Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker is a slow-paced game where the player can affect the outcome much in the same way as, say, blackjack where what the player does, alters the game versus roulette where the player has no input. Occasionally referred to as Asian poker or double-handed poker who is first introduced back in 1986 the game combines Chinese dominoes (Pai Gow) and Poker.

The aim of pai gow poker is to make hands that beat the dealer’s hands. The players get dealt 7 cards that he or she made into a five-card hand and a 2 card hand. At first glance, this might seem pretty complicated but it’s not as long as you know how poker hands work it’s actually a really simple game

It is growing in popularity due to its relaxed nature and reasonable house Edge the house advantage is only 2.5%

It is rare in casino games that you can actually handle the cards and make choices that affect the odds. At some places, you can actually play as the banker against other players. This is in a real casino in Vegas, say, online you will not get a chance to play against the players and be the banker. If you have chance and the bankroll, playing as the dealer lowers the house edge.

Pai Gow poker is played at a table that resembles a blackjack table. The game uses a standard 52 deck of cards plus one Joker, so 53 cards total. The Joker is a wild card but has limited functionality. It is still the best card in the deck though.

The deal

In real casinos, there’s an automatic shuffle machine that deals the cards out. All hands are dealt regardless of how many players are sat at the table. This leaves 4 cards that are on the discard pile. (7*7 hands and 4 cards, is 53 cards total)

The table minimums are usually pretty high, maybe $25. You can find the odd $10 table though online you can play from £1 a hand if you can find an online casino that has the game.

Making hands

What’s you have your card you have to make two hands, a front hand, and a backhand. The front hand must be of equal or higher value than your backhand. The hand value is determined by standard poker hands, apart from the second-highest straight being A-2-3-4-5. A joker counts as an ace or a wildcard to complete a straight or a flush only.

You place your cards face down on the table once you have made your hand. You can theoretically gain an advantage knowing what cards other people have so always place the cards face down. In practice, even knowing all the cards would not overcome the house edge.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Five Aces
(contains the following cards: A, A, A, A with Joker)
Royal Flush
(contains the following cards of the same suit: A, K, Q, J, 10)
Straight Flush
(contains five cards in sequential value and of the same suit)
Four of a Kind
(contains four cards of the same value)
Full House
(contains three matching cards of one value and two matching cards of another value)
Flush
(contains five cards of the same suit)
Straight
(contains five cards of sequential value in at least two different suits)
Three of a Kind
(contains three cards of the same value)
Two Pair
(contains two cards of the same value, plus two more of another matching value)
Pair
(contains two cards of the same value)
High Card
(single highest card in hand)

Hand resolution

After all the players have set their hands, the banker then sets his hand. The banker will always play the house way, which is similar to the optimal way.

The dealer goes around comparing his hands to the players’ hands. When there is a push, it’s known as a copy hand and the dealer wins that hand.

There are 3 outcomes,

  • Both the player hands beat the dealer’s hands. This is a win for the player and the play gets paid out even money but has to pay a 5% commission.
  • Both dealer’s hands beat the player’s hands. This is a win for the dealer.
  • One dealer hand beats the player hand and one player hand beats the dealer. This is a push and bets are returned.

House Edge

As Pai Gow is rather a niche game, it’s not been as well studied as blackjack or baccarat. The best estimates are from Stanford Wong’s book, Optimal strategy for Pai Gow Poker. He estimates the house edge is about 2.84% for unskilled players and 2.54% for skilled players. The skilled player will play the house way all the time.

Pai Gow Poker House Setting rules

Pai Gow Poker Hand-Setting Rules
If you hold:

Set your five-card hand as:And your two-card hand as

No pairHighest card.Second- and third-highest cards
One pairPairNext two highest cards.
Two pair With pair of aces.Pair of AcesOther Pair
Two PairGenerally split. But if your high pair is jacks or 10s and you have a side ace, keep the two pair together and put the ace in the two-card hand. If your high pair is nines or lower and you have a side ace or king, keep the two pair together and put the Two pair ace or king in the two-card hand.
Three pairSecond and Third highest pairHighest Pair
Three of a kindWith three aces, split them by playing one ace in the two-card hand and the pair of aces in the five-card hand. In all other cases, keep the three of a kind together in high hand.
Five-, Six- or seven card straight.Keep the lowest compete straightTwo highest cards that preserve the give card
hands straight
Straight and two PairIgnore the straight and play as 2 pair.
Five-, six-, or seven card flushLowest complete flush.Two highest cards that preserve the 5 cards
hand flush.
Flush and 2 pairIgnore the flush and play as 2 pairs
Flush with full house (including joker)Ignore the flush and play as full house
Full Housethree of a kindPair
Three of a kind and 2 pairThree of a kind and the lower pair as a full
house
Higher pair
Four of a kind (2s through 6)Four of a kindNext highest 2 cards
Four of a kind (7s through jacks)Split them unless you have a king or ace you can play in the two card hand. 
Four of a kind (queens, kings, aces)Always split them.
Straight FlushUse strategy for
straights
Five aces with jokerPut a pair of aces
with in the the two card hand
Five aces with a pair of kingsGo out and buy a lottery ticket. 

Wins, loses, and pushes.

As you only win or lose when both hands win or lose, you will get a lot of pushes. This is estimated to be around 30-40% of your hands. Being such a slow game, it preserves your bankroll and you can probably get anything you lost back via drinks if playing at a real casino. You can spend hours on a table, sipping the free drinks while playing Pai Gow Poker. Just make sure you tip will and the cocktail waitresses will come back regularly.

If you are playing online and the game is included in the bonus requirements, its a good way to clear the bonus. A lot of your wagering is a push so you don’t lose very much at all. The problem is not many online casinos offer it.

Where to Play

Pai Gow Poker is a great little casino game with a smallish house edge. In Vegas you will find a few Pai Gow Poker tables. Pre covid it was easy enough to find a $10 minimum table but since the pandemic, I can imagine that the lowest you will find is $25 a hand. Due to the slowness of the game, you will win/ lose less than playing, say, craps, roulette or blackjack at lower stakes.

Online, there are not many casinos that offer the game. One is Casumo

*18+. New UK customers only. Opt-in required. 20 Bonus Spins on "Book of Dead" and 100% Deposit Bonus up to £25 on first deposit. Min deposit £10. 30x wagering requirement for Bonus Spins and 30x wagering requirement for Deposit Bonus (game weighting applies). Max £5/spin or £0.50/line or £10/round (live casino). 30 days expiry. T&C's Apply. Sign up here

2 thoughts on “Pai Gow Poker

  • This is one of favourite games in Vegas. You can relax all day at the table and not lose much at all. Well chilled

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