There are a lot of poker variations out there, but there is only one Pai Gow Poker. Even though this is not among the more popular poker games, many online casinos feature this fine variation of the classic game. If this is your game of choice, or if you want to learn how to play it, we cover the rules and basic strategy of Pai Gow Poker here.

Page Contents

How To Play Pai Gow Poker | Hand rankings | Front hands and back hands | Differences between Live And Online Pai Gow | Live Pai Gow | Online Pai Gow

How To Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow poker is a game based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow, which is normally played with tiles. Pai Gow poker bears many similarities to regular poker, so if you know how to play regular poker, you are already well on your way to playing Pai Gow poker.

Hand Rankings

Pai Gow Poker uses a hand ranking system similar to regular poker. The strength of the hands in ascending order are high card, pair, two pair, three of a kind, a straight, a flush, a full house, four of a kind, a straight flush, a Royal Flush. But it doesn't end there cause Paigow poker also allow five of a kind. Five of a kind is possible in Pai Gow poker since it employs a joker, which can be used as an ace or to complete a straight or a flush.

Front Hands And Back Hand

In Pai Gow poker, you are dealt seven cards, but unlike seven-card stud, you will actually be using all seven to make your hand. You will make a two card front hand and a five card back hand. Straights and flushes cannot be made on the front hand, so your best front hand would be a pair of aces. However, it is a rule in Pai Gow that your back hand must be stronger than your front hand. If you set your front hand stronger, your hand is fouled and you will lose. In Pai Gow poker, any straight with an ace in it is considered an ace high straight, so A, 2, 3, 4, 5 would beat 9, T, J, Q, K, for example.

Differences Between Live And Online Pai Gow

Live Pai Gow Poker

In live Pai Gow Poker you are playing against the House, not other players. A cup with dice in it is slammed on the felt before play starts. While this action may confuse and intimidate the uninitiated, the dice rolling has nothing to do with the actual play; it only determines where the first card is dealt. Once all players have set their hands, they compare their hands to the dealer's hand. If both of your hands beat both of the dealer's hands, you win, if both of your hands lose, you lose, otherwise it is a push. If a dealer hand and player hand are exactly the same, the tie goes to the dealer. When a player wins, he must give a five percent commission to the house, which is where the casino gets its edge.

Online Pai Gow Poker

In a live game, you or another player may take on the role of the banker, essentially playing against everyone else at the table and booking their bets. Online, there are no other players, so you will be playing directly against the online casino. If you are not sure how best to set your hand, you can click the ""house way"" button and the site will set your hand for you. The house will always attempt to set your hand in the optimal fashion.

" " Pai Gow poker is a casino table game, and as such, it contains a built in House edge. However, you can reduce that edge considerably through proper strategy. A major strategy for reducing the House edge in Pai Gow poker is banking.


What Is Banking in Pai Gow Poker?

In most casinos, the Pai Gow dealer will give each player in turn the opportunity to be the bank. For that round, all players play against the banker (the dealer effectively becomes another player in this scenario) and the banker pays out and collects all bets.


Why Bank in Pai Gow Poker?

Commission Bonus

Being able to bank is a huge advantage in Pai Gow poker, and the more often you can bank, the better your chances of coming out ahead. In Pai Gow, all winning bets must include a five percent commission to the House. If you are the banker, that five percent is taken off after all wins and losses are calculated, effectively enabling you to offset your commissions with losses, which other players cannot do.

For example, if you were a player, won $10 on the first hand, and lost $10 on the second, you would have a net loss of $2 with the House commission. However, a banker in the same scenario will have a net loss is $0, because the two bets offset before the commission comes into play. Keep in mind that you are often banking many more than two players for much larger sums.

Copy Bonus

The banker wins all copies. This means if either the front hand or back hand is the same between the banker and another player, that hand is goes to the banker. For example, if the banker and player duplicate their front hands but the player has a better back hand, it is a push. If the banker has a better back hand, he wins.

