Pai Gow Poker - How to Play


Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker is a casino game which is a variation of the Chinese domino game Pai Gow. Pai Gow is played with a deck of 53 cards, with a joker thrown in to provide an extra twist. The game is played one-on-one with the dealer pit against the player(s). Players need to form the best two-hand combination out of the seven cards dealt to them in order to beat the dealer.

Pai Gow is known as a slow-paced, leisurely game and the social atmosphere around a Pai Gow table is quite unique. While Pai Gow is not offered at every casino, it is available at most major casinos in Las Vegas and is also very popular on the Californian coast. The online version of Pai Gow has also been making waves in the remote gaming industry and more and more online casinos are currently offering the game to excited players. Click for details on history and Pai Gow poker table layout.

Pai Gow Poker Basics

The object of Pai Gow poker is to create the best 2 poker hands from the 7 cards one is dealt. One hand is a five-card hand, known as the high hand, while the two-card hand is known as the low hand. In order to win, both of the player’s hands must be stronger than the dealer’s hands. Since players bet on both the 5-card and 2-card hands equally, both hands should be played strongly.

The game is played with up to six players and a dealer. Pai Gow is played out with a 53-card deck. This is the usual deck of cards with a joker thrown in. This joker is a wild-card with limited use – the joker can be used as a filler card in order to complete a straight, a flush or a straight flush. When it cannot be used to make up such a hand, it is played as an Ace.

Start of Play

Pai Gow begins with each participating player placing a wager. The dealer then hands out seven cards to each player. Traditionally all seven hands are dealt in Pai Gow, irrespective of how many players are actually participating in the present game. The extra four cards are discarded and the hands that are dealt to ‘players’ that are not presents, are simply left untouched.

The first player to receive cards is determined by the roll of a dice. Once all the cards are dealt, all the players, except the dealer may look at their cards. Players then need to try and arrange their cards into a 5-hand and 2-hand combination. The 5-card hand (high hand) has to be higher in value than the 2-card hand (low hand). Once the hands are arranged, the players place the two hands face down.

Pai Gow Poker Table Layout

Pai Gow Poker Table Layout

The Dealer's Moves

Once all the players have completed their high and low hands and all the cards are face down, the dealer may expose his cards. Players may not touch or rearrange their cards once the dealer’s cards are exposed. Just as the players did, the dealer arranges his cards into the best five and two-hand combination.

The Showdown

Once the dealer has completed forming his hand, the players begin to overturn their cards. The players’ cards are compared to the dealer’s cards and each hand’s fate is determined on an individual basis. The player’s 5-card hand is compared to the dealer’s 5-card hand and the player’s 2-card hand is compared to the dealer’s 2-card hand. The following results are possible:

  • If the player wins both the 2-card and 5-card hands then the dealer pays out the player’s wager.
  • If the dealer wins one hand and the player wins one hand, then no money is exchanged and this is known as a push.
  • If the dealer wins both hands then the player loses his wager.
  • If the dealer and the player have the same value in both hands, then the dealer wins and the player loses his wager.
  • If the dealer wins one hand and the other is tied, the dealer wins.

If the player wins one hand and the other hand is tied, it is a push and no money is exchanged.

Being the Banker

As is clearly seen from the outcome of the showdown, being the banker in Pai Gow is certainly advantageous. In order to determine fair play, each player should be allowed to be the dealer an equal number of times during a playing session.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

  • Five Aces: A-A-A-A & Joker
  • Royal Flush: 10-J-Q-K-A of the same suit
  • Straight Flush: Five consecutive cards of the same suit, ranked in order. Example 7-8-9-10-J of Diamonds
  • Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank. Example 8-8-8-8
  • Full House: Three matching cards of one rank and two matching cards of another rank. Example K-K-K & 7-7
  • Flush: All five cards are of one suit, irrespective of their ranking. Example 3-5-7-8-K of Spades
  • Straight: Five cards of different suits but ranked in order. Example 4-5-6-7-8 of different suits, however in the game of Pai Gow A, 2, 3, 4, 5 is the second highest
  • Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank. Example 5-5-5
  • Two Pair: Two cards of the same rank plus two cards of another rank. Example J-J & 7-7
  • One Pair: Two cards of the same rank. Example 5-5
  • Ace: Ace
  • King: King
  • Queen: Queen
  • Jack: Jack

