So, you’ve seen Pai Gow Poker at the casino and thought it looked neat. You’re not alone! Since the late 1980s, Pai Gow has been featured in a number of American casinos and gambling establishments abroad.
Pai Gow Poker is a simplified version of “Pusoy”. This card game is designed for fast-play. Evidently, by the reduction of the number of cards from 13 to 7 for each player. In addition, the number of hands has also been reduced from 3 to 2. Pai gow poker is the American version of pai gow – a Chinese dominoes game. Pai gow was introduced to the US market by Sam Torosian, who invented it based on the Asian model. Sadly for him, he didn’t patent it and ended up losing a potential fortune. The game quickly gained popularity and nowadays is considered a classic.
It’s a fairly simple game derived from a dominos game (also called Pai Gow) that involves forming two of the best hands possible from a pool of seven cards. There are no additional draws and no ways to improve your hand. It’s just you versus the dealer in a showdown of hands where anything is possible.
Some might think that the fact there is no ability to draw and no community pool would mean there is little skill in Pai Gow Poker. Actually, the opposite is true, as you have to form two hands that can beat the dealer or come away with nothing.
Sound fun? It is. Let’s look at the game itself and how to make money off of it.
What Is Pai Gow?
A lot casino-goers and gamblers have heard of this poker variant, but probably have never played it and may not know the rules. If so, that’s fine. It’s an easy game to learn, though it can be difficult to master.
Also, it should be noted that “Pai Gow” is really shorthand for “Pai Gow Poker” in this article, because Pai Gow is a dominoes game played in China while Pai Gow Poker is the card equivalent of that game.
Confused so far? Good! This game is played with a standard 52-card deck with an additional joker. The joker is wild and can complete a straight or a flush, or it counts as an ace. It’s not completely wild like in some games.
In a hand, each player and the dealer are dealt seven cards.
The objective is to make the best hand of five and the best hand of two (note that the hand of five is called the “high hand” as we discuss the game).
“Best” in this case is defined by the typical poker hand ratings. Also, the high hand has to be of a higher rank than the low hand.
Once the players make their high hand and their two-card hand, the dealer assembles her hands and the hands are compared. If the player has a better high hand and two-card hand, they win their bet.
If the dealer has one better hand and one worse hand, the game is a push. Any other result, including ties, go to the dealer. At the end of the day, the casino may ask for a commission from your winnings. The standard commission is 5%.
Other Bets in Pai Gow Poker
Practice Pai Gow Poker
There are also some other factors that go into Pai Gow Poker. First, there are a lot of other bets that can be placed to make the game more interesting.
For example, you can make a side bet that you will make a certain type of hand (for instance, a three of a kind or better). You can also make envy bets in which the house pays out based on the seven cards and doesn’t matter if the player wins or loses.
Finally, Pai Gow offers an almost unique betting experience. You can bank in Pai Gow Poker, which means you make a bet that you will beat another player’s hand, not just the dealer’s hand.
Now that you have at least a taste of the game of Pai Gow, let’s talk about how you can win at it. Like games such as online baccarat, it can be somewhat difficult to really win at Pai Gow because it lacks hand improvement via drawing and more skill-based actions like waiting for position, bluffing, or even doubling down.
Still, there are ways you can come out on top in the game. Just follow these tips.
1 – Make a Side Bet
Depending on the game, there are different types and amounts of side bets you can make. Sometimes, you’re betting on a certain hand strength. Other times, you’ll be entering into a progressive jackpot.
You may be able to make a single side bet, other times, you can make two. Check with the rules or your dealer to find your options.
No matter how you make the side bet, it will be paid out in multiples based on the strength of the hand. For instance, a straight pays out 3 to 1, while five aces pays out 250 to 1.
With that said, making side bets in any game is usually fairly risky. The odds always favor the house a lot more than the game you’re playing.
In this case, though, Pai Gow offers you very little else that you can do that will allow you to flex your skills. Therefore, if you’re feeling it, place a side bet.
But don’t go too crazy with your side betting because you will be asked to bet on things that are improbable. The house doesn’t want to pay out a lot of the hard-earned money it has collected, so please remember this tip.
