Pai Gow Poker: A Comprehensive Guide to Mastering the Game

How to play Pai Gow poker - Guide to Pai Gow poker
Reading time: 14 minutes

If you get bored playing traditional poker like Texas Hold’Em or Stud poker, check out Pai Gow Poker. Pai Gow Poker, also called double-hand poker, is a poker variation based on the ancient Chinese game of Pai Gow. But instead of using Chinese dominoes, you use playing cards.

In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Pai Gow Poker. We’ll explain the rules, betting hand rankings, and how to find the best places to play pai gow poker.

Let’s get started…

The Basics of Pai Gow Poker

As Pai Gow is a slow-paced game, it appeals to those looking for a more leisurely version of poker. A player plays with two poker hands (hence the alternative name, double-hand poker). The main objective of the game is for both the player’s two-card hand and five-card hand to beat those of the dealer. If one of the hands is exactly the same as the dealer, a tie is declared and the dealer subsequently wins.

…the player’s 2-card and 5-card hands must beat those of dealer…

Now, let’s delve a little deeper into the rules of Pai gow poker…

Rules of the Game

Pai Gow poker is played with a standard 52-card deck. One Joker is added to the deck. The Joker is only used as a wild when attempting to complete a straight or a flush. If used alone, the Joker acts as an Ace. Up to six players can join a Pai gow poker table, plus the dealer. Players play their hands against those of the dealer. For each hand, a person sitting at the table is designated as ‘the banker/dealer’. All other players compete against that person. 3 dice are used to determine which player gets the first set of cards.

What you need to play Pai Gow Poker

The Deal

The dealer deals cards face down, one at a time until seven hands of seven cards each are dealt.

Once the cards are dealt, the dealer shakes and rolls three dice. Before the dice are rolled, all bets must be placed in the betting circle. Betting positions are assigned a number from one to seven, starting with the player acting as dealer/banker in that hand. The numbers on the dice rolled by the dealer are added together to determine which player receives the first set of seven cards. The dealer counts from 1 (the dealer’s position) and moves in an anti-clockwise direction until reaching the sum of the dice.

The deal in Pai gow poker

The dealer hands a set of cards to each position on the table regardless of whether someone is playing or not at that position. He/She then proceeds in a clockwise direction. Once all the cards are distributed, the dealer will go back and collect the remaining cards which were dealt to seats without a wager. The dealer places these cards in the discard pile.

Players’ Hands

Once each player has received seven cards, they must use these cards to construct two separate card hands, a two-card hand and a five-card hand. The five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand. Once satisfied with their hands, players place them each face-down in the designated areas on the table layout.

Players' hands in Pai Gow poker


Once all hands are placed in their designated spots, the dealer then turns his/her hand over and places them face-up in front of the dealer tray.

In turn, each player’s five-card hand is compared to the dealer’s five-card hand. The same is done with the two-card hands. Once the hands are revealed, it can be determined if the player has stronger ranking hands than the dealer.

Remember, if the hand is set incorrectly and the two-card hand is stronger than the 5 card hand, the hand is fouled.

The showdown in Pai Gow poker

How to Play Pai Gow Poker

You should have a decent overview of the basics of Pai Gow Poker. Now, it’s time to go through a game, step by step:


  1. First off, all wagers must be placed before any card is dealt. There is usually a predetermined minimum bet and maximum bet between which the player can bet the amount they wish.
  2. After all bets are placed, the dealer deals seven sets of seven cards. With the aid of dice, the position which gets the first set of cards is randomised. Once the first card receiver position is determined, the dealer hands out the rest of the hands in a clockwise direction around the table.
  3. Once all players at the table have received their cards, they must arrange their cards into a two-card hand (low hand) and a five-card hand (high hand). The five-card hand must be stronger than the two-card hand.
  4. When the player is happy with their hands, the player sets their hands face-down in the areas which are labelled on the table layout.
  5. The dealer then turns his/her set of cards over (face-up) and arranges the hand in front of the dealer’s tray according to the ‘house way’.
  6. One by one, each player’s hand is compared to those of the dealer. First, the player’s five-card hand are compared to the banker’s five-card hand. Then the player’s two-card hand is compared to the banker’s two-card hand. Once these are compared, it can be determined which players have beaten the dealer.
  7. A player beats the dealer/banker by having both hands of a higher ranking. If the player has one winning hand, and the dealer has the other, the round ends with the bet being pushed to the next round. If a player’s hand ties with the banker, the banker wins.

