How to play Pai Gow Poker

What is Pai Gow Poker?

'Blackjack for Poker players' is how you could describe Pai Gow Poker.

Like Blackjack, it's a fast-paced, you-against-the-dealer type of game, but with strategy based on a knowledge of Poker hands.

It's played with a standard deck of 52 cards, but with the addition of a joker. In Pai Gow Poker the purpose of the game is to make two hands - one of five cards and one of two - to beat both of the banker's hands.

Pai Gow Poker basics

5 cards and 2 cards

The rules of Pai Gow Poker are relatively simple: each player receives seven cards and splits them into two separate hands - a hand of five cards, called 'the back', and a hand of two cards, called 'the front'.

NB The five card hand must always rank higher than the two.

Win both hands

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If both hands beat the dealer's hands, the player wins even money or 1:1 for their bet (though the bank takes a 5% commission from your winnings). If both hands lose, the dealer takes the bet. If you win only one of the two hands, the round finishes in a tie and your bet is returned to you.

Winning both hands in Pai Gow Poker is not as easy as it may seem. Quite often, you'll have to compromise one hand in order not to lose, rather than to win (this is explained fully in our page on Pai Gow Poker Strategy). As a result, you should consider the game as an evens chance bet, suited to lower-risk players who enjoy turning a steady profit without risking too much.

Compared to, for example, Baccarat , Roulette, or the insanely exciting Sic Bo, it can be a little slow for high rolling, high-risk gamblers, who often prefer the following variation:

Bonus / Fortune Pai Gow Poker

Bonus Pai Gow Poker (sometimes called Fortune Pai Gow) is played in exactly the same way as normal Pai Gow Poker, except that you're given a bonus payout of up to 8000 times your bet if you place a bonus bet and your seven cards hand contains a winning combination - regardless of how you set the front and back. The winning combinations and bonus payouts are given in our Pai Gow Poker Odds table.

The reasons that Bonus / Fortune Pai Gow is more suited to higher-risk players are:

a) you're betting twice as much per game (the bet and the bonus bet) and

b) in the event of a tie, the bonus bet is not returned to you.

But if, for example, your seven cards contained four of a kind, you would receive a bonus payment of 25 times your bonus bet, regardless of your winnings in the 'normal' play.

The odds against getting these hands are larger than the payouts, giving a consequently higher house edge, but the possible payouts suit those who enjoy taking more of a risk.

Pai Gow Poker terms explained

The back - 5 card hand

The Five card hand is ranked according to standard poker rules. If you're not sure about these standard rankings, or just need a reference point, click on our Poker Hand Rankings page.

The front - 2 card hand

The two card hand has to rank lower than the five card hand. Again, standard poker rules apply: a pair of Aces is the highest pair, a pair of 2s the lowest. If the hand is not a pair, it is ranked as a high, named after the highest card i.e. J9 is a jack high. If two 'high' hands have the same highest card, the next highest card is used to determine the winner e.g. if both players have Ace high, one player with AQ and the other with A9, the player with AQ wins.

Joker Card

The joker can be used to complete a flush, straight or straight flush, or can act as a single Ace.

House Way

The House Way is the set of rules that a traditional casino would instruct its dealers to use when setting their hands. In land based casinos, knowledge of this would form the basis of a winning strategy (see our Pai Gow Strategy page). Some online casinos offer a "house way" button. By pressing this, your cards will automatically be set for you using the same rules the dealer/casino uses. Obviously, this negates the edge you may achieve by setting hands manually.

The best casinos for Pai Gow Poker

Check out the casinos below for the best Pai Gow games currently available.

Online Pai Gow Poker guide

Pai Gow is an unusual card game that can best be described as like Blackjack for Poker players - you play against the dealer, but have to form two Poker hands.

Although simple, there is plenty scope for players who want to develop an optimal playing strategy.

To help take you from beginner through to an expert Pai Gow Poker player, we've put together a comprehensive guide, that tells you everything you need to know:

Pai Gow Poker strategy

Pai Gow Poker requires an optimal playing strategy, which comes down to understanding three basic elements and combining them to suit your own personal style:

  • General rules for setting any seven card hand;
  • The House Way - the way the casino instructs its dealers to set their hands;
  • The Bonus bet - betting on your hand, regardless of how you set it.

Pai Gow Poker odds

The odds and probabilities of forming any poker hand from the seven dealt.

And if you're playing Bonus/Fortune Pai Gow, what chance have you got of picking up a bonus?

Pai Gow Poker practice game

Practice your new-found Pai Gow strategy skills on this free play game which you can play without downloading, on your mobile, tablet or desktop.

You'll get 1,000 play money credits and as long as you want to practice!