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How To Play Pai Gow Poker

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Pai Gow Poker is a casino game that uses a regular 52-card deck plus a single joker card. Also known as Double-Hand Poker, it draws inspiration from Pai Gow, a Chinese domino game. In Pai Gow Poker, each player goes heads-up against the dealer, trying to beat them by making the best five-card hand and the best two-card hand out of the seven cards they receive.

The guide below will explain how to play Pai Gow Poker, how side bets work, and where to find the game online.

How to play Pai Gow Poker

Pai Gow Poker involves one to six players and a dealer — each player plays only against the dealer rather than others sitting at the table. 

Players receive seven cards each and have to make two hands: a five-card hand (high hand) and a two-card hand (low hand), using the standard poker hand rankings. Joker serves as the wild, but only to complete straights and flushes. Otherwise, it acts as an ace.

You win if your two hands are better than the dealer’s. Namely, your high hands and low hands are compared to the dealer’s. If the dealer’s two hands are better, you lose. Meanwhile, if you have one hand that is better than the dealer’s, it’s a push. The dealer wins all copy hands (hands identical in rank) by default.

Here’s a typical example of a Pai Gow Poker round:

  • Your high hand: K♠, K, 7♣, 5, 4♦w
  • Your low hand: Q, 10♣
  • Dealer’s high hand: 2, 4, 5, 6, Joker
  • Dealer’s low hand: J♠, 9♣

The dealer has a flush in their high hand, which beats your pair of kings, but your queen-high beats the dealer’s jack-high in the low hand. Therefore, the round is a push, and you get your stake back.

Although you can play the “house way” and let the software or the dealer rearrange the best possible combinations for you, you have the freedom of choosing which cards you’re going to assign to which hand. Nevertheless, your high hand must always outrank your low hand.

Here’s an example:

  • Your cards: 5, 5, A♠, A♣, 7, 3♣, 10
    • High hand: A♠, A♣, 7♥, 3♣, 10♦
    • Low hand: 5, 5

Since the pair of aces outranks the pair of fives, this is the correct way to play this hand. Of course, you can place both of your pairs in your high hand, but since your low hand also needs to beat the dealer’s low hand in order to win, doing so is a good strategy.

How does a Pai Gow Poker deal work?

Each player and the dealer get seven cards at the start of the game. Since there are 53 cards in Pai Gow Poker, there can be a maximum of six players plus the dealer. Decide how much you want to bet before the game begins. It is also possible to place a side bet, but we’ll talk about that later.

Once the cards are dealt, you decide how you’ll set your hands (the only rule being that your high hand must outrank your low hand). Meanwhile, the dealer doesn’t get to decide how to play their cards. They must follow the “house way,” which represents a set of predetermined rules as to which cards can go to which hand in all possible scenarios. 

When playing at an online casino, simply select the two cards that are going to represent your low hand and click the split button. Your two hands are then compared to the dealer’s. If you win, you receive 1:1 minus the commission (usually 5%), although there are versions with no commission, like EZ Pai Gow Poker.

Pai Gow Poker side bets

Pai Gow Poker games usually feature the Fortune Bonus you can earn by placing a side bet. Hence the name — Fortune Pai Gow.

Here is a list showing all the side bets and their payouts:

  • Natural 7-card straight flush (8000:1) — All seven cards must be in sequence and of the same suit. Aces can be both low and high. This straight flush can’t have a joker.
  • Royal flush with royal match (2000:1) — Suited A, K, Q, J, and 10 in the high hand and K, Q in the low hand.
  • Wild 7 card straight flush (1000:1) — A straight flush that can be created using a joker.
  • Five aces (400:1) — Four aces and a joker.
  • Royal flush (150:1)
  • Straight flush (50:1)
  • Four-of-a-kind (25:1)
  • Full house (5:1)
  • Flush (4:1)
  • Three-of-a-kind (3:1)
  • Straight (2:1)

You can win a side bet even if your main bet loses. So, if the dealer’s two hands beat both of your hands, but you have three-of-a-kind, you will still get a 3:1 payout on your side bet. There is also something called an Envy Bonus that you can usually win on all side bets with a four-of-a-kind or better after making a bonus wager of at least $5.

Where can I play Pai Gow Poker online?

Pai Gow Poker is more popular in land-based casinos than online, although you can play it online, too. 

If you live in a state where online casinos are legal, you can try finding the game at state-licensed online casinos. Legal options currently available include:

Mind that the rules regarding commission, payouts, and side bets may differ between different Pai Gow Poker releases, so always read the rulebook prior to launching the game.

Pai Gow Poker final thoughts

Pai Gow Poker is a fun poker game that you can play at both online and land-based casinos across the US. If you already know the basics of poker, you’ll have an easy time understanding the fundamentals of this variant, too. Hopefully, our guide clarified everything in that regard. 

Pai Gow Poker uses a mix of luck and strategy since you have the freedom to choose how to play your hands. Many consider it a casual social game since you’ll get a push on the majority of your bets. Still, if you want to try and hit big, you can place a Fortune side bet where payouts go up to 8000:1.

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