Pai Gow Poker Hand Rankings

Hand rankings in Pai Gow Poker are more or less the same as more traditional poker rankings.

However, there are a few exceptions.

The only two-card hands are ‘one pair‘ and ‘high card‘.

One pair - pai gow low hand

high card hand - pai gow poker low hand

A 7-card hand worse than one pair is referred to as a Pai Gow.

The Joker can only be played as a wild when being used for a straight or a flush. All other times, it constitutes an Ace. For this reason, 5 Aces is a hand rank in Pai Gow Poker.

A wheel – A -2-3-4-5 – is the second-highest straight in most casinos.

Here is a full breakdown of all the hand rankings when playing Pai Gow poker (strongest hand to weakest hand).

Five Aces: made up of four Aces and a Joker

Royal Flush: 10 to Ace run of the one suit

Straight Flush: Five cards in a row in the same suit

Four of a Kind: Four cards of the same rank (e.g. four Kings) and another card of any rank or suit

Full House: Three cards of the same rank and a pair (e.g. three 4’s and two 5’s)

Flush: A hand that contains five cards of the same suit, but not in any order

Straight: A run of five cards not of the same suit (e.g. 8, 9, 10, Jack and Queen)

Three of a Kind: Three cards of the same rank

Two Pair: Two pairs, such as a pair of Aces and a pair of 8s

One Pair: A single pair

High Card: Holding a single high card in your hand, like an Ace or a King

Ties and Kickers

When you and the dealer have the same hand, there are a few different ways to work out who wins.

Four of a Kind: Whichever hand is the highest rank wins

Full House: Whoever holds the highest ranked three cards

Flush: The player holding the highest card or the next highest card if it’s a tie

Straight: Whoever has the highest straight

Three of a Kind: Whichever hand has the highest-ranked three cards

Two Pair: The hand with the highest pair wins, or if that’s a tie, the next highest pair

One Pair: The hand with the highest pair or the next highest card if it’s still a tie

High Card: Whoever holds the highest card or the next highest card if it’s a tie

Side Bets & Game Variations

There are quite a few variations of Pai Gow Poker which are characterised by side bets. These side bets neither add to nor take away from the initial bet for the hand itself. Rather if the player chooses to play a side bet, he/she is betting extra on whether they get a specific hand. To play a side bet, a player places a desired number of chips onto the designated side bet circle.

The most common side bets include;

Fortune Pai Gow Poker Players can make a side bet on three-of-a-kind or better.

Pai Gow Mania Poker – This version allows players to make two side bets.

Progressive Fortune Pai Gow Poker – Players are allowed to make side bets with a combined seven-card straight flush winning the jackpot.

There is also something called an envy bonus. These are wagers placed on some other player sitting at the table will get a premium hand.

There are different payouts in relation to which hand comes up.

Side bet payputs in Pai Gow


When you win at Pai Gow you’re paid even money (1:1). But you can also use side bets to boost your winnings.

You need to post an additional wager in the betting circle to place a set bet (next to the main circle in the middle of the table). By placing this additional wager, you’ll have a chance to win a much bigger payout, depending on your final hand.

For example, getting a seven-card straight flush will payout at 8,000:1. Holding a Royal Flush with Suited Royals pays out 2,000:1.

While those payout numbers sound appealing, remember that they’re so high because the chances of getting these hands are incredibly low.

