How to Play Pai Gow Poker

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Pai gow poker is a variant of pai gow, a Chinese game played with 32 dominoes. The U.S. version began at the Bell card club in 1985 before spreading worldwide. Today, there are many different types of pai gow poker available.

Here’s a look at how to play pai gow poker at reputable online casinos.

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Pai Gow Poker Rules

The game of pai gow poker is quite simple. Usually, there’s a dealer or banker and up to six players at a table. Since you'll be playing online, you can focus as the only player in a more relaxing atmosphere.

Pai gow poker rules center around forming two poker hands: High and Low. The High or “back” hand comprises five cards, while you’ll use two for the Low or “front” hand.

As a rule, the High five-card hand must be a better poker hand than the Low two-card hand.

At the start of every round, you and the dealer receive seven cards. If you get seven cards without any pairs—Pai Gow—use the highest card for your High hand. Using the following two highest cards for your Low hand is recommended.

To win at pai gow poker, you'll need to beat the dealer's High and Low hands.

  • If you only win one hand, the round results in a push (tie), and your wager gets returned.
  • If both hands end up lower than the dealer's, you lose that round, and your bet(s) or ante goes to the casino.
  • If you beat both the dealer’s hands, you win that round.

Some casinos may charge a 5% commission when you win both hands. We've seen a max bet of $100 at legal online casinos. The most commission on your winnings would be $5.

Pai gow poker has a house edge between 2.5% - 2.8%. If the casino doesn't take a commission, the house edge may drop below 2%. Some sites may even let you play as the dealer, which also helps lower the house odds.

What Are the Basics of Pai Gow Poker?

Now that you understand the pai gow poker rules let's cover more of the basics. The game gets played with a 52-card deck plus a Joker. The Joker in pai gow poker substitutes as a wild—only in particular circumstances.

The Joker acts as an Ace or completes any Straight or Flush (Straight Flush and Royal Flush included).

To start a round of pai gow poker, you’ll place a wager for your ante. Bets range from $0.10 to $100, depending on the casino.

You may also place side bets for the Fortune Bonus with the SG Digital Fortune Pai Gow Poker version. Those payouts range from 2:1 for a Straight and up to 8000:1 for a Seven Card Straight Flush.

You'll use all seven cards for the best possible poker hand when you play the Fortune Bonus. Incorporating a Joker (while it's improbable) means you'd have the potential to get Five Aces which pays 400:1!

After you place your ante and side-bet—up to $30 max at Fortune Pai Gow Poker—click ‘Deal.’

You’ll receive seven cards, two of which might get outlined in red with an Autosplit feature. The feature aligns with a "house way" or a predetermined system for organizing any card set.

The dealer could organize your High and Low hands if you played pai gow poker at a land-based casino. So the Autosplit feature helps to determine your course of action for each round.

Click 'Autosplit.' Or select the two cards for your Low hand and click 'Split.' The dealer then reveals their seven cards.

See if your High and Low hands beat the dealer to win the round.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

We recommend playing free demo versions to develop a strategy for pai gow poker. Try practicing at Caesars, DraftKings, or Golden Nugget online casinos. Other sites are also available with different variants.

Playing pai gow online with a free demo is a great way to recognize different strategies without financial pressure. After a few sessions, you’ll likely notice that a near-majority of hands end as a push.

Compared to blackjack or baccarat, pai gow poker is a slower table game. That's why it's rare at land-based or online casinos. However, with a little bit of strategy, it’s a valuable option for your bankroll.

Setting or Splitting High Cards or One Pair

You'll want the strongest possible two-card hand when splitting your seven cards. Most of the time, you'll deal with high cards or one pair. A pair of Aces is the best Low hand in pai gow poker.

We previously discussed what to do if you receive seven cards without any pairs. Keep the highest card in your High hand and use the following two highest for your Low hand.

For example, say you get these cards:

  • Q (spades), 3 (diamonds), 7 (hearts), 6 (hearts), 9 (clubs), 2 (clubs), 4 (spades)

You’d split your hand by selecting the 9 and 7 for your Low hand. For your High hand, you’d have Queen high. Chances are you’d be losing a hand like that.

If you get one pair in your seven cards, keep that for your High hand and use the two highest remaining cards for your Low hand.

For example, say you receive the following:

  • A (hearts), J (diamonds), 10 (spades), 10 (clubs), 3 (clubs), 6 (hearts), 7 (spades)

You’d split your hand by choosing the A and J for your Low hand. With a pair of 10s for your High hand, you’d have solid odds at beating the dealer’s hands.

How to Split Two Pairs

If you receive two pairs in your seven-card hand, there are some basic rules for handling them. You’ll want to split two pairs as follows:

  • Two high pairs (JJ-AA)
  • One high pair (JJ-AA) and one medium pair (77-TT)

Keep the highest pair for your High hand, and use the remaining pair for your Low hand.

Unless you have an Ace—you should also split:

  • Two medium pairs (77-TT)
  • One high pair (JJ-AA) and one low pair (22-66)

With an Ace in your seven-card hand with two pairs, you’d keep the two pairs for your High hand. Use Ace high for your Low hand.

Unless you have an Ace or a King—you’d want to split:

  • One medium pair (77-TT) and one low pair (22-66)
  • Two low pairs (22-66)

With an Ace and a King in your seven-card hand with two pairs, you’d keep the two pairs for your High hand. Use Ace-King for your Low Hand.

Trips, Quads, Straights, and Flushes

If you get Three of a Kind, play it in your High hand—unless there are three Aces. In that case, you’d want to keep a pair of Aces for your High hand and use Ace high for your Low hand.

Keep Straights and Flushes in your High hand except when you have two pairs (see above).

Splitting Four of a Kind overlaps with the same rules as receiving two pairs. Stick to the following:

  • Split quads that are Jacks or better into two pairs
  • Split quad 7s - 10s into two pairs unless you’ve got an Ace
  • Keep quad 6s or lower for your High hand

Full House or Five Aces (Including Joker)

If you get a Full House, you’d want to keep the trips for your High hand and use the pair for your Low hand. With two pairs and a set of trips, use the higher of the pairs for your Low hand.

If you get four Aces plus a Joker for Five Aces, split them up for your High and Low hands. With a pair of Kings and Five Aces, use the Kings for your Low hand.

Conclusion

Use your best judgment when setting your High and Low hands in pai gow poker. These basic rules help form a foundation for your strategy but don’t account for side bets.

You can use the Fortune Bonus payout scheme for Three of a Kind, Straights, or Flushes rather than splitting them up. That depends on your bankroll and playing style. 

We recommend practicing pai gow poker for free before playing for real money. Then, if you’re lucky enough to place a side bet and receive Four of a Kind, that’s a 25:1 payout!

Good luck!

Online Poker Resources

Confidence is key to be a successful poker player. Take advantage of the following poker guides to help boost your play:

Online poker is currently legal in MichiganNew JerseyPennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware. For more legal information regarding your state, take a look at our online casino legalization tracker.

Best Online Casinos For Poker

Not sure which the best casino is for poker? We've got you covered! Action Network has created the Best Real Money Online Casinos to help you narrow down your list of casinos to play so you could use your newfound knowledge gained from reading our poker tips.

Be sure to shop around at all of these great online casinos to ensure you're keeping your options open and putting our poker tips to good use:

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