Everything You Need to Know about Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a fun variation that lets you play a little poker and a little of something called “pai gow.” Now, the poker part you may be familiar with, but if pai gow is new to you, you’ve come to the right place. 

Before we get into the rules, can we rewind a few hundred years real quick?

Pai Gow Poker History

Way back when, the Chinese played a game called pai gow, which means “make nine.” The game used dominoes and the basic goal was to try to make combinations of domino tiles that are close to nine. Just like in blackjack, players went up against the dealer and tried to beat the house.

Eventually, Chinese immigrants arrived in the U.S., bringing a love of gambling to rival the west’s own. The mixing of cultures wound up creating a game like pai gow that used playing cards instead of dominoes. Sam Torosian, owner of the California Bell Club card room, is credited with helping make formal Pai Gow Poker rules and popularize the game that would then be known as Pai Gow Poker in online casinos everywhere.

Shall we open the door to the game itself?

Red doors with metal door knockers in the mouths of beasts

How Pai Gow Poker Works

Pai Gow Poker in a casino uses a 52-card deck like any other card game, but also adds in the joker. To start a round, you ante up to play against the dealer, just like in a game of blackjack. Then, both you and the dealer will each be dealt seven cards. Yours are face up and visible, while the dealer’s are face-down and not seen. It’s decision time: you need to split your cards into two hands. One of your Pai Gow hands will have five cards, and the other will have two. The two-card hand must rank lower than the five-card hand. For that reason, we call the 5-card hand the “high” or “back” hand, and the 2-card hand is called the “low” or “front” hand.

Ok – you’ve got two hands. Now let’s talk about the winning conditions in Pai Gow Poker.

Online Pai Gow rules require that your hands be compared against the dealer’s. If both your five-card and two-card hands are better than the dealer’s hands, you win even money (minus a 5% rake). If both the dealer’s hands are better than yours, you lose your wager. If one is higher and one is lower, the hand is a “push” and your bet is returned. Pai Gow ties go to the dealer. 

Sounds simple, right? Well, it is! But to maximize your payouts and gambling winnings at Ignition casino, you’ll need to go into the game with a good strategy.

Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Advantage play in Pai Gow Poker is pretty straightforward, and is governed by figuring out the best way to split your cards. Also, the house edge is notoriously small for this game. When in doubt for the right strategy, remember that if you’ve got two aces in your two-card hand, the dealer can’t have a better two-card hand. The most the dealer can do is tie you.

Anyhow, here’s how we break down Pai Gow Poker strategy, based on what you’re dealt overall in your initial seven card deal:

High card (no pair or better)

Keep your highest card in your high hand (the five-card hand, which must be a better hand than your two-card hand), and put the next two highest in your low hand (the two-card hand).

Pair

Keep it in the high hand if you want to win. 

Two pair

Generally, split them with the higher pair in the high hand to set yourself up for proper winning conditions. This is one of the few places where online Pai Gow can get complex. You can consult a charttable if you like, but if you’re hitting the tables today, keep pairs together if they’re weak and you can get something like an ace into your low hand.

Three Pair

Play the highest pair in the low hand.

Three of a Kind

Keep the party together unless they’re aces. Then put one of ‘em into the low hand.

Full House

Put the pair in the low hand. If you have two pairs to go with your triplets, put the higher one in your low hand. Getting confused yet? It gets easier when you get some practice hands under your belt in our virtual casino.

Straight and Flushes

Keep the straight or flush in the high hand, but if you have a choice, push a higher card into your low hand for advantage play. That is, if you have a king-high flush with six cards of the same suit, put the king in your low hand. You might think about splitting up the straight or flush, however, when you’re 1) left with a pair and 2) can push strong cards into your low hand, giving you better odds of winning both hands and taking down the dealer.

Four of a Kind

If they’re sixes or worse, Pai Gow Poker history and probability analysis have shown us that it’s better to keep them together. For sevens to tens, split them up unless you can move an ace to the low hand. Four of a kind better than tens? Aside from wishing you were all in at a final tourney table in an online Hold’Em game? Split em (unless you can play a pair in the low hand without doing so).

Five Aces

Split them unless you have kings to play in the low hand.

Wait, five aces? WTH? Ah yes, we need to cover the Pai Gow Poker joker.

A joker playing card in hand

What Makes the Joker Special in Pai Gow Poker

As always, the joker offers a twist to the game and strategy. Generally, it functions as an ace, unless you need it to make a straight or flush. Think of it aIt’s semi-wild.

Hand Rankings in Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker hand rankings in our online casino follow normal poker. Here’s the full list:

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

All you need to do to find your winning condition is 1) to compare your five-card hand to the dealer’s five-card hand, and then 2) compare your two-card hand to the dealer’s two card hand. The exception to keep in mind is that the second-best straight is actually a five-four-three-duece-ace straight (aka the “Wheel”).

As you’re playing, keep in mind the fact that you will see a pair about 40% of the time when gambling, and no pair about 15% of the time. That covers the majority of the Pai Gow hands you’ll ever experience. Add in two pair and you’ve got another 23% of Pai Gow hands, by probability – 78%, to be more specific. Another 7% is straights, and you know what to do with those. Study these few groups before gambling and the Pai Gow hand rankings you’ll see most of the time will be solidly in memory for rapid advantage play.

Pai Gow strategy ain’t so hard after all. The virtual casino experience of it is a lot like black jack, really. Get a good set of guidelines in mind, then just keep chopping away at the house edge, one hand at a time.

Sharpen that axe!

An axe being sharpened with sparks flying

Side Bets in Pai Gow Poker 

Pai Gow Poker side bets are often featured at live casinos to up the ante and bring more excitement to the game. Some offer a “Fortune Bonus,” which pays out if you get a straight or better when your seven cards are dealt. Each hand has a payout which increases along with the rarity of the hand dealt, with huge multiples for 7-card straight flushes. Along with the Fortune side bet, some casinos also offer an Envy bet, where you can get paid if any player at the table hits a Fortune Bonus. That way, if someone else has a flashy hand, you’re getting in on the action. Sometimes there’s also a Pai Gow progressive jackpot you can wager on with a single dollar that can net a massive payout if a big hand hits.

At Ignition Casino, you’re playing Pai Gow online solo at your own table. There are no other players to get in your way, and you can focus and relax while the cards fly and the chips stack up.

It’s like your own private gambling jet, taking you to a big win that may be only a few deals away.

View from inside a plane, looking out the window at the wing