Envy Bets

Envy Bets are a type of bet that lets you win if other players at your table make specific qualifying hands.

Given you need multiple players to activate this type of bet, it’s more often seen at physical casinos than online. But some online casinos may offer this if their Pai Gow poker is a multiplayer version.

What is the House Way?

In Pai Gow Poker, the house way is a pre-determined setting of the dealer’s hand, depending on the cards they’ve been dealt. The dealer must set his/her hand this way if they receive specific cards. The house way can vary from casino to casino but must be clearly outlined for all players to see.
Also known as ‘dealer rlues’ it makes sure the dealers follow strict guidelines when they play. Here are some examples you might see at different casinos:

  • Two Pairs (no Ace) are split across front and back, assuming one of the pairs is a 7 or higher.
  • Two Pair (with Ace) are also split front and back, but only if the pairs are Jacks or higher, along with 7 or higher.
  • The dealer will always keep a Three of a Kind together unless holding Aces. If it’s Aces, two will be put in the back and one in the front.
  • If a Straight and Flush are both options for the dealer, the Straight is played at the back if the front hand will be improved.
  • With Four of a Kind, cards valued 2 to 6 are kept together. These are played at the back. Cards with a value of 7 to 10 will be split into two pairs unless the dealer holds an Ace to put in the front. Jacks to Kings are also split, to hold a pair in both hands.

Players can also select their cards to be arranged in the house way when showing their cards at the end of the hand. This is a good way to start for beginners of the game. You can choose to play the house way until you’re more familiar with the game’s strategies.

How to Play Pow Gai Poker in Vegas and Land-based Casinos

There are a couple of minor differences to look out for if you’re playing at a land-based casino rather than an online casino.

A physical pai gow poker table is made up of six seats for players and a dealer. When you’ve found a table you want to play, take a seat and be sure to check the stake is at a level within your budget. The table should clearly mark the minimum stakes. Let the dealer know you’re ready to play, and when the new hand is ready, place your chips in the betting circle.

Once you’ve got your cards, set your two hands and position them in the boxes marked ‘High’ and ‘Low’, face up. When everyone has set their hands, the dealer will set theirs and compare it with the other players. All the winning players will then receive their payouts.

If you’ve won, take your winnings and add them to your stack. You can then leave the game or continue playing.

Try and Act As The Dealer

Some casinos let players act as the dealer. The benefit of this is that when there’s a tied hand, the dealer wins. But on the flip side, you’ll also be playing against six different hands at once.
Even if you’re acting as a dealer, you need to pay a commission on your winning hand. The casino’s dealer also plays at the table as another player. Their stake equals the last wager you made before you became the ‘dealer’.

Be Aware of the Payouts

It’s important to be aware of the returns offered for side bets, which vary greatly depending on the casino (and even the table). If you like to make side bets, look for tables, casinos or online casinos that offer the best returns. The side bets should always be displayed on the table so you can easily see them.

Also, remember the dealer can be a great resource when playing at casinos. They’re usually happy to give you a quick overview or tutorial to help you better understand how to play at a physical casino.

Strategy & Tips 💡

Like in flop games of poker and stud poker, success in Pai Gow Poker is very dependent on how the cards are dealt, as there are no betting rounds or card drawing. Players are often dealt hands which can be set in multiple ways and subsequently have different outcomes.

Here are some tips on how to arrange your hands to increase your chances of winning:

  • When dealt a pair or better, you should put the highest card in the five-card hand, along with the two second-highest cards in the two-card hand.
  • If you have a three-of-a-kind Aces play the high ace in the two-card hand and the other two in the five-card hand. By doing this you can’t lose the two-card hand, and you leave yourself with a strong five-card hand.
  • When dealt a full house, split into a pair and three of a kind.
  • If dealt 4 of a kind that is jacks or better, split them into two pair.
  • If ever unsure about what hand to play, always choose the house way. This way you can’t make any stupid mistakes.
  • The push rate of Pai Gow poker is over 41%. If playing for real money, you should make it a rule of thumb to leave the game if you’ve lost three hands in a row.

