Pai Gow Poker

How to play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker Basics, How To Play, Strategy, Plus History Of The Game

Pai Gow Poker is an American card-playing derivative of the centuries-old game of Chinese Dominoes. In the early nineteenth century, Chinese laborers introduced the game while working in California.

The game’s popularity with Chinese gamblers eventually attracted the attention of entrepreneurial gamers who substituted the traditional tiles with cards and modeled the game into a new form of poker. Introduced into the poker rooms of California in 1986, the game’s immediate acceptance and popularity with Asian poker players drew the attention of Nevada’s casino operators who quickly absorbed the game into their own poker rooms. The popularity of the game has continued into the 21st century.

How Pai Gow Poker works

Pai Gow tables accommodate up to six players and a dealer. Differentiating from traditional poker, all players play against the dealer and not against each other.

In a counterclockwise rotation, each player is dealt seven face down cards by the dealer. Forty-nine cards are dealt, including the dealer’s seven cards.

Each player and the dealer must form two poker hands: a high hand of five cards and a low hand of two cards. The hands are based on traditional poker rankings and as such, a two card hand of two aces would be the highest possible hand of two cards. A five aces hand would be the highest five card hand.

How do you get five aces in a standard fifty-two card deck? You are actually playing with a fifty-three card deck since one joker is allowed into the game. The joker is considered a wild card and can be used as another ace or to complete a straight or flush.

How you win

The highest two hands win each game and only a single player having the two highest hands simultaneously can win.

A dice throw from a cup containing three dice determines who will be dealt the first hand. After the hands are dealt, players must form the two poker hands, keeping in mind that the five-card hand must always rank higher than the two-card hand.

When all players have set their hands, the dealer will make comparisons with his or her hand rank for payouts. If a player has one hand higher in rank than the dealer’s but a lower second hand, this is considered a tie.

If the dealer beats both hands, the player loses. In the case of both player’s hands and both dealer’s hands being identical, the dealer wins. In casino play, ofttimes allowances are made for a player to become the dealer. In this case, the player must have the funds for any payoffs due winning players. Of course, the player acting as dealer can corner some large pots if he can beat most of the players.

Some casinos rule that players cannot deal or bank two consecutive hands, and some poker rooms will offer to co-bank 50/50 with any player that elects to take the bank. In all cases, the dealer will ask players in turn if they wish to be the banker.

No possiblity to improve your hand

In Pai Gow Poker, you are dealt “static” cards which means you have no opportunity to change cards to possibly improve your hand. However, as in traditional five-card draw, there are strategies to make the best of what you have been dealt. An example is keeping the flushes or straights in the five-card hand and the two cards remaining as the second high hand.

If you are lucky enough to draw four aces and a joker, you can keep three aces in the five-card hand and strengthen your two-card hand with the other ace and joker. Two pair? Keep the higher pair in the five-card hand and the other two matching cards will make up the second hand.

In this modified game of traditional poker, each player and the dealer receive seven cards from which each players must form two hands, one of the five cards and one of two cards. Using the standard poker hand ranking methods (see below), the players must organize their cards so that the five card hand is of higher value than the two card hand.

If both hands beat the banker’s two hands, the player wins. If both hands lose, the player loses. If one hand is higher and the other lower, the hand is a draw or push. Finally, if both hands are exactly equal in value to the banker’s two hands, the banker wins.

Playing Pai Gow Poker

Sam Torosian and Fred Wolf, the inventers of Super Pan-9, invented the game Pai Gow Poker. The game is derived from Pai Gow (a Chinese game of dominoes), but is emphasized in the American format – it implements on poker hand value instead of Chinese Dominoes.

Pai Gow Poker can be played with a set of six players and the dealer. The game is to be played with a 52-card deck and a joker. The joker is a type of wild card which can be used in flushes or straights or by default acts like an Ace. To win, one has to defeat the dealer. The game is best understood in sequential stages as described below.


For players of pai gow poker, he/she must create two poker hands out of the seven cards dealt by the dealer. Both these hands follow standard poker rules. However there are some exceptions which is described later. The value of the two cards must not exceed the hand value of the five cards. The cards are called as per their settings or placements given to the players.

