Pai Gow Poker - How to Play

Pai Gow Poker is a variation of an old Chinese dominoes game. The card game version was created as another exotic alternative to standard poker.

Pai Gow is played with a 52-card deck plus one joker. The function of the joker varies both within the game and from casino to casino. So it is important at the outset to learn the house rules regarding the joker.

The object of Pai Gow is to form two hands out of the seven cards dealt. One hand must have five cards and it must have a higher value than the two-card hand. For example, you can't make your two-card hand a pair of aces if the five-card hand will then be King high.

In land-based casinos the role of banker/dealer may rotate around the table. The banker has an advantage so in this case every player gets his chance to be the banker. In other land-based casinos and online, the casino is the banker.

In land-based casinos, Pai Gow is played at tables arranged for seven players. The dealer deals out seven hands of seven cards even when there are empty seats at the table. The empty seats are dealt "Dragon Hands". The house will offer the players the chance to play the dragon hands.

The five-card hands are ranked as in standard poker with one important exception: a straight of ace, 2, 3, 4, 5 is ranked higher than king, queen, jack, ten, nine but lower than an ace-high straight. This is not a universal rule, so make sure you know the house rule before you start.

The joker is an ace unless it can complete a straight or flush. In the two-card hand, the joker is almost always an ace. Once again, make sure you know the house rules before you play.

Pai Gow Poker

The Play of the Hand

*** Dealer deals seven cards to seven players including to empty seats.

*** Players fashion a five-card hand and a two-card hand. The five-card hand must be of a higher rank than the two-card hand.

*** The dealer does the same with his cards.

*** The player's hands are compared to the dealer's hands.

* If the player beats the dealer on both hands s/he wins.

* If the player beats the dealer on neither hand s/he loses.

* If the player has one better hand and one losing hand it's a push.

Ties go to the dealer. For example, your five-card hand loses and your two-card hand is the same as the dealer's. You lose.

Basic Strategy

Full Pai Gow strategy is quite deep. Most players prefer to "wing it". For them some basic strategies are in order.

*** Ties go to the dealer. This doesn't happen as often as you might expect, but it can affect how you arrange your hands.

*** Most hands end up as pushes. Sometimes, the best strategy is to play for a push.

*** Most hands are a pair in the five-card hand and high card in the two-card hand. Always remember to place unpaired aces in the two-card hand.

*** If you don't have so much as a pair, both of your hands will be high card. The highest card must be in the five-card hand. The question is where to place the second and sometimes the third cards. Most strategists advise putting both the second and the third highest cards in the two-card hand.

As your absolute better hand increases in rank, the strategy becomes more complex. Since dealer is likely to have the most common one pair and high card, it is often not necessary to play two-pair or three-of-a-kind etc.

*** When you have two pair, if the higher pair is a picture card or aces you should split them. That gives you a high pair and a lower pair. In most hands you will win.

*** When you have three pair, you will play two pair and one pair. Use the second highest pair for the two-card hand.

*** When you have three-of-a-kind it is often best to split the cards. If you have three aces play a pair of aces and ace high. This will win most of the time. You should also split three kings unless you have an unpaired ace. Then play trip kings and ace high.

*** When you can play a straight or a flush, make sure that you leave yourself the best possible two-card hand.

*** If you have a full house play trips and a pair unless they are all low cards and you have unpaired high cards. Then play full house and high card.

***You will occasionally have two trips. Play a pair from the higher one and play the lower trip as the five-card hand.

*** When you get four-of-a kind it is often good to split the cards. As always, make sure you retain the highest possible two-card hand.

Pai Gow strategy is based on common sense. There isn't any bluffing. There aren't any betting systems. It is all based on which top hand and which bottom hand best serve to win or push.

The dealer must follow a set of rules called the "house way". It is somewhat more complicated than the suggestions given above. Clearly, experience and common sense are the two most important factors in playing Pai Gow Poker.

Pai Gow Poker History

Pai Gow Poker is a combination of Chinese dominos and American poker. Pai Gow Poker was first introduced in 1986 in the card rooms of California. It was so popular that within one year, casinos in Nevada were offering Pai Gow Poker to their players.


The purpose of Pai Gow Poker is for the player to make their two poker hands beat the banker's two hands.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Hand - Description
Five Aces - A hand with A, A, A, A and the Joker
Royal Flush - A hand with A, K, Q, J and 10 all of the same suite
Straight Flush - A hand with all five cards in sequence and of the same suit however A, 2, 3, 4, 5 is the highest
Four of a Kind - A hand with four cards of the same rank
Full House - A hand with three cards of one rank and two cards of another rank
Flush - A hand with all five cards in the same suit but not all in a sequence
Straight - A hand with all five cards in sequence but not all in one suit however A, 2, 3, 4, 5 is the second highest
Three of a Kind - A hand with three cards of the same rank
Two Pair - A hand with two cards of one rank and two cards of another rank
One Pair - A hand with two cards of the same rank
High Card - The highest card in your hand

Posted by Nick David

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