Did You Know…

While Pai Gow Poker might have an Asian-sounding name, and some Asian influences, by a man named Sam Torosian in 1985.

Torisian blended an ancient Chinese domino game called Pai Gow with poker to create his new game. He also took influence from another type of Asian game called Pusoy. Legend has it that Torisian was told about the game of Pusoy by a Filipino gentleman who frequented his club.

Even though Torosian is recognised as the creator of the Pai Gow Poker game, he failed to secure a patent for it. What this means is that he has not been able to make money off it. Some industry experts believe that Torisian could have earned as much as $100 million from the invention of Pai Gow Poker. Others estimate that he could have been taking home about $70,000 from it every month if he had been able to secure an all-important patent for the game.

Why You Should Play

If you fancy a change from more common variations of poker, the Pai Gow version is a great alternative. It is played at a slower pace, making it ideal for players looking for a more leisurely game of poker. Also, since you are playing against the dealer, and there are no betting rounds. This version takes the stress out of bluffing and trying to outwit your opponent.

Due to the high number of pushes in Pai Gow Poker, players have the chance to play a lot of hands with relatively low risk. A lot of the time, hands end in a push so the player will get their stake back and get another chance to try their luck with a fresh new hand. The side bets that are offered add an extra element of fun. The house edge is quite low so this is another key advantage of the game.  It is a little over 1% and is therefore broadly in line with other low-house edge casino games such as baccarat.

Find Casinos to Play Pai Gow Online

Now that you’ve gone over the basics, rules, and a walkthrough on how to play pai gow poker, it’s time to try your hand at playing the real thing. At CasinoCralwers, we only recommend the very best poker sites to play at. Here, you can be sure to find Pai Gow Poker games. Our word of advice would be to start off playing free-play versions of this poker variant. Once you feel confident and are more familiar with the strategies and gameplay, then you can move up to real money games.

Good luck!

Pai Gow Poker FAQ

What is the difference between Pai Gow and Poker?

Pai Gow poker is a type of poker that's played against the dealer and has fixed payouts. When you play poker, you play against other players, rather than against the house. The betting stakes also continually rise as each player bets and raises each other.

What is the 2-pair rule in Pai Gow Poker?

During a game of Pai Gow, if two players have two pairs each, the player with the highest pair wins. If both players hold the same top pair, the player with the highest second pair wins.

What are the odds of winning at Pai Gow Poker?

When you're playing this version of poker at an online casino, the house has an average house edge of 2.7%. So, on average, the casino wins around 2.7% of all the bets placed.

What does 5 aces pay in Pai Gow Poker?

Holding five Aces is the best hand in this version of poker and pays out 400 to 1.

What are the payouts for Pai Gow Poker?

All payouts in this game pay even money (minus any commission). The best casinos typically pay out the following: Seven-card Straight Flush (without a Joker): 8,000:1; Royal Flush with Suited Royals/Royal Match: 2,000:1; Seven-Card Straight Flush (holding a Joker): 1,000:1; Five Aces: 400:1; Royal Flush: 150:1.

Is an Ace high or low in Pai Gow Poker?

Aces usually play as high cards, but they can be used to form the low end of a Straight. For example, A-2-3-4-5. In this version, this Straight is the second-highest Straight in the game after 10-J-Q-K-A.


  • LA Times. “Casino Boss Can’t Cash In on Game He Developed”,
  • Youtube. “Pechanga Resort Casino: How to play Table Games – Pai Gow Poker”,
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Noah Adams
Noah Adams
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Noah is the senior content editor at CasinoCrawlers and a writer with many iGaming articles under his portfolio. Therefore, he is skilled at writing bonus guidelines, gambling strategies, and casino reviews. During his spare time, he enjoys playing Call of Duty and is a huge rugby fan.

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