Pai Gow Poker: A Complete Game Guide

Pai Gow Poker Guide

Pai Gow Poker, not to be confused with just Pai Gow, is a table game found in practically every casino. It has been on casino floors for almost 40 years, which is no easy feat for any game. Though slightly more difficult to learn than many other table games, it still maintains a strong following.

Pai Gow Poker is loosely based on the Chinese domino game Pai Gow, which is well over 1,000 years old. Another game having an influence on the design of Pai Gow Poker is Pusoy, which is a Chinese poker game.

Find out why this game remains relevant in casinos and why so many people choose to play it. We have compiled an in-depth guide to everything Pai Gow Poker. You will find out how to play, variations, tips, payouts, and the best places to play Pai Gow Poker online.

Below you will find out picks for the best online casino sites offering Pai Gow Poker. Any casino we recommend will be a high-quality casino with player-friendly practices. If you're looking for a place to try this game, start with one of our top casino picks.

Best Pai Gow Poker Casino Sites

Benefits of Playing Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker isn't lacking in its fan base. Many people love this game and there are numerous reasons why they do. One of the biggest draws of the game of Pai Gow Poker is the slow rate of play. Each round takes longer to complete than most other table games. The amount of hands that push also decreases the rate in which you potentially lose your bankroll.

Many people say that they choose Pai Gow Poker because they have a limited amount of money to gamble with. They want to be able to play for as long as possible on that amount, and Pai Gow Poker is the best option.

Anyone who has played poker and been dealt a really big hand knows how exciting it is. Pai Gow Poker deals big hands often because of the additional two cards. Add in the wild joker card and the bonus hands start coming up frequently. Although the highest-ranking hands are incredibly rare, even some of the mid-ranking hands can be exciting to see. You will see straight flushes and 4-of-a-kinds fairly often.

Another reason people like this game is the high bonus payouts available. Even though they are rare, just the fact that they are possible is exciting to many players. The majority of side bonus bets have a maximum payout around 50:1 or so. The maximum side bonus payout in Pai Gow Poker can be 8,000:1.

People tend to have a lot of fun at the Pai Gow Poker table. There is more of a team mentality than with most games. Players tend to win together and lose together based on the strength of the dealer's hand. This means you will often hear an entire table celebrating together. The envy bonuses at some tables create an even more team-oriented stance. It makes for a social and fun environment for the players.

How to Play Pai Gow

Pai Gow Poker is dealt with one 53-card deck. This is a normal 52-card deck, plus the addition of one joker card. In Pai Gow Poker, the joker can be used as a wild card for any straight or flush, or can play as an ace. It's often called the "bug" and can be incredibly valuable in your hand.

This game utilizes an automatic shuffler. It shuffles the cards and separates them into groups of seven cards. This is the number of cards each player is dealt in Pai Gow Poker. From those seven cards you will make two separate hands; a high hand and a low hand. We will cover these later in this section.

The point of the game is to have a higher ranked hand than the dealer for both your high and your low hand. If only one hand wins, it is a push. If both hands lose, you will lose the round and your wager. In most Pai Gow Poker variations, a tie on either of your hands is considered a win for the dealer. This does not mean the dealer wins the round and your bet. They will only win the high or low hand (whichever one resulted in a tie).

This game is different from most other table games in that the first hand is not automatically dealt to the player on the dealer's left. In Pai Gow Poker, the player who will receive the first hand is determined by rolling dice, or by an electronic number generator on the table. The dice are not part of the hand, they are simply used to dictate the dealing position.

If an electronic number generator is being used, the seat position which will receive the first hand automatically pops up at the beginning of the shuffler's deal. If the game is utilizing dice, it is usually three dice held within a covered metal holder. The position is determined by adding the three dice values together.

Each seat at the table will have a corresponding seat number. Position number 1 is the dealer. The seat directly to the dealer's right is position 2. The positions and corresponding number then circle around the table counterclockwise, with the dealer included. Sometimes the position counting can circle the table a couple times. You simply keep counting around the table positions until you reach the rolled dice value or the random number given.

