Pai Gow Poker is an interesting casino variation that offers something a little different from other casino card games such as Blackjack, Baccarat and Casino Hold’em. Pai Gow Poker is loosely based on the Chinese game of Pai Gow, a gambling game played with 32 dominos.
In this guide I explain exactly how you’ll play Pai Gow Poker. I start with the basic rules of the game, detailing the hand rankings and the use of the Joker in the game. I then look at the strategy of the game and how you can let the casino software do the work for you. I finish by detailing the house fees you’ll be charged before finishing with an overview of the game.
The Basic Rules of Pai Gow Poker
When playing Pai Gow Poker online you’ll be head to head against the dealer. Before each hand you’ll choose the stake you want to play – this stake being of any size as long as it is within the limits of the table. Both you and the dealer will be dealt seven cards.
Your aim is to make two hands – one of 5 cards and the other hand of just 2 cards. The rules of the game state that the 5 card hand must outrank the 2 card hand - so for example, you’ll not be able to use two Aces as the two card hand, if the 5 card hand has a single pair of Kings. The dealer will go through the same process using exactly the same rules.
You’ll then compare your 5 card hand with the dealer’s 5 card hand – and then compare your 2 card hand with the dealer’s 2 card hand. If you win both hands, you’ll win, if you lose both hands you’ll lose and if you win one hand and lose the other it will be a push and you’ll receive your bet amount back.
The hand rankings in the game follow a standard game of poker:
- Straight Flush (a Royal Flush being the highest Straight Flush)
- Four of a kind
- Full House
- Three of a Kind
- Two Pair
- One Pair
- High Card
Of course, this mainly applies to the 5 card hand, as the two card hand has only two possibilities – a high card or a pair.
In this game you’ll also find Jokers. Unlike Jokers in some other games, they are not ‘wild’ in all circumstances. They can be used as ‘wilds’ when completing a Flush or Straight draw, but in all other circumstances they will represent an Ace.
Pai Gow Basic Strategy
Remember that in Pai Gow poker your aim is to win both hands, so you’ll not want to set your 5 card hand as the strongest possible if it leaves your 2 card hand weak. Essentially this means that you’ll want to set your 2 card hand to be as good as it can while still leaving a higher 5 card hand.
Here is an example:
The pair of 8’s here are the best hand and you also have a pair of 6’s. Here you’ll set the pair of 6’s as your 2 card hand and you’ll still have a higher hand as your 5 card hand.
In this particular hand, the dealer had a pair of Aces as his the 5 card hand which beat me, however the pair of 6’s beat the dealer’s pair of 2’s, so the hand was a push and I neither won or lost.
When playing online you’ll be able to nominate the house to choose the cards for you – they’ll do this in the same way they will choose their own cards. This is done by clicking the ‘house way’ button.
The house fees can vary, but in general you’ll be charged a small commission in the region of 5% on any winning hand. This may seem quite expensive, but having played the game for a while you’ll realise that many of the hands in the game are ‘pushes’ meaning you’ll pay commission on fewer hands than you would if playing another casino card variation.
Pai Gow Poker – Overview
Pai Gow poker is an interesting game which does get you thinking. It’s a game of skill, one that is much more enjoyable for me if not using the ‘house way’ option, as you’ll be using your own ability to beat the game – it being proven that the ‘house way’ isn’t always optimal anyway. The game is a low risk one because of all the pushes, making those winning moments even sweeter. If you want a gentle, long lasting game at the casino where you’ll use your brain, Pai Gow Poker could be ideal for you.
Where to Find the Best Pai Gow Poker Games Online?
This will depend on where you are located.
For US readers I strongly recommend checking out the RTG Pai Gow Poker at the US-only Bovada Casino. This outfit is part of the global Bodog brand and has a reputation for solid service and constantly updated promotions. You'll be able to choose the 'House Way' or define the hands yourself while you clear your bonuses. Check out www.bovada.lv for more.
International readers have a wider choice of casinos, with some good games coming from both PlayTech and NetEnt. My favourite platform for Pai Gow is MicroGaming, which is now flexible enough to work on just about all mobile and desktop devices. 32Red are UK Licensed and treat their loyal players really well. You can find out more at www.32red.com.