How to Play Pai Gow Poker

Pai gow poker is a popular casino table game where you compete against the dealer instead of other players.

It’s an excellent game if you’re a poker player who is looking for some variety. It is also a great choice if you’re tired of the same old table games, like blackjack or baccarat, but want to stick to a card game.

But what if you don’t know how to play pai gow poker? Is it as hard to learn as traditional poker games like Texas hold’em or 7-card stud?

Not at all. The rules for pai gow poker are so simple a child could pick the game up. Besides, we’re going to help you out.

We explain the rules for playing pai gow poker below. We also go over the different variants and side bets you can play, as well as some pai gow poker strategy.

By the time you’re done, you’ll have all the info you need to visit your favorite casino and start playing this awesome casino game immediately.

But before we get to the pai gow poker rules, we want to address a common mistake we see beginners make.

Pai Gow Poker vs. Pai Gow

A common mistake we see people make is using the names pai gow and pai gow poker interchangeably. This is a mistake because these are two different games.

Here is an overview explaining some of the critical differences between pai gow and pai gow poker.

Pai GowPai Gow Poker
Invented and primarily played in Asian casinos.Invented and primarily played in American casinos.
Uses 32 pai gow tiles or Chinese dominoes.Uses a a deck of playing cards with one joker.
Players receive four tiles.Players receive seven cards.
The winner is determined by combining the best possible pairs of tiles.The winner is determined by creating the two best poker hands using standard poker rankings.
A complicated game that is difficult to learn.A straightforward game that is easy to learn, especially if you understand poker hand rankings.
Players often use superstition to determine the tile setup.Players use strategies based on mathematical probabilities to create the best poker hands.

Pai gow and pai gow poker do have some similarities. Both games involve creating two hands and comparing them. Beyond that, the games are different.

We’re covering how to play the pai gow poker card game in this guide, not the pai gow tile game.

Rules of Pai Gow Poker

You can learn how to play pai gow poker in a matter of minutes.

Here is what you need to know.

  • Pai gow poker is played with a standard 52-card deck, along with a single joker.
  • If you are playing live, six players can play at one time, not including the dealer. When there are seven players, one player will act as the dealer/banker.
  • The round officially begins after the players have placed their bets. There is one primary betting option, but some pai gow poker variants have side betting options.
  • Players typically compete against the dealer. However, there is a way to compete against other players if you decide to bank or co-bank.
  • Each player gets seven cards. The dealer gets a seven-card hand, too. That leaves four cards in the deck, which are used as tie-breakers in some pai gow poker variations.
  • The objective of pai gow poker is to create two poker hands that can beat the dealer. One hand will have two cards and the other five cards. This action is called setting the hands.

Setting the hands is where strategy comes into play in pai gow poker. You get to decide which cards you want to include in each hand.

The two-card hand goes on top or in front. Your only options are a pair or a high card. Your five-card hand must be better than the two-card hand.

Jokers are semi-wild or a bug card. It is typically an ace, but you can also use it to create a straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush.

Once everyone has set their hands, the dealer reveals their cards. They have specific rules that they use to determine which cards can be used in each hand. These pai gow poker dealer rules are referred to as the house way.

Your hands will get compared to the dealer’s hands, and the winning hands will get paid out. That will signal the end of the round.

  • If both of your hands are better than the dealers, you will receive your bet plus even money back. Traditionally, casinos charge a 5% commission on all winning bets.
  • When one of your hands is better than the dealers, and the other hand loses to the dealer, the hand will push. You will get to keep your stake.
  • If both of your hands are the same as or worse than the dealers, you will lose your stake. Tied hands are not a push according to pai gow poker rules.

    That’s all there is to knowing how to play pai gow poker games. You can start playing pai gow poker right now with just this information.

    But if you’re not ready yet, you can keep reading. In the next section, we’ll talk about setting your pai gow poker hands the house way.

    What Is the House Way in Pai Gow Poker?

    In pai gow poker, there are specific rules about how the dealer has to set their hands. If you are co-banking the hand with the casino, you will also have to follow these rules.