That position will receive the first hand from the shuffler. The dealer will then hand out the rest of the hands moving clockwise from the first cards dealt. Once again, this includes the dealer.

Each position on the table will be dealt a hand, regardless of whether or not there is a player in that position. If the seat is empty, the cards will be added to the muck pile at the end of the deal. After all players and the dealer have received their hand, the shuffler will finish sending out the remaining cards from the deck. These extra cards are placed into a muck pile. After this, players are then able to pick up their cards and set up their hands.

Yes, I said hands. As in more than one. That's because in Pai Gow Poker you are actually playing two hands; a 2-card low hand and a 5-card high hand. Even though your 2-card hand is called a "low" hand, the objective is not to have low ranked cards like in hi/lo poker games. In fact, you want to make the highest hand possible here.

The reason this is called the low hand is that it must be valued lower than your 5-card hand. For example, if you are dealt two pairs, 10-10 and 8-8, you are required to put the 8's in your low hand. If done the opposite way, the low hand (10's) would have a higher value than your high hand (8's). This is not allowed in Pai Gow Poker.

How to Set Your Hand

This is, by far, the most difficult aspect of Pai Gow Poker. Setting your hand can be overwhelming for new players. Even Pai Gow Poker veterans will mess this one up from time to time. Don't let this discourage you from playing. Once you get the hang of how it works, it really is not as complicated as it seems.

Always remember that you have to beat both of the dealer's hands to win. Heavily favoring only one of your hands will not help you achieve a win. Your high hand is going to be a 5-card poker hand. Rankings are the same as poker with a couple of exceptions: The joker card creates additional hand outcomes, and an A-2-3-4-5 is the second best straight.

High hand Pai Gow Poker hand rankings (from highest ranking hand down):

  • 1Five Aces - This is achieved by having all four aces and the joker.
  • 2Royal Flush
  • 3Straight Flush
  • 4Four-of-a-Kind
  • 5Full House
  • 6Flush
  • 7Straight - A-K-Q-J-10 is the highest straight possible. Next is A-2-3-4-5, then a King high, then Queen high, etc.
  • 83-of-a-Kind
  • 9Two Pair
  • 10Single Pair

Low hand Pai Gow Poker hand rankings:

  • 1Pair - Aces are the highest pair possible, followed by Kings, Queens, etc.
  • 2High Card - An Ace is the highest card. The second card in your low hand only comes into play if there is a tie on the higher card. For example, a K-J beats a K-3.
The House Way

The dealer has a very specific set of rules in which they are required to set their cards. This is called the "house way". If you ask the dealer for advice on how to play your hand, they will tell you how the house way would play.

If you want to use the house way rules, you can have the dealer set your hand for you. This is useful (and required) if you play two separate hands at the table. Rules only allow you to set one hand. If you decide to play two, you will not be able to look at one of them ahead of time, and the dealer is required to set your hand for you by house way rules.

House rules can vary between casinos but do stay very close to this standard set of house way rules:

  • No pair (pai gow) will play the highest card in the high hand, with the next 3 highest ranked cards in the low hand.
  • One pair will play the pair in the high hand and the two highest cards in the low hand.
  • Three pairs will be split with the highest pair in the low hand position.
  • Three-of-a-kind stays together in the high hand position unless it's three Aces. In this circumstance, house way would play 2 Aces in the high hand and 1 in the low hand.
  • Two different sets of 3-of-a-kind is played with the lower set of trips in the high hand. Two of the higher set of trips cards will be played as a pair in the low hand position.
  • Full Houses are split with the 3-of-a-kind playing in the high hand position and the pair used for the low hand.
  • Full house plus an additional pair puts the higher pair in the low hand position. The three-of-a-kind and lower pair will play in your high hand position.
  • Four-of-a-kind is played differently depending on the card rank.
    • A-J is always split, playing one pair in both the high and low hand.
    • 10-7 split into pairs between the high and low hand unless an Ace is available to play in the low hand position.
    • 6-2 is always kept as a four-of-a-kind in the high hand position.
  • Four-of-a-kind plus a pair is always played with the four of a kind in the high hand position and the pair in the low.
  • Four-of-a-kind and a three-of-a-kind is played with the four of a kind in the high hand position and a pair from the three-of-a-kind in the low position.
  • Five Aces is split with three aces in the high hand and the other two aces in the low hand position. The only exception to this is if a pair of kings is also held. In this circumstance, the five aces would play as the high hand and the kings would play in the low hand position.

