Pai Gow Poker Rules - How to Play


Basic Overview of how to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a version of the traditional Pai Gow played using the standard 52-deck cards plus a single joker as opposed to the Chinese dominoes. The goal of the game is to make two poker hands, one with a 5-card hand and another with a 2-card hand. If your poker hands beat the dealers, then you win the game. If only one hand wins, then it is considered a push. If both your hands lose to the dealers then you have lost the bet. If you already know how to play the classic poker, then Pai Gow should be quick, easy and fun for you to learn and play.


1. How to play the game

As explained above, the game involves a lot of pushes. You can play for a long time on the same stake and at the same time moving money around. The odds are in favour of winning one hand per deal which is a pretty low-risk game compared to roulette and many others. Furthermore, it provides you with a way to interact with other players in the game. If you are not sure how to set your hand, you can ask the dealer, and he/she will tell you how the house would set it.


2. How to bet

Like in most casino table games, the player has first to place their bets before they receive the cards. This is the only bet you get to make for the duration of the hand, and you must make it within the table’s betting limits. Some Pai Gow tables allow the players to make a bonus bet on whether you’ll make a ‘premium’ hand. The better your premium hand, the higher the payout. The bonus wager is independent of the main bet. It is advisable to avoid making the bonus bet. The house has a significantly higher advantage on these, and you are guaranteed to lose money in the long run.


3. Dealing the game

Once the cards are shuffled, the dealer places them in seven, face-down piles of compressed seven cards – One for the players and the dealer. There are four unused extra cards that the dealer places in the discard pile or muck. The seats are numbered one to seven, beginning with whoever happens to be the banker. A number is randomly chosen, and that forms the basis of who will get dealt first. The dealer will then proceed to hand out the cards in a counter-clockwise direction.


4. Arranging your poker hand

It is up to you to arrange your cards in the two poker hands. The backhand has five cards while the front hand has only two cards. You can have your front hand have two high cards or a pair of the same value.


5. The Joker

In the classic poker, the Joker acts as a whatever-you-want wild card; however, in Pai Gow Poker, the Joker is referred to as a ‘bug’. It acts as an ace, and you can use it to fill out a straight or flush. You can also have five aces which are the ideal 5-card hand in the game.


6. Showdown

Once the players have their two hands, they each place their hands in front of the game. The 2-card hand comes in front of the 5-card hand. The players play to win both hands against the banker. It can be the dealer or one of the players on the table. Rule of thumb at this point is always to ensure that the 5-card hand outranks the 2-card hand. If you mess up and the small hand outranks the bigger hand, then it means you have ‘fouled your hand’, and you ultimately lose your bet. Not all casinos foul this move, check with the rules and regulations of the casino you are playing at to be sure.


7. Setting a hand

The common strategy is in a way that gives you the strongest 2-card hand possible. You can’t lose money if at least one of your hands is better than the dealers. Therefore, you can use the split strategy to give yourself a strong 2-card hand without outranking your five-card hand. The exception here is if you have a straight 5-card hand or better. If you are almost sure of a win, then you can freeroll on the 2-card hand.  If you are playing with the full set of seven cards, the commonly accepted strategy is to leave the highest-ranking card in the backhand and to put the two second-highest-ranking cards in the front.

In conclusion, the essential rule to remember in Pai Gow poker is that you are solely responsible for arranging your cards appropriately. A situation where the 2-card hand outranks the 5-card makes you an automatic loser. The house dealer will readily explain the rankings and assist you in arranging your cards but is not responsible for any wins or loses. Also, another thing to note is that in most cases, the casino takes a 5% commission out of the player’s winnings