A popular variant of casino poker, Pai Gow Poker is derived from a combination of the traditional game of poker and the Chinese game of Pai Gow.

While the game takes most of its elements from poker, the Pai Gow influence can be seen in some of the game mechanics and certain terms in the game.

This game can be very fun to play in either live or online casino, but can be a little tricky for novice players or those transitioning from traditional poker games to pick up.

If you are looking to learn how to play Pai Gow Poker, keep reading and learn all the Pai Gow Poker rules, some basic strategy, and get ready to play the first hand of this exciting card game.

Pai Gow Poker Rules Explained

Before you can start playing Pai Gow Poker, you will need to know all the basic rules of the game and understand the gameflow.

Unlike some casino poker games, Pai Gow only requires you to place one bet at the start of the hand, and this is the only obligatory bet you will have to place at any point.

Once you and other players at the table have placed your bets, the dealer will deal seven cards to each player and seven cards to himself.

Your goal is to make one five-card hand and one two-card hand out of the seven cards, with the stipulation that the five-card hand must beat the two-card hand.

It is worth noting that Pai Gow Poker uses the traditional poker hand rankings to determine which hand beats which, so if you have played a game like Texas Hold’em Poker, you should already be familiar with these.

Also worth noting is that the Pai Gow Poker deck contains a single joker card, which can be used to complete any straight, flush, or straight flush. In all other cases, the joker substitutes for an Ace.

You can set up your cards anyway you want, but if you end up making your top hand (two-card hand) stronger than your bottom hand (five-card hand), your hand will be forfeited in some casinos, while in others the dealer will set it according to house rules.

Once all hands are properly set, the dealer will turn over his cards and set them according to the house rules.

All hands at the table are then compared with the dealer’s. Your hand can win in three different ways:

  • Win Both Hands: If both of your hands beat the dealer’s, you will win double money on your bet.
  • Win One Hand: If one of your hands beats the dealer, and the other does not, you will get your bet back as the hand is a tie.
  • Lose Both Hands: If both of your hands lose to the dealer’s, you will lose your bet and proceed to the next hand.

If is also worth noting that tied hands go in the dealer’s favor. For example, if both you and the dealer have a pair of Kings on the top, that hand will be won by the dealer.

Also keep in mind that Pai Gow Poker tables usually charge a commission either for every hand you play, or a 5% commission on any winnings you acquire.

Pai Gow Poker Step-by-Step Guide

Learning to play Pai Gow Poker can be easiest if you follow a step-by-step guide, which is why we created one for you to take you through a hand and explain every step in the process:

  1. Place Your Bets: When you first sit down at the table, you will need to place a bet to be dealt in. You can bet anything between the table minimum and the table maximum.
  2. Place Side Bets: If you so choose, you can also place chips on various side bets. We will explain what side bets may be available in further text.
  3. Get Your Cards: Once all bets are placed, you will receive seven cards in total. You can set these cards anyway you wish to form one five-card and one two-card hand.
  4. Go to Showdown: Once all hands are set the dealer will set his cards according to house rules. The hands are compared and the winnings are paid according to the results.
  5. Side Bets Get Paid: Any side bets you may have made will also get paid by the dealer before you proceed to the next hand.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

In order to be able to play Pai Gow Poker, you will need to have a good grasp on the basic poker hand rankings and the absolute strength of various hands.

In Pai Gow Poker, hand strength is determined according to the traditional poker hand rankings, which most players out there have had a chance to encounter at some point.

Yet, if you are new to poker in general or just want a little refresher, here is a look at all the poker hands you can make in Pai Gow Poker, from strongest to weakest:

  • Royal Flush
  • Straight Flush
  • Four of a Kind
  • Full House
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Three of a Kind
  • Two Pair
  • One Pair
  • High Card

Note that you can make any of these hands in your bottom hand, but only one pair or high card in your top hand, as these are the only hands that can be made of two cards.

While in some variations of casino poker that include two or three-card hands like flushes and straights count, this is not the case in Pai Gow Poker.

So, if you have two suited cards in your top hand, this will not count as a flush, but rather only as high card.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Pai Gow Poker is a much simpler game than the likes of Texas Hold’em or Pot Limit Omaha, as there are no opponents to face and no betting rounds to think of.

However, that does not mean that there is no Pai Gow Poker strategy to consider at all and that all players will get the exact same results with the same cards.

While there are many spots in which there is only one way to set your cards, there are many others in which you can go different ways and produce different results.

Here are a few basic Pai Gow Poker strategy tips that will help you the next time you play the game and allow you to get the best possible results in every single hand.

Setting Your Cards

The biggest challenge in playing Pai Gow Poker is knowing which way to set your cards to get the most pure wins and avoid drawing or losing hands.

In some situations, you will only have one possible way to set your cards, such as when you just have one pair in total, as this pair has to go in the bottom hand and your top hand will end up being
a high-card hand.

However, there are also more complicated scenarios where you can set your cards in two or even three different ways without fouling your hand.

This is typically the case when you have a chance to make a straight or flush for your bottom hand, and a pair or high-card for the top hand.

In scenarios like there, you will want to make sure that both your hands have a chance to win. A pair on the top and a strong pair on the bottom is better than high card on the top and straight on the bottom.

While it is true your straight will usually be the winner, your high-card may end up losing to turn the hand into a tie instead of a win.

Playing the Banker

In some casinos, players are allowed to co-bank with the dealer, and it is also possible to set your own game of Pai Gow Poker and act as the banker.

If you are playing the banker and know the best way to set cards, you may actually be able to have a slight edge over other players in the game.