" " Here are a few tips or tricks that will help you map out your strategy to either maximize your play time and/or your winnings when playing Pai Gow Poker:

The house advantage in Pai Gow Poker is 2.5%. However, when a player decides to be the dealer, the odds are pretty much even. Therefore, it is advisable for a player to be the dealer as much as possible.

Look for tables that do not have that many players at them. This way, you have a good chance of being the dealer more often.

Always play the 'house way'. This means that you will play all your hands the way the house dealer must play, regardless of whether you are the dealer or not - you just follow the Pai Gow rules. This gives you two advantages- it forces you to play in the most effective way strategically in order to win, and it also gets you used to playing how you will most likely have to play if you are the dealer on a particular hand. Here is a handy chart of the house way. Be aware, though that there could be slight variations from casino to casino, though they are usually negligible and make little if any difference in the eventual outcome:

Combination of Cards

What to Do No pair Place the highest card in the 5 card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2 card hand. One Pai Place the pair in 5 card hand and the next two highest cards in the 2 card hand. Two Pairs Ace and any other pair - always split Face card pair and pair 6's or higher - always split; Any two pair 6's or under - never split; With any other 2 pair, split unless the hand contains an ace - then play the ace in the 2 card hand; Three Pairs Always play highest pair in 2 card hand. Three of a Kind
Always play three of a kind in 5 card hand except break up three aces Two Three of a Kinds - play the lowest 3 of a kind as the 5 card hand and split the higher 3 of a kind. Straight
Keep as the 5 card hand 6 card straight - use the highest card in the 2 card hand 5 or 6 card straight with a pair - use the pair as the 2 card hand Straight with 2 pair - play the 2 pair rule. Flush
Keep as the 5 card hand. 6 card flush - use the highest card in the 2 card hand. 5 or 6 card flush with a pair - use the pair as the 2 card hand. Flush with 2 pair - play the 2 pair rule. Straight and a Flush A flush and a straight with no pair - play the combination that results in the highest 2 card hand. Full House Split except with pair of 2's and an ace/king can be played in 2 card hand. Four of a Kind
Play according to the rank of the Four of a Kind:
2 through 6: Always keep together 7 through 10: Split unless a pair or ace and picture can be played in the 2 card hand Jack through king: Split unless hand also contains a pair of 10's or higher Aces: Split unless a pair of 7's or higher can be played in 2 card hand. Straight Flush
Keep as the 5 card hand Split 2 pair 10's and higher, or a pair of aces and any other pair Any other two pair with ace - play the 2 pair as high and the ace in the 2 card hand Play a straight or flush instead of the straight flush if it causes a picture card or higher to be played in the 2 card hand. Royal Flush
Keep as the 5 card hand Royal flush with a pair - play the pair in the 2 card hand Royal flush with 2 pair - play the 2 pair rule Split the royal flush if an ace, king or a pair can be played in the 2 card hand while retaining a straight or flush in the 5 card hand. Five Aces Split unless pair of kings can be played in 2 card hand.

" " Pai Gow Poker is a unique Poker variation in which each player is dealt enough cards to make two hands. The object of the game is to make the best two hands possible with the cards dealt, and to have both of those hands beat both of the dealer's hands. Here are the rules of the game:

The deck used in Pai Gow Poker is 53 cards- the standard 52-card deck plus one wild, usually a Joker.

Before anything happens, all players must make their wager. A unique aspect of Pai Gow Poker is that any player can request to be the dealer. However, this must be done before the wagers are placed.

Once all wagers are made, the dealer rolls a set of dice to determine which player gets the first set of seven cards. The dealer can then begin to deal cards according to the roll of the dice. Seven cards are dealt to each player, including the dealer.

Each player must then take their seven cards and split them into two hands- the best five-card hand possible (hand behind) and the best two-card hand possible (hand in front).