Two pair is slightly more complex than the other rules. How the two pairs are played according to house way rules depends on the rank of each pair.

Two Pair Low 2-6 Medium 7-10 High J-K
Low Always keep together Always split, unless holding an Ace Always split, unless holding an Ace
Medium Always split, unless holding an Ace Always split, unless holding an Ace Always split
High Always split, unless holding an Ace Always split Always split
Anytime you have two pairs with Aces and another pair, they will always be split

Playing as the Banker

One very interesting aspect of Pai Gow Poker is the ability of the player to choose to act as the house. This is referred to as playing as the banker. Only some Pai Gow Poker tables allow this, and most variations eliminate the option. This is because it cuts the house advantage percentage by almost half for your hand.

There are some drawbacks to playing as the banker. The main one being that you have a lot more money on the line with each hand. This is because you are essentially acting as the dealer. You will be playing against the other players' hands. If they beat you, you pay them from your chip stack. If you win, they pay you.

The low house advantage comes from two differences when playing as the banker. The first is winning ties. Just as the dealer wins a tie, you will win a push between yourself and the other players. Second, you are only required to pay a commission on your net win, not each individual win.

For example, if you won 3 hands worth $100 each, but lost 2 worth $80 each, you would only pay a commission of $7. This is when acting as the banker for one round of play. Looking at it from the player's perspective rather than the banker's pays a much higher commission. If a player wins 3 hands worth $100 each and loses two hands worth $80 each, they would pay $10 in commission.

What's Important in a Pai Gow Poker Site

Finding an online casino can be a little intimidating. You want to make sure you are getting a fair gaming experience. We have done extensive research to generate our top online casino Pai Gow Poker sites. I suggest you start with one of our picks if you don't already have a favorite casino site. We have put in all the time and effort, so you might as well utilize it!

If you want to look into an online casino site for yourself, there are a couple things you should look for. First, you should check the casino's player reviews.

If they have a ton of negative reviews, we would highly doubt their customer service department is effective.

Another important area to look into is the online casino's banking options. Make sure they have a deposit and withdrawal method that fits your needs. Things like processing time and fees can vary greatly between casinos.

Finally, you will want to make sure the casino is licensed and regulated by a reputable gaming authority. This will mean the casino programs are regularly tested to ensure quality and fair practices.

Pai Gow Poker casino games can have big differences between different casinos. Some will offer bigger payouts and incentives, and better player odds. Others strive to provide the best selection of Pai Gow Poker variations. If you already have a favorite variation, you will want to make sure that casino offers it. There are many Pai Gow Poker variations, so make sure you find the one you want.

Pai Gow Poker Variations

Fortune Pai Gow Poker Progressive

Fortune Pai Gow Poker is one of the most commonly found variations both online and on a casino floor. This variation is popular for many reasons. For one, the commission has been eliminated in this game. That means no more quarters all over and weird payouts. Not to mention, you're not automatically giving 5% of your winnings back to the casino.

The other exciting aspect of Fortune Pai Gow Poker is the bonuses. There are two bonus games you can choose to play. You can play one or both of them. They are the Progressive Bonus and the Fortune Bonus.

The Progressive Bonus is a $1 side bet. You make this wager by placing your bet on the red-lit circle spot in front of your seat position. The house advantage of this bet is dependent upon the size of the jackpot. Since the amount increases with every bet until it's won, it's not possible to calculate. The jackpot would have to be in the mid $200,000 range to be a break-even bet. They're usually not even close to this amount. Typically, this bet is going to have a high house advantage.