Since many players are very inexperienced in Pai Gow Poker strategy, they will often make strategic mistakes in setting their hands that will cost them equity.

If you can find a good game of Pai Gow Poker to play as a co-banker, there may be some edge to find once you are quite experienced and skilled yourself.

Ask the Dealer for Help

If you are new to the game and playing Pai Gow Poker at a brick-and-mortar casino, you can get the dealer to help you set your hands at any time.

In many casinos, the dealer is obligated to help you set your cards according to house rules, which is basically the best possible way to do it.

Of course, getting the dealer’s help will mean you don’t get to utilize any of that “gut feeling” you may have, so remember not to blame the dealer if you lose the hand. Remember that the dealer doesn’t get a say in how he sets you cards and has to act according to house rules.

Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker

We already established that you are only obligated to place one bet in Pai Gow Poker to get dealt seven cards, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop there.

In fact, different Pai Gow Poker tables offer a number of other side bets that you can place, most of which can lead to some pretty nice payouts.

However, keep in mind that all side bets in Pai Gow Poker have an RPT rate lower than the actual game, which means that in the long run, you will be losing money by placing chips on these bets.

Yet, if you are playing for fun and want to have a chance at a big payout, some of the following side bets may interest you:

  • Fortune Pai Gow
  • Emperor’s Challenge
  • Pai Gow Inssurance

Fortune Pai Gow

Fortune Pai Gow is one of the most common side bets in Pai Gow Poker games around the world. Placing chips on this bet allows you to win money for making certain poker hands, regardless of the outcome of the actual hand.

If you decide to make this wager, the dealer will pay you according to the following paytable, which may also impact the way you want to set your cards in your bottom hand in some cases:

  • 7-Card Straight Flush: 8,000 to 1
  • Royal Flush with Royal Match: 2,000 to 1
  • 7-Card Straight Flush with Joker: 1,000 to 1
  • 5 Aces: 400 to 1
  • Royal Flush: 150 to 1
  • Straight Flush: 50 to 1
  • Four of a Kind: 25 to 1
  • Full House: 5 to 1
  • Flush: 4 to 1
  • Three of a Kind: 3 to 1
  • Straight: 2 to 1

Emperor’s Challenge

Another common Pai Gow Poker side bet is the Emperor’s Challenge bet, which involves a progressive jackpot.

In casinos where Emperor’s Challenge is offered, you will have a chance to win a portion of, or the entire progressive jackpot, by making very strong poker hands.

Typically speaking, the progressive jackpot payouts are distributed as follows:

  • Seven Card Straight Flush (same color): 100%
  • Five Card Royal Flush: 50%
  • Seven Card Straight Flush: 25%

Pai Gow Insurance

In translation from Chinese, Pai Gow means “no hand.” In Pai Gow Poker, you can take insurance against your hand being a Pai Gow and get paid if you are dealt a very weak poker hand.

Pai Gow Insurance jackpot is also progressive and starts at a lower point than the Emperor’s Challenge jackpot.

Typically speaking, you can win the entire Pai Gow Insurance jackpot by landing a 9-High Pai Gow in the same color, and get smaller payouts for making other Pai Gow hands.

If you make this bet, you will get paid anytime both your top and bottom hand are only Q-high or weaker, so your losses to the dealer will be covered by the payouts from this side bet.

Where to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a fairly popular card game in both live and online casinos worldwide. While the game cannot be found in every single online casino lobby just yet, you will definitely have a chance to play it online from every state where online casinos are legal.

The best online casinos that’s available in multiple states that currently offers Pai Gow Poker is DraftKings Casino, one of the biggest names in the industry.

We expect Pai Gow Poker to be added to more online casino lobbies soon, and while you wait for that to happen, you can enjoy other popular casino poker games like Ultimate Texas Hold’em and Three Card Poker at online casinos like:

  • BetRivers Casino US
  • PokerStars Casino US
  • Borgata Casino US
  • BetMGM Casino US

Pai Gow Poker FAQs

How do I win a hand of Pai Gow Poker?

In order to win a hand of Pai Gow Poker outright, you will need to beat the dealer’s top and bottom hand with your own top and bottom hand.

When is a hand fouled in Pai Gow Poker?

Your bottom hand has to be stronger than your top hand in Pai Gow Poker. If you set your cards in a way that goes against this rule, your hand will be fouled. You may be allowed to reset your cards or you may forfeit the bet depending on the casino in question.

When is a Pai Gow Poker hand a tie?

A hand of Pai Gow Poker will result in a tie when one of your hands beats the dealer’s, while the other does not. In this case, you will get your bet back and proceed to the next hand.

How should I set my cards in Pai Gow Poker?

You can set your cards anyway you want to! However, you should always try to act in a way that allows you to potentially win with both your top and bottom hand, without fouling.

What is the commission in Pai Gow Poker?

Many casinos charge a 5% commission at the Pai Gow Poker tables, which is taken out of any winnings you end up getting from your hands.

What is the house edge in Pai Gow Poker?

There is a 2.84% house edge in Pai Gow Poker. 1.25% of that edge comes from the dealer winning in cases of ties for particular hand. The rest comes from the 5% commission that’s charged when a player wins a hand.

What is the Emperor’s Challenge bet?

The Emperor’s Challenge side bet in Pai Gow Poker is a progressive jackpot bet that lets you win a progressive jackpot if you make a Seven Card Straight Flush, along with other smaller payouts for other big poker hands.

What is the Pai Gow Insurance?

Pai Gow Insurance bet is a bet that allows you to get paid when you have Pai Gow (no hand). The lower your Pai Gow, the higher the payout!

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