In this case, “not going crazy” means don’t bet too much above the minimum side bet. Also, bet on hands you’re more likely to achieve. You can track if you win or lose your side bets. If you lose more than you win, find another bet to make.
2 – Make an Envy Bet
Envy bets work a lot like side bets except you’re betting that another player at the table will hit a hand of a certain strength. For instance, you might bet that a player will make a straight or a flush. If any other player at the table has a hand of that score, you get an envy bonus, which is a set dollar amount.
Unsurprisingly, the envy payouts are smaller than the side bet payouts. For instance, a four of a kind might pay $5, while five aces might only pay $50 for the first hand.
There are a number of reasons for this, the most obvious being that with more players at the table, there’s a greater chance you will hit the envy bonus. This brings us to the topic of winning with envy bonuses.
First, when you sit to play Pai Gow, you’ll want to find a crowded table. This is an important Pai Fow tip because it increases the odds you’ll hit an envy bonus. Second, the payouts for them aren’t huge, so don’t bet more than the minimum.
Finally, when you’re betting an envy bonus, try to bet hands that someone is more likely to get (a four of a kind or a straight flush). They will pay more than the minimum bet and someone is at least a little likely to get one of those hands.
3 – Deploy Your Joker Wisely
The strange thing about Pai Gow Poker is that you’re making two hands. Therefore, you have two potential places to use your joker. The natural tendency will always be to complete a straight or a flush with your joker, but don’t neglect your two-card hand.
Sometimes, it might be worth having a pair of aces or an ace high just so your small hand isn’t terrible.
A lot of that depends on what else you can put into your high hand. Just don’t make a high hand without thinking about the low.
4 – Be Aggressive
Aggressive is the name of the game in Pai Gow and, in this case, aggressive means presenting the highest value in both your high and your two-card hand.
The house makes money in Pai Gow Poker because you only get paid if you win both the high and the two-card hand outright.
Therefore, you need to win outright. How you do that will vary from hand to hand.
However, don’t get carried away with this tip… meaning don’t fall into the trap when you make a great high hand and a bad two-card hand. Try to find a way to maximize your strength so you can win the game.
5 – Bank Like Crazy
Banking is the part of Pai Gow when you play against other players. Do it. Especially if you’re playing on real money online casinos.
Unless you’re at a table in which banking makes you out to be the villain (in which case, find a new table), bet against other players as much as you can.
This way, you can earn money from them on top of money from the house.
Pai Gow is a fun casino game with just enough skill to make it exciting, but not so much that beginners feel totally lost.
As long as you can play aggressively and make enough side bets to keep some extra money rolling in, it can be a lucrative game as well. Sadly, not every casino offers it, but when you find one that does, play it. You will not regret the experience.
Pai-Gow poker--also known as double-hand poker--was invented in the 1980s, but its roots stretch back much further. That's because the game takes inspiration from the popular Chinese domino game known as pai gow, which came into being sometime around 960 AD.
The purpose of this article is to familiarize you with the basics of the game, from the rules of pai gow poker to various forms of real-money strategy. While the house will always maintain an edge over the player, an increased knowledge of the game should give you the best odds of walking away with a profit.
The Joker in Pai-Gow Poker
In addition to the usual 52 cards, the deck used in pai-gow poker also includes a single joker. The joker may substitute for any card in order to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush. Otherwise, it counts as an ace.
Pai-Gow Hand Rankings
While most of the rankings in double-hand poker are the same as regular poker, there are a few minor differences.
Five of a Kind - The highest possible pai gow poker hand, it's comprised of four aces and a joker.
Royal Flush - Made up of the following cards in the same suit: A, K, Q, J, 10.
Straight Flush - Five cards of the same suit in consecutive order. Example: 6H, 7H, 8H, 9H, 10H.
Four of a Kind - Four cards made up of the same rank. For example: 7H, 7D, 7C, 7S.
Full House - A hand comprised of one pair and three of a kind. Example: 4H, 4D, 4S, 6S, 6H.
