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Learn How To Play Pai Gow Poker – Rules & Strategies

Learn How To Play Pai Gow Poker – Rules & Strategies

Published on by Ben

There are several unique table games that many of you may be unfamiliar with. Although they’re frequently available at most online casinos, many players haven’t tried them because, at first, they seem confusing. One such game is Pai Gow Poker.

Based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow Dominoes, this poker variant was invented in 1985 by Sam Torosian, owner of the Bell Card Club in Southern California. Since then, the game’s popularity has grown and has long been enjoyed at many land-based casinos. Thankfully, nowadays, you can experience all that this table game has to offer and potentially walk away with some fantastic real money payouts at many of the best NetEnt Casinos.

So, if you’re interested in learning how to play, continue reading to discover all of the Pai Gow Poker rules. After you’ve mastered the basics you can go on to implement the ideal Pai Gow Poker strategy and greatly improve your chances of winning!


How To Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is played with a 53-card deck. It consists of 52 standard playing cards, plus the joker. The game can be played one on one versus the dealer, or with up to a maximum of 6 players around a table plus the dealer.

Although the game may appear to be complex, your goal is simple: beat the banker. Each player is dealt 7 cards, which must be arranged into two separate hands as follows:


  • A five-card high hand (known as the backhand/big hand)
  • A two-card low hand (known as the front hand/small hand)


When creating these hands, there is one rule that must always be followed: your high hand must always be better than your low hand. For example, if your low hand is a pair of jacks, your high hand must be better than a pair of jacks, as per the hierarchy of hands.

Once you have decided upon your hands, the dealer reveals them and they are played against the banker’s hands. At this point there are three possible outcomes:


  • The player wins if both of their hands beat the banker’s hands.
  • The banker wins if both of their hands beat the player’s hands.
  • The player wins one hand and the dealer wins the other and the result is a push.


Arranging A Pai Gow Poker Hand

Once the cards have been dealt, it’s up to you to arrange them into two separate hands. As mentioned, this must include a five-card high hand and a two-card low hand. Your five-card hand must always outrank your two-card hand, as determined by the standard poker rules.

Of course, the best possible two-card hand you make is only a pair. If this isn’t possible then it will result in a high card. However, provided that your five-card hand outranks the other, it can range from a high card to 5 aces, which includes the joker.

Note: Once again, make sure that your five-card hand outranks your two-card hand. If a hand is arranged incorrectly then it is fouled, which will likely result in your bet becoming forfeit.

What Makes A Winning Pai Gow Hand?

A winning Pai Gow hand is one that results in both of your high hand and low hand beating the dealer’s hands. It doesn’t matter if it merely consists of a pair and a high card, as long as they outrank what the dealer shows you win.

Whatever you wagered before the start of the hand will be paid as an even money bet, minus potential commission.

Note: When playing Pai Gow Poker, ties go to the dealer. This means if you both have the exact same hand, the dealer wins.

What’s A Joker Worth In Pai Gow?

Due to Pai Gow Poker using 53 cards, the joker is included and can be used to form certain hands. As you’d expect, it’s a powerful card as it acts as a sort of ‘wild’ in specific situations. If you’re dealt the joker you use it in the following ways:


  • It can be used as any card to complete a straight
  • It can be used to substitute for any suit to complete a flush
  • If neither of these outcomes is possible, the joker will always be an ace.


If the joker is used in your low hand (two-card), it will always act as an ace.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

It’s a common Pai Gow strategy to split your hand in a way that results in the best possible two-card hand. This is the case because you only need to beat one of the banker’s hands in order to retain your original stake – known as a push.

There are exceptions to this strategy, which usually come into play whenever you can make an extremely strong five-card hand. Straights and flushes are very hard to beat, so if you have the opportunity to create one it’s advisable to do so. This then leaves your remaining cards as your front/small hand.

However, depending upon what you have been dealt, there are other strategies you can implement:

If you’re dealt a hand consisting of no pairs whatsoever:


  • Place your highest-ranked card in the back/big hand.
  • Place your second two highest cards in the front/small hand.