Progressive Bonus Payouts:

  • 7 Card Natural Straight Flush - 100% of Posted Jackpot Amount
  • Five Aces - 10% of Posted Jackpot Amount
  • Royal Flush - $500
  • Straight Flush - $100
  • 4-of-a-Kind - $75
  • Full House - $4

The Fortune side bonus bet has some large payouts. This makes it a tempting wager for many players. Another exciting aspect of this bonus is the envy bonus. We all get a pang of jealousy when we see someone win a huge hand. The envy bonus helps with that. If you bet $5 or more on the Fortune Bonus, you are eligible to receive a payout whenever another player at the table gets a big hand.

Fortune Bonus Payouts:

  • 7 Card Natural Straight Flush (No Joker) - 8,000:1
  • Royal Flush and a KQ Suited - 2,000:1
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) - 1,000:1
  • Five Aces - 400:1
  • Royal Flush - 150:1
  • Straight Flush - 50:1
  • 4-of-a-Kind - 25:1
  • Full House - 5:1
  • Flush - 4:1
  • 3-of-a-Kind - 3:1
  • Straight - 2:1

Fortune Bonus Envy Payouts:

  • 7 Card Natural Straight Flush (No Joker) - $1,000
  • Royal Flush and a KQ Suited - $250
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) - $100
  • Five Aces - $50
  • Royal Flush - $25
  • Straight Flush - $10
  • 4-of-a-Kind - $5

Emperors Challenge Pai Gow Poker

Emperors Challenge Pai Gow Poker is another common variation of Pai Gow Poker found in casinos. This variation also does not charge a commission. They added a third available side bonus bet in this game called the Pai Gow Insurance Bonus. As far as we are aware, there are no online versions of this game to play. It is only found inside land-based casinos.

The Emperors Challenge Bonus payouts are very similar to the Fortune Bonus payouts. In addition to the payouts for a straight or better, the bonus also pays for a pai gow hand with a jack high or lower. To compensate for this addition, the top bonus payout was lowered and the royal flush with royal match category was eliminated. Since a pai gow hand is much more common than either of those hands, it seems like a good trade-off.

Emperors Challenge Bonus Payouts:

  • 7 Card Natural Straight Flush (No Joker) - 5,000:1
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) - 1,000:1
  • Five Aces - 500:1
  • Royal Flush - 150:1
  • Straight Flush - 50:1
  • 4-of-a-Kind - 25:1
  • Full House - 5:1
  • Flush - 4:1
  • 3-of-a-Kind - 3:1
  • Straight - 2:1
  • 9 High Pai Gow - 40:1
  • 10 High Pai Gow - 5:1
  • Jack High Pai Gow - 2:1

The last bonus available is the Pai Gow Insurance Bonus wager. This is, essentially, betting that you will be dealt a pai gow. This is a hand with only a high card, no pairs or better. As these happen often and result in a loss more often than not, the insurance bet is a big draw to this particular variation of Pai Gow Poker.

Pai Gow Insurance Payouts:

  • 9 High Pai Gow - 100:1
  • 10 High Pai Gow - 25:1
  • Jack High Pai Gow - 15:1
  • Queen High Pai Gow - 7:1
  • King High Pai Gow - 5:1
  • Ace High Pai Gow - 3:1

No Push Pai Gow Poker

Many people choose to play Pai Gow Poker for the slow pace of the game. Statistically, you will push almost half of the time, which means you can play a lot of hands with your money. If you like the game but not the slow pace, No Push Pai Gow Poker might be the variation for you. This game plays just like regular Pai Gow Poker except for when the dealer and player hands result in a push.

When the dealer deals a round of No Push Pai Gow Poker, they utilize the extra playing cards left at the end of the deal. These cards are set to the side individually to use in the event of a tie. When a tie happens, this game takes a cue from the popular table game "Casino War". Both the dealer and the players will have one of the extra cards face down, which will be flipped over in the event of a push. Whoever has the high card wins the hand. If it's another tie, the win goes to the dealer.

Other aspects of this Pai Gow Poker variation include no commission, and the banker position only being available to the dealer. It has almost double the house advantage percentage as regular Pai Gow Poker and no bonuses available to play. As far as variations go, this is not the best choice statistically.

