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Pai Gow Poker Overview


Despite its name, Pai Gow Poker is not poker in its true form, although it borrows the hand-ranking elements from the original. This card game, played against the dealer with a standard deck of 52 cards plus a joker thrown in for good measure, requires that players make the best two hands of poker from the seven cards dealt to them.

While Pai Gow poker is not offered at all casinos, most of the top establishments have the game on the casino floor. In addition, Pai Gow poker, which has its origins in Ancient China, has also moved into the remote gaming industry and is widely available at online casinos. The game is popular because it manages to bring some of the exciting elements of poker to a game that is more leisurely paced and less stressful than traditional poker.


Pai Gow, which means ‘nine’, was originally played as an intricate domino game in Ancient China. The game involved dividing the tiles into four groups and, using a dice, splitting them among players. Different versions of the game evolved over time and some of these made their way to the United States with migrant workers from China in the 1800’s.

At one point, playing cards replaced the domino tiles in Pai Gow. A Californian casino owner, Fred Wolf, recognizing the potential of using elements of the traditional Chinese Pai Gow to create a new card game, introduced Pai Gow poker to his casino in the 1980’s – the game as we know it today. Its popularity soon spread to Las Vegas and Atlantic City and today it is considered a favorite among players.

The online casino industry has helped introduce Pai Gow poker to millions of players from around the world and allows them to play the game from the comfort to their own homes. The traditional Pai Gow game with dominoes is still played in China and other parts of the world, but the contemporary Pai Gow poker is a far cry from the original version.


The objective of the game is to form two separate poker hands from the seven cards that are dealt to the player in the game. The player needs to form a high hand of five cards and a low hand of two cards.


Banker: The dealer in the game.
Copy: A situation in which the banker and the player have identical hands.
Foul Hand: A situation where the player’s 2 card hand is great in value than the 5 card hand.
High Hand: A poker hand consisting of five cards.
Joker: The Joker in Pai Gow Poker, the 53rd card in the pack, acts as a wild card to replace Aces or to complete a straight, a flush, or a straight flush.
Low Hand: A poker hand consisting of two cards.
Push: When both the player and the dealer have a winning and a losing hand.

How to Play/Game Rules


Pai Gow Poker is played against the dealer around a unique table. While up to six players may be seated around the table, they are of no importance to each other, unlike traditional poker. Players will essentially be betting on the formation of two poker hands – one high and one low, with both of them required to be stronger than the dealer’s in order to win.
Game Format

 Each player places a bet.
 Seven cards are dealt to each player.
 All the players, except the dealer, look at their cards.
 Players arrange their cards into the best two hand (low hand) and the best five hand (high hand) combinations possible. The high hand needs to be stronger in value than the low hand.
 The two arranged hands are placed face down on the table.
 The dealer begins to expose his cards.
 Players may not rearrange cards once the dealer has commenced the turnover.
 The dealer arranges his or her cards into the best high and low hand combinations possible.
 The players’ cards are turned over and compared to the dealer’s. Five card hands are compared with the dealer’s five card hand and the two card hand is compared with the dealer’s.

Pai Gow Payouts

If…… Then…..

 The player manages to win the high and the low hands – the player’s wager is paid out.
 The dealer wins a hand and the player wins a hand – a ‘push’ is created and no money is exchanged.
 The dealer wins both hands – the player loses the wager and the dealer wins.
 The dealer wins one hand and the second hand is a tie – the player loses.
 The player wins one hand and the second is a tie – a ‘push’ is created and no money is exchanged.

Tips and Strategies

Pai Gow Poker Optimal Strategy

Playing Pai Gow Poker is a great combination of luck and strategy. In order to gain the best possible house edge, players should learn the optimal strategy to the game by taking the following steps:

 If Five Aces are dealt, the player should split them, unless a pair of kings can be made to create the 2 card hand.
 If a Royal Flush is dealt, the player should keep it for the high hand. If a Royal Flush with a pair is dealt, the pair should be played in the 2 card hand.
 If a Straight Flush is dealt, the player should keep it as the high hand, although two pairs of tens or higher or a pair of aces and any other pair should be split.
 If a Four of Kind is dealt, the player should always keep two through to six together, and split seven through to ten, unless the Ace and a face card can be played in the 2 card hand.
 If a Full House is dealt, it should be split unless a pair of twos, Ace and King can be played in the 2 card hand.
 If a Flush is dealt, it should be kept as it for the high hand. If the player is dealt a six card Flush, the highest card dealt should be played in the 2 card hand. If a pair is dealt, it should be played as the low hand.
 If a Straight is dealt, it should be kept for the high hand. The highest card should be played for the low hand if a six card Straight is dealt. A pair dealt with a Straight should be played for the low hand.
 If a Three of a Kind is dealt, it should played in the high hand unless in the case of three aces, in which case they should be split between the high and the low hands. If two are dealt, the strongest should be split to play a pair in the low hand, while the weaker Three of a Kind should be played in the high hand.
 If three pairs are dealt, the highest should be played in the low hand.
 If two pairs are dealt, the Ace and another pair should be split between the low and the high hand, while a pair of sixes or higher and pair of face cards should be split. If the pairs are lower than sixes, they should be kept in the high hand and not split.
 If one pair is dealt, it should be placed in the high hand and the next two highest cards should be played in the low hand.
 If no pair is dealt, the highest ranking card should be played in the high hand, and the next two highest ranking cards should be saved for the low hand.

General Pai Gow Poker Tips

 Being the banker provides the player with an opportunity to get better odds. Some players bet as much as possible when they are the banker, and as little as possible when they are not. Players usually take turns to be the banker around the table and casinos usually set a limit.
 Don’t overlook the importance of the two-card hand. Players should strive to create the best two possible hands without creating one at the expense of the other.
 When dealt a full house, it should never be played as the high hand.


The game of Pai Gow combines the traditional hand rankings of poker, with an interesting variation of creating not one, but two poker hands. By learning which cards to split into which hands, the player has an excellent opportunity increase the chances of winning. The laid back, relatively slow pace of Pai Gow Poker, together with its rich history, are reasons enough to try out this game.

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