    Pai gow poker dealer rules are known as the house way. Many players choose to follow the house way when setting their hands because it gives them the best odds.

    However, the house way varies from one casino to the next. That’s because casinos modify the house way to adjust the house edge based on the side bets and other rule variations they offer.

    You want to find out what the house way is BEFORE you start playing. That way, you can modify your pai gow poker strategy accordingly.

    Setting Your Hands the House Way in Pai Gow Poker

    When you are playing pai gow poker online, the computer will suggest hand settings based on the house way.

    But you shouldn’t expect the casino to tell you how to set your hands when you play pai gow poker live. You’re going to need to know how to set your own hands.

    Some pai gow poker house way rules are easier to remember than others. We’ll start with the easy rules first, then look at the more complicated ones after.

    Here are the easiest house way rules to remember.

    • No pair – Place the 2nd and 3rd highest cards in front.
    • One pair – Place the pair in the back and the highest two other cards in front.
    • Three pair – Place the highest pair in front.
    • Full house – Put the highest permissible pair in front.
    • Three aces with a joker – If the joker can be used in a straight or flush, play the straight or flush.
    • Joker in a flush – Joker will be used as an ace, and if an Ace is present, the joker will be the next highest value card.

    Now let’s look at some of the more complicated house way rules for pai gow poker. We’ll use the house way rules from the Trump Plaza Casino that was demolished in February 2021.

    Here is how we will refer to different strength pairs.

    • 2 through 6 – low pairs
    • 7 through 10 – medium pairs
    • Jack through king – high pairs

    Also, remember that your back (5-card) hand must be stronger than your front hand when using the information from these tables.

    Low / lowPlay two pair in the back with a king or better. Otherwise split.
    Low / mediumAs above.
    Low / highPlay two pair in the back with an ace or better. Otherwise split.
    Medium / mediumPlay two pair in the back with an ace or better. Otherwise split.
    Medium / highSplit.
    High / highSplit.
    Aces or other pairsSplit.
    AcesPlace ace and the next highest card in front.
    Kings and belowPlace three of a kind in back and the two highest other cards in front.
    Two setsPlace pair from the highest set in front.
    One pairPlay the straight or flush in the back.
    Two pairPlay according to two-pair rules.
    Three of a kindPlace complete hand in back and the pair in front.
    Ace with a pair of kings, queens, or jacksPlace the ace in front and the pair in back if that will improve the hand.
    Straight or Flush?When deciding whether to play the straight or flush, you should play whichever hand will give you the strongest front hand.
    Jacks through AcesSplit.
    7 through 10Split, unless an ace or king can be played in front.
    2 through 6Never split.
    Five acesPlay a pair of aces in front unless a pair of kings can be played in front instead.

    Many of these house way rules should be easy to remember because they make the most sense based on the poker hands available and the basic pai gow poker rules.

    However, some specific instances can be challenging to remember. For example, it may feel counter-intuitive to break up a full house to make a better pair for your front hand. But that is the house way.

    The more you practice the game, the more you will remember. It won’t be long before you don’t need our instructions for pai gow poker or setting your hands the house way.

    And you certainly won’t need them if you play online pai gow poker since the AI tells you how to set your hands.

    In fact, if you play pai gow poker online, you won’t need to read the next section about banking, either.

    Banking and Co-banking

    When you play pai gow poker games in a land-based casino, you may have the option to bank or co-bank the games.

    If you choose to bank the game, you will act as the dealer. This means you’re competing against all the other players at the table. You’ll get to keep all the losing stakes, but you must pay out the winnings, too.

    It probably goes without saying, but you must have enough money on the table to payout all of the other players’ bets if you want to be the banker in a pai gow poker game.

    However, some casinos will allow you to co-bank. This means you split the cost with the casino.

    If you are co-banking, you will have to follow the house way to determine how you set your hands.Many players pass when it is their turn to act as the banker because they are unsure how it works. But, what they may not realize is that the house edge is much lower when you bank in pai gow poker.

    The house edge is lower when you’re the banker because you pay a smaller commission to the casino. The commission is based on the net winnings for the entire hand rather than individual bets.

