How to play Pai Gow

pai gow poker online game

Pai Gow poker is the brainchild of Commerce Casino manager Fred Wolf and his friend Sam Torosian, born in the 1980s. Trying to draw players into the crowded Los Angeles market, the duo went on a quest to create new card games, and Pai Gow was probably their biggest hit.

Based on a Chinese domino game, Pai Gow poker uses traditional poker hands in a revamped format that pits players against a single banker. Thanks to its complexity and strategy, Pai Gow poker online is one of my favourite games to play. Here are some of my recommended places which I’m sure you’ll enjoy:

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How to Play Pai Gow

Pai Gow poker is a fairly complex game, and with its two-hand format, it does take some getting used to.

To get started, a standard 52-card deck plus a single Joker is used. it’s preferable to play with six players plus the dealer, though it is possible to play with fewer people. Cards are shuffled and dealt, with seven face-down piles of seven cards per pile. Seven piles must be dealt, regardless of the number of players at the table. This leaves four unused cards in the deck. Players are assigned a number 1-7, and then one of those numbers is chosen at random (often by a dice roll). The player corresponding to the number chosen receives the first pile and the dealing then proceeds counter clockwise. Once dealing is done, players put forward one five-card hand and one two-card hand.

Goal of Pai Gow

The goal of the game is to beat the banker (either the dealer or another player at the table). If both of the player’s hands beat the banker’s, then the player wins. If he or she only wins one hand, then it’s a push (tie). If the banker wins both hands, then the player loses his or her bet. The banker wins if one or both hands result in a tie (for instance, if the banker’s five-card hand wins and the two-card hand is a tie, the banker wins).

How to Form a Winning Hand

The order of winning hands is almost identical in Pai Gow poker as it is in regular online poker, but there are exceptions:
• At some casinos an A-2-3-4-5 straight ranks higher than a K-high straight, but below an A-K-Q-J-10 straight.
• One Joker is left in the deck and acts as a “bug.” The Joker can be used to complete a straight or a flush, but not to make pairs. In a two-card hand, the Joker plays as an Ace. (There are a few casinos that play the Joker as completely wild, but those are rare online).

Pow Gow Strategy

Pai Gow poker can get pretty complicated, which makes it a fun game. One tip I can give you is that it pays to be the banker when you can, since the banker has better odds.

Another is that the best Pai Gow pokers players manage to strike a balance between their five-card and two-card hands — don’t just go all in on the five-card and forfeit the two-card hand. For instance, if you can build a full house, you actually shouldn’t play it in your five-card hand. You’re better off with three-of-a-kind in your five-card hand and a pair in your two-card hand.

Pai Gow Poker vs Regular Poker

There are a few main differences to consider, none of which is critical. When choosing which version of poker to play, it’s mainly a matter of personal taste.

• Different winning combinations. As I mentioned above, one key difference between Pai Gow poker and regular poker can be the order of winning hands and the addition of the Joker to the deck.
• Lower variability. Another difference is that instead of playing against all the players at the table, gamblers are only betting against the banker. This creates for less variability.
• Big picture strategy. Plus in this game, as opposed to say Texas Hold’em, you’re constantly considering two hands at a time, so you need to keep a larger picture strategy in mind when building your hand.

What Are Your Odds?

In Pai Gow poker the odds are always going to be the same. Instead of worrying about how to read other players, bluffing and the like, you instead just need to focus exclusively on the best way to arrange your own hand. The best players can bring the house edge down to a narrow minimum.

Pai Gow Poker Tips

As I mentioned before, Pai Gow strategy can get very intense. I’m merely an okay player myself — good enough to enjoy thinking through the strategy, but not expert enough to run you through the gauntlet of dos and don’ts. That being said, there are always a few things a Pai Gow player should consider going in to each hand.

Here are a few quick tips:
• You get better odds playing as the banker, but it also helps to have a bigger bankroll if you’re going to play from that spot.
• Try to strike a balance between your five-card and two-card hands. There’s a real science to this if you want to learn the specifics, but generally, if you keep in mind that both hands need to have some value, you’ll do okay.
• If you get two pairs, you’re almost always going to split them. The exceptions are when your kickers include a Q or better — in that case, throw both pairs in your five-card hand and put the Q, K or A in your two-card hand. It’s actually a bit more complex than that, but if you’re looking for a quick, dirty estimator on how to handle two pairs, that has worked for me.


Pai Gow poker is a terrifically challenging game with a lot of extra dimensions including the banker, the bigger deck, and two hands to consider. If you like to think while you play, then this is the game for you. Whether you play online, or play among friends, one thing’s for sure, Pai Gow poker will keep you on your toes!