A Beginner’s Guide to Playing Pai Gow Poker

Article by Simon Day
Pai Gow Poker
Last Updated: May 17th, 2024 Share On Your Network:

Pai Gow Poker, also known as double-hand poker, was conceived by casino owner Sam Torosian in the mid-1980s. Torosian’s Bell Card Club ran Pai Gow Poker tables, utilising decks of 52 playing cards to play Pai Gow instead of traditional Chinese dominoes.

In essence, Pai Gow Poker is a fusion of Texas Hold’em poker and the ancient Chinese domino game of Pai Gow. 

As casino table game variants have continued to grow in popularity in Australia’s land-based casinos, it’s no surprise Pai Gow Poker has become a feature on the floors of the best casino resorts in Australia.

The Rules of Pai Gow Poker

While the original Chinese game of Pai Gow is played with 32 dominoes, Pai Gow Poker uses one 52-card deck and the joker card.

Unlike some table games, Pai Gow Poker is not played against the other players. Like blackjack, it requires you to build hands that can beat the dealer’s hands only.

A Pai Gow Poker table can have up to six active players. Each is looking to beat the dealer so that multiple players can win in the same round against the dealer.

Active players must place an initial bet on the table before being dealt seven cards. The aim of the game is to build a strong five-card hand, known as the “high” hand, and a two-card hand, known as the “low” hand.

The high hand must have a higher poker ranking than your low hand. The highest-value high hand is five-of-a-kind aces – four aces plus the joker. The joker card can be used in one of three ways: 

  1. To represent an ace 
  2. To complete a straight 
  3. To complete a flush

The objective of the game is to try and beat the dealer’s high and low hands. If you can beat both hands, you’ll be paid out at even-money odds (1:1). 

If both hands are worse than the dealer’s high and low hands, your initial bet is a loser. If one hand wins and the other loses, the outcome is a “push”, with your initial bet riding for the next game.

Dealing the Game

Before the start of each game, the dealer will have a random number generator at hand. They use this to determine which player will be dealt the first hand. The dealer then works counter-clockwise to all other active players.

The dealer then sets their own high and low cards out in accordance with the casino’s house rules. They then instruct all other players to set their own hands.

Two Poker Hands Technique in Pai Gow

If you’re a complete Pai Gow Poker novice or are unfamiliar with the poker rankings to make a Pai Gow hand, it may be possible to enlist the dealer’s help. They are often allowed to help you since all the cards have been dealt and their own hand has been set.

We’ve already discussed that the high card hand must have a higher poker ranking than the low card. The low hand is positioned face down in the box labelled “Second Highest”. Meanwhile, the high hand is put face down in the box labelled “High Hand”.

If you plan to set your hands in line with the house way, you’ll need to adhere to the guidelines that will look something like this:

  1. If you have no pairs, place your second and third-highest-ranked cards in the low hand.
  2. If you have one pair, place your pair in the high hand and the two next highest cards in the low hand.
  3. If you have two pairs, place both pairs in the high hand if an ace or king is present.
  4. If you have three-of-a-kind, place any ace and the next highest card in the low hand.
  5. If you have two three-of-a-kinds, place a pair from the higher-ranked set in the low hand.
  6. If you have a straight or flush with one pair, play it in the high hand.
  7. If you have a straight or flush with a three-of-a-kind, place the straight or flush in the back and a pair of the set in the low hand.
  8. If you have a full house, put the highest possible pair in the low hand.
  9. If you have a four-of-a-kind, always split four aces, kings, queens and jacks across the low and high hands.
  10. If you have a four-of-a-kind with 10’s, 9’s, 8’s or 7’s split across low and high hands, providing an ace or king can’t be played in the low hand.
  11. If you have a four-of-a-kind with anything lower than 7’s, never split and put them all in the high hand.

Pai Gow Showdown

First and foremost, the dealer will look for what’s known as a “foul”. You will have a fouled hand if your two-card low hand has a higher ranking than your five-card high hand. The pit boss will be notified by the dealer, with your bet likely to be lost. Naturally, you want to avoid this scenario at all costs!

For a Pai Gow showdown, your low hand is usually positioned in front of your high hand. The dealer then checks both hands against their own, and there are usually three possible outcomes:

  • Both of your hands beat theirs, resulting in a 1:1 win of your bet.
  • Both of your hands lose to theirs, resulting in a lost bet.
  • One of your hands wins, resulting in a “push”, with your stake refunded to you.

Pai Gow Side Bets

You might be surprised to know there are ways of getting a higher Pai Gow Poker payout than odds of 1:1.

That’s because some Pai Gow Poker tables offer side bets, which will pay out at much higher odds if you can make a straight or better in your high hand.

In most cases where the bonus side bet is offered, there’ll be an “Envy Bonus” paid on top of the side bet payout if you have a four-of-a-kind or better.

Let’s run through the side bet payout situation in more detail:

Hand Side Bet Payout Envy Bonus
7 Card Straight Flush 5,000:1 $3,000
Royal Flush 2,000:1 $1,000
7 Card Straight Flush (With Joker) 1,000:1 $500
5 Aces 400:1 $250
Royal Flush 150:1 $50
Straight Flush 50:1 $20
Four-of-a-Kind 25:1 $5
Full House 5:1
Flush 4:1
Three-of-a-Kind 3:1
Straight 2:1


Pai Gow Poker Strategy

Pai Gow Poker strategy combines elements of traditional poker with strategic decisions influenced by the game’s unique rules and structure. While luck plays a significant role, employing sound strategies can enhance your chances of success and will help to maximise your winnings.

One fundamental strategy in Pai Gow Poker involves understanding hand rankings and how to divide your seven cards into two separate hands – a five-card hand (the “high” hand) and a two-card hand (the “low” hand). The goal is to create two hands that are stronger than the dealer’s hands to win the round.

When arranging your cards, prioritise building a strong five-card hand while ensuring your two-card hand remains viable. 

Generally, if you have a pair, straight or flush, among your seven cards, it’s best to split them to maximise your chances of winning both hands. However, if you have two pairs, keep the higher-ranking pair in your five-card hand and the lower-ranking pair in your two-card hand.

It’s also important to pay attention to the “house way”, the predetermined set of rules dictating how the dealer arranges their cards. 

While you have the freedom to arrange your cards as you see fit, following the house way can provide guidance and help to optimise your decisions, especially for less experienced players. In some casinos, they will void hands that are not arranged in the house way, so familiarise yourself with this rule before you begin.

You should also consider the value of the joker, which can be used to complete a straight, flush, straight flush, or act as an ace. Depending on the other cards in your hand, decide whether to use the joker to strengthen your five-card hand or your two-card hand to achieve the best possible outcome.

Just managing your betting bankroll and understanding the game’s odds can influence your strategy, too. Avoid risky bets that could deplete your funds quickly. Instead, focus on making calculated decisions based on the strength of your hand relative to the dealer’s hand.

Ultimately, mastering Pai Gow Poker strategy requires practice, patience, and a keen understanding of the game’s rules and mechanics. By implementing these strategies and continuously refining your approach through gameplay experience, you can increase your chances of success.

Final Word

Although it takes some time to master the fundamentals of setting low and high hands in Pai Gow Poker, you’ll soon realise that this is a fun and simple game, especially for Texas Hold’em poker fans. 

Even if you don’t win, there are many opportunities to push your hands and let your bet ride onto the next game, giving you more bang for your buck.

Pai Gow Poker is increasingly available to play at the best online casinos in Australia, so make sure you set aside some time to hone your Pai Gow skills and add an extra string to your casino gaming bow.

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