Pai Gow Poker

Your No-Nonsense Guide to Playing Real Money Pai Gow Poker Games Online

Don’t be confused by Pai Gow’s relative obscurity. This unique variant of poker is gaining popularity at a rapid rate at online casinos, with players proving the game’s appeal.
To get you started, our expert team has created this playing guide that’s packed with tips, advice and strategies that’ll have you playing like a pro in no time. We’ve also listed the best online casinos at which you can play Pai Gow.

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Pai Gow Poker Basics

PaiGow is in fact a Chinese domino game, but Pai Gow poker is an Americanized version using poker cards instead. Therefore, the game has many similarities with poker, especially the use of ranked hands.

Pai Gow is played with a standard 52 card deck, with the addition of a joker. Each player is attempting to defeat the banker, who may be another player but is typically the dealer, especially in the case of one-on-one games played online.

This game is sometimes called ‘double-hand poker’ because players are trying to make two winning hands from their cards. They are dealt seven cards and must try to make a five-card and a two-card hand. The larger hand must have a higher rank.

The five-card hand is often called ‘behind’, ‘bottom’, ‘big’ or ‘high’, while the two-card hand is ‘in front’, ‘on top’, ‘small’ or ‘low’ among other terms. The smaller hand can only contain a pair or a high card.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker Like an Expert

Stick to these 4 simple principles and you will be playing blackjack like a pro in no time:

Knowing the Rules

There are a few tweaks to the standard poker rules with Pai Gow, that players should know if they are to play well. For example, there is an exception to the usual poker ranking rules. A straight made of an Ace, 2, 3, 4 and 5 (called ‘the wheel’) is the second highest straight. This is a very strange rule and some casinos have even dropped it.

Manage your Hands

The key to Pai Gow is managing your two hands. Both of your hands need to beat the banker, so it’s a case of constructing them carefully and even sacrificing a stronger five-card hand to ensure that you have a good pair in the two-card hand.

Don’t Waste Your Joker

The joker is also vital if it comes along, as it can be used to complete a straight or flush in the big hand (or even make five of a kind), or counts as an ace in the small hand. Technically speaking, the joker is a ‘bug’ which means rather than substitute for any card, it acts as an Ace or is used to complete a straight or flush.

Beware of the Banker

The banker has a small advantage to look out for, because if one hand beats the banker, it’s a tie. If one hand is a loser and the other is a tie, the banker wins.

Win at Pai Gow Poker – Our Top Tips

“Remember that the joker is a ‘bug’ wild.”

“Your big hand must be higher ranking than your small hand.”

“An Ace-5 straight ranks above a king-high straight in this game.”

How to Improve your Chances of Winning

Start out simply by knowing the hands well. The trick to pai gow is how you split your seven cards, so that your big hand is strong but your small hand does not suffer.

This is a tricky decision and does take some study of the hand ranks, so that you can spot them as soon as they appear. Pairs can often throw Pai Gow players, as four of a kind is tempting in the big hand, but the small hand can only have a pair so one should go there.

Make sure it’s the smaller pair if you don’t have anything else, as the small hand must be less valuable than the big.

Players must also be aware of an edge in the banker’s favour. Two hands will copy sometimes, around 2.6% of cases, so the banker will win 29.9% of showdowns and the player only 28.6%. There’s also the commission to factor in after a win.

Pai Gow Poker Rules

In casino play, the cards are dealt out in seven piles of seven. The joker is included as a 53rd card and is partly wild, able to complete a straight, flush, or straight flush, or royal flush.

The joker acts as an Ace at all other times and can make a five-of-a-kind this way. The play order begins with one of these positions, randomised with dice or a machine.

Betting continues in the usual fashion until a showdown occurs, where the player compares their hand to the banker’s. The player must set their seven cards into a five-card hand and a two-card hand, with the former of higher value than the latter.

The dealer also sets their cards this way, but will typically follow a prescribed ‘house way’ of setting the hands up. This is certainly the case in online pai gow games.

The player wins if both of their hands beat the banker’s corresponding hands. The player wins even money, minus a 5% commission in most cases.

If the player wins one and loses one, the bet will push. If they player loses or ties both, they lose. The player may also bet against the dealer and other players, known as ‘banking’.

History of Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker is based on a Chinese domino game of the same name, which translates to ‘make nine’.
The game is based on legends around the creation of the universe. However, the invention of Pai Gow as a poker game is credited to Sam Torosian, the owner of the Bell Card Club in Los Angeles.
Torosian invented the game in 1985, after hearing around a similar game called Pusoy, which uses 13 cards and three hands. To speed this up, a two-hand version with seven cards made more sense and would be easier to learn.
The game became very popular, soon reaching the Las Vegas strip by the late 80s. Unfortunately, the famous tale of caution around Pai Gow poker is that Torosian never patented the game.
He was supposedly given bad advice that the fame could not be patented, and so lost out on making any money from replication of the game by other sources.

Types of Pai Gow Poker

There are several popular variants of Pai Gow poker. Players will also find progressive jackpot versions online.
Pai Gow Mania allows for two side bets instead of the usual one per hand.
Fortune Pai Gow allows players to make a site bet on a poker hand with three of a kind or better.
Emperor’s Challenge allows a side bet on a 7 card ‘Pai Gow’ (having no hand to make).

Advanced tips

Split, when you have  two pairs with Aces in the top pair.
Play the highest pair in the small hand, when you find yourself with three pairs.
With three of a kind, play in the big hand, unless it’s three aces. Then give one to the small hand.
Split a full house , with the pair in the small hand.

Pai Gow Poker Glossary

Glossary
These are just a few terms that will come up while playing Pow Gai Poker:
Pai gow requires players to make a five-card and a two-card hand, also called big and small, high and low and other terms.
The set of cards a player is holding, also the name for a constructed combination of cards.
Read more about Hand.
The individual dealing out poker cards, which may be an RNG in online poker.
Read more about Dealer.
Another term for pai gow, due to having two hands in play.
A wild card usually not included in poker, but used as a ‘bug’ or partial wild in pai gow.
Read more about Joker.
A limited form of wild card. In pai gow poker, the wild joker can be used to complete a flush or straight, or can act as an Ace.
Read more about Bug.
A fee taken by the casino from a winning pai gow game, around 5%.
Read more about Commission.
This side bet pays based on 7 cards, allowed in some forms of pai gow.
A version of the game with two side bets available.
Read more about Pai Gow Poker.
The percentage of times the house will win a given game or bet, to make money over time.
Read more about House Edge.
A player or the dealer may act as the banker. They play against the players and may have to follow house way rules.
Read more about Banker.
A certain structure for setting out pai gow hands, to automate the process for the house/dealer.
Some casinos refer to empty seats at the table as dragon hands, which players can choose to bet on.
Read more about Dragon Hand.
A card which does not pair up with any others in your hand.
Read more about Singleton.
A hand is fouled when the player breaks a rule, such as making the small hand rank higher than the big hand. With online games this will typically not be an issue.
Read more about Foul.
Where poker players are required to all put a bet into the pot at the start of a game.
Read more about Ante.
The money a player sets aside to play poker with.
Read more about Bankroll.
In pai gow, this refers to dividing the seven cards dealt to the player into two hands.
Read more about Split.
The order from highest to lowest of winning poker hands, which is slightly different in pai gow.
A term for a straight that goes from Ace to 5, which is ranked higher than usual in pai gow.
Read more about Wheel.