Pai Gow Mania

Pai Gow Mania Poker plays the exact same as regular Pai Gow Poker, other than the addition of two side bonus bets. One side bonus is the typical 7-card best hand bonus that many other variations offer. The payouts are slightly different. It is based on any combination of cards in your hand.

Seven Card Hand Side Bonus Payouts:

  • Five Aces - 500:1
  • Royal Flush - 250:1
  • Straight Flush - 50:1
  • 4-of-a-Kind - 25:1
  • Full House - 5:1
  • Flush - 4:1
  • 3-of-a-Kind - 3:1
  • Straight - 2:1

The other bonus is a fun mash-up of two casino table games: Pai Gow Poker and Three Card Poker. When the dealer deals the Pai Gow Poker Mania cards, they are dealt in two separate batches. The first deal is 3 cards. If you are betting the optional Three Card Bonus bet, your payout is determined by the first set of cards dealt to you.

You will then receive your payout if qualified. After that, the other four remaining cards are dealt to the players and the rest of the Pai Gow Poker game is played. This side bonus has a house advantage of just 3.86%. Not only is this a good percentage for an additional bonus game, but also adds a whole other game to your normally slow-moving Pai Gow Poker Game. This variation is very popular for this reason.

Three Card Side Bonus Payouts:

  • Straight Flush (No Joker) - 40:1
  • 3-of-a-Kind - 30:1
  • Straight Flush (With Joker) - 5:1
  • Straight - 4:1
  • Flush - 3:1
  • Pair - 2:1

EZ Pai Gow Poker

This Pai Gow Poker variation has no commission, which makes it yet another popular choice for players. The casino compensates for this with one main rule change. Anytime the dealers' hand is a queen high pai gow, all players will push. This increases the house advantage because a queen high pai gow hand is typically a losing hand for the dealer.

Another reason players seem to like EZ Pai Gow Poker is that this variation has four bonus side bets. They are the Dynasty Bonus, Protection Bonus, Red or Black Bonus, and a Progressive Bonus. This game also designates the dealer as the only banker.

The Dynasty Bonus is similar to the 7-card side bonuses in most of the other Pai Gow Poker variations. One interesting difference, though, is the addition of a category for an A-5 straight flush. This is seen in another bonus in this game as well.

Dynasty Bonus Payouts:

  • A-5 Straight Flush with AQ Suited Match (No Joker) - 2,000:1
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (No Joker) - 2,000:1
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) - 1,000:1
  • Royal Flush with AQ Suited Match (No Joker) - 1,000:1
  • Five Aces - 500:1
  • Royal Flush - 120:1
  • A-5 Straight Flush - 120:1
  • Straight Flush - 50:1
  • 4-of-a-Kind - 25:1
  • Full House - 5:1
  • Flush - 4:1
  • 3-of-a-Kind - 3:1
  • Straight - 2:1

The Dynasty Bonus also includes an envy aspect for players when another player is dealt a high bonus hand. In this side bet, only a $1-dollar Dynasty Bonus wager is needed to qualify for the envy bonus payouts listed.

Envy Bonus Payouts:

  • A-5 Straight Flush with AQ Suited Match (No Joker) - $100
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (No Joker) - $80
  • 7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) - $40
  • Royal Flush with AQ Suited Match (No Joker) - $60
  • Five Aces - $20
  • Royal Flush - $10
  • A-5 Straight Flush - $15
  • Straight Flush - $4
  • 4-of-a-Kind - $1

The Protection Bonus in EZ Pai Gow Poker is basically an insurance bet. This is placing a wager that you will be dealt a pai gow hand. There is one difference in that they have included an A-5 straight flush into the paytable for this bonus also.

Protection Bonus Payouts:

  • A-5 Straight Flush - 120:1
  • 9 High Pai Gow - 100:1
  • 10 High Pai Gow - 25:1
  • Jack High Pai Gow - 15:1
  • Queen High Pai Gow - 7:1
  • King High Pai Gow - 5:1
  • Ace High Pai Gow - 3:1

The Red or Black Bonus is a unique side bet. It adds a slight roulette aspect to the game. For this bonus, the player will choose to place their wager on either red or black. If they are dealt a hand with 4 or more cards of that color, they will win. It also has an incredibly low house advantage of 2.68%, making it a great choice if you want to play a side bonus game.