The usual Poker hierarchy of hands applies, unless a player gets the Joker. In this case, four aces plus the Joker (to make five of a kind) would be the highest hand possible instead of the usual Royal Flush. The best two-card hand possible is a pair of Aces. The only other exception is that a straight comprised of A-2-3-4-5 is usually considered the second highest straight (behind an A-K-Q-J-10). There are some casinos though that do not recognize this as the second-highest straight, so you should refer to the specific rules of that table.

The Joker may only be used to complete a flush, straight, or straight flush. If it can not be used to complete one of these hands, it automatically defaults to an Ace.

After all players separated their two hands, the dealer does the same according to the 'house way' rules. All hands are then compared to the dealer's hand to see if anyone wins.

A hand called a 'dragon hand' may be dealt to any empty seats at the table. If a player wishes and the rules allow for it, they may pick up this hand and play it in addition to the one they already have.


If both of a player's hands beats the dealer, then they win 1:1 odds on their bet, minus a 5% commission that goes to the house. For instance, if you bet $20, you get to keep your bet plus $20 from the house, minus the commission. So you would get paid out $19.50 in addition to keeping your bet.

If only one of your hands beats the dealer's, then the game is considered a push, and neither the house nor player wins. The player gets to keep their bet.

If both hands are a tie, the banker wins.

The two-card hand can not be higher than the five-card hand. If it is, then both hands are considered a foul and the player's bet is collected. At some online casinos, the software will prompt you to fix your hands if you have made this mistake, allowing you to continue play. Read the instructions for the game to find out if this is the case or not.


If a player is the dealer, they must have enough money in their bankroll to cover all bets made by the players. The house dealer in this case would become a player and bet the same amount that the player/dealer did on their last hand when the house was the dealer.

If a player wins hands while being the dealer, the house will still take their 5% commission, but this time on the net amount won instead of on each individual bet won.

If the player does not have enough in their bankroll to cover or wishes not to cover the full amount, the house has the option of covering half. In this case, the player/dealer must set their hand according to 'house way' rules, just like the house dealer would. Again, check the rules of your table to see if this is an option or not.

" " To get the most out of your Pai Gow games online, make sure you understand the lingo. Here are the most commonly used terms in Pai Gow games online and in brick-and-mortar casinos.

Banker: The person that a player bets against in a game of Pai Gow Poker.

Co-banking: The option that some (but definitely not all) casinos give a player who is the banker . This option means that the player is only responsible for half of the action on the table while banker, while the house is responsible for the other half. The best Pai Gow strategy is to be banker as often as possible.

Copies: Common name for a tie. In the case of a copy or tie, the bet goes to the banker.

Dragon Hand: Hand dealt to an empty seat at the table. In some cases, the casino may allow a player to play the dragon hand, which then means they will be playing two hands in the same game.

Hand Behind: Common name for the five card hand in Pai Gow, since it is places behind the smaller two card hand.

Hand in Front: Common name for the two card hand in Pai Gow, so called because it is placed first, or in front of the hand behind (five card hand).

High Card: The highest card in a player""s hand, which may be used as a tie-breaker if a player and dealer have the same hand (for instance, if they both have a flush, the one with the highest card in their flush will win).

High Hand: Another name for the ""hand behind"" or five-card hand.

House Way: A set way that all dealers must use when setting their hands in Pai Gow. This determines which cards they use in both their hands.

Joker: A card that serves as a wild card in a Pai Gow deck. It can be used to complete a flush, straight or straight flush. If it can not be used to complete one of these hands, then it becomes an Ace automatically.

Low Hand: Another name for the ""hand in front"" or two card hand.

Wild Card: the 53rd card in a Pai Gow deck, usually a Joker. See the definition for ""joker"".

" " Pai gow poker is a game that combines the Asian tile game of pai gow with traditional poker. Unlike online poker where you play against other live opponents, online pai gow poker is played against a computerized dealer supplied by the online casino.

