How to Play Pai Gow Poker like a Pro

  • Pai Gow poker is a fascinating and potentially lucrative game for those in the know
  • Read the ultimate guide to becoming a master of the Pai Gow table

In order to become a master of a subject, it’s helpful to first know its origins. Pai Gow Poker was invented by Sam Torosian and Fred Wolf in California in 1985, and is an American adaption of the Chinese dominoes game “Pai Gow”.

Pai Gow Poker is renowned for being a low risk level game, and for its slow rate of play. Much like the classic casino game blackjack, every player who is partaking plays against one dealer, rather than every player playing against each other.

Pai Gow Poker pro

This creates a much more friendly atmosphere when playing, as opposed to the highly competitive Texas Hold’em, and makes for a more relaxed playing experience as it unites every player against the dealer, as well as reducing the risk of loss.

What are the rules?

Different versions of classic games can be confusing to get the hang of at first. Sometimes it feels like just as you’ve mastered something, something even harder comes along for you to tackle. However, this guide will have you master of the Pai Gow Poker Table in no time at all, so let’s crack on with the rules of the game.

  • The game is usually played by six players and one dealer – the dealer deals every player (including himself) seven cards from one normal deck with an added joker, and then the four remaining cards in the pack are discarded to the side.
  • The aim of the player is to combine their cards into two poker hands that will be better than the dealer’s, essentially the same goal as regular poker. The first hand is called either the “back hand” or the “big hand”, and is a regular five card hand, just like you’d find in standard poker. The second hand is known as the “front hand” or “small hand”, and consists only of the two remaining cards. The five card hand must always be of a higher value than the two hand card.
  • Once the dealer has dealt the required amount of cards and all of the players have composed their front and back hands, everyone compares their hands to the dealer’s and the wagers are settled.
  • If both your front and back hand are stronger than the hands of the dealer, then you will be paid even money, with a five percent commission withheld. If only one of your hands beats the hands of the dealer, then your bet is pushed. If both your hands are weaker than those of the dealer’s, then naturally you lose your bet. Ties go to the banker, which is a position that rotates around the table, meaning that everyone will have a go at being the banker.
  • The joker that has been added into the pack can be used to substitute any card to complete a straight, or any suit to complete a flush. It can also be used as an ace – in the two card hand, the joker card is always played as an ace.

The hand rankings in Pai Gow poker are essentially identical to the familiar card rankings in classic poker, bar one hand. The “A2345 Straight”, also known as “The Wheel”, is the second highest straight in Pai Gow Poker. Many casinos have dropped this hand, but it’s still worthwhile to know should you be playing at a casino that uses this hand in order to maximise your chances of success.

How to become a Pai Gow Master

Pai Gow Poker is quite a low risk casino game, and it creates a friendly atmosphere with both your wallet and with the other players. The risk of the game is lowered because players are attempting to beat the dealer with two hands instead of one.

pai gow like a master

Because of this, when you’re playing Pai Gow poker you may find yourself breaking even more than you find yourself winning, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, this does have an effect on the strategy of the game, as you don’t lose your wager if only one of your hands is stronger than those of the dealer.

One of the best ways to guarantee success in this game is to ensure that your hands are divided in a way that will give you a strong two hand without going above the value of your five hand card. This heightens the chances of beating the dealer with both hands of cards, as opposed to combining your two weakest cards to create the two card hand, which is a common mistake many players make. Obviously, if you have the potential to create a very strong five card hand, do so. If you’re able to create a hand that’s worth the value of a straight or higher, then it’s almost certain that you will beat the dealer.

Golden tips

Another golden tip for success whilst playing Pai Gow poker is when you’re trying to divide hands but don’t have any pairs, you should leave the highest card in the back hand and bring the next two largest cards into the front hand. This will make your front hand as strong as possible, without jeopardising your back hand and outranking it, thus increasing your chances of beating the dealer with both hands.

Perhaps the best way to maximise your winnings whilst playing Pai Gow Poker is to learn and remember the poker hand rankings. When you’re playing poker online, the computer will automatically prevent you from making your two card hand more valuable than your five card hand and will alert you whether or not you’ve won or lost each hand.

However, if you’re playing at a real life poker table, learning and memorising the poker hands will definitely give you an advantage as you’ll be able to make a more calculated decision, and it will also make you feel more comfortable when you’re playing.

Like any other game, the best way to become a pro at Pai Gow Poker is to practice, because practice makes perfect. Memorise the poker hands, memorise the rules, and show that dealer who’s boss. Happy card pairing!

Still need more? Check out or exclusive no-nonsense guide to Pai Gow Poker and the best casinos at which you can play here.

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