays out with a straight going on the lower high hand and the pair of twos going on the lower hand.

Pai Gow Poker example hand

But what if you get a hand like that {8 diamonds}{8 clubs}{9 diamonds}{9-spades}{10-spades}{j clubs}{q-Hearts}. You have two options to choose from:

  1. Strongest hand up – {q-Hearts}{j clubs}{10-spades}{9-spades}{8 diamonds} = high hand for a straight; {9 diamonds}{8 clubs} for low hand.
  2. Very strong low hand – {9 diamonds}{9-spades}{10-spades}{j clubs}{q-Hearts} = high hand for a pair of nines; {8 diamonds}{8 clubs} for low hand.

The first hand would almost guarantee a push, but it may not be the best option even if it is the most intuitive at first.

Pai Gow Poker Example Hand 3

The second hand offers better options as the pair of eights for the low hand is almost very strong and gives the player a chance of winning, with the pair of nine for the high hand often being a winning hand.

Pai Gow Poker Example Hand 2

How to Play Pai Gow Poker Online