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What is Pai Gow Poker and how is it different?

The version of the game that you can play in a large number of casinos, both online and offline, is quite unique. Each player, as well as the banker, receives more cards than in most other poker variants. These cards are then divided into two hands that are played simultaneously. This puts you in front of some interesting decisions where you have to smartly balance the strength of each of your hands. The hand values are relatively similar to other iterations of the card game. Aside from that, however, Pai Gow Poker doesn’t feel like a typical poker game at all.

How to play – Pai Gow Poker rules

If you want to win a Pai Gow Poker game, you need to master the rules. When playing Pai Gow Poker online, you compete directly against the dealer. There are also more traditional versions of this game where you can test your skills against other players, but these are mostly played offline. To win at regular Pai Gow, then, you simply need to have better hands than the banker. 

According to Pai Gow Poker rules, you play with a deck of 53 cards. Among these is a joker. This has a special role: it allows you to complete powerful combinations such as a Straight, Flush, or even a Royal Flush.

Strong and weak hands

The player begins by placing a bet on the table. Then, both parties will each receive seven cards. The objective is to divide these cards into two hands: a strong hand and a weak hand. The strong hand consists of five cards, while the weak hand is formed by the remaining two cards. Numerically, the strong hand will be clearly superior to the weak hand. The composition of the hands is based on the same basics as in traditional poker. 

Once players have looked at their cards, the dealer will ask everyone at the table to show them. This is so they can compare the hand values. Three outcomes are possible in Pai Gow Poker:

  • If the value of the dealer's two hands turns out to be greater than the value of the player's two hands, the player will lose the round.
  • In the opposite case, if the strong hand and the weak hand of the player are superior to the hands of the dealer, the player will win.
  • If the player and the dealer each win a hand, all the money involved goes to the player.

You should note that if the dealer and the player hold the same card value and would tie a hand, the dealer always wins. It’s worth noting that in some Pai Gow games, you can also bet against the hand of other players. So, be sure to check which version of the game you are playing.

Pai Gow Poker hand rankings

If you want to learn how to play Pai Gow Poker the most important thing is to know the hand rankings. Basically, it’s not much different as in a regular game of poker. However, since this variation includes a joker card, some interesting combinations are possible. For example, the joker opens up the opportunity to hold Five of a Kind, which otherwise wouldn’t be possible.   

  1. Five of a Kind – Four cards with the same numerical value and a joker
  2. Royal Flush – A hand consisting of 10, J, Q, K, A of the same suit
  3. Straight Flush – Five cards in a sequence of the same suit
  4. Four of a Kind – Four cards with the same numerical value
  5. Full House – Three of a kind with a pair
  6. Flush – Any five cards of the same suit, but not in a sequence
  7. Straight – Five cards in a sequence, but not of the same suit
  8. Three of a Kind – Three cards of the same value
  9. Two Pair – Two different pairs
  10. One Pair – Two cards of the same rank
  11. High Card – In a hand that cannot form any of the above, the highest card counts

Pai Gow Poker strategies and other helpful tips

The Pai Gow Poker strategy is relatively simple and there is always an optimal way of playing, no matter if you play against other players or the bank. Here, we have listed the perfect moves that will give you the best possible results for each situation: 

GoodLuckMate’s best tips for playing Pai Gow Poker:

  • You have one pair – Put the pair in the strong hand and the other two highest cards in the weak hand.
  • You have two pairs – Put both pairs in the strong hand, or split if you have:
    • A pair of aces/two high pairs/a high and medium pair
    • Two medium pairs/a high and low pair, without an ace
    • A medium and low pair/two low pairs, without an ace or a king
  • You have three pairs – Put the highest pair in the weak hand
  • You have three of a kind – Put the three of a kind in the strong hand. Or, if you have three aces, put a pair in the strong hand and an ace-high card in the weak hand
  • Straight, flush, straight flush, or royal flush – Play these cards in the strong hand
  • You have a full house – Split into a pair and three of a kind
  • You have four of a kind – with 6s or lower, put the four of a kind in the strong hand. Otherwise:
    • 7-10: Split into two pairs, unless you can put a king/ace in the weak hand
    • Jack-King: Split into two Pairs, unless you can put an ace in the weak hand
    • Aces: Split into two pairs, unless you can put another pair in the weak hand
  • You have five of a kind – Put three of a kind in the strong hand and a pair in the weak hand

Play Pai Gow Poker at online casinos

If you are new to the game, we recommend trying free Pai Gow Poker online in order to get a feel for it. Most online casinos offer RNG versions of the card game that can be played without having to make a deposit. You can then play for as long as you want, without the risk of losing any money. Once you are familiar with the rules, you can load some funds on your casino account to test your luck. Pai Gow Poker is also a staple in many live casinos where you can play against a real dealer. This provides an extremely immersive experience. Plus, it has the added benefit of not putting your fortune in the hands of a random number generator.

Andreas Schmidt
Andreas Schmidt
Last Update: 13 Mar 2023
Andreas is our go-to guy for anything related to poker or in-depth guides. He's not only a former professional poker player, but he's also been working within the iGaming industry itself since 2014. Casino, Poker and Sports Betting are his main areas of expertise, in addition to anything and everything related to payment processes at online casinos.

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