Pai Gow Poker Explained in 4 Minutes (or Less)

pai gow poker

  • Pai Gow Poker is an entertaining Poker variant to play at a Casino
  • You get seven cards and need to make two winning hands: 5-card hand and 2-card hand
  • It’s possible to play Pai Gow Poker online for real money (here)

Let me guess.

You’re a (huge) fan of some Poker variant. Maybe Texas Hold’em Poker or Casino Hold’em. And you want to expand your horizons.

You discovered there is this Pai Gow Poker game based on the Chinese domino game Pai Gow. And you can’t help yourself but find out more about it.

Okay, that was not really a guess.

It’s how my story with Pai Gow Poker started.

Your story may have a completely different beginning. But it led you here.

And whether you want to find out -

  • what is Pai Gow Poker
  • how to play the game
  • where to play online for free (or for real money)
  • how to win at Pai Gow Poker

- it’s all covered in this article.

What is Pai Gow Poker?

Poker is a pretty universal card game. That’s one of the reasons why Poker games are so popular in the first place.

You always get some cards and you need to make a combination that beats other players or the dealer.

Sometimes you can bluff your way to the pot. Sometimes you get five cards instead of two. Sometimes you can make some side bets during the gameplay.

What’s the catch with Pai Gow Poker?

  • You get seven cards instead of two or five.
  • You need to make two winning hands instead of one.
  • You play against the dealer rather than other players.
  • There is a Joker in the 53-card deck that works as a wild card (sometimes).

That makes Pai Gow Poker one of the most unique Poker variants out there.

pai gow poker online

Go to game >

The Basics: How to Play Pai Gow Poker (Rules)

Pai Gow Poker is not a very common game at Casinos.

It’s a slow-paced game with a lot of pushes. Around 35 percent of all hands will end up in a push.

The brick-and-mortar Casinos often don’t spare time for that.

The ones that do (online Casinos included) charge a five percent commission every time you win.

You can play the game with a group of players at the table. All playing against the dealer who, in Pai Gow Poker, is called the banker.

pai gow poker: dealt cards
The game starts when you place your bet and get seven cards.

Your goal is to split your seven cards between two hands:

  • a two-card hand (the low hand),
  • a five-card hand (the high hand).

The low hand has to be of a lower Poker rank than the high hand, hence the name.

pai gow poker: setting up hands
Setting up hands: choose two cards to make up the low hand.

Yet, your low hand has to beat the banker’s low hand. Just like the high hand needs to beat the banker’s high hand.

That’s the only way you win.

If one hand is higher than the banker’s but the other one is lower, it’s a push.

If both hands are lower, the banker wins.

pai gow poker: banker's hand revealed
The banker reveals their cards - you see the results.

When you play at land-based Casinos, making your low hand higher than the high hand results in a foul and you lose your bet.

When that happens online, the Casino notifies you to modify your hands.

Pai Gow Poker House Edge and Payouts

Pai Gow Poker has a house edge of approximately 2.84 percent. So, it’s more or less on the same level as Roulette.

What does that tell you?

It’s not the most player-friendly game to play at a Casino, obviously. You have a lot better odds when you play Blackjack or Video Poker.

Yet, it’s still better than many other Casino games.

Plus, if you take advantage of the optimal strategy, you can lower the house edge to 2.53 percent.

That, my friend, beats the Roulette, too.

The banker deals seven cards to each player from the deck including a Joker. Thus, there are a lot more chances to land the rare Poker hands, e.g. Straight Flush.

Don’t get too excited about the Joker. It works as a wild card only when it takes a place of an Ace or can help to complete a Straight, a Flush, or a Straight Flush.

In the end, no matter how good of a hand you get, all winnings payout 1 to 1.

Best Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Like with most Poker variants and card games, you need a strategy to make sure you’re not wasting your money at the Pai Gow table.

Of course, Pai Gow Poker doesn't have a perfect all-in-one strategy leading you to nothing but winnings.

No game does.

There is an optimal strategy you can use, though.

It will reduce the house edge and will help you to win more.

In a nutshell, Pai Gow Poker optimal strategy explains how to set up your two hands.

It’s based on the seven cards you get and the combinations out of them that have the best odds of winning.

Start using Pai Gow strategy in four simple steps:

Step #1: Click here to open a free Pai Gow Poker game online.

Okay, it's not really a part of the strategy but it will make much more sense to play for free and follow the tips in practice than to read and imagine them in theory.

Step #2: Make a free bet, press deal, and check what you’ve got.

Step #3: Think.

If you played Texas Hold'em or different kind of Poker, what would be the best combination you could make out of these seven hands?

Two pair? Three of a Kind? Perhaps a Straight?

Step #4: Find that highest possible combination that you hold and then check the table below to see what to do with it.

Your 7-card handSet your high hand as:Set your low hand as:
High cardHighest cardNext two highest cards
One pairPairNext two highest cards
Two pair, incl. Pair of AcesPair of AcesThe other Pair
Two pair, incl.Jacks or 10s and a side AceTwo PairHigh card (Ace)
Two pair, incl. 9s or lower and a side Ace or KingTwo PairHigh card (Ace or King)
Two pair (other)Higher PairLower Pair
Three pair2nd and 3rd highest PairsHighest Pair
Three of a Kind (Aces)PairHigh card (Ace)
Three of a Kind (other)Three of a KindNext highest hand
StraightLowest cards making up StraightThe remaining (higher) cards
Straight and Two PairPlay as Two Pair 
FlushLowest cards making up FlushThe remaining (higher) cards
Flush and Two PairPlay as Two Pair 
Flush with Full HousePlay as Full House 
Full HouseThree of a KindPair
Three of a Kind and Two PairFull House with lower PairHigher Pair
Four of a Kind (2s-6s)Four of a KindNext two highest cards
Four of a Kind (7s to Jacks and Ace or King)Four of a KindHigh card (Ace or King)
Four of a Kind (7s to Aces)PairPair
Straight FlushPlay as Straight 
Five AcesThree of a KindPair
Five Aces with a Pair of KingsFive AcesPair

Following this strategy may seem counterintuitive when you play the first few times.

Your gut instinct will tell you to go make the highest five-card hand possible first.

That’s the biggest mistake Pai Gow Poker players make.

pai gow poker strategy
What would you do with a Three Pair?
Don’t underestimate the low hand. It needs to beat the banker’s low hand just as much as the high hand needs to beat their high hand.

You can only win with two strong hands. Thus, make sure to make the highest possible two-card hand.

Sure, it cannot beat the high hand but it needs to be as strong or only slightly weaker.

Pai Gow Poker Online for Real Money

You can always play Pai Gow Poker online for free.

But the real excitement starts when you make real money bets.

Since more than a third of rounds end in push, Pai Gow Poker is not a fast way to make money. At the same time, it’s not a fast way to lose money either.

Unless you have a bankroll of $100 and make bets of $50-100 per round.

If that’s how you play, no strategy can help you.

You’ll either be super lucky or lose it all in one go.

Usually, you can play Pai Gow Poker online with a $1 minimum bet and $100 max one.

Choose the bets based on your bankroll. It can be 1/10 or 1/100 of it wagered per round. It depends how long you want to play and how much you afford to lose in the worst-case scenario.

Then, open Pai Gow Poker game and place that bet.

Don’t have an account at an online Casino that offers Pai Gow Poker?
Create one here, make your first deposit, and get a welcome bonus while you’re at it!

Follow the mentioned strategy to maximize your odds and, most importantly, enjoy!

If you see that Pai Gow Poker is not the game for you, you can always try different Casino games - there are hundreds of them online!

Good luck!

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