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How to Win at Pai Gow Poker

There are well enough players that are fed up playing traditional casino card games like baccarat and blackjack. In search of something unconventional, punters may stumble upon some unusual kinds of poker, the popular game thousands of gamblers enjoy every day. And now we immerse ourselves with great enthusiasm into an Asian poker version that will certainly bring much fun to the table.

The ‘Pai Gow’ name was taken from the old game of dominos that originated in China. To be fair, pai gow poker is a newcomer among table games both at brick-and-mortar and online casino venues. The today’s variation of Pai Gow maintains some identical principles of the initial tile game. The only thing that was modified is a format which is much more appealing to the playing audience from around the world.

Going Back in Time

The story stems back to the remote times of the year 960 AD. It was the very first attempt to play the initial version of the domino game. There are up to 8 participants who pick four dominoes from a set of tiles. Then, every player has to take two dominoes in each hand. The rear hand is the name for a strong pair of dominoes, whilst the front hand is used to outline the weaker one. After that, both pairs are compared with the dealer’s tiles and once a punter wins in each combination, he is paid even money. Although the kernel of the game rules is straightforward, it is the dominoes themselves that can easily baffle inexperienced players.

When having a first glance at the game, it seems dominoes aren’t different from standard playing tiles except for the color. Nonetheless, punters get confused when it comes to outlining matching and unmatching pairs, what the regulations are regarding wongs, gongs and the Gee Joon tiles. On the one hand, Pai Gow has been played at some Vegas casino venues for some years now. On the other hand, plenty of gamblers are unfamiliar with the game and its complicated card system.

Principles of Pai Gow Poker

The Pai Gow poker game is a variation of the original Pai Gow game but played with cards instead of dominoes. It is essential to figure out the fundamental rules of poker before kicking things off. Some novice punters may consider Pai Gow tricky. 


So, Pai Gow utilises a traditional 52-card deck and one joker card. There are a maximum number of six players sitting at the playing table along with the croupier. The game essence is rather plain: you need to beat the banker. It can be either the croupier or one of the participants or a ‘team’ of a player and the dealer.

Every player is given seven playing cards which are divided into two sets of combinations. A two-card hand is called the ‘low’ hand or the front hand, whereas the other combo presents a 5-card big or ‘high’ hand. The thing is that the big hand must by all means beat the small pair. For instance, if a punter has a pair of 6s, the big set of cards must be higher in value than the pair. 

Game Results

As for outcomes, there are three possible results of the game. First and foremost, a player is victorious once he has managed to win both hands. Secondly, the croupier wins if he has both a stronger high and small combos. Finally, it often happens that a punter wins one pair whilst the dealer wins the other combination. You may call it a draw because the dealer and players don’t exchange money. Bear in mind that card ties go in the dealer’s favor. So, if you and the croupier have a K-Q pair, it is the dealer that reaps the rewards.

We Are Dealing the Cards

Away from the basic rules, Pai Gow Poker has a unique deal procedure. Once the croupier has shuffled the playing deck, he places cards into piles. There are 7 face-down piles consisting of 7 cards. As you can see, four other cards are called extra, and they are omitted and located in the muck.

By the way, an interesting fact about card shuffling. Prior to the invention of modern card shufflers, the croupier dealt the cards and put them in the form of a dragon with a tail, a body and a head.

The seat numeration begins with whoever the banker is. The numbers from one to seven are emblazoned on each seat. A person who gets cards first after they are dealt is chosen in a random way. Then the dealer put cards on the table in a counter-clockwise direction.

Setting Hands

As for the hand of two cards, you may only have high cards and pairs. Standard poker principles apply to the big hand. The most significant thing lies in the fact that the high hand must beat the low hand. For instance, once you are given two Kings, the big hand combo must be higher than a pair of Kings.

And don’t forget about the Joker card. You may use the joker to form both a flush and straight combination only. If neither of the aforementioned combos appear, you consider it an ace. It is the most common rule, but some casinos declare their own principles in relation to the joker. A non-hand, or pai gow, constitutes a combination of playing cards without a single pair or better. For example, the set of J-8-7-5-4-3-2 is a pai gow. 

And Here Comes the Showdown

Following the process of setting up hands, gamblers put the big hand in back and the low hand in front. That is why the five-card combination is often called the ‘behind’ pair and the two-card combo is referred to as the ‘in front’ set.

It may occur that hands aren’t set correctly. For example, having the two-card hand outranking the five-card one.  The hand is called fouled and can be either forfeited or reset, this depends on the casino and its regulations.

Once the croupier presents the banker, players must set their combinations according to the house rules. On the contrary, once a gambler is the banker, that punter may set up his cards however he wishes. And if a player collaborates with the dealer, hands must be set in accord with house rules.

As for a commission, a player is normally charged with a 5% fee from winnings. Some venues have a flat fee per each hand on the basis of the bet amount.

What About Side Bets

Punters’ winnings may pile up significantly thanks to the addition of side bets. These bets aren’t connected to the amount wagered on the initial hand. A player makes an extra bet on whether he is lucky to get a special combination like royal flush, straight flush or a full house. It goes without saying that the higher playing combo a gambler has, the higher winnings are.

Here are the most popular side bets in Pai Gow Poker:

  • The Pai Gow Mania option. It enables gamblers to make two separate side bets
  • The Fortune Pai Gow feature. You can wager on three-of-a-kind or better
  • Progressive Fortune. Punters could place bets with a straight flush combo to grab huge jackpots
  • Emperor’s Challenge. Make a side bet on a pai gow set of cards

At various casino venues players may stumble upon envy perks. These bonuses allow gamblers to wager on another player hitting a premium hand. 

Side bets are just a decent addition to the game that presents more risk. If you feel that luck isn’t on your side, avoid such bets and focus on the traditional Pai Gow poker.

Pai Gow Tactics

It speaks volumes that Pai Gow is purely a game of luck because nobody knows how playing cards are dealt. Being a game without betting rounds, it is important to acquire some playing skills in altering hands to amplify winning chances. There are different combinations of hands that may produce various results. It could be either a mediocre low hand and a straight high hand combination or vice versa. The most favorable option for a player is to have a strong low hand as it can reward with enormous funds.

In Conclusion

Summarizing, Pai Gow Poker is a much more attractive casino game than the version with dominoes. As well as in other card games, you test your intuition and risk. Newcomers can always ask help from the croupier if they aren’t aware of how to establish hands. Dealers are always eager to give a helping hand if it is allowed. Find out what online casinos offer an overwhelming experience of playing Pai Gow and hit the ground running. 

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