How to Play Pai Gow Poker

3 poker cards

Pai gow poker (also called Double Hand Poker) is a different version of pai gow played by using playing cards in lieu of Chinese dominoes or pai gows. Sam Torosian, the owner of the Bell Card Club, created a new card game known as pai gow poker in 1985 in the US.

When playing this game, a player can feel a strong sense of risk. Though a fun game to play, it can be a little tricky in the beginning to understand its fundamentals. So if you want to learn how to play pai gow poker and become a proficient player, close the sidebar and keep reading this post to the end.

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Features of Pai Gow Poker

Card rank

There are 52 cards in total plus one Joker in pai gow poker. The ranking of the individual cards, from high to low, is A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2. This game is for two to seven players, including the dealer. Like some other pokers, such as Caribbean Stud poker, all the players at the table tries to beat the banker (who may be the casino dealer, one of the other players on the pai gow table, or a player who serves as co-bankers in tandem with the dealer).

The object of the game

The object of the game is to build from seven cards two hands including a five-card poker hand and a two-card poker hand that beats all the poker hands of the dealer. In your hands, the five-card hand’s rank must be superior to that of the two-card hand. For instance, if your two-card hand is a pair of aces, your five-card hand must be higher than that two-pair of aces.

That is the reason why the two-card hand is also called the hand “in front”, “on top”, “hair”, or the “small”, “minor”, or “low” hand. Meanwhile, the five-card hand is often known as the “back” hand, “high” hand, or “big” hand, as they are put that way in front of the player when the player finishes setting them.

Which Role Does A Joker Card Play In Pai Gow Poker?

Joker functions as a wild card. If you’re dealt the joker, you can use it to replace the cards 3 ways:

  • Can be any card to complete a straight
  • Can be any card to complete a flush (or straight flush)
  • If it can’t be used for either of those, the joker will become an ace

In the low hand, a joker is always an ace.

Setting Your Hand

If you are either uncomfortable or unable to set your hand, simply ask the dealer for support. Once two poker hands are set, the dealer reveals the cards, arranged according to the predetermined house rules.

What is “House Way”?

In casino-banked games, the banker is generally required to set his hand in a pre-specified manner, called the house rule (or house way), so that the dealer does not have to implement any strategy in order to beat the players. House rules are unofficial modifications of the game that varies from place to place. A dealer must set his hands according to the house rules. Be sure to ascertain what the house way is whenever you sit down to play. 

How to win

To win this pai gow poker, a player needs to beat the banker (usually house dealer) by forming two poker hands. At showdown there are three possibilities:

  • If both your high hand and low hand are higher than the dealer, you win.
  • If the dealer wins both the high and low hands, you will lose your bet.
  • If only one of your hands is better than the dealer, it means it results in a push, and no money is exchanged in push hands. You might get many push hands in Pai Gow Poker. 

In addition, on each hand, ties go to the banker (for example, if a player’s five-card hand loses to the banker and his two-card hand ties the banker then the player loses); this gives the banker a small advantage. If the player fouls his hand, meaning that his two-card hand outranks his five-card hand, or that there are an incorrect number of cards in each hand, there will usually be a penalty: either re-arrangement of the hand according to house rules or forfeiture of the hand.

House edge

The house edge in this game is quite low and can be further decreased (about 2.8 percent) if you learn how to set your hands effectively. The casino often takes a 5 percent commission when you win a hand, but some casinos prefer not to do so.

How to play

How to Bet in Pai Gow Poker

Just like most casino table games, Pai Gow poker begins with all players at the table betting. This is the only bet you will make for the duration of the hand and it must be within the minimum and maximum betting limits of the table.

Here is a tip for you: Avoid betting the bonus! Over the long run, you’re highly likely to lose money making the bonus bet.

The Deal

In seven face-down piles of seven cards per pile, the cards are shuffled and then deal out seven cards face-down to each player in the game. Regardless of the number of players, four cards are always left face down. Before dealing, pick a seat randomly to begin the deal and scatter cards around the table counter-clockwise.

If a player is not sitting in a particular place, the hand is still given, but then put on the discard pile with the four unused cards. Every player is asked in turn whether they want to put another bet to play the dragon hand or not after they have formed their original hands. In general, up to the sum of the player bet on their original hand, the bet on this hand will be the table minimum. The dragon hand is a bet with another player, not the banker that allows you to play an additional hand, but only one player can play at a time. 

If you play at a complete six-handed table, 42 cards will be dealt to the players, and another seven will be dealt to yourself for a total of 49 cards distributed. There are 53 cards in play with the joker, meaning you have to have four additional cards. These would stay unused in the muck and should be discarded.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

It is important to bear in mind poker hand rankings A K Q J 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 that the five-card hand must follow to make sure you can have a reasonable strategy. To be a good player, you need to grasp how to arrange cards into your hands. Here are some strategies for you to be a great player:

  • For the two-card up-top “low” hand, you can only make pairs or high cards. As such, pocket aces are the best hand. However, remember whatever you set up top must be beaten by the five-card hand in the back. 
  • Because you can’t lose your money if just one of your hands is better than the dealer, it’s a common strategy to split your hands in a way that gives you the strongest possible two-card hand (without outranking your five-card hand).
  • The exception to this strategy is if you’re able to make a very strong five-card hand such as a straight flush or better. 


Pai Gow Poker Tips

Here are some general Pai Gow Poker tips to better your chances of beating the banker in both two-card hand and five-card hand:

  1. If the only thing you’re dealt with is a single pair, you must place it in your five-card high hand. You’ll then want to take your next three-highest cards and put them up top as your low hand. 
  2. If you’re lucky enough to be dealt a hand capable of making a full house, but the higher of the two pair up top and use the smaller pair in your full house in the back.
  3. When dealt a hand that contains either a straight or flush with two pairs, it’s better to break up the straight or flush and split the pairs between your high and low hands.
  4. If you’re dealt a full house, you’ll improve your odds of winning by breaking it up. Put the three of a kind in your high five-card hand and the pair as your two-card low hand.

Pay careful attention to all seven of your cards to decide how they best work together and can be most divided efficiently into your hands.


In casinos today, there are a variety of variations of Pai Gow poker that are popular. The first variant to be introduced was Pai Gow Mania, which allows for two side bets instead of the usual one side bet per hand. Another variant is Fortune Pai Gow that allows players to make side bets on a three-of-a-kind or better poker hand score, one of the most common variations. Likewise, Emperors Challenge enables players to put a side bet on a seven-card pai gow.


Pai gow poker is a great option if you are a poker fan for the players who have been away from the action but want to still get in the game. If you want to be a good player in this game, make sure you read carefully both our tips and strategies.

If you’d want to get some practice in on some of pai gow poker strategies discussed above, or generally want to have a feel of being a player before you risk a sum of money, there are many places that you will find that you can do it online for free. Other poker games are available on Mbit casino, or Fortunejack. Have a look at the Mbit casino bonus.

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