    When you are the sole banker, you can cut the house edge in half if you know what you are doing. The only time you should pass on the opportunity to bank is if you don’t have a large enough bankroll.

    Unfortunately, banking and co-banking are not available when you play pai gow poker online since it’s a digital game that does not include other players.

    Pai Gow Poker Variations and Side Bets

    Now that you understand the basic rules for playing pai gow poker, you are ready to learn about the different variants and side bets that are available.


    These are the most common variants of pai gow poker.

    Commission-Free Pai Gow Poker

    Some casinos offer a commission-free pai gow variation where the winning bets pay even money. The house edge for these games is only 1.30%.

    Commission-free games are rare because the casino only makes money on losing bets and side bets.

    EZ Pai Gow Poker

    This variant is a commission-free version of pai gow poker. However, to make up for the loss of the commission, there are additional hands that end in a push instead of a win.

    For example, if the dealer has a queen-high as their five-card hand, the hand automatically pushes, no matter what hand the player has.

    No-Push Pai Gow Poker

    No-push pai gow poker games are rare and are typically only found in Station Casinos in Las Vegas. They do not offer banking for this variant, and there is no commission.

    Push hands are not allowed, either. If the dealer ties with one of the player’s hands, they will take two of the four left-over cards to determine the tie-breaker.

    The dealer and player each get one card face-down. As long as the dealer’s card is equal to or higher than the player’s card, the dealer wins. The player wins when their tie-breaking card is higher than the dealer’s card.

    Those are the three main pai gow poker variations that you can enjoy. Be sure to modify your strategy if you choose to play one of these variants. We’ll discuss some strategies for playing pai gow poker in a moment.

    Side Bets

    This table shows some of the most common side bets you’ll see playing pai gow poker online or in land-based casinos.

    Side BetDescriptionHouse EdgePayouts
    Fortune Pai Gow Bonus WagerThe player wagers that he will create a qualifying five-card poker hand with his seven cards. They must have a straight or higher hand to win the bet.7.77%2:1 to 5,000:1
    Envy BonusThis side bet is attached to the fortune pai gow side bet. Players who bet $5+ on the side bet automatically qualify. This pays out when any player at the table wins the bonus wager.5.30%-8.00%$5 to $3,000
    Emperor’s ChallengeThe player wagers that they will have a seven-card pai gow, meaning that they can’t create any pairs or better poker hands with the cards they were dealt.7.35%3:1 to 100:1
    Pai Gow Progressive JackpotIf you choose to play pai gow poker with a progressive jackpot, you will have to stake an additional $5 minimum bet toward the progressive side bet. The jackpot pays out on a 7-card straight flush.11.54%*Current jackpot
    Queen’s DragonThis side bet pays out if the dealer/banker has a queen-high pai gow hand (non-ranking hand).18.84%50:1
    JokolorThe jokolor side bet pays out if the player has a joker and/or all of their cards are the same color.3.90%Up to 30:1

    * The house edge decreases as the jackpot amount increases.

    Pai Gow Poker Strategies

    In most cases, playing the house way is considered the best strategy for pai gow poker.

    However, it can be challenging to remember the house way in every situation.

    The house way varies from one casino to the next. It’s hard to keep up with it all.

    But there are a couple of things you can do to get better at setting your pai gow poker hand the house way.

    • Use a pai gow poker strategy calculator. Just input your cards and the calculator will recommend the best strategy using the house way rules.
    • Play pai gow pokddder online for free. Most online casinos offer practice or demo versions of their game. This is a great way to learn the rules for how to play pai gow poker, as well as setting your hands the house way.

    In fact, why not combine both of these strategies? That’s what we would do.

    Study the house way rules for pai gow poker using our tables above. Memorize them the best you can. Then play a hand of pai gow poker online.

    Once you’re done with the hand, check the calculator to see if it recommended the same move you made.

    You’re going to make mistakes at first. But the more hands you play, the better you’ll get at setting your hands the house way, which is the only set of strategies for pai gow poker you need to know.

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