How to play Pai Gow

Pai Gow

The ancient Chinese game of pai gow traditionally played with a set of 32 dominoes, has evolved into a popular casino game known as pai gow poker. In this variation, a traditional deck of 52 cards is used, along with an additional Joker. This adaptation makes the game more accessible for Western players familiar with card-based table games. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to enhance your strategy, this comprehensive guide will teach you how to play pai gow poker both online and in land-based casinos.

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How to play Pai Gow

Pai Gow Poker Basics

Pai gow poker is a casino game where players face off against the dealer, similar to other card games like blackjack or baccarat. Unlike traditional poker, the focus is not on betting on the strength of your hand or trying to make opponents fold. Instead, your goal is to create two separate poker hands with the seven cards dealt to you—five cards for the “back” or “high” hand and two cards for the “front” or “low” hand. The key rule is that the back hand must be stronger than the front hand.

Step-by-Step Guide to Playing Pai Gow Poker

  • Deal Cards: Each player, including the dealer, is dealt seven cards.
  • Select Front and Back Hands: Players choose two cards for their front hand (low hand) and five cards for their back hand (high hand).
  • Compare Hands: Players compare their two poker hands with the dealer’s hands.
  • Determine Winner: If the player beats the dealer on both hands, they win. If there’s a win on one hand and a loss on the other, it’s a tie, and the player gets their stake back.
  • Payouts: A player win is paid at even money, but a commission (usually around 5%) may apply. Always check the specific rules of the pai gow poker game you’re playing.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Understanding hand rankings is crucial in pai gow poker. A Joker can be used to fill a flush or straight and can count as an Ace. Here is a list of possible hands from strongest to weakest:

  • Five Aces
  • Royal Flush
  • Straight Flush
  • Four of a Kind
  • Full House
  • Flush
  • Straight
  • Three-of-a-Kind
  • Two Pair
  • One Pair
  • High Card (“Pai Gow”)
  • Ties and Kickers

In tied hands, various methods determine the winner, considering factors like the type of hand and individual card ranks. Kickers come into play when hands remain tied. For instance, the highest unpaired card can break the tie.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker Online

Playing pai gow poker online is user-friendly and fun. Follow these steps to get started:

  • Find a Place to Play: Choose a reputable online casino offering pai gow poker.
  • Create Your Account: Sign up and provide necessary information.
  • Find a Table: Locate a pai gow poker game in the table games section.
  • Place Your Bet: Choose your wager and click “Deal.”
  • Set Your Cards: Arrange your seven cards into front and back hands.
  • Showdown: Compare hands with the dealer to determine the winner.


While software can make decisions for you, understanding optimal strategy is valuable. Remember that your back hand must be stronger than your front hand. Consider these strategies:

  • If you have one pair, place it in the back and your two highest unpaired cards in front.
  • For two pairs, put the lower pair in front and the higher pair in the back.
  • If you have a Straight or Flush, place it at the back.
  • With no pairs, Straights, or Flushes, place your highest card in the back and the second- and third-highest in front.

Dealer Rules – The House Way

Similar to blackjack, pai gow poker involves decision-making against the dealer. The “House Way” is a set of rules dealers follow, and it may vary slightly. Understanding the House Way helps improve your strategy. Some key points include:

  • Handling Two Pair differently based on the presence of an Ace.
  • Keeping Three of a Kind together, unless they are Aces.
  • Deciding between a Straight and Flush, playing the Straight in certain situations.
  • Managing Four of a Kind based on card ranks.

Pai Gow Poker Payouts

Winning wagers are typically paid at even money, minus a commission. Additionally, there are side bets known as “Fortune Bonus.” These optional wagers offer larger payouts for specific rare hands, but players should exercise caution due to the high odds against them.

Envy Bets

Envy Bets stand out as a captivating element that adds an extra layer of excitement, especially in multiplayer settings. While this feature is more commonly found in the bustling atmosphere of land-based casinos, some online platforms have incorporated multiplayer options, allowing players to engage in Envy Bets from the comfort of their homes.

Envy Bets operates on the principle of shared success, offering participants the chance to capitalize on the good fortune of their fellow players. When another player at the table achieves a noteworthy hand, those who have placed Envy Bets can reap additional rewards, enhancing the communal thrill of the game.

Different Types of Pai Gow

Distinguish between pai gow and pai gow poker. Online, you may encounter both single-player and multiplayer pai gow poker. Single-player tables offer the advantage of playing at your pace, while multiplayer tables allow for social interaction.

How to Play Pai Gow Poker in Vegas (and Land-Based Casinos)


Playing pai gow poker in a physical casino involves finding an open seat at a table, signalling to the dealer, placing bets, setting your cards, and comparing hands. Some casinos allow players to act as the dealer, leading to additional considerations and potential liabilities. Always check the payouts for side bets, as they can vary between tables and casinos.

Final Thoughts

Pai gow poker combines elements of traditional Chinese games with Western card games, offering an exciting and strategic casino experience. Whether playing online or in a land-based casino, understanding the rules, hand rankings, and strategic considerations is essential. With this comprehensive guide, you’re well-equipped to dive into the world of pai gow poker, find the right casino bonus, enjoy the game, and potentially enhance your winnings.

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