This simplifies the game considerably and allows you to focus on playing your own hand, rather than worrying about a table full of players dealing with decisions, such as who will choose to be the banker, who will act first and how they will assemble their hands. Online, it's just you trying to beat the house.

Beating the house at online pai gow poker is difficult, because you must pay the casino a five percent commission on every winning bet. This is the house edge, and it's why they feature the game. However, you can make an effort to insure that that five percent edge is the only advantage the casino has over you.

Believe in ""The House Way""

On your online pai gow poker screen, you will be presented with the option to arrange your cards ""The House Way."" If you choose this option, the computer will arrange your cards for you. The computer arranges the cards the same way it arranges its own hand, so you are not giving the online casino any special edge by having the house arrange your cards. In fact, choosing to arrange them yourself may cost you money.

Don't Believe in ""The House Way""

Well, believe, but verify. If you're not convinced that the house arrangement is optional, there are online pai gow poker hand calculators that can calculate the expected win value of every possible card combination based on the seven cards you provide, and will give you readout of the best configuration. Since you're playing online, you can use these calculators in a separate window as you play.

Watch Out for Rounding

Some online casino software for pai gow poker may round your commission up to the nearest 25 cents. This may not seem like a big deal, but it can add up, and increases the house edge. If your online casino does this, be sure to bet in multiples of five dollars, so the commission will always come out even.

Quit While You're Ahead

If you play long enough, that five percent commission will catch up with you. Set a win/loss goal and quit when you've reached it. This will make sure you have fun while playing and are able to protect a nice win when you get one.

" " Pai Gow Poker is a casino game that offers low variance and fairly good odds. Even though the House minimums in live Pai Gow poker games are a little high, the game progresses so slowly that you can play for quite some time without losing much money.

General Odds

The odds in Pai Gow Poker [Pai Gow Poker Rules] may very slightly according to the way that the House sets its hands. However, with optimal strategy by the player, the House has an edge of about 2.67 percent.

Bets in Pai Gow pay off at roughly even money, .95-to-1, to be exact, with a five percent commission on winning bets paid by the player. Remember that if you are not sure how to set your hand, you can ask the dealer to set it for you.

Banker Odds

However, what does not factor into this calculation is the banker option. In turn, each player had the option to serve as the banker, playing against all other players.

The player should always take this option, as it is a tremendous advantage. The banker wins copies. If two people both have straights, the banker wins if his two card hand is better than the player's, but does not lose if the player's hand is better. Similarly, if both players have ace king in front, the banker wins with a better back hand but ties if the player has a better back hand.

More importantly, the five percent commission is not taken from the banker until all bets have been tallied. This means that the banker gets to deduct all his losses from his wins before paying the commission, something that other players do not have the benefit of doing. This is such an advantage that it can cut the House edge in half or better, depending on how many players the banker faces.


Don't forget that you will need to pay that commission before you leave the table. Some players prefer to pay the commission up front. This actually slightly reduces the price of the commission, so it is an advisable strategy.



" " Pai Gow is a centuries old game that originated in ancient China. It was a bit complex and played with tiles that closely resemble dominoes (in fact, many times they were called dominoes, even though they are not). The tiles were split into four groups by a dealer, who then rolled dice to determine which player got which set of tiles. The game was then played from there according to the rules.

Variations of the popular game started appearing in China in the 1800s. Not a whole lot is known about who exactly invented the variations or when each one came into existence. What we do know, though is that the game known as Pai Gow Poker has its roots in the original Pai Gow tile game, but is not exactly the same. It is a fusion of both Pai Gow and traditional Poker, thus the name.

Pai Gow Poker first started appearing Stateside in California around 1986. Within a year, some Vegas casinos were picking it up and offering a table or two in their casinos that offered Pai Gow Poker. However, it took several years after that for Atlantic City and other jurisdictional casinos to really catch on and start offering Pai Gow Poker as a regular feature. Most recently, online casinos have started offering this unique Poker variation, and the demand seems to be growing as casual gamblers who would rather not be bothered with traveling to gamble have turned to the internet to get their betting fix.