Pai Gow Poker Strategy - How to Play Your Hand

Card Combination How to Play
No Pair
  • Place the highest ranking card in the high hand and the next two highest cards in the low hand
  • One Pair
  • Place the pair in the high hand and the next two highest cards in the low hand
  • Two Pairs
  • Ace and another pair should be split between the high and low hand
  • A face card pair and a pair of 6's or higher should be split
  • Two pairs of 6s or lower should not be split and kept in the high hand
  • All other pairs should be split unless the hand contains an Ace, which in this case should be played in the low hand
  • Three Pairs
  • Always play the highest pair in the low hand
  • Three of a Kind
  • Three of a kind should always be played in the high hand. Three Aces, however, should be split up
  • If two ‘three of a kinds’ are held the lowest should be placed in the high hand and the stronger three of a kind should be split, forming a pair in the low hand
  • Straight
  • Keep a straight as is in the high hand
  • Six-card straight – the highest card should go in the low hand
  • Five or six-card straight with a pair should have the pair placed in the low hand
  • Straight with 2 pairs should be played as the two-pair rule above
  • Flush
  • Keep as is for the high hand
  • Six-card flush – the highest card should go in the low hand
  • Five or six-card flush with a pair should have the pair placed in the low hand
  • Flush with 2 pairs should be played as the two-pair rule above
  • Straight & Flush
  • A flush and a straight with no pair should be played resulting in the highest two card hand
  • Full House
  • Should be split unless the pair of 2s; Ace and King can be played in the low hand
  • Four of a Kind
  • 2 - 6 should always be kept together
  • 7-10 should be split unless an Ace and picture card can be played in the low hand
  • J – K should be split unless the hand is holding a pair of 10s or more
  • Aces should be split unless a pair of 7s or higher can be placed in the low hand
  • Straight Flush
  • Keep as is for the high hand
  • Split two pairs of 10s or higher or a pair of Aces and any other pair
  • If any other two pairs with an Ace are held - play the 2-pair as the high hand and the Ace in the low hand
  • Play a straight or flush in place of the straight flush if a picture card or higher can be played in the low hand
  • Royal Flush
  • Keep as is for the high hand
  • Royal flush with a pair – play the pair in the low hand
  • Royal flush with two pair – play according to the 2-pair rule above
  • Split the royal flush if it allows an Ace, king or pair to be played in the low hand, while allowing a straight or flush in the high hand
  • Five Aces
  • Split unless a pair of kings can be played in the low hand
  • Pai Gow Poker Tips

    Be The Banker: When playing Pai Gow, try bank whenever you are given the opportunity. When hands are duplicated, the bank wins and the odds move from 1% to 2% in the banker’s favor. It should be noted, however, that bankers need a bank roll large enough to cover the wagers of all the participators at the table.

    When a player is the banker, he should bet as much as possible, and in turn to bet as little as possible when he is not the banker. It is best to bet between 6-14 times one normal wager when one is the banker. There might be some short term losses which are made up over the long term.

    Most casinos place a limit on the number of hands that a player can play as banker, and the role of banker is passed around the table. Usually only one or two hands are allowed per banking play. If at all possible, one should try and find a table with no other players and a dealer, resulting in a player being able to bank every other hand.

    Create The Strongest Two-Card Hands: Players should always remember that the two-card hand (low hand) is as important as the 5-card hand (high hand). New players often forget this rule and rush to create a strong high hand at the expense of their low hand. It is preferable to find the right combination to create two strong hands with odds of both of the hands winning. The high hand, of course, cannot be stronger than the low hand, but this does not mean that the low hand must be completely weak. Remember: If only one hand wins, the hand is lost!

    Never Play a Full House: A full house should never be played as the high hand.

    How to Play 3 Pairs: If a player is holding three pairs, the highest pair should be placed in the low hand. Any other two pairs give the player a good high hand, so it is best to keep the higher ranking pair for the low hand. If a player has six cards to a flush, then the lowest high card should lead the flush and the high card should be played in the low hand.

    Asking for Assistance: Most Pai Gow tables are known for their friendly and relaxed atmosphere and this includes the fact that it is totally acceptable to ask the dealer for assistance. There should be no embarrassment involved in asking for assistance in try to figure out the game. Some casinos even allow fellow player to assist each other because players are only playing against the dealer and not against each other.

    Summary

    Pai Gow is great game involving both luck and skill, using the excitement of regular poker and adding twist by way of a joker. The need to create two powerful hands demands that the player understand the different options available and uses the cards in an optimal manner. Pai Gow tables are known to be one of the most relaxed areas of a casino and players who require extra assistance will find this in abundance.

    Learning to play online Pai Gow is not a problem with the wealth of online casinos offering the game. Free games are available at most of the casinos offering the game so players can become true Pai Gow experts before they spend a cent.

    Posted by CCJ Team

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