Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker combines the elements of the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow and the American game of Poker. Pai Gow Poker is played with a traditional deck of 52 cards and one Joker which may be used only as an Ace or to complete a Straight or Flush.
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Pai Gow Poker Basic Rules
In simple terms your goal is to make two poker hands – one 5-card hand and one 2-card hand. If your two poker hands beat the dealer’s two poker hands, you win. Due to its nature Pai Gow Poker is sometimes called double hand poker.
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Pai Gow Poker, also called Double Hand Poker, is a version of Pai Gow played with cards instead of Chinese dominoes, or pai gows.

Pai gow poker (also known as double-hand poker) is a variation of pai gow that uses playing cards instead of Chinese dominoes. Sam Torosian, the owner of the Bell Card Club in the United States, invented pai gow poker in 1985.

Only one joker is used in the standard 52-card deck. It is played on a six-person table, with the dealer in the middle. It is the goal of each player to defeat the banker (who may be the casino dealer, one of the other players at the table, or a player acting in tandem with the dealer as co-bankers).

Pai Gow poker
Pai Gow Poker

Unlike Pai Gow, Pai Gow Poker is a card version of the Chinese domino game. It’s a fast-paced but easy-going casino game that has gained a lot of traction. In fact, learning how to play Pai Gow Poker is a breeze. You’ll be playing Pai Gow Poker in no time if you have a basic understanding of the 5-card hands associated with traditional poker and a few simple rules.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

In Pai Gow Poker, a joker is added to the standard 52-card deck. A total of six people, including the dealer, are allowed to sit at the table.

There is only one goal in this game: defeat the banker. An individual player or a group of players can serve as a banker.

To do so, you make two poker hands with the seven cards that are dealt:

  1.  A five-card “high” hand (also known as the back hand/big hand)
  2. A two-card “low” hand (also known as the front hand/small hand)

To win, you need to have a higher hand than the other player’s. Your high hand must be better than your low hand, for example, a pair of fives.

The dealer and the banker reveal their hands after you have set yours. The following are the three outcomes that could occur:

  1. The player wins both hands and wins their bet.
  2. The dealer wins both hands and the player loses their bet.
  3. The player wins one hand and the dealer wins the other, in which case the hand is a push and no money exchanges hands (except the commission–more on this later).

In Pai Gow Poker, ties are awarded to the dealer. The dealer wins, for example, if both you and the dealer have the low A-K hand.Pai Gow Poker

Photo credit: Alejandro Tamayo (San Diego Union-Tribune)

Dealing the game

Pai Gow Poker uses a unique method of dealing cards. There are seven face-down piles made up of seven cards—one for each player and the dealer—with four unused extra cards being placed in the “discard pile,” or “muck,” after they’ve been shuffled by the dealer.

Until the advent of card shufflers, the dealer would deal the cards into the piles and form them into dragons with a head, body, and tail each.

The banker’s seat is numbered one to seven, and the rest of the seats are numbered sequentially from there. To determine who is dealt cards first, a random number is selected and the dealer distributes the cards counterclockwise.

Setting Your Pai Gow hand

It is impossible to make anything other than pairs and high cards with a two-card hand. Five-card hands are ranked in accordance with standard poker hand rankings. The five-card hand must outrank the two-card hand in order to win. When a two-card hand has a pair of aces, the five-card hand must be better than a two-pair to win.

Pai Gow Poker hands

Only flushes and straights can be completed with the use of the joker. The joker must be an ace if neither of these conditions exists. There are a few casinos that use a different joker rule, but this is the most common.)

If you are dealt Q-9-7-6-5-3-2 and you are unable to make a pair or better with your cards, you have been dealt a pai gow, or non-hand.

Pai Gow Showdown

A player’s two-card hand goes in front, followed by his or her five-card hand. Because of this, the five-card hand is often called the “bottom” hand, while the two-card hand is often called the “top,” “small,” “minor,” “in front,” or “low.”

Pai Gow Poker hand set

Photo credit: Alejandro Tamayo (San Diego Union-Tribune)

When a hand is set up incorrectly, such as with the two-hand hand outranking the five-card hand, the hand is fouled and, depending on the casino, either reset according to house rules or forfeited.

Cards must be set according to house rules if a casino or dealer is the banker. There are some exceptions to this rule, however. For example, the banker can set their hand any way he or she wishes. Player’s hands must be dealt in accordance with house rules if they co-bank with the dealer


Five percent is typically deducted from the player’s winnings in most casino cases. In some casinos, players are charged a flat fee for each hand based on the amount of money wagered.

Editor’s note: More commission is better, I guess.

Pai Gow Poker side bets

Pai Gow Poker variants with side bets that can increase a player’s winnings are becoming more popular in casinos. There is no additional or detracting effect from these side bets on the bet placed on the hand itself.

If the player gets three-of-a-kind, a full house, four or more of the same suit, a straight flush or royal flush, they are wagering additional money. Of course, the higher your hand, the more money you’ll win as a bonus.

Among the most common—and popular—are:

  • Fortune Pai Gow—Allows players to make a side bet on trips or better
  • Pai Gow Mania—Allows players to make two side bets
  • Emperor’s Challenge—Allows players to make a side bet on a pai gow
  • Progressive Fortune Pai Gow—Allows players to place side bets with a combined seven-card straight flush winning the jackpot.

In addition, some casinos offer “envy” bonuses. These bets are placed on the outcome of a premium hand being struck by another player at the table.

Pai Gow side bets, like any other casino bet, have a negative expectation–much more negative than the game of Pai Gow alone. If you’re already a big gambler, steer clear of them.

Pai Gow Poker payouts

Pai Gow Poker strategy

Because there are no betting rounds in Pai Gow Poker, the outcome is largely determined by the way the cards are dealt. A fair amount of skill is required to set one’s hand in a way that maximises one’s chances of defeating the dealer. Players are frequently confronted with hands that can be arranged in a variety of ways, each of which has the potential to produce a wildly different result.

For example, if dealt K, K, Q, J, 10, 9, 9, a player has the option of setting his/her hand like:

  • K, 9/K, Q, J, 10, 9 (mediocre top hand, very strong bottom hand)
  • Q, J/K, K, 9, 9, 10 (mediocre top hand, strong bottom hand)
  • 9, 9/K, K, Q, J, 10 (strong top hand, fairly strong bottom hand)

In this case, the best option would be the top option, but the bottom option would be most profitable because it offers a good chance of winning.

Personal preference and gut instinct may be the deciding factors in some of these tight races. Unless, of course, the player in question is a co-banker with the dealer.

Ask the dealer if you’re unsure of how to play your hand. Most casinos allow this, and they will gladly assist you if you ask.

Another popular form of poker, Pai Gow, is a lot of fun to play and has been around for a long time.

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