Pai Gow: How to Play + Best Casinos (2023)

Pai Gow is fairly easy to learn how to play a casino game, especially if you are already familiar with poker combinations and their rankings.

However, Pai Gow is a quite unique game, and it has these features:

  • Pai Gow is a table game

  • Pai Gow is a poker-based game, and poker combinations are the crucial part of its gaming process.

  • A player competes against a dealer, not other players, trying to collect better hand.

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Unlike some other casino games, such as Roulette, Pai Gow is relatively simple in terms of how much of equipment it takes to play it. Anyway, the game is impossible without:

  • 53 cards deck (52 cards + Joker).

  • A table which has a very simple layout, and basically it is necessary mostly because players need something to sit at.

  • A dealer is an individual who deals cards, and you are playing against him/her.

Combinations rank and Joker’s role

First thing first, let’s talk about Joker in this particular poker game since it has some peculiarities. Joker in Pai Gow does not have a magic to become any card you want, instead it:

  • substitutes any Flush or Straight card if a player lacks one card to get Flush or Straight

  • serves as an Aces in any other scenarios

Other than that, Pai Gow has got very typical (for the majority of poker games) hierarchy of combinations. Here they are starting from the highest hands.

Royal Flush. A, K, Q, J, T suited. It is the best combination to hit.

Straight Flush. 9, 8, 7, 6, 5 suited (or any other suited sequence, for example, K, Q, J, T, 9 suited).

Four of a Kind. J, J, J, J (or any other four cards of the same rank). Also in Pai Gow, a player can collect five Aces (4 Aces + Joker), which would become the best Four of a Kind in the game.

Full House. T, T, T, 5, 5 (or any other 3 + 2 or 2 + 3 cards).

Flush. Q, J, 7, 5, 3 suited (or any other 5 suited cards except for the sequence of them which is Straight Flush)

Straight. 8, 7, 6, 5, 4 (or any other 5 cards in sequential order).

Three of a Kind. 5, 5, 5 (or any other 3 cards).

Two Pair. T, T, 3, 3 (or any other set of two cards of the same rank)

One Pair. 6, 6 (or any other 2 cards of the same rank)

High Card. If there is no other combination, then we assess who win based on who has a higher single card.

Gaming process

The process of the game is very similar to other poker-based games, and it comes down to that a casino player is trying to hit better hand than a dealer. However, please notice, that at the Pai Gow’s table can be more than one single player at the time (up to 10), but they do not compete against each other (like in traditional poker). Each of them is playing against the house separately, and their poker hands do not interact.

Let’s dive into Pai Gow’s gaming process. It consists of three steps.

Step 1. A player is dealt with 7 face-down cards.

Step 2. From those 7 cards a player is supposed to arrange two separate hands: Big Hand (or sometimes is called backhand) and Small/Low hand (or sometimes is called front hand).

Big Hand must consist of 5 cards and Small/Low Hand must consist of 2 cards. But there is one more rule to it. Big Hand must be higher in rank than Small/Low Hand. Otherwise, the game considers it to be a foul, and a player is going to lose the bet. This is basically the only one precaution to be taken.

Other than that, a player is not limited on how to arrange both hands. However, it is wise to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any player is to beat both dealer’s hands: BigHand and Small/Low Hand.

Here is how arranged hands-on the Pai Gow’s table can look like.


Step 3. Now it is dealer’s turn to separate 7 cards into Big Hand and Low Hand. It is worth to mention that a dealer does not have the freedom that a player has. And a dealer arranges a hand according to rules of the house which is actually a basic strategy in Pai Gow. Therefore, it is a smart thing to mimic the dealer’s playstyle if you do not familiar with the basic strategy by yourself.

Once both a player and a dealer have arranged their hands, the round comes to its end and who wins and loses will be determined. Small Hand of a player competes only against Small Hand of a dealer, the same is true for Big Hands.

Possible outcomes of the game’s round

A player wins. In order to win a bet (winning is paid at 1:1 ratio) a player must overrank both dealer’s hands: Small and Big.

Push or Draw. It is a pretty common outcome of Pai Gow’s round, and it means that a player does not win or lose the bet. It happens when one hand wins (does not matter which one, Big or Small) and another loses.

A dealer wins. In order to win, a dealer must beat both player’s hands: Small and Big.

What about RTP and House Edge

Pai Gow Poker does not have fixed RTP and House Edge levels, and those two fluctuate depending on how optimal player’s strategy is.

If a player sticks to optimal (or sometimes called basic) strategy, then RTP can reach maximum 97,5 % and House Edge, on the other hand, can be as low as 2,5%. This is a quite decent rate, and not many video slots can boast with similar RTP level.

Please be aware that some land-based casinos can charge additional commissions, which is taken per each played hand and usually equals to 5%. In such a scenario, Pai Gow Poker becomes very miserable to play in terms of RTP.


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