Red or Black Bonus Payouts:

  • 7 Cards of Chosen Color - 5:1
  • 4-6 Cards of Chosen Color - 1:1

The Queen's Dragon Bonus is simple and straightforward. You win this bonus whenever the dealer has a queen high pai gow hand. It pays at a rate of 50:1 or 45:1 depending on the casino you're playing with.

The last bonus available in EZ Pai Gow Poker is the Progressive Bonus. The payouts are based on a $1 bet. Jackpot hands will not be multiplied by denomination for bets higher than $1. All other payouts will be multiplied by denomination.

Progressive Bonus Payouts:

  • 7 Card Straight Flush - Bonus Jackpot Amount
  • Five Aces - 10% of Bonus Jackpot Amount
  • Royal Flush - $500
  • Straight Flush - $ 100
  • 4-of-a-Kind - $75
  • Full House - $4

Dragon Hand

This one is a little different. It is not a particular game that you can find, but rather an option some casinos will offer, while others will not. It is only an option in a land-based casino. The dragon hand is an extra hand that is dealt to an empty seat at the card table. A player can choose to play this hand in addition to their own hand.

The way this option is given varies between casinos. Some will let all players at the table choose to bet on one dragon hand. Others will have a dragon hand button that is passed around the table. Only the player who currently holds the dragon hand button is allowed to bet on it.

If the bet is offered to all players at the table, the player will not set the cards. They will be set by the dealer under the house way guidelines. If the dragon hand is only available to one player, they are typically allowed to look at it and set it themselves. The dragon hand is always played after you have set your regular hand.

Tips for Beginners

Pai Gow Poker is a much more complex game than many others. This is especially true when adding in multiple side bets, and with the addition of the joker card. The most important tips for any beginning Pai Gow Poker player revolve around taking the time to thoroughly examine your hand, especially when holding the joker card.

  • Use the lowest straight and flush possibilities for your high hand to maximize your top hand quality. Many times, when holding a straight or a flush in your hand, especially with the joker, you have the ability to make more than one. Play around with your cards until you find the way to make the highest low hand while still maintaining your flush or straight.

    For example, if you're dealt an A-J-9-8-7-5-Joker, you would want to set your hand like this:

    • High Hand - 5-Joker-7-8-9
    • Low Hand - A-J

    Not like this:

    • High Hand - 7-8-9-Joker-J
    • Low Hand - A-5
  • Remember that you will be paid for a bonus hand, even if you decide to set your hand without using the bonus. For example, if you hold five Aces, you can choose to play a pair of Aces in your low hand and three Aces in your high hand. When set this way, you will still receive the bonus payout for five Aces.
  • Thoroughly examine your hand for flushes and straights. These are easy to miss when holding seven cards. Be sure to double check for them in each hand dealt.
  • If you feel overwhelmed by trying to set your hand or feel like you are making mistakes, you can ask the dealer to set your hand using the house way rules. This can be done for one hand or for an extended period of time with each new deal. You are able to resume setting your hand on your own at any time.
  • If you are dealt a hand containing three separate pairs, you always want to play your highest pair as your low hand. You do not want to put your highest two pairs in your high hand and lowest pair in your low hand. This is a common mistake that new players make often. Remember that you're trying to make both hands as high as possible.
  • Many new players mistakenly believe the joker is a full wild card. This is not the case. The joker card can only be used to make a straight or a flush. Otherwise, it will play as an Ace.

Conclusion

That should cover absolutely everything you need to know about the game of Pai Gow Poker. The game might feel like it takes a lot of effort to learn, but it doesn't. The rules sound much more complex than they actually are. After a short learning period, not much thought has to be given to play the game.

If you haven't tried Pai Gow Poker and are looking for a new game to try, it should definitely be toward the top of your list. It's an original and fun game, offering the chance for a big jackpot payout. If you don't already have a favorite site in mind, start with one of our picks for the top online casinos offering Pai Gow Poker.

We have done all the research for you, so you might as well take advantage of it.

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