This ensures that your front hand is as strong as possible, without ever outranking your backhand.


If you have been dealt a single pair:


  • Place your pair in your high hand.
  • Place your remaining two highest cards in your low hand.


If you have been dealt two pairs, you should always split them if you have:


  • Two high pairs (JJ-AA)
  • One high pair (JJ-AA) and one medium pair (77-TT)


Unless you have an ace, you should also split:


  • Two medium pairs (77-TT)
  • One high pair (JJ-AA) and one low pair (22-66)


Unless you have an ace or a king, you should split:


  • One medium pair (77-TT) and one low pair (22-66)
  • Two low pairs (22-66)

Pai Gow Poker Side Bets

It’s not just your standard hand that can result in Pai Gow payouts. Many variations of this table game also offer you the chance to place different side bets, namely Fortune Pai Gow Poker. These are additional wagers that you can place, which are unaffected by whether you win or lose the hand itself.

Instead, you’re betting on the cards you are dealt and whether they rank within the hierarchy of poker hands – straight, 3 of a kind, flush, full house, and so forth. Of course, the higher the hand, the higher the side bet payout will be – reaching up to an impressive 8,000x your stake for a 7-card straight flush.

Some of the most popular Pai Gow Poker variants that include side bets are as follows:


  • Fortune Pai Gow
  • Pai Gow Mania
  • Emperor’s Challenge
  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow

Play Free Gai Poker Online

Now that you’ve become familiar with the rules of Pai Gow Poker, you may be inclined to play a few hands. Thankfully, there are several online casinos where you can play Pai Gow Poker for free. These sites enable you to try out certain strategies and see if you can make them work before playing for real money.

Choose from any of our recommended online casinos listed below and you’ll become a Pai Gow Poker master in no time. There are also hundreds of other exciting poker games, blackjack games, and online slots to try out at these online casinos should you feel the urge!

So, if you’re feeling particularly lucky, keep an eye out for any of these games at your chosen site. One hand could be all that stands between you and an incredible payout!

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the odds of getting 5 aces in Pai Gow?

    As Pai Gow Poker is played with a standard 52-card deck and a joker, you must be dealt all 4 aces and the joker to create this hand. The chance of this happening stands at roughly 140,000/1, which makes it an unlikely scenario but one that could still happen. Also, if this were to occur and you had placed a bonus side bet, you would be looking at an additional 400/1 payout.

  • What is House Way in Pai Gow?

    At each land-based or online casino, the dealer is required to arrange his Pai Gow hand in specific ways. This is referred to as the “House Way”. This can vary from site to site but it is always mentioned within the game’s information panel. If you’re unsure as to what a certain casino’s “House Way” is, be sure to read the game guide.

  • How many cards are in Pai Gow?

    Pai Gow Poker utilises a 53 card-deck. There are 4 standard suits (hearts, clubs, spades, and diamonds), which each consist of 13 cards (2-A). In addition to these, there is one joker, which acts as a wild card when it is possible to create certain hands.

  • How many jokers are in Pai Gow?

    There is only one joker in a Pai Gow Poker deck. If it is dealt into your hand it may be used as a substitute for any value card when creating a straight or any suit when forming a flush. If neither of these outcomes is possible, it acts as an ace.

  • What is face up Pai Gow poker?

    Face Up Pai Gow Poker features head-to-head play against the dealer and offers two optional side bets, Fortune Bonus and Ace-High. Just like regular Pai Gow, both your and the dealer receive 7 cards and must create a high hand and a low hand. The difference is that the dealer’s cards are dealt face-up so that you can see them.

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Ben Boland

Ben Boland

Content Writer

Like his chum James, Ben is another bearded Brit that has made the transition from formal journalism training to the beautifully claustrophobic Mediterranean island of Malta. There he is a Content Writer for NetEnt Casino, ensuring that all utterances are legible and – most importantly – accurate.

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