Flush - Five cards made up of the same suit. Example: 2H, 4H, 5H, 8H, 10H.
Straight - Five consecutive cards of different suits. Example: 7H, 8S, 9C, 10C, JD.
Three of a Kind - Three cards of the same rank. Example: 2S, 2D, 2H.
Two Pair - Two individual pairs, each made up of a different rank. Example: 4C, 4D, 9H, 9C.
One Pair - Two cards of the same rank. Example: 4S, 4D.
High Card - When the hand contains none of the above combinations, the highest card is used to determine the hand's value.
How to Play Pai-Gow Poker for Real Money
Now that we've looked at the purpose of the joker and the hand rankings, let's examine the specific rules of pai-gow poker. Keep in mind that the player is competing only against the dealer.
The game begins when the player makes a wager. Betting requirements differ from one casino to another, so make sure you check before starting play.
After the player has made their bet, they will be provided with seven cards. The dealer also receives seven cards face-down.
The player examines his hand and separates it into a five-card ('high') and two-card ('low') hand. The five-card option must be superior to the two-card hand (see the hand rankings listed above). The two-card hand can only achieve a pair or high card ranking.
Once the player has set his hand, the dealer turns his cards over and also arranges them into 5-card and 2-card sets. In both land-based and online casinos, the house has specific rules for how this is done, which prevents the dealer from having to employ any kind of strategy. This is known as the 'house way.'
The hands are now compared against one another. Here are the results:
- If both the player's hands are superior, he is declared the winner and receives even money on his payout, minus a 5% commission.
- If the player and dealer each win a hand, then the bet is considered a push.
- If the dealer wins both hands, the player loses his bet. Please note that a dealer wins any ties.
Hand Odds in Pai-Gow Poker
The following list shows the probability of achieving various hands in a game of double-hand poker.
- Five Aces - 0.00000732
- Royal Flush/Straight - 0.00136862
- Four of a Kind - 0.00199472
- Full House - 0.02717299
- Flush - 0.04004129
- Straight - 0.07289350
- Three of a Kind - 0.04846585
- Two Pair - 0.23065464
- One Pair - 0.41663862
- Anything Else - 0.16076246
Pai Gow Poker Online
Winning Strategies for Real-Money Pai-Gow Poker
Pai Gow Poker Fortune Bonus
Pai Gow Poker Strategy
If you're looking for an edge during your next pai gow poker session, give these tips a try. While you may still lose some hands, you should see your overall success rate improve.
Pai Gai Poker Strategy
- Avoid Bonus Bets - These side bets are far more common at land-based casinos, but even if you find an online establishment that offers them, they are to be avoided. Casinos take in more money from bonus bets than they do from the 5% commission charged to winning player hands.
- If you're lucky enough to get five aces, you should keep three in the high hand and move the others to the low hand. The only exception is when you have a pair of kings. In this case, move the kings to the low hand.
- When you have four of a kind, the following strategy should be employed. Keep the four cards together if their ranks are six or lower. If the ranks are seven through 10, split the cards unless you also have an ace or better to move to the low hand. Unless you have another pair to use in the low hand, four of a kind with face cards should always be split.
- Three of a kind should almost always be kept together. The only exception is when the cards are aces. In this case, use a pair of aces in the high hand and the remaining ace (along with your next highest card) in the low hand.
- If you have three pair after the initial deal, the highest pair should be moved to the low hand.
- If you find yourself with no pairs, flushes, or straights, leave the best card in the high hand and move the two cards with the next highest value to the low hand.
- When you draw a full house, move the pair to the low hand. If you happen to draw an additional pair, then use the higher of the pairs for the low hand.
- It is best to keep straights and flushes in the high hand. If, however, you have a pair of tens or better and an ace/king to move to the low hand, then you might consider splitting up a flush or straight.
- If you have two pair, and one of the pairs is comprised of aces, then you should split. The same goes for two pair with a pair of kings (unless the other is a pair of deuces). If the latter occurs, play the pairs together in the high hand and move the next best cards to the low hand.
- If you have two pair with jacks though aces, split the pairs and leave the best one in the high hand.