How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow

2022-10-22

Ethan Tremblay

Seasoned poker players know the game comes in many variations. One of the most loved poker variants today is Pai Gow. This game is played using Chinese dominoes instead of Pai Gow. But although Pai Gow poker is fun and rewarding to play, you might need a helping hand to grasp the game's fundamentals before going all in. This is precisely what you need. In this brief guide, you'll learn how to play Pai Gow and what to do on the table to create good situations. 

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

The Basic Rules of Pai Gow poker

If you've played Chinese poker before, you shouldn't have problems slotting into a Pai Gow table. Even anybody with basic poker knowledge should learn this game quickly. In Pai Gow, the idea is to create a hand that beats the dealer's hand, just like in any online casino poker game. But unlike traditional poker games that use a single hand, Pai Gow players and the dealer create two hands. Interesting!

This game uses the standard 52-card deck with an additional Joker, making it 53 in total. In this game, the Joker is a wild card that can complete a flush or straight when it's dealt. But if it can't complete these two winning hands, the Joker card counts as an Ace. The Joker also counts as an Ace in the two-card hand. 

Pai Gow poker begins with players making an ante bet. Then, seven face-down cards are dealt to the player and dealer positions. After that, players arrange their cards into 5-card (high) and 2-card (low) hands. Remember that the 5-card hand must rank higher than the 2-card hand. If your hands beat both the dealer's hands, a payout consideration is made using standard poker hand rankings. 

If you're still a greenhorn in poker, below are the main poker hand combinations:

  • Royal flush: 10, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of a similar suit.
  • Straight flush: five consecutive cards like 3-4-5-6-7 of a similar suit.
  • Four of a kind: four similar card values of different suits.
  • Full house: these are two cards of the same value and three cards of the same value.
  • Flush: five cards of a similar suit.
  • Straight: five consecutive cards but of different suits.
  • Three of a kind: three similar card values of different suits.
  • Two pairs: two same-value cards and another two same-value cards of varying ranks.
  • A pair: two matching cards.
  • High card: this is the highest-ranking card in a poker hand.

A draw or push is another possible outcome in Pai Gow poker. This happens if you win a single hand and the dealer wins a hand on their side. For example, if your 2-card hand beats the dealer's 2-card hand and the dealer's 5-card hand beats yours, the game moves to the next round. 

Learning to set Pai Gow hands is also important since you'll be dealing with two hands here. As said before, the high hand must outrank the low hand. So, if the low hand has a pair of Kings, the high hand must have a higher total value than 10. Note that other cards like Jack and Queen also have face values of 10.

While you may not be thinking of turning your gameplay into a specialty, if you want to learn more about Pai Gow Poker,  you can find our detailed guide to playing Pai Gow Poker online.  

Pai Gow Poker House Edge and Paytable

You must now wonder how Pai Gow pays. The good news is; this game has one of the lowest house edges in poker. Here, the online casino maintains a 2.8% advantage, which is way lower than the 5.22% for Caribbean Stud Poker. The house edge looks higher than what's on most online poker games because of the 5% commission to the house on all winnings. Without the commission, the house has an estimated advantage of 1.3%. 

As for the payout, this online poker game has several variants which come with side bet payouts that can reach 8,000x the stake. Here's what the Pai Gow paytable looks like:

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

One must carefully set their hands to succeed on a Pai Gow poker table. Remember, this game has no betting rounds. However, the rules for setting a Pai Gow Poker hand can depend on the online casino. Usually, two pairs are divided into low, medium, or high. Low pairs are a pair of 2s to 6s, whereas medium pairs are a pair of 7s to 10s. The high pairs consist of Aces, Kings, Queens, and Jacks. 