The two card hand can be called ‘minor’, ‘on top’, ‘small’, or ‘in front’. The five card hand is often called ‘big’, ‘bottom’, or ‘behind’. The reason why the two-card hand is called “front” is because it’s closer to the dealer while the five-card hand is called behind because it’s closer to you.


After shuffling, the cards are served in seven piles with seven cards, each pile facing downwards. The remaining four cards are kept untouched regardless of the players involved. Each player is assigned a number from 1-7 as their betting position, starting from the dealer and going clockwise above the counter.

A number is chosen from that 1-7 assigned before – practically by dice or electronically – and then begins the deal counter clockwise. If a spot is vacant it is still assigned but on the discard pile with the four untouched cards.

Hand Ranking (Cards)

Basically the two-card hand is one-pair and high cards. The hand rankings are quite different than the casinos using the hand A-2-3-4-5 as above a King high straight is, however, below A-K-Q-J-10 at Ace high. This rule does not apply in most of the casinos in California and Michigan, A-2-3-4-5 is the lowest straight possible.

In Californian casinos the joker is completely a wild card, it can enhance all hands or straights. However, it’s different in the case of others.

It is the player’s responsibility to ensure that the 5-card rank is higher than the 2-card rank. If it is not, then this is called a foul and the player loses. As for the two-card hand, the highest is a pair of Aces, and then going down from a pair of Kings to three and two. Two separate individual cards are also a possibility.

The cards are generally ranked according to standard poker rules. The two card hand cannot have a flush, since this requires five cards. Also there are several house rules you should be aware of before you place a bet and start gambling. Various land-based casinos each have their own set of rules.

Determining to Win

If the hands two and five of seven cards beat the dealer’s corresponding hand then the player wins the bet. If the player wins any one, he continues or else loses to the banker. Ties are always an advantage for the dealer. For example, if a player’s two-card hands lose to the banker and the five hands is a tie, then the player loses.

Casinos in California charge a flat fee to play, win, or lose. Other casinos charge a five per cent commission on the winnings which cannot be seen too often as this game takes more time as compared to other games. When all the cards have been dealt, the dealer’s cards are turned up by the banker, whose job is to re-arrange the cards into the highest possible combination.

After the banker arranges the cards both hands (that is, the five-card hand and the two-card hand) are compared to that of every player and the payouts are given accordingly. In order for the player to win both their five-card hand and two-card hand must beat the dealer’s respectively. However, if only one hand beats the dealer’s hand while the other does not then it is a tie and no money is exchanged in the process. This is called a ‘push’. Nothing happens when the cards are pushed.

Note that when comparing hands between the dealer and the player and if it is a tie then the banker wins (but the banker must have a tie on both hands or one-hand beating the player’s and the other a tie). Also if one hand is a tie and the other hand the player wins then this is also called a push. Usually the two-hand cards is placed in front of the five-hand cards.

Poker Hand Rankings

In calculating the hand ranking, the joker is used as an Ace or to complete any straight or any flush. Bets are placed between the banker (which may be the House or another player acting as banker) and the other players. The House charges a 5% commission on all winning wagers. There is no commission charged for tied or losing wagers. If you require assistance, the dealer or supervisor will be happy to assist you in setting the highest possible potential ranking hand according to House Ways. However, we cannot be responsible for any losses that may be incurred.

The order of hands from highest to lowest is as follows:

  1. 5 Aces (including joker)
  2. Royal Flush
  3. Straight Flush (A,2,3,4,5 highest ranking straight flush)
  4. 4 of a Kind
  5. Full House
  6. Flush
  7. Straight (A2,3,4,5 the 2nd highest straight)
  8. Three Of A Kind
  9. Two Pair
  10. One Pair
  11. High Card

Basic Strategy in Pai Gow Poker

A player should keep in mind to make the highest two-card hand leaving the five-card hand behind. A player can expect a medium to high in five-card hands and an Ace high on top. One should know the tables quite extensively and an approximate value can be calculated with a few rules of thumb. A player can always use House Way when confused as House strategies are always optimal – House Way is the arrangement of the dealer’s hand as it is pre-determined.

The House makes its money by taking a 5% commission on all winnings. When comparing the hands there could be a tie, which is also known as a copy. Every copy the money goes to the banker. The House way is the fixed rules that govern how the dealer’s hand will be arranged.

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