Master Pai Gow Poker strategy.

" " If you have time to kill and a deck of cards, no game is as good as Chinese Poker. Just ask poker pro Phil Ivey. One time, he actually went to Europe just to play the game on the way over.

At first, Ivey didn't want to go to the European Poker Tour event in Monte Carlo 2005, but Barry Greenstein promised him Chinese-poker action on the way over so Ivey decided to go anyway

The story doesn't revile whether Ivey or Greenstein won the Chinese-poker game when they flew across the pond, but we know that Ivey took home the Main Event in the actual poker tournament and a nice $1,600,000 was added to his bankroll.

Many poker professionals love this little game, and it was actually an own event in the 1995 and 1996 World Series of Poker. The game is quite similar to Pai Gow Poker, which you may have stumbled across in brick-and-mortar and online casinos.


Rules of Chinese Poker

Chinese poker rules are quite simple. You only need to know the poker-hand ranking.

The game starts with players receiving 13 cards each from a regular 52-card deck. With these cards they then create three separate poker hands - two hands containing five cards (back and middle hand) and one containing three cards (the front).

The back hand must be strongest, followed by the middle hand, and the front hand. A possible hand could be: Back hand, full house; middle hand, straight; front hand, pair.


The Scoring

When all players have put their cards in neat piles on the table, the player left of the dealer start showing his cards, followed by his opponents in a clockwise manner.

Players then receive one point from each player he/she beats with back, middle or front hand. This means that you can win although you're just second best - a rarity in poker. There is a diversity of rules when it comes to scoring, but you'll often get a bonus if you win all three hands. This is known as a scoop and awards three extra points.


Then how much money a point is worth is solely up to you.



Bonuses, or royalties, are sometimes awarded to players with really strong or rare holdings. These must, however, be declared prior to the showdown.


Bonuses are commonly awarded to:

Straight flush (back or middle

Four of a kind (back or middle)

Full house (middle)

Three of a kind (front)


Some hand combinations are also sometimes awarded bonuses. These are:

Three straights

Three flushes

Six pairs

13 unique cards


Learn the game

If you wish to learn the game, you can start by playing Pai Gow. Pai Gow is played with seven cards, a front and a back hand with five and two cards. The five-card hand must be better than the five-card hand, and you compare both hands against the dealer's holdings.

" " One of the online casino games enjoying some popularity is Pai Gow poker. Due to the high limits and sometimes intimidating nature of live Pai Gow poker, some players who would enjoy the game in a live casino feel compelled to stay away. These players are now enjoying all the excitement of Pai Gow poker online

One of the more fun aspects of Pai Gow poker is figuring out how to set your hand

Hand Setting Tips

Of course, you can get the software to set your hand for you, but it is much more fun to do it yourself. If you decide to go the self-setting route, here are some quick tips that will give you a great chance to beat the dealer if the cards go your way.

No Pair

If you don't have a pair, you must put your highest card in your five card back hand by rule. You are free to put the next two highest cards in your front hand and you should, to give yourself the best chance of winning that hand and hopefully getting a push.

One Pair, Two Pairs, Three Pairs

With one pair, you will have to put your pair in the back since the back hand needs to be the strongest. You are then free to put your two highest non-paired cards in the front. You will usually want to break up two pair in order to get a pair in front, which is very powerful in Pai Gow.

The only exception might be if you can make an ace high front hand, which is almost as good as a pair. Then you can keep your two pair in back. If you have three pair, you'll put your high pair in front. Remember the stronger your front hand, the better.

Three of a Kind, Straight, Flush, Full House, Four of a Kind, Straight Flush

Keep your three of a kind in back and make the strongest front hand you can unless you have three aces that you would split up. Keep your straights, flushes and straight flushes in the back.

Break up your full houses and four of a kinds to put a pair in front. If you have an ace with your four of a kind, give yourself an ace high front and quads in the back.