Pai Gow Poker is a fairly young game because it has only been since the mid-’80s. In contrast to online slots or video poker, Pai Gow Poker is by no means trivial, but strategically quite demanding. In Pai Gow Poker you have to make two poker hands out of the dealt seven cards and compete against the bank. We will try to explain in detail how Pai Gow Poker works and also provide you with the best game strategy. But first, you can check this list of the best online casinos which offer you the chance to win while playing Pai Gow Poker online!

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Pai Gow rules

It occasionally happens that Pai Gow poker with Pai Gow is confused, and they are different games. Pai Gow Poker is a card game derived from Pai Gow, which is a Chinese domino game.

Similar to Chinese Poker, Pai Gow Poker is about building poker hands with the cards dealt. While in Chinese Poker the player receives 13 cards and has to form three hands (front, middle and back), there are seven cards in Pai Gow, from which two hands have to be formed. The High (or Highest in some occasions) hand (5-card hand) and the Low (or 2nd highest) hand (2-card hand). Those two hands are also known as the Back hand, which refers to the five-card hand, and the Front hand, which refers to the two-card hand.

For the sake of simplicity, we will explain here how a game works with two players, whereby the principle remains the same even with several players and everyone always competes against the banker.

The game needs a 52 cards deck and 1 joker. In major American casinos, up to seven players can take part in a game, with one player acting as banker and playing a special role. All players compete against the banker and have to try to make better combinations than this.

Rules in detail

  • High-hand and low-hand (Back and Front): After the cards have been dealt, the players have to form a high hand with five cards and a low hand with two cards from their seven cards. It is important that the high hand is better than the low hand, otherwise, the entire hand is invalid.
  • High-Hand Poker Rankings: Overall, the Pai Gow poker rankings are the same as normal poker. The best hand in the high hand is the five-of-a-kind aces (with the joker), only then comes the royal flush, then the straight flush, then the four of a kind, etc.
  • Another exception in most casinos is that the so-called wheel (straight from ace to five) is the second-best straight after ace-king-queen-jack-ten and is, therefore, worth more than king-queen-jack-ten-nine.
  • The function of the joker: The joker can only be used to complete a five-of-a-kind, a straight, a flush (the highest missing card in it) or a straight flush; if this is not possible, it is counted as an ace.
  • Low-hand poker ranking: In the low hand, the best hand is a pair of aces, then a pair of kings, then a pair of queens, etc. If no pair can be formed, the height of the individual cards is scored, also in the normal order ace, King, queen, jack etc.
  • Who wins: Since both players form their hands whoever wins both hands receives the entire bet. If each player wins a hand both players get their bets back.
  • As a special rule, the banker wins all bets if both players have the same combinations – but this is quite rare.

Play Pai Gow Poker online

Once you understand these basic rules, Pai Gow Poker is easy to play. Anyone who has already gained experience with other poker variants will initially have an advantage, but in the long run, this should not matter.

Not all land-based casinos offer Pai Gow poker, especially in Europe. But don’t worry, you can play Pai Gow Poker online in almost every online casino. Betandslots’s experts have tested all major casinos and can fully recommend the following ones to enjoy Pai Gow Poker online. Also, you can play for free Pai Gow Poker. Register now in one of the following casinos and practice your favourite game in the demo version with play money. Or grab your bonus and test your abilities also for free online, but having the chance to win some real money!

Regardless of the perfect strategy (which we list below), there are a few tips you can follow at Pai Gow Poker to maximize your winning chances:

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Pai Gow poker strategy

  • Splitting two pairs: If you have two pairs in your hand, you can split them into two hands, because this is almost always the right move.
  • Focus on 5 cards and 2 card hands: Players must form a 5-card hand and a 2-card hand to win this game. Most players focus on the five-card hand and forget the other (or vice versa). A good player will try to find the balance and remember this strategy when betting. It is recommended to study all hands and their winning order before playing Pai Gow Poker.
  • Don’t play full house as a leading hand: Unlike other poker games, Pai Gow Poker is a variant that doesn’t favour the full house hand. Players with a full house should avoid this hand. Because even though it makes a good five-card hand, there is no way to make a good second. It is usually better to play a couple and a triple.
  • Play the bank way if you are unsure: Pai Gow Poker is not an easy game and requires mathematical planning when arranging your hand. For those players who are suddenly confused and do not know how best to play, there is “Bank Way” to play (“The House Way”). This method automatically lets you arrange your hand according to the type of bank, exactly as the dealer would. Because this system varies from casino to casino, you should inquire beforehand about the exact rules according to which the bank arranges the cards (whether in the live casino or in the online casino).
  • Playing the best hand in a pair of three:  If you are so lucky to have three pairs, you should put the highest pair in front. This is a standard strategy that all good Pai Gow players follow.

