Pai Gow Poker: Master the Game in 4 Steps

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Pai Gow Poker is a popular poker-based table game thanks to its low house edge, which can be lowered even further with optimal play. Below, we’ll lay out the simple steps to play this super fun game!

Pai Gow Poker Rules

In Pai Gow, you and the dealer will be dealt 7 cards. You will each split your hands into groups of 2 and 5. Your goal is to beat the dealer in both hands.

  1. Choose your wager. The first step is to click the chip amount you want to bet on the hand.
  2. Press Deal. After that, press the Deal button. Seven cards each will be dealt to you and the dealer.
  3. Click two cards, then press Split. These two cards will make your “low” or “small” hand. The remaining five will be your “high” or “big” hand.
  4. Receive your winnings! If both your hands beat the dealers, you win! If one was better and one was not, it’s a push and your bet is returned to you. If both hands lost, you lose your wager.

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Okay. The Devil is in the details, right? There’s a bunch of extra rules to know about as you learn to play “two-hand” poker. You’ve got the basics down. Now it’s time to learn the rest.

  • Your small hand must rank lower than your big hand. That is, if you get two aces, you can’t push them to the low hand, guarantee a win there, and leave rags in the big hand. The big hand has to be better. For that reason, you typically leave your high pair in the big hand, and push your next best kickers to the low. You now have a chance to win the big hand with your pair, and a chance to win the low with decent kickers. This is the situation you’re in about a third of the time, so this is a key part of Pai Gow strategy to know.
  • The Joker is semi-wild. He’s usually functioning as an ace, unless you need to make a straight or a flush. Then, he’s your man, filling in for what you need to make a big hand.
  • The wheel is the second-best straight. The best straight for your five-card hand is A-K-Q-J-T. But Pai Gow Poker has a small tweak to the normal state of things: A-2-3-4-5 is the second-best hand. After that comes a king-high straight.
  • You can have five of a kind. The joker, plus the other four aces, gives you five of a kind. This outranks even a royal straight flush.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Here are the hands of Pai Gow, in order from best to worst:

  1. Five of a kind
  2. Royal flush
  3. Straight flush
  4. Four of a kind
  5. Full house
  6. Flush
  7. Straight
  8. Three of a kind
  9. Two pair
  10. Pair
  11. High Card

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Online Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Here are solid strategies for each 7-card hand you might get dealt:


If you only get a pair, keep it in the high hand. It can’t go to the low hand anyway, but don’t break it up. Send your best two kickers to the low hand instead. This gives you the best chances of winning.

Two pair

If you get two pair, keep the higher one in the big hand. The lower pair can go to the small hand. If the pairs are weak, consider keeping both in the big hand to increase its chances of getting you at least one win. When you’re ready to move into advanced Pai Gow Poker, you can consult a hand chart for situations like this to get the specifics down optimally.

Three Pair

If you get three pair, you should keep two in the big hand, and send the highest pair to the small hand.

Three of a Kind

Don’t break up your trips. Keep them in the big hand. If they’re aces, though, you can ship one off to carry the small hand to victory.

Full House

The pair is going to the low hand, and the trips can stay in the high hand. Pretty simple, right? If you have an extra pair to go with the full house in your seven-card hand, the higher pair can go to the low hand.

Straights and Flushes

Obviously, you want to play your straight or flush. When you have a six-card straight or flush, the highest card of the six should go to the low. As an added complexity wrinkle, you can think about breaking these strong hands up when it leaves you with a pair and some high cards for your small hand. That maximizes your chances of winning both hands and earning money.

Four of a Kind

You might be getting a sense of the game by now. You don’t necessarily have to keep these together, as you need some cards to play in your low hand. Game theory analyzers have shown that sixes or worse should be kept together. Sevens on up to tens should be split (unless there’s an ace ready for the low hand). Quad jacks or better should just be split, as painful as that may be for poker fans to do.

Five Aces

Split ‘em up, with trips in the high hand. If you have five aces and a pair of kings, though, you can keep the band together and send the cowboys on over to the small hand. Okay. Lesson over. Give Pai Gow a shot today for free and see what all the fuss is about!

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