Below are the Pai Gow strategies to use regarding the two pairs:

  • No pair: Use the highest ranking card in the high hand and the second and third highest cards in the low hand. 
  • One pair: If the seven hands have a pair, use it on the high hand and the second and third highest cards on the low hand. For example, if you're dealt 5-5-8-9-J-Q-K, the 5s will remain on the high hand, and the King and Queen will make the low hand. 
  • Low pair + low pair: Keep the pairs in the high hand and play the next two highest cards in the low hand.
  • Low pair + medium pair: Always split unless you have a King or higher. Then, play the two-pair in the high hand. 
  • Low pair + high pair: Split unless you have an Ace or Joker. Then, play the two-pair in the high hand.
  • Medium pair + medium pair: Split unless you have a Joker or Ace, then play the two pairs on the high hand. 
  • Medium pair + high pair: Split unless you have a King or Ace, then add the two pairs on the high hand.
  • High pair + high pair: Always split.

It's also common to find yourself in a complex situation, like getting two three-of-a-kind. Here, play the highest three-of-a-kind combination in the low hand and the lowest three-of-a-kind in the high hand. If the seven cards have three pairs, add the highest pair in the low hand and the lowest pair in the high hand. As for five Aces, they always split then play an Ace pair on the low hand. 

Act as a Banker If Possible

The backbreaking 5% commission on Pai Gow poker can be a deal-breaker in most cases. So, to play without a commission, you'll need to find a Pai Gow game that allows you to play as a banker. In other words, you'll play against other players and not the house. In return, you'll win all the tie bets just like the dealer when playing against you. 

However, the 5% commission will still apply to all your winnings, although the house edge will now reduce to 1.46% because of the winning tie bets. In addition, most casinos will allow players to play the banker role only once in every seven hands. Moreover, you'll need a reasonable bankroll to play the banker. For instance, if you play against ten poker players wagering $20 per hand, you'll need $200 to cover this. Now you know why some players decline an offer to be a banker. 

But the online gambling world is a land of many possibilities. On some rare occasions, players can find commission-free Pai Gow Poker. The casino won't take a 5% cut from all your winnings in these games. But the catch is that gamers can't play the banker, which is fair enough. A good example is EZ Pai Gow Poker, where the dealer's high hand with a Queen results in a push. That's the price to pay. 

Pai Gow Poker Variants

Pai Gow Poker has several variants to play at your favorite online casino. Below are the main ones:

6-Card Fortune Pai Gow

The objective of this online Pai Gow variant remains the same – beat the dealer's two hands! But instead of getting seven cards to make two hands, the dealer and the player each get six cards. The rule of thumb is to have a 5-card hand that's of higher value than the 1-card hand. In this game, you don't have to pay any commission to the house on your winnings. However, the game doesn't offer player banking. If you beat the croupier in both hands, you'll get a payout of 1:1.

Commission-Free Fortune Pai Gow Poker

As the name suggests, players don't pay the usual 5% commission when they floor the dealer. Instead, players automatically push if the dealer has a 9-high in their low hand. But what makes this Pai Gow variant stand out are the two exciting bonus bets. The Fortune Bonus bet wins if the player's best possible high hand is at least three of a kind. Players can also claim the Dealer Bonus bet, which applies to the croupier's 7-card hand. 

EZ Pai Gow Poker

In this commission-free variant, the base wager becomes a push if the dealer's high hand has a Queen. The game also packs numerous side bets, including the Dynasty Bonus, which pays out if the gamer's high hand is a three-of-a-kind. If another player creates at least four of a kind, they win the "Envy Bonus." The game also offers the Protection bet, which acts as Pai Gow insurance. This bet pays if the player's best high hand has an Ace or lower. 

Face Up Pai Gow Poker

Want to see what's in the dealer's hand? Play Face Up Pai Gow Poker. This game employs the same gameplay rules as the standard Pai Gow game, except that all cards are dealt face-up. Face Up Pai Gow also comes with the Ace Bonus and Fortune Bonus side bets. In the Fortune Bonus side bet, you'll get a 7,000:1 payout if you score a natural straight flush with the seven cards.

Enjoy the game!

After reading this guidepost, you should now be ready to start playing Pai Gow Poker. As you can see, there's nothing complex about the game. Just know those typical poker hand rankings and how to arrange your hands to create good situations. But remember that the game isn't widespread like other poker variants like Texas Hold 'em, Omaha, Jacks or Better, and Caribbean Stud. So, do your homework.

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