Dealer advantage

When you are able to set up a table and play Pai Gow poker with friends, you should become the dealer whenever you can: Position is a very important factor in Pai Gow Poker, and players should try to play the dealer’s position as often as possible. However, you should be careful at the same time. Because the dealer is obliged to defeat all players at the table. On the other hand, chances are the best for the dealer. 

However, you need a stable bankroll for this position. You can also try to find a table that allows two players to act as dealers. If you play as a dealer, you should bet generously (provided you suspect a win). In case you are not playing in the dealer position, you should avoid these big bets as you do not have the advantage here. If the ratio between dealer and player bets is large, the chances of winning are always better for the dealer.

The perfect Pai Gow poker strategy (“The House Way”)

Below is a table of how the bank (dealer) plays at Pai Gow Poker. The dealer must follow this strategy in the Pai Gow.

It is also the optimal strategy for your own game. The way the bank plays Pai Gow Poker can vary from casino to casino, but the differences are very small and usually have no effect. The player can select this option and use the house way against the bank. This minimizes the house edge in this game and maximizes the chances of winning.

Most online casinos offer this option, either by stating it as “The House Way”, either by giving the option to the player to “auto split” his seven cards.

Pai Gow Poker winning probabilities

It is always important to know the probabilities and the house edge when playing in the casino. Anyone who plays Pai Gow Poker will quickly notice where they are, because the numbers are very clear:

  • Dealer and player each win one hand (tie): 41%
  • Player wins both hands: 29%
  • Dealer wins both hands: 30%

What you need to know is how likely it is to get a specific hand through your cards. Because each hand consists of seven cards, there is a high probability of one pair, even two pairs. So, what are the probabilities for certain hands?

  • One pair: 41.7%
  • Two pairs: 23.1%
  • High Card: 16.1%
  • Straight: 7.3%
  • Three of a kind: 4.8%
  • Flush: 4%
  • Full house: 2.7%
  • Four of a Kind: 0.2%
  • Straight flush or royal flush: 0.137%
  • Five Aces 0.0007%

As you can easily see, Pai Gow Poker has a very good chance of getting a playable and valuable hand. In comparison, the chances for a foursome in Texas Hold’em are around 4000/1.

House advantage at Pai Gow

Pai Gow Poker is considered a fair game in the casino, since the house edge is around 1.5%. This is as high as in craps game and just a little more than blackjack. It’s considered decent because many people think blackjack to be one of the few games that you can really “beat”. If you play Pai Gow Poker with an advanced strategy, you can reduce this house edge to its minimum. 

Of course, you can never completely eliminate the house edge because the house takes commissions on profits, but as long as you share your hands properly, Pai Gow Poker remains one of the best games in the casino.

History of Pai Gow poker

Pai Gow Poker doesn’t have a long tradition. It was invented and first offered in 1986 in the Tropicana of Las Vegas, as a variant of the rather complicated Chinese domino game Pai Gow. With the Americans quite adept at playing cards, Pai Gow Poker quickly became more popular than the original domino version. Pai Gow Poker is available mainly in the big casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but there are also many ways to try the online version.

Pai Gow winners

This poker game has been increasing in popularity since its introduction in the mid-’80s, but many players hunt progressive jackpots. The rules for progressive jackpots at Pai Gow Poker are not the same everywhere, but they are usually awarded for a straight flush with seven connected cards (with or without a joker) or a five-of-a-kind aces.

Both combinations are very unlikely, but someone always succeeds in making a big hit. In 2017, a Virginia player won the Station Casinos progressive jackpots, clearing more than $ 200,000. He actually got a straight flush with seven cards, including a joker. A Californian also had a big hit at Placerville’s Redhawk Casino. He risked an extra dollar per game for the progressive jackpot chance and could hardly believe his eyes when he received a seven-card straight flush. For that there was $148,962 and a lucky winner.

Negative stories

The fairly young history of Pai Gow Poker doesn’t just offer only positive and success stories. In 2002, the so-called Tran gang started their mischief in California and looted several million dollars at Pai Gow Poker. Van Thu Tran, her husband and several relatives and friends used a fairly simple trick. Tran and her husband initially worked as dealers in a casino in San Diego, using fake shuffles to ensure that their accomplices on the other side of the table knew the sequence of the cards.

In this way, they were always able to place their bets optimally and achieve a clear advantage over the bank. Over time, the Trans expanded their mesh to a total of 29 casinos in the southwestern United States and looted more than $ 7 million in total before the FBI came in and arrested them.

A dealer trick at the Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut was similar. He also had two accomplices and manipulated the deck of cards so that they could bring profitable bets. In this way, they drained the casino for large sums and ended up behind bars.

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